A sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 21, 2009. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection, based on Mark 4:35-41, the story of Jesus’ Calming the Storm.
Dear Friends in Christ,
A mother was out walking with her 4 year old daughter. The child picked up something off the ground and started to put it into her mouth. The mother took it away and said, “Don’t do that!”
“Why not?” asked the child.
“Because it’s on the ground,” said her mother. “You don’t know where it’s been. It’s dirty, and it’s probably loaded with germs that could make you sick.”
The child looked at her mother with total admiration and said, “Mommy, how do you know all this stuff?” You’re so smart.”
The mother said, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mom’s Test. You have to know it or they don’t let you be a Mom.”
“There was silence for a minute or so as the child thought this through. “Oh, I get it,” she said at last. “And if you don’t pass the test you have to be a Daddy?” (1)
Welcome to Father’s Day 2009. As someone has said, “Father’s Day is like Mother’s Day, except the gift is cheaper.” And that is often true. There are some fine Dads in our congregation, and we want to honor them. After all, it’s not easy being a Dad, and never before has it been more important that we have good Dads. These are stressful times that require superlative parenting. Not every biological father is a good Dad. And today there are stepdads who are facing the challenge of being a Dad to children who may or may not be ready to accept them. There are also grandfathers who are filling the role of surrogates Dads. This is a new world, particularly with regard to the family. Today we sincerely salute all those men who are conscientiously seeking to provide a wholesome Christian environment to young people, in whatever role they may be, just as we saluted Christian women on Mother’s Day.
Our gospel lesson today is a good reminder of how to be the Church in challenging times. Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat and a storm comes up. If you have been to Israel, you know that this body of water is located in a basin surrounded by mountains. It is particularly susceptible to sudden, violent storms. Cool air from the Mediterranean is drawn down through the narrow mountains passes and clashes with the hot, humid air lying over the lake. Mark tells us that Jesus is taking a nap and when the winds start blowing and the waves are tossing the boat about, the disciples feel like they are in this alone. They wake up Jesus and say, “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?” And Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And everything became calm. And then Mark gives us the reaction of Jesus and the disciples. Jesus asked them why they were afraid and why their faith in him was so small. Mark tells us that the disciples seemed to be in even more fear (the word here is awe) that Jesus had such power, even over the mighty forces of nature…
One of the symbols of the church is a boat. In fact the part of the church building where we gather for worship is called the nave, from the Latin word “navis” for boat. We are all in this boat together, and we are invited to gather every week in this boat to rekindle our faith in the Lord.
Our Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, wrote a book when he first became bishop. The title is Faithful yet Changing, “The Church in Challenging Times.” He writes, “An anxious church dwells on what it lacks, seems hopelessly divided, and becomes distrustful of its leaders. In an anxious church, members and congregations begin to distance themselves from the larger church.” And he goes on to ask some crucial questions: How do we get past our anxiousness for the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ? How do we keep our fears from overtaking us and keeping us from being the Body of Christ in the world?
We had a Congregational Meeting last week - one of our longer meetings since we were wrestling with how to do ministry with limited offerings. I have been reflecting on that meeting through the lens of today’s gospel reading and what Bishop Hanson wrote. Fear and anxiousness. Are we going to sink? Where is the Lord? Are we in this alone?
Jesus asked the disciples why their faith was so small and why were they afraid. Didn’t they know that God would help them through the storm, that God provides resources even when we don’t foresee those resources? Here’s some truth for us a Resurrection: the resources for healthy ministry are already here; those resources have already been granted to our members. Those resources are financial, yes, but those resources are also our God-given abilities to volunteer and be church to one another. It isn’t that we don’t have the money to give proper offerings, it is that it remains in our pockets because we are afraid or selfish or we lack the understanding that when we combine our offerings (of whatever size) with the offerings of others that God is honored and He multiplies the good that can be accomplished in His name.
Bishop Hanson asks, “What if we begin every meeting in the congregation by asking, “Where did we experience God in worship last Sunday? Where did we see God active this past week?” He explains that too often we have become consumers, viewing worship as one choice among many on a Sunday morning. Maybe familiarity breeds complacency. I so appreciate the faithfulness in being at worship by so many of you. I have to confess to you my sadness when a family says to me, “See you in September. We don’t do church in the summer.” In worship we are standing with Christ before the throne of grace, interceding for the world, hearing God’s liberating word for us and the whole creation, being fed by Christ’s presence and sent out to the world.
Yesterday morning as I was preparing this sermon, the storm clouds gathered and there was the rumble of thunder and the heavens opened up and the rains came in torrents. So I had to shut down my computer. I was aware that the good folks in our Health Ministry were doing everything possible to get ready for the Lobster Fest. I know that all of us were praying fervently that God would grant us good weather and we were proceeding on that expectation, even though our eyes and ears told us that at 4:00 p.m. the weather could not be good. That’s the way the church works: we work as if everything depends on us, we pray as if everything depends on God. God never promises not to send the storm, He does promise to help us endure and get through it. That includes the storms that come in our church life.
I conclude with quotes from two folks who have thought about this story of Jesus Calming the Storm. First, from Martin Luther: “The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by wind blowing from all four corners of heaven.” In other words, it is in our nature to worry and become anxious, and so we need the peace that only Christ can give us. The second quote is from author Leonard Sweet: “The miracle Jesus wanted to show them was not the calming of the storm but the miracle of calming them in the storm.”
May God calm our fears, remind us that He is Lord of the Church, that He is more powerful than all the forces in the universe, that we can trust Him and He will help us through all the storms of life.
Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.
(1) THE JOKESMITH