Not Alone In Our Boats

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June 24, 2018. Have you ever had any fearful experiences on the water? Pastor Stephanie preaches today on the story of Jesus calming the storm. She reminds us that there is no storm that we face, personally or as a community of faith or in any other realm, where we are actually alone.


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I’d like you to say a brief prayer with me, please. O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.


I introduced myself a bit last week, and I know that every week I’m going to need to do a little bit of that. I probably won’t do that so much from the pulpit today, but I do look forward to meeting each and every one of you. My name is Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, as a you’ve probably read about somewhere or heard, and I’m looking forward to spending this time with you as your interim pastor, and look forward to what God will do in and through this congregation, and as we work together in partnership to ascertain where God is taking this congregation, and to just be still and be the people of God in the meantime as we continue on loving God and loving one another.


I have a question for you, much like I did for the children: have any of you ever had any fearful experiences, this time on the water? Well, bodies of water can be so beautiful and inviting, but then there are times when they are mighty forces to be reckoned with. Several years ago, my husband and I were on a pastoral sabbatical concluding with a lovely week at a beach cottage south of Monterey, California. If you’ve been there, I need say no more. That is one of God’s finest designs over there. The Pacific rolls in and there’s so much beauty to enjoy, and it’s very peaceful and wonderful.


Well, it was peaceful until we decided that we would like to try our hand at sea kayaking, which had been highly recommended to us. We made an appointment for the last day of our stay there. It was the only one still available. This was about three weeks after Labor Day. The season was winding down at the rental shop and to have guys go out with you. So we showed up on that Friday morning only to find out that the guide who was to take us on this adventure had not shown up for work. This was our last day. We were flying home the next day and we were determined to take advantage of this opportunity.


The manager of the store had to stay nearby to rent out the kayaks, but he told us with a short tutorial by him that we should be fine. And we fell for it. Well, it was not without difficulty and several attempts, that we did make our way through the first line of the waves that break into the shore, and I assure you on the Pacific Ocean those are no small force to be reckoned with either. My husband made it a little better than I did. But you had to put your kayak perpendicular, heading straight out into the water to break through the waves, and I had a couple of times I have to admit that the waves had the better of me and I would be flipped over. And I would have to get myself up and get the thing readied again, and stand and try to push out, and make it through about four or five layers of these breakers.


Well, we eventually got to do that, and then we were delighted to enjoy a long stretch of peaceful water where the harbor seals would playfully pop their heads up and make their little sounds and look at us, and then they’d pop down to swim. It was idyllic. But the instructor had told us that what we really wanted to do was to go out further, where the kelp beds lie and where we would see more wildlife.


He said we would know we were there when the water turned green all around us. And he was right. What he did not tell us was that when we would get out that far, we would also be likely to be caught up in swells that were for the first twenty seconds rather fun. But after that, sheer terror set in. I know for me much of that was in my head. As I said, I’d already overturned two to three times near the shore when the small but intense waves pitched me out of my kayak. Suddenly now, in the face of these enormous swells where I found myself sometimes at the bottom looking up at what seemed to be 15 to 20 feet of water (maybe I exaggerate but it seemed like it) and then riding up the side of that wave only to be cast down to the bottom of the next swell, panic set in.


I envisioned myself being overturned by a subsequent one, and either not being able to get back into the kayak before some unfriendly sea creature started nibbling at my body parts, or that I would be completely upside down and unable to breathe.


Oh, the dangers we can imagine. Often at least based in some reality, but just as often magnified beyond the bounds of that which is likely to happen. I did not wait to find out how my deepest fears might be realized. At this point I could barely maintain eye contact with my husband, carried away as he was by swells somewhere out of my eyesight, but my lungs still worked. So I called out to him that this was no longer fun, and I wanted to get back to the shore ASAP.


Surprisingly, no argument came from him, and we each managed to turn those kayaks into the direction that they needed to go, because at this point we were still facing Asia. But we managed to get them turned around and headed back to the shore. These kayaks looked to me like a child’s toy compared to the size of these gigantic waves. As you can see I’m here today, so we made it safely. But not without sending my pulse into higher regions than ever, I’m pretty sure.


Well, surely you have your own stories. You can relate to times of feeling at the mercy of some powerful force of nature, or a situation where you wonder about the outcome. In our gospel lesson today a storm arises. As you recall, Jesus has been teaching on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples have been getting a chance to get to know him, and who he is about, and marvel over him already, and yet not completely understand him. But when he says to them, let’s get in the boat we need to go to the other side, they do it and they fish.


Skilled fisherman that they are, they probably don’t think of thing of what lies before them. And then a storm comes up, the likes of which shake them to their toes. As you recall, panic sets in for the disciples. Jesus is sleeping. Sleeping through all of this. And yet they are encountering a storm that has created deep fear in their hearts and their minds, and so what really hooked me this week in responding to this passage was Jesus’ response to the panic of the disciples who, with accusing tones in their voices said Jesus, don’t you care about us? We are perishing here and you seem not to care. This is a crisis.


So what does Jesus do? He takes charge of the situation, speaking to the wind and the waves and commanding them to be still. And they do calm down. But you get the sense that the storm is still raging inside of his companions. Maybe they’re asking themselves: are we really safe with this guy? How do we know he really has our backs? We had to wake him up to pay attention to this, remember? What if he sleeps through the next crisis, or if we can’t find him when we need his help? Then what?


Well, the response we have through our English translation doesn’t fully carry the full weight of the care and desire that Jesus has in his words to them to stretch them, and to stretch us into another way of framing his relationship with us in times of trouble.


Asking them and us why are you afraid doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get that many things are fearful. He’s prodding them to dig deeper into the reserves of the heritage of their faith. Remember the other passages we just heard this morning? He’s reminding them that they would probably have heard them, not in so many words, but he’s digging into their heritage where they would have heard this oral tradition of stories passed down, through their families of faith, through their worshiping community, around the campfire, maybe the stories of God addressing Job such as this which is already read, where God says, “Have you people commanded the morning till your days began and caused the dawn to know its place? Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Who of you has cut a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt to bring rain on a land where no one lives and to make the ground put forth grass?” Our fears can be real, for there are many dangers and difficulties. But God, the one who is over and above all circumstances that can threaten us is still, as from before the dawn of time, in charge of it all.


Then Jesus asked a second question: have you still no faith? Because when the disciples anxiously accused, “Don’t you care, Jesus, that we are perishing?” they indicated that they did not understand the very nature of who it was to whom they were speaking.


Jesus’ actions, teaching to the crowds and conversations with them up to this point, were to help them connect to the God that they exalted in the Psalms. As an example from Psalm 107 today, we saw the words that dealt with the fact that the psalmist is extolling the praises of God, who calms the sea, who calms the storm. That would have been their literature. That would have been their context, and yet the connection is not yet made between who this Jesus is, and who is the God whom they worship?


So when Jesus is dead asleep and the disciples call to him, it’s a good illustration for us to see because we can find ourselves in the same place. At times, we are in the storms, and in the difficulties. And we too wonder if God just might be taking a nap during this time. We too know the stories of faith. We too know that God is much bigger and mightier than we, and yet don’t we also wonder if God is going to rise up in this occasion and change these circumstances for us?


I don’t have to prompt you with too many thoughts, because I’m sure our intercessory prayers and the prayers that you offer every day, and the wonderings in your hearts and minds, arise from the situations that are troublesome to us. No need really to mention what’s going on in our Southern borders, and yet we as people need I believe to call out to God and say, “O Lord do not sleep through this.” Not that we think God will, but to remind ourselves that we are calling on God in the faith tradition of those who have come before us and, I think, honoring God in a very special way to say, “Only you, God, can give us the peace that we need in this process and the peace that we pray for the many people who are troubled by such things.”


We have friends who have been in difficult times because of medical conditions. I won’t dwell on this, but if I seem a little sleepy this morning it’s because last night I had to take my husband to the emergency room. And that’s not a common thing. He’s the kind who will tough out anything that comes his way if he possibly can, and he’s been having some esophageal issues and been under medical care for that. But last night about 8:30 he said, I think I’m having a heart attack.


Don’t you just love it when you’re teaching or preaching a passage, and then you get a chance to put these words to the test yourself? Yeah, so fear. So anxiety. So a sense of calling on God: God help us. Do I call 911 right now, or will he in half a minute say no no no, I’m fine? Anyway, I did. I didn’t call 911, but I did persuade him to jump in the car with me and I took him to the ER.


And he’s fine, after lots of medication and lots of time and tests to show that indeed, it was not a heart attack. He just needs to go see a GI specialist. Fine, we can deal with that. But only to illustrate that we all have those moments where something comes up suddenly, or something is pervasive and stays with us a long time. And we so want to see the hand of God bring peace and change of the circumstances to us.


Because there are legitimate fears about things that are too big for us. Jesus doesn’t ever say, “Your fear is unfounded. What what do you mean, everything’s rosy.” But he does give us the proper perspective of how to deal with that.


Rest in Me. Rest with me. Rest in me, Jesus seems to say. He offers instead, and dearly wants disciples at the stormy sea and disciples here present with us, to take that offer to live in what another penned as the “peace of God that passes all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” From this place of peace, a person, a community, a movement can thrive in the midst of any storm.


I promise I won’t talk about him every week, but our grandson I mentioned last week is about to celebrate his second birthday. And he’s an even-tempered child. He smiles affably and seems to be making good progress in his development. One thing did cause a bit of concern: on the days that I would take care of him around his nap time, as soon as he was awakened from his nap he would cry out and make all kinds of sounds that he normally didn’t make. And he would be seeming to express panic if someone wasn’t in the room with him right away. It was almost like him saying, “Where is everyone, who’s here for me?” Of course, I would rush in and comfort him and pull him out of his crib. And I’m happy to say that as time has gone on he has learned to soothe himself and awaken without anxiety. He seems to have internalized the fact that whatever dream he had (or nightmare) or initial concern for his own safety that he had upon awakening, he is not alone in the larger sense of the meaning, and someone is always nearby for him.


As we grow in faith, may we notice just how true it is that someone is always nearby for us. We can also recount with the psalmist that we have called upon the Lord and found God faithful and true to be with us in all things. Even though, granted there are fear producing situations in our lives, they need not paralyze us. They need not have dominion over us. They need not consume us. They need not cause panic because we are not alone in our boats.


A scene from the end of John Bunyan’s classical allegorical novel The Pilgrim’s Progress finds the chief character Christian, the archetype of a person struggling to lead a life of faith, nearing the end of his symbolic journey. This journey requires him to cross a great and fearsome river. He is desperately afraid. Together with his friend Hopeful, they wade into the waters with trepidation. Christian cries out, “I sink in deep waters. The billows go over my head. All the waves go over me.” Hopeful replies with these grace-filled words: “Be of good cheer, my brother. I feel the bottom and it is good.”


Be of good cheer, friends. There is no storm that we face, personally or as a community of faith, or in any other realm, where we are actually alone. The careful, watchful eye of one whose might and compassion is always upon us, let us call upon the name of the Lord for help in times of trouble. For God’s mercy is everlasting, and God’s peace is able to calm every storm.


Thanks be to God.


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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot