Monday, June 22, 2009

Sermon: June 21st, 2009

Sermon: June 21, 2009
Zion Lutheran Church
by Jeff Greathouse

The Texts

Job 38:1-11
Psalms 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

The Sermon

I have to tell you that when I first read the scriptural text for this Sunday, my first thought was that I needed to move away from the lectionary text and preach a sermon on some scripture that I liked and felt a little more comfortable with.

The texts that are in the lectionary for today are some rough texts for me.

In the Old Testament text, we see God calling out Job. He told Job to stand up tall and take it like a man. He asked him questions. The questions made Job looked down at the ground and Job had no answers for God. God looked at Job and said, “Job, I am God … you are not.”

Now in the Psalms, we are treated with the following:

Some of you set sail in big ships; you put to sea to do business in faraway ports. Out at sea you saw GOD in action, saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean: With a word he called up the wind— an ocean storm, towering waves!

You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out; your hearts were stuck in your throats. You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk, you didn't know which end was up. Then you called out to GOD in your desperate condition; he got you out in the nick of time.

I know that I have been in that place before. I have been at the bottom. I have been clawing for the top, hoping and praying that I will get rescued.

The “wow” though was that God called out the storm …. Let me get to the Gospel, I am sure to find some hope there; right ?

In the Gospel reading, we see Jesus using these loving words to his disciples: "Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?"

As I mentioned, as I read these scriptures, I was ready to toss them out. But then, I decided to re-read them and re-read them through a different lens – a fresh lens – and my eyes were open to something refreshing. It was not a huge a-ha moment but a gentle reminder, a pat on the back moment. Do you want to know what it was:

I can make a difference.

I look at the characters in the three stories and I see Job, David and the disciples.

These are individuals that have been put up on pedal stools and rightfully so. They are individuals who loved God passionately and overcame tremendous odds and had a marvelous relationship with God. Yet they struggled and they had a rough go at it and they did not have it all together at times.

Thus, I find comfort in the fact that I am not alone.

So, what are we to do with the scripture that we read? I think that we are to take a look at them and grab a hold of some essential truths:

1. God created this wonderful world.
2. God’s love never runs out.
3. God is in control.

These are three truths that we are able to pull out of the lectionary scriptures.

These are three truths that we can hang our hat on. We may not understand what is going on and have a thousand questions but God is there and He is waiting for us.

Speaking of God, let us take a deeper look at Him and what we can learn about Him and the relationship that is possible to have with Him; the creator of the universe.

This episode of Jesus and his disciples on the storm tossed sea of Galilee recalls the confidence of the Hebrew people that in the beginning God had ordered the chaos of the raging waters in Creation and continued to have authority over stormy seas, the power to calm the winds and bring God's own to their desired haven. So, in the Gospel reading Jesus rebukes the winds and says to the sea, "Peace, be still," and that spoken word is all it takes to quiet the waters. The disciples are awed by the divine power present in Jesus, for the wind and sea obey him.

This story was remembered however, not only for what it revealed about God's presence in the person of Jesus to the disciples, but for what the story meant for future generations. The story was remembered and retold because it revealed God's presence in the storms of life. When the Church's early life seemed at risk, Mark and the other evangelists recalled this episode and wrote it down.

Jesus being revealed as God's own Son by his authority over the winds and the waves. These stories were told again to remind God's own that Jesus was with them; Jesus is with us, in all the storms of this life. Which is not quite the same thing as saying that because of God's presence; God will immediately calm the storm, or bring God’s own to safe harbor right away.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer states it this way:

"We do not necessarily doubt that God will do the best for us; we are merely
wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

Let me read that again:

"We do not necessarily doubt that God will do the best for us; we are merely
wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

Or, in the image of today's Gospel, we are wondering how much water is going to get into the boat.

The appealing part of the image of God's Spirit protecting over the chaos of creation is the notion that God cares enough to protect. When we are in the midst of chaos and despair, we want to know that someone is concerned. The concern of the disciples is whether Jesus cares. We all want to know that someone cares. It helps us when life is difficult.

I would like to share a story that Stephanie Weiner ( pastor in NJ ) shares when she speaks:

Doug was a 15-year old resident of a suburb next to mine. He had been feeling badly for several days. His temperature ranged between 103 and 105. He was suffering flu-like symptoms, and so his mother took him to the hospital, and there he was diagnosed with leukemia.

The doctors told him in frank terms about his disease. They said that for the next three years he would have to undergo chemotherapy. They didn't sugarcoat the side effects. They told him he would be bald and that his body would become bloated. He heard all of us this, and Doug went into a deep depression.

He aunt called a florist and sent him some flowers. She told the clerk that they were for her teenage nephew who had leukemia. When the flowers arrived, they were beautiful. Doug read the card from his aunt, and then he saw a second card. It said, "Douglas, I took your order. I work at the florist shop. I had leukemia when I was seven years old. I'm 22 now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura."

Doug's face lit up. "Oh!" he said.

There he was in one of the best hospitals in the nation, filled with millions of dollars of sophisticated medical equipment. He was being treated by expert doctors and nurses with medical training totaling hundreds of years. But it was a sales clerk in a flower shop--someone who made a few hundred dollars a week--who took the time to care, who identified with him, who did what her heart told her to do who gave Doug the hope and the will to carry on.

We have the opportunity to pass on hope to individuals in our community. What are you doing to pass on hope ?

Let’s us go back to the disciples …

The disciples wanted to know that Jesus cared, that he had protection over them. And he did. The story took his caring one step further. After Jesus woke, he spoke to the winds and the waves. "Peace! Be still!" And they were. That was the ancient way of saying that Jesus was stronger than the chaos of life. It was the early church's way of claiming his lordship over the natural world as well as the human one. Jesus both cares and does something about his caring. The wind ceases and there is a dead calm. "Peace! Be still!"

There is a tradition in The British Navy. If there is a sudden disaster aboard ship, the "still" is blown. It's a whistle that calls the crew to a moment of silence in a time of crisis. When the still is blown, people aboard know that it means, "Prepare to do the wise thing." Observers of this system note that the moment of calm has helped avert many a catastrophe. It has prevented many scatterbrained actions.

It is amazing what you can do when you have power and claim it, when you know the value of stillness and practice it, when you do not give into panic but hear the words of Jesus spoken with authority, "Peace! Be still," when you not only hear those words but apply them to your own life.

Now, I don't know about you, but too often I don't practice stillness. In a bad situation, I more often think that something needs to be done and done now. Well, what if we practiced stillness? What if we claimed the power and authority to slow the response? What if we took stock of our situation a bit more before we acted? With the disciples, we might recognize that our situation is not as desperate as it seems; and if, it is that desperate -- it can still be handled better by a calm, reasoned approach.

Sometimes circumstances come in and we are overwhelmed by what is happening in our lives. We wonder whether or not in the midst of out of control there is any way in which we can discover the help and the love of God.

Sometimes when circumstances of our lives break in upon us, it feels like that to us. It feels as if when the waves are threatening to swamp our boat that God is asleep and is no where to be seen, no where to be found. In that circumstance we wonder just as the disciples wondered about Jesus.

It is interesting that their question about Jesus is a question that says: Don’t you care, Lord? Don’t you care, Rabbi (or teacher)? Don’t you care if we drown? Are you so indifferent to what we have to deal with that you can just sleep right through it?

For us, thrown out of work, faced with an unexpected and frightening medical diagnosis, struggling with financial pressures, caught in a relationship which seems to be deteriorating and going no where, or a phone call that comes and all of a sudden the heart leaps in pain and anguish, we cry out in spite of ourselves, "Lord, can it be that I have looked to you, I’ve sought your help, I’ve discovered so many good things about your love, and yet here in this circumstance it seems that you don’t care, that you are not here, that you are sound asleep? Don’t you care if we drown?"

And yet they did the right thing in the midst of those circumstances. They knew where to cry out. They knew who to cry out to. And the person they cried out to was the Savior. They were discovering more and more about His love, about His compassion, about His ability, and they woke Him with their cry.

Jesus in other places in the New Testament says to us that it is alright to cry to God. In fact, God invites us to cry. We are told to ask, to seek, to knock, and to pound on the door of heaven. You can almost see the disciples here as the waves break in and the storm is furious. They do the one thing that is left to do. They had done all that was possible to do with their human skill and now they cry in their neediness to Jesus. And Jesus hears and responds to that cry. Our fears are so often very strong when the storms threaten to overwhelm us that we can cry to Jesus and know that he hears and that he will respond to the cry of our hearts.

Regardless of the situation that you may find yourself in today, I want you to know this one thing: God is in control. No matter what the test, God is in control. Stand the storm. Remember, God is in control. You can make it. God is in control. It's passing over. Remember, church, God is in control.


Beth said...

Wow Jeff you have no idea how much I needed to hear your words today. Thanks for posting this! Great job!

Doorman-Priest said...

Good sermon Jeff. I think you have a gift there.

I know what you mean about the way the lectionary falls sometimes, but as we know it challenges us to be the more creative and thoughtful. I think sometimes we have to hit the difficult stuff head-on.

Thoughts From Jeff said...


Thanks for the words and I appreciate it. I am glad that you read something that you needed to hear.


Thanks, as well, for the words. I enjoy putting sermons together and delivering them.

I am constantly amazed at how "timely" the lectionary scriptures are - the Holy Spirit (imo) truly works through them.