A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 24, 2012 (Proper 7, Year B)
“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Those of you of a certain age will remember this as the slogan for Chiffon Margarine. I’m not sure whatever happened to the product – maybe they got bought out by Parkay or Country Crock or something – but these commercials ran throughout the 1970’s. The premise, of course, was that the margarine tasted so much like butter that even Mother Nature couldn’t tell the difference.
The actress who played Mother Nature looked just like you might expect. She was sitting in a forest surrounded by animals, with flowers in her jet black hair, dressed in a loose fitting white dress. As she stood up to deliver the tag line she reached out her arms, summoned thunder and lightning, and said in a vaguely threatening voice, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Mostly I remembered the slogan but thanks to Google I was able to take a trip down memory lane and watch the actual 30-second spot. If we had a giant video screen in here I’d show it to you. But that’s not happening.
Anyway, I thought about this ad as I looked at the readings appointed for today. In our gospel passage we hear Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. As the waves batter the disciples’ boat and the water pours in over the sides, they cry out in terror, fearful for their lives. Jesus, who was just trying to get a little shut eye after a long day of preaching and teaching, grudgingly stands up, raises his arms, and commands the sea to tranquility. “Peace! Be still!” he cries out. And Mark tells us the “sea was still and there was a dead calm.”
This is the kind of thing we imagine Mother Nature doing, isn’t it? Controlling the wind and the waves; causing the rain to start and the wind to pick up and then deciding when it should stop. Whether intentionally or not I think we often confuse God with Mother Nature. Maybe it’s a vestige of the “Old Time Religion” which comes to the surface around the summer solstice. Happy summer, by the way.
When it comes to the weather, I think we’re still a bit superstitious. Despite the Weather Channel and Doplar Radar and meteorologists working around the clock, there’s still something so mysterious and arbitrary about the weather. It’s something we can’t control and so it’s almost comforting to attribute this to the whims of a woman – and, yes, there is something inherently sexist about this whole Mother Nature thing.
But the real tension lies in the fact that while we know God has created everything there is, we can’t imagine a loving God hurling devastating earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes at humanity just to see what kind of destruction can be wrought. How do we reconcile these natural disasters that tear apart life, limb, and property with the God who so tenderly cares for his children? It’s a lot easier to attribute this to the capriciousness of Mother Nature than to God. We may joke about the myth of Mother Nature when talking to one another about the weather at a cocktail party but the need for an explanation about that which we cannot control runs deep.
But I don’t think it’s quite so black and white. God doesn’t rain down destruction upon our heads just because God’s feeling particularly saucy on a particular day. Weather exists as part of God’s creation but when suffering occurs like the tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti, God weeps with those who weep. God is right in the midst of the pain and suffering, offering hope and glimpses of the resurrection even in the middle of despair.
That’s really the point of Jesus’ calming of the sea in front of the disciples. He’s not just doing this to show off. Though it is pretty impressive. Take it from someone who’s gone out in a raging storm and yelled “Peace! Be still!” just to see if anything would happen. I got wet.
The larger point here is that life is full of storms that rage all around us. That’s simply part of the human condition. Life itself brings about storms both physical and metaphorical. And nothing can calm them, nothing can bring us relief, nothing can bring us peace except faith in Jesus Christ.
With three words, Jesus calms both the sea and the disciples’ anxiety: “Peace! Be still!” He becomes the calm in the eye of the storm. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a storm; it just means that if we look inward Jesus stands at the core or our being even in the midst of the storm. Storm and calm are not mutually exclusive. If we go through life waiting for complete stillness we’ll go through life in great disappointment. Because life is really a series of storms; some smaller and some larger. So it’s not a matter of silencing the storm as much as it is recognizing God’s abiding presence during the storms we encounter and allowing Jesus to provide the steady hand despite what rages around us. In other words, Jesus didn’t promise us perfect peace and tranquility in this life; he didn’t promise that there wouldn’t be any storms; but he did promise us that he would be present in the midst of them. And that hope and assurance is at the very heart of the Christian life and faith.
It may not be nice to fool Mother Nature but there’s no fooling God. God not only knows the difference between butter and margarine, God knows the difference between despair and hope; between anxiety and serenity; between a raging storm and enduring tranquility. God invites us into an abiding hope and a peace that surpasses all understanding. So go ahead and check the tomorrow’s forecast on your phone or watch the weather guy on TV. But bring your umbrella and, more importantly, bring your faith in God along with you, just in case.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2012