Sermon on August 9, 2020 by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
Have we been hit with some storms! The storm of racism swelled this summer, unleashing civil unrest and long-awaited social change. The storm of Covid-19 has upended howe we shop, how we see one another, and how we worship. The tropical storm this past week forced us to further fast from power, screens, and more as trees and power lines fell. Not to mention the ongoing storms of life . The storm of disease that wreaks havoc on one’s body. The storm of aging that disrupts what was and wipes away previous abilities, even as new blessings emerge. The storm of grief that tears open a piece of our hearts, permanently altering our lives.
Our spirituality (or faith) is what helps us navigate the storms of life. Some will turn to drugs or addiction or avoidance or busy-ness or blame or shame as ways to get through the storms. Such methods may relieve the pain for a moment, but doing so builds up bitterness, resentment, exhaustion and ultimately leads us to greater suffering.
In the Bible we find a more life-giving and sustainable way of navigating life’s storms – a way that fosters deep, long-lasting peace. We will look at two scriptures that point us to this way of peace through the storms. In both it is clear that the Holy is with us through the storms, but let us listen closer to hear how the Holy is present and what we humans are to do.
Psalm 46: a song of praise sung in the ancient temple; notice the first few verses describe a mighty storm.
God is: strength (v.1) & peace (v.9) as the one who ceases all wars
We are called to: not fear (v. 2) and be still and know God (v. 10)
These themes of Psalm 46 are echoes throughout scripture and are taught by Jesus. We are going to unpack them with our next scripture. Our next scripture takes place after Jesus has fed the 5,000. Listen closely for how the Holy is present in this storm and what the human disciples are called to do.
God in Jesus is powerful! He walks on water (v. 25); echoing God subduing the waters of creation in Gen 1 and Psalm 46 which names God’s strength and ability to overcome all the nations.
We are called to not be afraid (v. 27) once again, like psalm 46 and 365 times throughout the Bible, for God is powerful and present with us.
That sounds nice, except when we are caught in a storm we can quickly begin to wonder if God has abandoned us or is punishing us for unknown reasons.
Pastors and friends may say God is present, but we want proof. Like Peter in our scripture today, we want proof that the Holy, Jesus, really is walking with us in the storms. Like Peter, we may demand the extraordinary or supernatural: Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (v. 28) As a wise teacher, Jesus says, “come” – much like a good teacher invites a student to give their idea a try, knowing that when the student discovers their idea does not work, they have learned the lesson more deeply than words alone could do.
So Peter tried to walk on water, he tried to have the power of God, but he becomes afrais, begins to sink and Jesus saves him and says, “you of little faith” (v. 31). Prof. Frank Rogers Jr writes in a devotional (Diciplines 2020) on this scripture that:
“Peter’s lack of faith is not that he cannot walk on water. It is that he does not trust that Jesus is with him in the storm. He demands proof. He demands the extraordinary [I would say supernatural] … Jesus does not promise to help us walk on water. He promises to be a compassionate compaino within the boat navigating the rough seas.”
The temptation in a storm is to try to walk on water, to try to be God, to try to make a situation what it simply cannot be. We pretend the health diagnosis is not true. We discount or ignore the advice of public health officials offering guidelines to address the pandemic. We try to “win back” someone who broke up with us. We try to pretend our bodies are more able than they are. All examples of making a situation what it is not.
While we may be tempted to try to walk on water in a storm – or demand God act a certain way or others act the way we want – we will find more strength and peace when we can accept that the waves are roaring.
To accept the reality of a storm is not to dwell in despair, depression or be paralyzed with sorrow. To accept the reality of a storm is not to forgo responsibility or action – we must still seek treatment for the illness, seek a vaccine for covid, and address hurricane damage. To accept the reality of the storm orients our actions appropriately .
To accept the state of the storm is to have realistic expectations. No, you can’t have all the lights on and bake cookies when the power is out after a hurricane; but you can have canned soup. No worship will not look or feel the same as it did pre-covid, but we can still connect to God and one another. No the health diagnosis cannot be reversed, but treatment can be sought and, if necessary, goodbyes given.
Realistic expectations – or properly-sized hope – saves us from wasting energy in fighting what is, saves us from seekign to defy the laws of physics, saves us from trying to be the savior and fix it all. Because we are not the savior. We are not God. Right-sized hope, realistic expectations, save us from drowning in the storm.
Instead of demanding proof or chasing after supernatural power, a gentle acceptance of the storm will bring us deep, longer-lasting peace and the proper perspective for navigating our boat in the waves. When we accept the storm, we not only find peace, but we are better able to see and trust the Holy with us.
When a person is drowning they frantically grasp for help – and will pull down whoever tries to help them – drowning their save-r/savior in their frantic fear. This is why life guards use flotation devices. When we can be still long enough to find peace, we are able to see God, Jesus, standing there saving us from despair and guiding us to new life.
When we quit fighting the storm, we are able to flow with peace, and see the Holy with us in the storm. This peace does not end the storm, our situation is still difficult, but when we can be still and call the storm what it is (using choice words if need be), we stop frantically and anxiously looking about and can instead focus our eyes on the Holy with us. In the hurricane storm, we see the care of neighbors helping to clear branches and offering fridge space and showers, and humor to lighten the load. In the Covid storm we see the new relationships forming over the phone or online, as well as the deepening of home worship and the sacredness of the ordinary. In the storm of disease, we see a strong humility amid loving care of others.
As we navigate the many storms of life, may we accept the present reality of the storm, that we might have the peace and focus to see the presence of the Holy walking with us. As my most beloved prayer says: May God grant us the serenity to accept what we cannot change, the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.