The Lectionary Texts
The words from the epistle reading have been ringing in my ears all week.
He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.
I read them last Monday to begin my preparation for this sermon. I was in the middle of a number of stressors that day...Our daughter was about to have tubes put in her ears. Our other daughter was about to turn 7 and was planning a huge princess party and I had a week to build a castle in the back yard. Thursday was our 15th wedding anniversary and the baby sitter had pulled out, my boss had just left for Greece. And I had a sermon to prepare.
Oddly with three children in the family and St. Philip’s to help pastor this is a pretty typical week. So I’m not sure why I was feeling so self indulgent, so much the victim.
I could have possibly been that I was also watching our denomination take the final steps to crumbling into heresy…
But what became clear was that in the middle of the storm God was calling me outside of myself to turn my face back to him…
Like the church in Corinth we today, can let our environment get the better of our spiritual attention span.
The Corinthians were having great difficulty remaining faithful in the middle of a culture that promoted self indulgence and the opportunity to corrupt the gospel with a world view much like that you would find on Television today. That is to put your faith in perspective…or better yet put it away for a while until you need strength. Until then, trust your feelings.
We all have the temptation and opportunity to get caught up in our own drama and put Jesus on the shelf for a while. Not long…just enough time to gather dust like the family Bible, and close enough to reach when tragedy drives us to our knees…. The truth is that my dramatic life is what Satan uses to get to my heart. He finds the chinks and cracks in my faith when I’m stressed as tells me things like….see…you should be working harder, you’re not sacrificing enough…anyway what are you doing here…you could have been a rock star….
So God allows the storm so that I might look to the heavens….
Bill Cosby said it best….there really are no Atheists….because when the ground shakes…you’re gonna look up.
Jonah was given a gift like that…a storm I mean. The storm that ensured that God’s will would be don’t through him even though he was unwilling to comply… it was a gift…
It probably did not feel like a gift, of course…the wind and the rain, a certain death in a watery grave and then…salvation…in a fish. And the people of Nineveh (whom Jonah hated) were saved.
Like Jonah most people have the tendency to turn inward to our own resources when God’s call seems too expansive, too impossible, or even just inconvenient and we rationalize our own strategies, our own guidelines, and many times with our heads down reading our lists of goals and plans we run head on to the storm. The storm that God allows to happen. The storm caused by the world but used by to bring us to our senses if we recognize it…the storm that may bring us back in line with our savior’s call… the storm that will, like St. Paul says to us today, lead us to reconciliation (with our Lord and with our neighbor), and to become ambassadors for Christ, whether we like the idea or not.
Sometimes the storm is external… our ordered lives melt into disorder. Sometimes the storm is internal, emotional, confusing, frustrating.
Always, if we have turned our faces away from our Creator, God allows us to experience the storm to give us a reason turn to him. I’m not one to say that hurricanes are punishment for our sinfulness, but I’m very clear that God will allow troubled times to happen and is present, even in worldly tragedy, ready to renew our relationships with him…and after that, renew us, transform and work miracles in us, and forgive us our debts. So that the next storm will not take such a heavy toll.
In the Gospel reading today, St. Mark takes us out on the sea with Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus has a great idea, seems that he had business on the other side in the country of Gera-senses. There was a demon possessed man and a herd of pigs that needed a little adjustment.
It’s obvious to me that the disciples had become complacent; they didn’t notice the signs of impending storm.
They had just been listening to the stories of the 3 soils, of the sower and the seeds, and other parables meant especially for them and their future ministry. But the stories must not have made much of a mark even coming from a learned, faithful man, coming from a rabbi, no matter how different he was.
The disciples did not understand with whom they were sailing that day. They were only picking up on a fraction of the Jesus’ message. It did not register in their minds that the Son of God was with them. That the storm was brewing…Or that that their eternal lives depended on him…so it was time for an object lesson.
That’s one of the things that I really love about Jesus. He didn’t just say good things he preached with visual aids. It was like using 1st century surround sound 3 D PowerPoint…
People are hungry….they need to be fed. Here here’s enough food for 5000 people.
People are dead without me. Lazarus, come out of the tomb.
Without me in your life you will not weather the storm that rages around you. Peace, be still.
If you have faith in me you need not live in fear. Storms will come and storms will go…You can work yourself into a frenzy trying to take charge of your lives or you can let me run things…
You can hand me your marriages… you can hand me your parenting…you can hand me your addictions…you can hand me your church… your anxieties, your schooling and your future and over them I will say. Peace, be still. And we will weather the storm together. And come out of it whole.
If we were to read on in Mark we would come to the account of the man possessed by many demons. The demons in that man knew who Jesus was. The disciples in the boat did not yet know who he really was, and they had seen his miracles and heard his teaching and did not click. The calming of the storm was both a lesson about what Jesus means to us and a peek into who Jesus is to the men who would be commissioned to do his work and bring his light into and unforgiving world.
He does the same for us. But at least for a percentage of the time, we can’t see him for who he is.
I speak especially about those of us that ministry “experts” have labeled “up and outers”. Up and Out is the opposite of Down and out.
U and O’rs are not sad, not distressed, not encumbered by monetary pressures, there social lives are going swimmingly, their successes are mounting up and they don’t have anything to ask God for so why should they bother. It’s a very interesting crowd to try and meet with the Gospel.
Going into the shelter, or a depressed neighborhood, or into the home of a troubled family one find much more welcoming hearts for the Gospel which offers peace, freedom, and renewal.
But just try and preach Jesus to someone who is doing just fine…now there is a challenge. It’s those people especially to whom Paul and Jesus are speaking. They both say today. Things are going well. You are whole, you are happy, you are content with your church, and with your situation. But you have missed me.
You have bypassed eternal things for things of the present. On your way to a pleasant retirement you have bypassed heaven.
Today’s readings are meant for us to be the storm. They are a call to spend some Lenten time, evaluating what we have put in the center of our lives. They are a witness to the difference between having life, and having what Jesus calls “life abundant.”
For some of us it takes a storm to get our attention. For some, like Job, it takes a God sized rebuke.
Whatever it takes, however, know that it is the God of Grace and Forgiveness who brings us these wake-up calls. It is the tenacious, proactive, faithful Savior who does everything in his power just to get our attention. I have witnessed it in my own life time and time again. And when I have responded in faith I have known the blessing it brings.
I believe the question for us this morning is, in the midst of the storm that is raging in our denomination, in our nation, maybe in our families, and maybe just in our hearts…to whom will we cry out?
To self help books, to the certain friends we have who tell us that whatever makes us happy is the answer or to the God of Creation, the God of Grace and Forgiveness, the Savior of our lives.
We are given the choice…but the storms in our lives are the clues to the answer.
The psalmist tells us:
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,and he delivered them from their distress.29 He made the storm be still,and the waves of the sea were hushed.30 Then they were glad that the waters  were quiet,and he brought them to their desired haven.31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,for his wondrous works to the children of men!32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
So the next time you find yourself in the storm and all seems lost…Don’t look inside, Don’t look to your neighbor first, save that for later…drop to you knees look up.
Copyright David M. Dubay 2006
It was at this point that I read the pastoral letter from Bishop Salmon to the congregation
Click here for the
The Pastoral Letter