Peace in the Storm
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
July 15, 2018
They should have known they were in for trouble. When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” He didn’t just mean, “let’s take a boat ride, a day trip, across the Sea for fun.” They knew that across the Sea was Gentile territory--people unlike them, the other, strangers, even enemies. And it was dark, they could not see where they were going. They should have known they were in for trouble.
We should have known we were in for trouble. As the day was ending, our family went for a walk before settling into our tent for the night. We stood by the lake and watched all the big ships coming into dock, wondering why. A fisherman told us, “It must be a big storm coming tonight.” It was getting dark and so we went back into the tent to settle in for the night. We should have known we were in for trouble.
Sure enough. A storm arose on the Sea. A great windstorm arose and the waves beat the boat, so that the boat was being swamped. The disciples were in trouble. And they were scared. The storm was raging on the sea. But, a more powerful storm was raging inside the disciples. And yet Jesus was asleep on the boat. They woke him up asking “Do you not care that we are perishing? Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind, and said, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased. The storm on the sea stopped and the fear in their hearts stopped and there was a deep calm.
The storm arose on the Lake. A great windstorm arose and pounded against our tent. We were in trouble. And we were scared. Actually, I was asleep for much of the storm. But, when I woke up, I realized we were in trouble. Big trouble. Our little tent was being rocked back and forth. And it was filling up with water. Some of my sisters were crying. I saw my Dad sitting up on a camp chair, with his back up against the tent pole, and his arms stretched out as wide as he could, literally trying to keep the tent and his wife and five daughters from being blown away. And through the wind and the cries, I remember hearing my mother’s voice, “Don’t be afraid. It will be alright.” And it was. Somehow, against all odds, we made it through the night. In the morning, after the storm had passed, and the wind had ceased, there was calm. And so we ventured outside the tent. We were amazed at what we saw. There was destruction everywhere--campers that were crumbled up like tin cans; roofs blown off buildings; tents ripped to shreds and thrown into the trash bin. We found out the storm was a tornado that passed right over our campground. And our little tent was one of the only things still standing.
After the storm had passed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” These are two very different questions. “Why are you afraid?” If Jesus gave his disciples time to answer, I think they would answer then like we would now, “Oh Jesus, let me count the ways...We are afraid of criticism, rejection, and failure. We are afraid of losing our job, not having enough money--to pay bills, to pay for kids’ college, to retire. We are afraid of being alone, suffering from illness, dying a painful death. We are afraid of people who look different, believe different, vote different, live and love different. We are afraid of telling the truth, sharing love with others, trusting in our faith. We are afraid of our demons inside, and the darkness outside. We are afraid. And our fears are real.
But, in the midst of our fears, Jesus asks, “Have you still no faith?” Spoken not as a scolding, I think, but as in amazement. After all the ways Jesus reassures us, he is amazed that doubt and fear still hold us bondage. Faith unlocks the deeper truth that Jesus wants his disciples to know: “even though there are real and fearsome things in this life, they need not paralyze us; they need not have dominion over us; they need not own us, because we are not alone in the boat.” Jesus reminds his disciples, then and now, to not be afraid….not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days--because there are! Not because there are no storms, fierce winds or waves that threaten to overwhelm our boats of life--because there are! But rather, because God is with us!” (Michael Lindvall)
Our family camping trip has stayed with us over the years. We tell the story at family gatherings, everyone remembering a different part of the story, differently. But, we all remember two things very vividly: Dad holding up the tent, not able to stop the storm, but able to keep his family inside safe. Mom speaking gentle words of reassurance to not be afraid. How did they do it? I asked them years later, and they said they prayed the whole night long, without ceasing.
Story of Mission trip to WV--Buck, who lived in run-down trailer that leaked water from the storms. He couldn’t work because of his bad heart and lungs. His wife’s pay as security guard was cut in half--to $10,000. His mother died last year. His brother-in-law lives next door died of drug overdose two weeks ago. As I walked up to his trailer, I thought this family was in a storm. When Buck came out, I introduced myself and said, “how are you?” He said, “I am blessed.” How could he say that? Throughout the week, I came to learn how. He had a strong faith. He had Jesus in his life, in his boat, in his heart. And he believed that Jesus is more powerful than the storms on the Sea and the storms that rage in our lives.
A photograph taken shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in the fall of 2005 shows the devastation of a cemetery in the historic district of the city, with trees toppled, debris covering the ground, and several burial vaults broken and smashed. But in the middle of the devastation, untouched by the storm, stands a statue of the risen Christ, arms extended wide, offering a benediction of calm amid the chaos. Such is the image conveyed by this text: the image of Christ with his arms extended wide over the chaos of our lives and world, saying “Peace! Be still!” (Beverly Zink-Sawyer)
May it be so. May it be for you and for me and for all who long to be free of fear and filled with peace. Amen.