God carries us through the storm

Sermon preached at St. Peter & St. Paul

by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, June 20, 2021

Proper 7, Year B: 1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Mark 4:35-41


Mark 4:35-41: When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I would like to talk about this morning’s Gospel reading, but first let me say a few words about the story of David and Goliath, our Old Testament reading for today. This is a great and well-known story of the faith. The shepherd boy defeats the mighty warrior. Several years ago, author Malcom Gladwell wrote a book about this story. He said that we’ve got the story of David and Goliath all wrong. Gladwell offers an analysis of how David had numerous strengths in comparison to Goliath, and how Goliath had many weaknesses. So, it was really about strong David defeating vulnerable Goliath, according to Gladwell. I don’t buy it!

I think that Gladwell makes interesting points about the tactical advantages and disadvantages of slingshots and broadswords, heavy armor and mobility on an open battlefield. And there is an element of finding David’s strength that makes sense. But these are discoveries that we make after the fact, and even discoveries that David and Israel make in the process. Gladwell especially misses the mark when he makes David and Goliath the focus of the story at all. The story itself has a clear purpose: not so much to make David a mighty warrior—indeed the story takes great pains to contrast David with mighty warriors. The purpose of the story, however, is to show the power of God.

Even in what seems like small and weak hands, God’s power can defeat mighty enemies. The true champion on the battlefield is not Goliath, nor is it David. The true champion in our lives is God.

This is true for us as we face enemies, but also as we face ourselves and our own limitations and insecurities. This is true when we face challenges that feel overwhelming to us. So easily we forget that God is greater than ourselves and our challenges, as huge as they may feel.

The disciples had this experience with Jesus. They followed Jesus in his ministry and teaching. The Gospel lessons in recent weeks have come from his teaching by the sea of Galilee, a huge inland lake. They were overwhelmed by people seeking Jesus, so from time to time they took a boat across the sea. The sea of Galilee is set within mountains that allow storms to rapidly develop and winds to sweep down quickly. This happened to Jesus and his disciples, and the boat was being swamped with water.

A storm like this tosses a small boat around uncontrollably. The wind and waves could break the boat, the gear or people could get thrown out, and the waves could swamp or sink the boat. Far from shore, how could they get rescued? This was a power that was beyond them. As they battled the storm, Jesus was asleep. I’m not sure how he could have slept in a storm like this, but the disciples cry out to him boldly “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And when they do cry out to him, he rebukes the wind and says to the sea “Peace! be still!” and the wind ceases and the waves turn calm. He asks them “why were you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Only a few of us in this church take boats out in rough seas. But all of us face different kinds of winds and waves in our lives. We face challenges that are unpredictable and overwhelming. Certainly, the pandemic brought a lot of confusion and disruption. Then again, we’ve seen a lot of disruption in our culture and politics. Over the years, we’ve been through recessions and wars, illness and mental illness and drug abuse, loss of jobs and family and friends. In church, we’re trying to figure out how things will settle out after a crazy year and a half. There is plenty of uncertainty, and so many factors are out of our hands and beyond our control, like the wind in a sea storm.

In our own lives, we often feel bewildered. What will school look like for me next year? How will I build friendships again, how will this impact my plans and my career? Parents wonder in all this disruption how to guide their families through such uncertainty. And how will we all get along in such an emotionally driven and often angry culture? How will we build friendships and relationships of meaning in a disconnected world? How will we find meaning and purpose for ourselves?

A lot of what we face is indeed beyond us. We like to think that we have everything under control, but really, we only have influence in pieces of our lives, not control. Yes, of course, in a storm, we should keep rowing the oars, so to speak. We should do our part to take responsibility as best we know how. But our first move in making it though those storms is to trust in God. We first trust in God’s power greater than ours, and in God’s goodness and grace toward us. When we give our fears to God as best we can, and seek and follow God’s guidance, God can still our storms or carry us through them.

We have seen God bring us through wars and recessions, illness and grief. We have seen God carry people through chronic challenges and life changing events. One of the blessings of the church is its full range of the generations. We can learn from each other, especially from those whose long life have seen God carry them through the storms. They have struggled as we do, and they can tell us of how God stilled the winds and calmed the waves, or brought us through, battered but not destroyed.

As a church, we are reconnecting more and more with each other, especially as more and more of us gather together. As you catch up and renew those Christian friendships, listen for how God carried others through their storms. Listen for how God helped to guide and ground others. Share with them your own experience—facing your own uncertainty, or perhaps your own encounter with the one whose power is greater than yours.

What storms are you facing? In all the disruption and uncertainty, we have a steady guide. When we seek God’s guidance through such uncertain times, God shows us new insights. Sometimes God gives them to us in a dramatic revelation. More often, God sustains us day by day, and if we listen day by day, we begin to learn more and more where God is carrying us. As we face school changes and confusion in the marketplace, as we look for steady ground under our feet in all the anger and discord, God gives us grounding in things eternal. Rooted in prayer and scripture, we are reminded of the things that endure. And with our grounding in God, we will make it through those storms.

We find our meaning and purpose in God. We learn more about God and we learn more about ourselves as we see ourselves through God’s eyes. In that meaning and purpose, we can find confidence and trust in the one who made us—the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. We find strength not in ourselves, and not in some earthly challenge. We find the true strength not in some Goliath of a problem confronting us or the whole world. We find the true strength in God, the true champion of our lives.