We live in a creative tension between action and rest, between worry and hope, between fear and trust. Tension, of course, is what allows us to stand up and walk. It is not to be avoided. But we seek some kind of balance—never reaching some ideal state but always adjusting as we go along.
I think that here at the Congregational Church, we often favor action, worry, and, yes, fear. Again, none of these are bad or wrong. They are simply a part of the creative tension of our lives.
But when we habitually lean toward one pole rather than the other, we need to recognize that and make some adjustments.
We favor action. Wake us up in the middle of the night and we can recite scripture: “Faith without works is dead,” we will tell you. Get busy. Do something.
We worry. We worry about climate change, about race relations and white privilege, about the situation of immigrants and refugees in our state, about growing income inequality and poverty in our city and in our nation. Now of course, we have a new worry.
Which means that, yes, we can be fearful, afraid. Scripture tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear”—which is proof enough that our love has not yet been perfected. For some time many have told me that they are fearful for our nation, our world. There are times when that fear seems to be depleting us. Now a new, great fear is coming upon our world, our nation, our community and congregation.
So I think we need to rebalance that creative tension in which we live, leaning more towards rest and hope and trust. It’s not easy. It won’t be—it can’t be and shouldn’t be—permanent.
To this day, I am told, even when the sky is perfectly clear, the usually calm waters of the Sea of Galilee can be suddenly and violently disrupted by the winds that are caught and compressed by the ravines on its shore.
As spring arrives and the wind and rain become strong in Iowa, we will once again, no doubt, listen as TV meteorologists and sirens interrupt our lives, telling us to find shelter.
Suddenly the pandemic came upon us, our lives have been disrupted, we are told to shelter in place, to avoid one another—and this is just the beginning. These days are just the beginning.
We aren’t surprised then, to hear the question asked by the disciples and still voiced by us today: “Do you not care?”
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”
A teenager in a confirmation class I once led in another church wondered: “They say God will always be with me, but is God really there? God was always supposed to help me in my life and be there for me when I fall. Along the way I have realized that God is not always there for you.”
Do you not care if we perish?
Some would say that these are words of doubt, indicating a suspicion that God either isn’t there or doesn’t care. Others would hear these words as a pathetic attempt to awaken God to our plight.
But even more, the cry, “Do you not care if we perish?” is a prayer from our hearts. It is said that we can only love something that can be threatened, endangered, or which could cease to exist altogether. This prayer, then, is a prayer of love, spoken in the face of life’s frightening fragility.
We are frightened because we do care. We are restless and worried and fearful because we do love our neighbors as ourselves; because we do love our world and our nation and its people. When what we love is threatened, we cry out.
We know, too, from hard experience, that there are often no quick or easy ways through the storms.
How we would like to get through all this rough weather as soon as possible!
How we long to hear the “all clear” signal without much pain or difficulty or sacrifice!
The easy way through all of this for a preacher is to say that Jesus will handle it all, that he calmed the storms of Galilee and can calm the storm in our lives as well.
But for many—and maybe for you—the whole premise is rather shaky. It’s based on this story of a miracle—of Jesus rebuking the wind and saying to the sea: “Peace! Be still!”
And, we are told, the wind ceased and there was a great calm. Many would prefer simply to discount such an event altogether—dismissing reports of miracles as impossible fabrications.
You know that a contemporary scientific outlook can accept many strange, unexplained circumstances because such events, while extremely unlikely, are not impossible in principle. But it is not the unusual nature of the event that makes it a miracle. An event is a miracle only if it in some way points us toward God and what God is doing in the world. An event that was extremely unlikely—such as the calming of a storm, or the healing of someone for whom there was scarcely any hope—does not really provide any proof of God’s action.
It does, however, pose the question about God more urgently than other events.
This story of the calming of the storm is told to us who still live in and are threatened by bad weather. We are not asked to believe something we might find difficult. Instead, we are invited to consider again just who is in charge, to consider again who is the final authority.
That last question asked by the disciples, that question asked among themselves—not posed to Jesus—is the important one. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Who then is this?
The Gospel of Mark does not present Jesus as one who must appeal to God to calm the storm. Rather, it is Jesus who speaks with the authority of the very Creator of the universe in saying “Peace! Be still!”
This, then, becomes a Christmas story in a sense—a story of incarnation in the season of Lent Jesus is God in the boat with us, riding the storm out. The storm is calmed as a reminder of who is in charge, not as a promise that things will always be dealt with in this way.
In this story we hear the good news we are never alone, never left to our own devices. We are never reliant on our actions, our hope, and our trust alone.
Christ is present and is at work in us and through us.
In faith we dare to state that, though the waters roar and foam, Christ is the One who calmed the sea, who showed God’s love for all humankind. Christ is also the One who is with us in the face of regret over the past, in our present worries, and in our fears for tomorrow.
Again, I’m not simply saying let’s just leave it to Jesus to take care of all of this. This pandemic will not, as the president suggested early on, suddenly go away like a miracle. As those who seek to follow in the way of Christ, we live in the real world.
But even in these days, we can rest.
We can create moments of stillness even in what is sometimes the chaos of our homes in these days.
We can also hope.
We can also trust.
Even when we are separate, we do not need to be isolated. As a congregation we beginning to find ways to support each other and offer encouragement. This worship service is one such way. In the coming weeks we will explore more virtual gatherings and continue to use Facebook and our website. And there’s always the old fashioned telephone. Pick it up! Give someone a call! We join together to speak to God’s love and to work toward the realm of God in the world.
We’re all in the same boat—with one another and also with the One whom we follow.
What is impossible alone in the storm can become, in our best moments, a way of life filled with the grace of God and love shared with others.
We sail together. At times the waves will be awfully high. At times the wind will become very strong.
W.H. Auden once described following Christ this way: “You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.”
We have entered a season of unique adventures as the rare beast of covid-19 stalks the entire world.
We don’t know where this is going. My guess is that it will be some time before we worship together in person. It’s happened before, as you might know. The history of this congregation written in 1970 makes a brief mention of what it called “a long vacation from church services necessitated by a…quarantine against the war-time”—and this was WWI—“the war-time killer, influenza.”
One hundred years ago this congregation knew what it meant to be separated from one another—although the Women’s Association continued to meet in homes and continued their ministry to this community. This congregation knew what it meant to be separated from one another—and later this congregation knew the joy of coming back together—and moving forward once more, ultimately being the strong and faithful community that we are today and will be through the months ahead.
We are the spiritual heirs of those who have been in this boat before, those who went through difficult times and came through them. Their strength and courage are our hope. Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us move forward together.