Sunday, June 25, 2006

Proper 7 B

Job 38:1-11,16-18; Psalm 107:1-3,23-32; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Mark 4:35-41 [5:1-20]

When I was in elementary school, my family spent a few summers living with my grandparents in South Carolina. These were wonderful summers, full of ice cream sandwiches, jars of fireflies, Big Wheel races, and being barefoot outside all day. The only part of the day I didn’t like was Quiet Time, right after lunch, when we all went to our own rooms, and mom set a timer for a bazillion hours and put it in the hallway. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to rest, or read my mom’s old Nancy Drew books, or play quietly – it was that I knew as soon as that timer went ‘ding’ we would pull on our bathing suits, still damp from the day before, and go down to the lake for an afternoon of swimming.

One of those summers, though – a summer very unlike this one! – the ‘ding’ of the timer that brought us racing out of our rooms also brought on dark storm clouds, and more often than not, there we were, my brother and I, in our bathing suits, sitting on our towels by the sliding glass doors, watching the rain go down to the lake, counting the seconds between lightening flashes and thunderclaps, and singing a song we had learned at school, “It’s gonna rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain…100% chance of rain!” It became that summer’s theme song.

Most days the storm would pass, and we’d get to swim, but sometimes it just rained the rest of the day, and then we had to play inside. By dinner time, we’d have worked ourselves up into our own storm, with toys and coloring books strewn everywhere as though a great wind had blown right through the house. And chances were, cooped up inside, our little disappointed tempers would flare up into a squall or two of their own….On those days, the chaos inside reflected the chaos through those sliding glass doors.

The fishermen among the disciples would not have thought it strange that a storm would come suddenly upon them as they crossed the Sea of Galilee that night. Such storms were common. Mark doesn’t tell us how long they wrestled with the boat before they realized it was filling with water faster than they could empty it out. I suspect they were actually angry with Jesus when they shook him awake, not expecting any miracle, just expecting him to pull his weight – he was sleeping while they were sinking?!?! They needed all the hands they could get. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Come on, get up, here’s a bucket, now quick….

We are hearing this story safe on dry land – I imagine most of us have, thankfully, not been on a small boat in the middle of a raging sea. But we do know about storms, about wind and water and thunder and lightening, how storms can literally change our landscape, crush our endeavors, wash away our livelihoods, even our lives.

And we all know it doesn’t have to rain, and the wind doesn’t have to blow, for us to feel like we’re caught in a terrible storm. Violence, poverty, hunger, hatred, and suspicion are like mighty swells in our great sea of humanity, and pride and greed and power can be like a blinding rain.

Our own church – the Episcopal church, the whole Anglican Communion – is caught in a whirlwind, in which so many are convinced that the Holy Spirit is blowing their way. The compass spins, and many hands on deck are trying to keep the boat from breaking into pieces as it plows through uncharted waters.

And then, there are the storms in our own lives, our personal storms, those times and circumstances that keep us from smooth sailing. Sometimes they come upon us suddenly, unexpectedly, and we are caught unprepared for the force of their fury. Sometimes we hear the thunder rumbling far off in the distance, we feel the pressure begin to change, and we brace ourselves for the worst. Sometimes the storms pass quickly, and sometimes our little boats fill with water faster than we can empty them out, and we feel ourselves sinking.

We try everything we know to stay sea-worthy, and when all that fails, we cling to whatever piece of stability, of control we can find. We are afraid of having our landscape changed, our endeavors crushed, our livelihoods or even our lives washed away. We angrily turn to God, and very often we do expect a miracle. Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing? Come on, get up, grab a bucket, do something….

On that stormy night on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus did wake up, and sounding for all the world like a mother during after-lunch Quiet Time or at the height of a storm-induced sibling squall, he said Peace, be still. We hear those words as comfort, and they certainly can be, but in the original text they actually have considerable force behind them, as if Jesus were to say, “Be quiet, now get a hold of yourselves!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

The wind ceased and the waves subsided, but only, I think, as a courtesy. You see, I think Jesus wasn’t speaking as much to the storm outside as he was speaking to the disciples, to the storm inside them – to the fear, the panic, the doubt, the need for control, the lack of faith. A little wind and rain was nothing compared to the storms that were to come in his life and in theirs, the howling, raging storms that would lead to the cross. Jesus knew that the landscape would indeed be forever wonderfully changed if they could just hang on a while longer. The wind and water obeyed Jesus, but it was the disciples’ faithful response – and ours – that Jesus wanted.

It’s gonna rain, rain, rain….100% chance. The wind is going to blow. Sometimes the storms are out there, sometimes they are in here. Sometimes they descend upon us, sometimes we stir them up ourselves. However they happen, they throw our lives into chaos.

Peace, be still. Jesus’ words are an echo of the command God gave the infant sea in the story of creation, at least as God tells it in the Book of Job. Sounding for all the world like a mother or father speaking about and speaking to a child, God said to Job, Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’….Peace, be still. Job had been sitting, miserable and wet, on the wrong side of the sliding glass door, in the middle of the worst storm of his life, his landscape, his endeavors, his livelihood all washed away. All he had left was his faith that God loved him, but when even that began to waver, Job worked himself up into a storm and demanded that God wake up. Do you not care that I am perishing?

Peace, be still, Job, God seems to say. Stop your proud waves. I am here, and I do care, and I hold all things, and you cannot control this storm. But you can cling to me.

Perhaps because of that night on the Sea of Galilee, a storm-tossed boat with a cross for a mast has long been an image for the church. With generations of sailors we cry out to God, "The sea is so wide and our boat is so small…." But Dame Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic, gives us an image of the care that God does indeed have for us, because we are so easily lost, so easily overwhelmed, so very small. Julian wrote, "I saw that [Jesus] is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us….

"And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.

"In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God keeps and preserves it."

Why are we still afraid? Have we still no faith?

It’s gonna rain. 100% chance. But Jesus himself calls us to the other side of the sliding glass door, calls us into the boat, as he has called all his disciples, knowing full well that there are storms ahead. In the midst of the whirlwind and in the waves of our own making, he says, Peace, be still – not to the wind and the water, but to us. In the midst of the storm, he wants us to see him, that he is there, he does care, and our little boat, storm-tossed as it may be, is indeed pointed toward the harbor he has prepared, if we would just stop trying to wrestle with it.

"And thus," Dame Julian writes, "Our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably, ‘I may make all things well; I can make all things well, and I will make all things well, and I shall make all things well. And you yourself shall see that all manner of thing shall be well.’" Amen.

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