Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 12)
Sunday, June 20, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Watch Here (TLC Worship Service 06/20/2021)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In college there are different courses (at least when I was in college). Courses in the 100s are the basic, introductory, beginner level courses – first year students take courses in the 100s. That doesn’t mean these courses are simple, but they are foundational – they lay the foundation for what is to come. 200s, 300s, 400s are the more advanced courses that take a deeper dive into the subject matter – students in their third or fourth years take courses in the 400s.

Our scriptures today present us with different layers of meaning. There’s the foundational level – course in the 100s level meaning. And then there’s the deeper layers of meaning.

I propose that our Gospel reading this morning might be read as foundational, 100 course-level, story.

The basic outline was this: the disciples experienced a storm, they took their concerns to Jesus, and Jesus responded by calming their storm.  This outline is foundational for us as Christians. As we face the storms of life, we are right, like the disciples, to call out to Christ in prayer. In faith, we should call out to Jesus in prayer

A seminary professor once commented that the truest form of prayer, is a two-word prayer you pray while driving your car and you see a stopped car right in front of you. “O God!”  you might cry in response. 

In a way, this is how the disciples approached Jesus – they looked at the wind and waves (experienced fishermen as they were) and said,  “O Jesus, save us!” Actually, they were a bit snarky: “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” “What’s wrong with you.” But I’ll be charitable to the disciples.

Again, a basic, foundational point from the Gospel, is to call out to Jesus for help as we face the physical, social, economic, and other metaphorical storms. Together, we do that as a congregation in our intercessions. In our intercessions we lift up individual prayers, and prayers for the church, creation, the nations of the world, and for other matters in our congregation and city.

One of those intercessions today is for rain in the Midwest. My Mom asked us to pray for rain because the Midwest is experiencing a drought – the leaves on the crop are curling up (a sign of lack of moisture), and the grass has turned brown. The storm in the Midwest right now is the absence of storms bringing rain.

In the midst of life’s storms, disciples call out to Jesus. “Jesus, help us!”

That’s the 100-level meaning.  Now to move on to the 200 level meaning.

We find this in our first reading today from the Book of Job.  Job dealt with a devastating storm that had ripped away from him all that he held dear: family, possessions, and his livelihood.  Spurred on by his friends in his pain, Job challenged God, his version of the disciples remark to Jesus, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

As a side note, if you are ever angry at God and you want to let God have it, then you are in good company. God can handle your anger. If you need to get it off your chest, then go for it. I believe God would rather receive your anger than your resigned indifference.

Dr. Christopher Frechette, a friend of Trinity who regularly attends worship, led a Wednesday Night Alive forum back in May. Christopher has done extensive work on trauma and suggests anger is a necessary way to move beyond trauma. Feeling the anger can be a way of surfacing the pain which can be a necessary path towards healing.

Job let God have it.  Our First Reading today, is God’s response. In God’s response, we find that God can also get a bid angry and edgy. Said God to Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? “Who determined the measurements of the earth – surely you know!” “Who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy …” “Who shut in the sea with doors …” “Who said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped?”

God wasn’t trying to pick a fight with Job, God was reminding Job who was God and who was not. The storm in Job’s life, in our life, didn’t change the fact that God remained in control. Even though the storms were raging, God had ultimate power over the storms.

Even as we call out to God with our specific prayer requests, we do so knowing God remains in control, even if our prayers are not answered in the way we want. Yes, we pray for specific requests, but they don’t override the petition Jesus told us to pray. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As the storms rage, we place ourselves through faith into the care of the one who was there at the beginning, laying the foundation of the earth, determining its measurement, and shutting in the sea. This deeper level of meaning is found in faithfulness even as the storms rage.

In my first church, Tim Hult was the longtime treasurer and the Chair of my Call Committee. He had also been diagnosed with lymphoma and battled the disease for the first several years of my ministry until he died. Early on his treatment required hospitalization, and the nurses pulled a cot into his room so his wife could sleep in the room with him.

Tim quickly fell sound asleep and started as snoring – a modern day example of today’s Gospel story. As the storm of cancer pounded against Tim and Jane, Tim was sleeping while his wife lay awake worried. Jane finally woke him up:  “How could you be so sound asleep and snoring with all that is going on?” Tim responded:  “It’s all in God’s hands.”As I grew to know Tim and Jane, this was not a naïve and simplistic “everything will turn out O.K.” It was a profound statement of faith. Tim knew had ultimate power over life and death. Tim knew that Jesus would speak life to the ultimate storm of death.

100 level – call out to Christ in the midst of the storm. 200 level – place our lives in God’s hands with trust that regardless of how the storm turns out, God speaks life in the form of Jesus. And now a 300, or perhaps 400 level view …

This comes from the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul does not write about calm winds and smooth seas of his life of discipleship.Paul might laugh at the ridiculousness of the belief that Jesus exists to calm the storms of life for people of faith. 

The story of Paul’s missionary journeys is the story of one storm after another. Because of his faith, because he chose to proclaim Christ, the storms raged.  Paul writes of these storms in our second reading today. Paul writes of:afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger … He writes of being treated as imposters, unknown, dying, punished, killed, poor, and as having nothing.”

All these storms were a result of his faith – a result of his call to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles. Paul didn’t appeal to Jesus who spoke to drive the storms away. Paul spoke about Jesus and the storms came.

The implication for this understanding, is that the primary role for us as disciples of Jesus, is not smooth seas and calm winds. We do not follow Jesus with the goal of an easy life. We follow Jesus with the goal of living in faith. Living in faith, we may be called as disciples as an act of faith to rock the boat. As disciples of Jesus, we may need to advocate, and protest, and march, and resist as we insist and demand equal treatment for all of God’s children. Living in faith, we may need to speak the uncomfortable truths, to take an unpopular position, to stand alone as we stand with those most in need around us.

The storms that blow up in response might be generative and necessary, might be important storms bringing rain to the parched earth. The storms that blow up, because of our faith, might be spring storms bringing water to the seeds of justice, inclusion, and generosity lying dormant, just waiting for the right time to burst forth. It’s been said churches do not grow without conflict. 

This may seem counterintuitive – because we know that conflicts can certainly be divisive and disruptive. But the truth is, sometimes conflict avoidance, imagining that the goal should be to just keep everything calm and smooth, by avoiding upsetting anyone, can be equally disruptive and damaging.

100 level – pray to God in the midst of our storms. 200 level – trust that God has power over the storms and remain in control regardless of how things turn out. 400 level – recognize that some storms will come because of our faith and for the sake of life.

 “Why are you afraid? Jesus challenged the disciples in the boat.  Have you still no faith?” In whatever level of meaning you find yourself at today … calling out to God in the midst of the storm, placing yourself into God’s hands regardless of how it turns out, or stirring up a storm and experiencing a storm because of your discipleship …Have no fear … Christ is with you!

In the waters of baptism, and in the bread and cup of the table, Christ promises that Christ is with us in the boat.  Christ is there with us – even as the winds and waves howl. May the Holy Spirit grant you the faith to place your life, into the mercy of God – who was there at the beginning, is with us now, and will be with us at the end. 

Thanks be to God!