Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Take Heart

Sermon 8-10-14

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Where you able to put yourself with the disciples in the boat? Was the wind whipping in your face and the splashing of the water drenching you? Could you feel the crazy rocking of the boat, and the fear of the disciples as they saw this mysterious specter coming toward them across the water?

Really, I wonder who they thought was coming after them. They had just seen Jesus feed over five thousand people with just a little bread and a few fish. And earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus had already showed himself to be master of storms by calming one back in chapter 8, after being awoken from a deep and relaxed sleep. Had we been in their place, it is natural to believe that we might have been quicker on the uptake, and responded something like this:  “Hey, look, its Jesus doing another one of his miracle things! Heeeeey Jesus! We’re over here!!!”

But despite our active imaginations, we were not in the boat with the disciples that particular night, battling an intense storm for hours and hours. We were not actually there, drenched in water and battered by the wind, literally being tormented by the crashing waves in a small fishing boat, probably wondering by now why in the world Jesus isn’t there to calm the storm, like last time. By the time Jesus DOES show up, it is nearly morning, and these poor guys were most likely in the brink of complete exhaustion from the physical and mental energy it was taking for them NOT to sink.

Few of us have experienced being in the middle of a storm like that. But most of us have a story or two about living through a big storm that came through these parts. It’s been almost two years since Hurricane Sandy. And for the most part, life around here has pretty much gone back to normal. True, for weeks after the storm things were pretty out of sorts – many of us had to wait for the electricity to be restored and for trees to be cleared. But now, almost two years out, the leaves have grown back, and Beau and I have pretty much reconstituted our condiment supply that was decimated from our own involuntary refrigerator cleaning.

But I don’t think I need to tell you that there are people who suffered far worse from that storm, and are suffering still, in different ways. Two years out, it just might be harder to see. It’s easy to spot the collapsed house, but harder to notice the abandoned lot where it once stood. A house may look fine with a fresh coat of paint and new windows, but the inside may be empty, with nothing yet replacing the damaged furniture, making it easy to see the dark stain of the flood line on the walls. For many, the effects of the storm are still fresh.

But there are others storms that have hit all of us in the meantime. Now, I’m not talking about the Nor’easters or Hurricanes Arthur and Bertha. The storms I’m talking about might not show to the world any external damage. But we can feel the devastation all the same. This kind of storms damage the heart:
The hurricane-force winds of shame and hopelessness that knock you down, all the while shouting in your ears – you are not enough.

Or the driving winds of your hectic schedule pushing you forward, threatening to knock you over if you don’t keep up.

Every day coming like another wave, pounding and pounding your fragile little boat, making you wonder if the next wave will be the one to cause you to sink?

And all the while, the constant rain of stress, or disappointments, or depression beating down on you, mingling with your own tears, blinding you from being able to see what’s ahead.

Wouldn’t it great if our little community in this little boat here would be a safe haven from all the terribly frightening storms raging in the world, and ragingin  our own hearts? Wouldn’t it be great if there was an invisible “Check your Storms at the Door” sign or a “No Storms Allowed” sign somewhere out in the parking lot? Maybe we should get the property committee to work on that one.

Yes, this place IS a safe haven, but NO, the storms are still very present here with us, even on this sunny summer morning. Being Jesus’s own disciples, following orders from Jesus’ own lips did not stop the storm for Peter and the rest that day. The winds still came and the wave still crashed, and the land and the dawn seemed so far away.

But the mighty winds and waves of the storm DID not and COULD not prevent Jesus from coming to their aid.

Let me say that again, in another way: our storms CANNOT and WILL NOT prevent Jesus from coming to our aid.

When the disciples were so frightened that they thought Jesus was a ghost, Jesus said, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

When the raging storms of our lives are so frightening to us that we see specters instead of a helping hand, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

When Peter’s rational brain caught up with the courage in his heart, and he began to sink, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

When we listen to the wind, and reason out how inadequate we are, how much we are failures and nobodies and unlovable, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches US.

SO…knowing this, feeling it in our minds and hearts and souls, are we, like Peter, ready to get out of the boat?

St. Paul Lutheran Church in Beachville NJ has a beautiful sanctuary that is shaped like a boat. The stained glass windows are patterned after the waters of creation, moving in blues and greens and even reds and yellows from chaos into the waters of baptism. But the waters are pictured down here, and the boat comes up like this, like you are underneath a capsized boat. Actually there are a lot of churches around the country, especially where I’m from, that have patterned their sanctuaries like upside-down boats, capsized from being willing to be sent out into a stormy and scary world.

So, what was I doing at St. Paul in Beachville? I was hanging out with sixty Lutheran youth, a small segment of three hundred Lutheran youth from the Nebraska Synod. They drove two straight days cross-country through the storm of New Jersey traffic to literally flood the shore with their time and presence: clearing logs at Cross Roads and canvassing entire shore neighborhoods in the hot July sun. Our own Amy Pennegna with Lutheran Social Ministries sent out a call for savvy New Jersey volunteers, and, for better or for worse, I was the one this particular group got.

These young people got out of their comfortable little Nebraska boats about as far as humanly possible. Jesus said, “Come,” and they responded.

The good news is that we don’t have to go nearly as far as they did to get out of our own boats. Sometimes it’s being brave enough to carve out a few minutes of silence to hear a word from our Lord when we, like Elijah, feel completely alone. Sometimes, it’s knowing the difference between our own storms and someone else who is trying to give us theirs. Sometimes even just getting out of the house to come to worship can feel as difficult as walking on water.

But one thing remains the same. Jesus is not going to let us sink, no matter what storms try to get in the way. AMEN.

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