Stronger than the Storm


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Sometimes it seems as if there is no way through difficult times. Jesus specialized in calming storms and the people who endured them. Rev. John Weems considers the spiritual practices Jesus used to stay centered, and what we can learn from his example.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Matthew 14:22-33

“Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

 

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Our second Scripture lesson today comes from 1 John 4:20: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Pastor and author Daniel Wolpert writes that he is skeptical of white pastors who have changed sermons in light of Charlottesville: “I cannot tell you how many times I have heard some variant of ‘Well I gave one social justice sermon last year and I got a lot of criticism so I’m not sure I’ll do one this year,’ adding, “’Social Justice’ and ‘The Gospel’ are not two separate things. Jesus IS social justice and if we do not understand that then we do not understand him.”

To those who would prefer not to hear a “political” sermon today, you’re in luck. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and other –isms and phobias are not purely political—they are politicized. Basic human dignity and equal treatment of neighbors were all covered by Jesus’ command to love neighbor as self long before any current political parties existed.

When I say that I condemn the actions and views of the white supremacist terrorists in Charlottesville, I do so in the name of Jesus. I cannot claim the name of Jesus without confessing my own biases, hatred and superiority. I pray that God would transform all hatred and fear to love day by day.

In today’s Scripture lesson, the disciples of Jesus are in the boat.

The wind has carried them far from the land.

Waves are battering them through the night. They are terrified.

Jesus doesn’t show up that entire night as the waves knock them around.

He was on a mountain praying.

Finally, he arrives and walks towards them across the water, and scares them even more. The disciples assume he is a ghost, to which he replies, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Without Jesus prompting him, Peter the hotshot disciple asks Jesus to command him to walk on the water. Jesus agrees. Peter steps out in faith and does pretty well at first, until he notices that the strong wind continues to blow and the waves crash, and he begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand and saves him.

Last night I received this e-mail from a member of the Calvary community: “My question coming out of current events in Charlottesville today is, how are we to still believe this Love you keep talking about is REALLY going to win?”

The wind is blowing. The waves are crashing.

Every week is like shark week these days.

Tweets threatening nuclear war with North Korea and white supremacist domestic terrorists surround us. Numerous people in this community have shared that you are having trouble sleeping, working, and generally functioning with constant levels of anxiety.

What is God calling us to do from this boat and the other places in which we seek refuge from the wind and waves? It is night. Where is Jesus?

Longtime Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas writes that, “The church is the ark of the kingdom, but often the church finds herself far from shore and threatened by strong winds and waves. Those in the boat often fail to understand that they are meant to be far from shore and that to be threatened by a storm is not unusual. If the church is faithful, she will always be far from the shore. Some, moreover, will be commanded to leave even the safety of the boat to walk on water.”[1]

We can often think of Jesus as our comforter and friend, and I believe that he does fill those roles. For those of you going through a season of personal turmoil, I believe that Jesus sees you and cares about you. There are seasons when each of us needs to be in the boat getting the help that we need to be healthy and whole.

To the extent that we focus entirely on individual healing and salvation, we miss the broader message of Jesus, sent because God so loved the world.

Peter didn’t have to get out of the boat. Though fear momentarily overwhelmed Peter, Jesus accepted him with his doubts and faults. Jesus extended grace to Peter again and again and used Peter to share God’s love with the world.

We don’t have to get out of the boat either. True love requires free will and God grants us that blessing. I believe that each of us will live our most fulfilling life when we feel the wind and waves and still raise our hand to say to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus says, “Come, take heart.”

It’s time to get out of the boat.

As a six-year-old boy growing up in Idaho, I loved to play with toy cars. One of my absolute favorite cars was a replica of an orange 1969 Dodge Charger made famous on the hit television show, “The Dukes of Hazzard.” This Charger had the doors welded shut, so Bo and Luke Duke had to jump through the windows, often while getting away from the inept sheriff. The car was so powerful that it could jump over other cars and do incredible stunts that defied the laws of physics. It also featured a horn that played a catchy song and had an emblem on top. For those who missed The Dukes, the song was “Dixie” and the emblem was a Confederate Flag. Oh, and the car was named the “General Lee,” as in Robert E. Lee. “Just the good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm,” the show theme song by Waylon Jennings promised.

I had no idea that song and symbol were points of pride for the Confederacy and those who longed to be back in the days of slavery. Even after attending college within walking distance of the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles and taking race-relations courses, I didn’t think much about those symbols, institutionalized racism or white privilege. I remained silent in those courses, not wanting to rock the boat. Though wind and waves swirled all around, I sailed safely by in my fair skin of European descent. Still, to this day, I can safely jump in and out of the boat while my sisters and brothers with skin of a darker hue are treated as threatening and inferior—yes, even in progressive San Francisco.

Last year at a gathering led by Jewish and Black clergy, a woman from San Francisco’s Western Addition shared that the Ku Klux Klan had been recruiting in the city. The KKK’s West Region grand dragon confirmed this. That’s right, the KKK has a grand dragon on the West Coast. Our black sisters and brothers do not have the luxury to duck in and out of safety. How will we respond?

The evil actions of white terrorists in Charlottesville are heartbreaking and infuriating, but not surprising. As Rev. Dr. William Barber posted yesterday, “We can’t condemn the violence in Charlottesville without challenging policy violence in DC and state houses across America.”

So back to the question from our Calvary community member: “How are we to still believe this Love you keep talking about is REALLY going to win?”

One by one, we will step up to raise our hands to navigate the wind and waves. We will get scared, fall down, and sometimes say the wrong thing. But Jesus does not call us to remain silently in the boat.

“A church that challenges the powers of this world is not a church that will need to explain Jesus,” Dr. Hauerwas argues. “To worship Jesus means that the fear from being far from land in a trackless sea, buffeted by winds and waves, will not dominate our lives . . . Fear cannot dominate our lives if we have good work to do. ‘Good work to do’ is but another name for worship.”[2]

We have work to do. This hour of worship is just the beginning.

Jesus is calling.

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary On the Bible), Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015), 141, Kindle Edition.

[2] Hauerwas, 141.

 

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