Something about Boats and Storms

RCL – June 24, 2012 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 with Psalm 9:9-20 or
Job 38:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

I might as well say up front that I am not a fan of boats. Well, actually, I feel about boats the same way I feel about gardening – I like the idea of boats and boating. However, when it comes to the reality of being on a boat, it doesn’t go well for me. Smaller boats – canoes or rowboats – I can manage all right. But if it has a sail or a motor, forget it. My body does not appreciate the experience at all. “Seasick” is what happens within minutes and that is followed by my stomach making serious attempts to free itself from the confines of my body. So when I read the gospel account of the boat in the storm, I’m right there with the disciples – fairly certain that death is going to happen.

Those disciples were lucky that Jesus was in the boat with them; he had the power to stop the storm. Then they cried to God in their trouble, and God brought them out from their distress; God made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107) 

There’s an obvious analogy to be made here and it has been made countless times – when there are storms in life, Jesus can stop them. I don’t necessarily disagree with this concept, but it kind of lets human beings off the hook and leads to pretty lousy theology quite often. If there is chaos or distress in your life and you ask Jesus to stop it, and he does not? Well, there are a variety of conclusions to be drawn here – and none of them is particularly good. 1. Jesus didn’t want to bring peace into your life at that particular moment for some reason known only to him. 2. You were not sincere enough in your request. 3. Jesus does not care overly much about your stormy life. There’s more, I’m sure. But I would rather look a little more closely at what was happening in this brief story.

Presumably, this was real – a real boat, real people, a real storm, a real sense of immanent death. This was not a parable told to make a point. But it was written to make a point, no doubt. Sure, it’s quite dramatic to imagine the scene. And how amazing would it have been to witness the calming of the storm? Well, amazing and terrifying, really. But, that aside, I think it is more important to look at what the people involved actually did or didn’t do.

First, they did not cause the storm; it happened the way that weather happens. Second, they sought out Jesus when it looked like the boat would be swamped. Third, Jesus responded to them by calming the storm. Fourth, they still didn’t understand who Jesus was.

So if we take this outline and apply it to any current situation in the world, what does it look like?

Let’s take the chaos of the American political scene. It’s a storm if ever there was one. Then we have to admit (no matter your political leanings) that this situation is entirely human made. All the issues raised are human made – from religious identity, claims, and disputes, to the fragile economy and faulty promises to fix it, to the healthcare crisis and the denial of it, to environmental issues and the dispute of them… The list goes on.

It is quite a storm out there. How many of us have stopped to wonder where God is, much less sought God out in any real way? God didn’t make the world the chaotic, distressing place it is. God didn’t start wars or make discrimination or condemn anyone to a life of poverty. These are a result of very human choices. How many of us have truly, honestly sought out God and asked, “Do you not care that we are perishing?

Now if we have sought out God in the midst of these chaotic times, do we really expect an answer? I don’t think most of us really expect a response at all. I think we might ask God to help, lift up various people, places, situations in prayer, but what do we expect? God isn’t necessarily going to stand up in the middle of everything and “fix it.” But the command, “Peace! Be still!” has a bit of power in it. What if everyone who is participating in the storm let those words echo through him or her?

Maybe it’s just me, but I like the drama of this story. And, if I am perfectly honest, I kind of wish God would do something like it today. I’d like all the chaos of the world to quiet down for a time and then, maybe, we’d all get some rest. But humans made these storms we face these days. And humans are going to have to make different choices if we truly want peace. I do not doubt that Jesus is in the boat with us, even now as so many things threaten to capsize us. Maybe we need to wake him up. Maybe we need to wake up and realize that we don’t really know this God of ours.

The God who calmed the storm is the same God who sent a child with a sling and a stone to kill a giant – a strange and unexpected choice for a hero. If we seek Jesus with the expectation of a response, I imagine some seriously strange and  unexpected choices might be the result.

Rise up, O God! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you. Put them in fear, O God; let the nations know that they are only human. (Psalm 9)  

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