This week, we got the new edition of Rolling Stone magazine at our house. For a long time, I thought Rolling Stone was just a music and entertainment magazine, but over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered that it also covers social justice topics, politics, and a variety of other issues. So this week, I read an article about the disappearing middle class. We all know about the economic situation our country is currently facing; some of us have felt the impact forcibly and directly, and some of us have just had to pinch pennies a little more. And while I’ve been hearing about the disappearing middle class a lot in the news, “those people” never really had a face until I read this article. The article focused on a couple of individuals and families, who were now living in their cars. One woman had owned her own plant nursery in Arizona, but now she was living in her van. One couple, he had been a construction worker, and she had worked odd-jobs, and their 13 year old son were living in a pickup truck. A father, a military veteran, and his two daughters had been living in an RV. They had done everything they could to “stay afloat” until they couldn’t do it any longer. And now, they were trying to find a way to swim ashore.
There are storms in our lives that need stilling. This is a basic fact of life. As I make pastoral visits and talk to people who come by the office looking for help, many of us are worried about our health, or the health of our spouse. We worry about our aging and infirm parents. We are trying to just “stay afloat” until the job market gets better. We’re doing the very best we can, and the storm keeps tossing us around.
When the disciples got into the boat to go across the Sea of Galilee, they got in just as they were that day…perhaps they were tired, hungry, and a little anxious about what was next for them as they traveled with Jesus. Jesus, however, got into the boat and fell asleep. That’s not to say that he wasn’t hungry or even a little anxious, but he was clear in his ministry…to reach out to others; to go to “the other side”.
Now according to Mark, while the disciples and the sleeping Jesus are on the boat, they encounter a terrible storm, which tosses their fragile boat around so much that the disciples are fearful that they might die. So they beg Jesus to get up, saying “Do you not care that we are perishing?” And here’s the part I love…Jesus doesn’t answer their question, instead he confronts the storm by saying “Peace! Be Still!” He doesn’t waste time giving the disciples a lecture about how to bail out water. He doesn’t wake up grumpy. He doesn’t get anxious, meeting the disciples with anxious energy, thereby raising their own anxiety level. He addresses the storm with calmness. He is a non-anxious presence in a critical moment, which allows him to be present to his distressed friends.
But he also doesn’t let them off the hook either. Once the storm has been stilled, he asks of them “why are you afraid, have you no faith?” He doesn’t say “There’s nothing to be afraid of”. Obviously, there was a lot to be afraid of in that moment for the disciples. However, his questions remind his friends, that even in scary, frightening moments, God is with them. Yes, Jesus cared about the state of the disciples on the boat, but he was there with them, in the midst of the storm. And, he answers their pleas and prayers by stilling of the storm. He is providing them with concrete proof that he, God-incarnate, was with them.
When I was in my second year of seminary, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was on the other side of the country at a time when I wanted to be home offering him support. But my dad was very courageous. He refused any kind of chemo or radiation therapy, causing my mother and me a great deal of anxiety, but did alternative therapy instead. Part of his therapy was to walk. During his walks, he would pick up long sticks and take them home to clean and polish, and turn them into hiking sticks. Since that first walk, my dad has probably made 100 of these hiking sticks. He gives them to people he thinks need them because he believes it is his “ministry”. You see, during the storm of cancer, my dad found that God was there with him…and always had been. Dad is 6 years cancer free.
Maybe we don’t live in our cars. Maybe some of us won’t ever be diagnosed with cancer. But my guess is that each of us has faced, are facing, or will face a storm in our lives. And those storms will be scary; they will knock us around and perhaps make us feel like we’re drowning. And we will call out asking God, “Where are you? Don’t you care?” And the truth is that Jesus will be there in the midst of the storm with us, with his arms extended wide, saying “Peace. Be still.”
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.