Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2006 (Proper 7B)

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on June 25, 2006. 
Based on Mark 4:35-41 (Proper 7, Year B).

It was a tough week at Coffee Labs in Tarrytown. As many of you know, I go there every Thursday morning to write my sermon. I get some caffeine, I read some Scripture. Hopefully blend in a bit of inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and the result, for better or worse, is what gets preached on Sunday morning. On most days you can find the owner, Mike, set up behind the giant coffee roaster, working his magic. But the roasters were silent this week. Because Mike was arrested for violating parole in Florida on crimes he
committed over a decade ago.

I went in to Coffee Labs to see Mike before he flew to Florida to turn himself in. He was repentant, apologetic, embarrassed, and scared. He openly admits that he was a troubled youth but has spent much of his adulthood seeking to make amends by giving back to his community. And he believed he had already paid his proverbial debt to society. But as a prominent businessman and community leader, his troubles ended up in the newspaper and on TV. So Mike quickly became a man in the eye of a storm. I stopped by the day after the story hit simply to offer my support and tell him he was in my prayers as he endured this time of trial.

And of course I stayed to drink a cup of coffee. I thought about Mike’s situation while I drank a nice medium-bodied Brazil Cerrado and looked at the readings for Sunday. And when I got to the passage from Mark’s gospel about Jesus calming the storm, I thought about the variety of storms we all encounter in this life. Like Mike, we have all endured storms of varying intensities in our lives. Some of them are public, some are private.

In this morning’s story, the disciples endure not a metaphorical storm but an actual one. Gale-force winds blew their boat around, waves beat against the side, and the boat was swamped with seawater. And they were absolutely terrified. It must have been quite a storm if even the lifelong fishermen among them were afraid. If you’ve ever experienced a storm at sea you know the intense terror, the complete lack of control. It’s what Mike was experiencing. It’s what we all experience when we encounter our own personal storms in this life. Whether it’s a divorce or a loved one’s death or sudden unemployment or health problems. It’s a very vulnerable and painful place to be. And nothing about these storms feels the least bit metaphorical.

It’s times like this that we wonder where Jesus is in all of this. It’s easy to feel abandoned because storms are isolating. We lose our spiritual and emotional anchors and we become adrift, lost at sea. And as we see with the disciples, it’s perfectly natural for doubts about our faith to arise in times of crisis. But Jesus is always present. Our terror tends to blind us to this reality. But Jesus is most present with us in the very midst of the storms that surround us. He abides amid our fear and anxiety offering us consolation and peace of spirit. So the good news is that our faith often grows through these periods of doubt. Which is that “silver lining” of the cliché. I don’t think of it as a silver lining as much as resurrection and hope amidst darkness and despair.

And we see this presence tangibly in that boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was with the disciples the whole time. Sleeping but present. I’ve always found it odd that he was able to sleep through such a storm. I guess he would have woken up if the disciples were truly in danger. But maybe it’s a message that we ourselves cause much of the anxiety surrounding life’s storms. That we turn gentle breezes into tempests. Not always; but much of our terror in these situations comes from a lack of faith. A lack of trust that God will see us through these storms. And yet, God always does. So after letting the initial terror seize us we do well to remember that Jesus is there. As he always is; waiting for us to recognize his presence and to allow him to help guide us through the storm. 

It’s telling that Jesus rebukes the storm by saying, “Peace! Be still!” Because in some ways I think these words are also spoken to the disciples themselves. And to us. So in the midst of our own storms, Jesus bids us peace and stillness. Peace and stillness to reflect upon the divine presence in the midst of life’s storms. My prayer for Mike, and for anyone in the midst of a storm, is for peace and stillness. The peace and stillness that is the calm after the storm. A calm that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006

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