Grace, mercy, and peace to you this Father’s Day from
God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, His Son, Jesus Christ,
Storms are among the most powerful forces in God’s
creation. We know from the very fact that storms can sometimes be destructive
that they weren’t a part of God’s original plan of creation. They came to be
as a result of humankind’s fall into sin. Just like all other destructive
things in nature like earthquakes and fires, we brought them upon ourselves on
account of our inability to perfectly keep God’s Law.
That’s not to say each specific storm is somehow God’s
punishment being inflicted upon various segments of humanity for specific sins,
as some famous American televangelists have sometimes falsely claimed.
Hurricane Katrina certainly didn’t happen just because New Orleans is a
sometimes wild, corrupt, and bawdy town. If that were the way God worked, I’m
sure that Las Vegas, Bangkok, and Washington, D.C. would have long since been wiped
from the face of the earth. But storms are certainly a characteristic of our
fallen world. They’re part and parcel of the consequences of sin first
experienced by our earthly ancestors after they’d rebelled against God and lost
the perfection of His creation.
I don’t know about you, but I find storms fascinating,
whether viewed from afar on the Weather Channel, or experienced first-hand. I
certainly don’t like the damage they can cause or the injuries and sometimes
deaths that they can inflict.
Still, to witness a storm and to realize that even the
most powerful storm is still under the governance of God’s will, and that it holds
but a mere fraction of His infinite power, ought to give us all something to pause
and reflect upon.
Sometimes if the winds aren’t too strong and the
lightning isn’t too close, I don’t mind sitting out on a covered porch or under
a picnic shelter with a cold Lutheran beverage—seeing, feeling, hearing, and
even smelling all the sensory input that a thunderstorm brings. Viewed
from a safe place, they can be quite fun and stimulating to observe.
It’s rarely pleasurable to be engulfed within a
violent storm, however. Driving through wind-swept sheets of rain, hail,
sleet, or snow, trying to see a slippery road through streaking wipers, is no
sane person’s idea of fun. If it’s bad to experience a storm like that in two
dimensions while planted firmly on solid ground, it’s even more frightening to
do so in three dimensions.
I remember an airplane flight many years ago, heading
to Ohio from North Carolina. A colleague and I were traveling together in
hopes of eventually making it home to Illinois for the weekend. Coming across
the Appalachian Mountains, he leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder,
pointing outside toward the horizon. It was easy to see the well-defined edge
of a storm front approaching from the west. As we got to the far side of the
mountains, we could feel the increasing turbulence as the winds began to sweep
up the western slopes. There weren’t any gaps in the oncoming wall of clouds,
and we knew it was going to be a bumpy ride. There wasn’t anything to do but
pull the seatbelts a little tighter, and hope for the best.
I knew my buddy Al wasn’t likely to have uttered a
prayer himself, for he wasn’t exactly known for being the God-fearing type. In
fact, the best way to describe Al was that he smoked like a chimney, drank like
a fish, and cussed like a pirate.
So, if there was going to be any invoking of God’s
mercy and care at that point, I was going to have double duty, and I did.
For what seemed like hours but was really only the next
twenty minutes, we rode what seemed like a cross between a roller coaster and a
rodeo bronco—except that our jumps and drops were not only measured in dozens
of feet, but occasionally went sideways as well. More than once, I could feel
the burning, acidic taste of bile in the back of my throat as my stomach
mirrored the jumps and drops of the airplane. In addition to the protection
God was providing, I was immensely thankful for my lunchtime choice of grilled
cheese and potato salad instead of Al’s Buffalo wings, too.
The rain against the aluminum skin and glass sounded
like gravel on a tin roof, and the changes in pitch as the engines spooled up
and down in the surging winds seemed like what I imagined the painful shrieks
of a dying cat would be. The sky outside alternated between utter darkness and
the strobe-brightness of lightning strikes illuminating greenish clouds. It
was the most frightening experience I’d ever had up to that point in my life.
Just as I thought it could get any worse, I felt a
tingling in my arms and legs, and suddenly the world around us lit up in a
white-hot flash, as if we were staring into God’s own face. At the same
instant, the airplane was slapped sideways across the sky like a toy.
It was then that I felt what the disciples probably
felt that day on the Sea of Galilee, trying to guide their founding boat
through pitching waves while Jesus seemed unconcerned and inattentive.
Although I don’t remember asking God the same
question—and I might have had a hard time admitting it even if I did ask it—I’m
sure something very similar went through my mind at that moment: “Don’t
you care that we’re perishing, Lord?”
Jesus obviously does care—then and now. After
rebuking the wind and the waves, calming their wild tempest and rescuing the
disciples from probable death, Jesus has a rebuke for them as well: “Why
are you so afraid?” He asks. “Have you still no faith?”
That’s a tough question to answer, really. It seems
our faith does leave us at times, especially in hard times. It’s easy to have
faith when things are going well. To use a rather obvious pun in relation to
this situation in which the disciples find themselves—we find faith easy when
everything is “smooth sailing”.
But the fact is, life isn’t always smooth sailing, is
it? It’s a lot more challenging to have faith—to have unquestioning love and
complete trust in God—when everything around us seems to be crashing down.
When we’re nagged by illness or injury, we doubt God’s healing power. When our
retirement funds or our college savings shrink to a fraction of their prior
value, we are suspect of His providence. When our job is eliminated, our
grades drop, or our friends betray us or snicker, we wonder if God really
cares. When we argue with our spouses, or they simply avoid or ignore us like
the furniture, we question whether or not He really matched us up with the
right individual. When people in our congregation or our synod bicker like
children, we wonder if we’re really part of His Church at all.
Franklin Roosevelt, in one of his more famous
speeches, once told Americans, “We have nothing to fear but—fear itself.”
It’s a memorable line, sure, but it’s not strictly true. There are plenty of
things to fear among the storms of life, especially if we think we’re facing
them all alone—but God doesn’t want us to allow those fears to be greater than
the fear, love, and trust we have in Him above all things.
The fact is: You should expect storms in your life. You
should probably even welcome the storms, for without them you will have no
appreciation of the rescue God provides you from them—whether physical or
spiritual. If the world embraces you, soothes you, encourages you, and
supports you, something is wrong. It means that you are standing on the shore
while Jesus and the faithful sail off into the brewing squall.
You want to be in that boat with Jesus. For when we
are living an active faith, we find ourselves continually in a storm of the
devil’s and the world’s making—a storm no less threatening and even more
dangerous than that which the disciples faced on the sea that day.
You know, it’s a funny thing about storms: They don’t
respect boundaries, do they? Not levees and dikes. Not seawalls and
coastlines. Not man-made territory borders drawn artificially on some map,
either. Certainly not small boats, tossed about on the waters, no matter how
well-constructed or well-piloted. The disciples learned this all too well when
the waves began swamping their boat while Jesus rested near the tiller.
Spiritual storms don’t respect boundaries, either. As
Jesus indicated after calming the wind and the waves, the disciples’ problem
that day was as much spiritual as it was physical. They doubted. They feared
that their end was at hand, that all was lost. From their words, they even
worried that Jesus might not care that this was happening, though their words
also were an appeal to Him that contained an element of hope.
We offer this same mix of despair and hope each week,
when we come together to confess our sins: We express our fears that we are
sinful by nature and unworthy of His blessings. We admit our inability to
avoid offending God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed. And we cower
with fear, knowing that we do indeed deserve God’s temporal and eternal
punishment and cannot escape it on our own.
But even in the midst of that despair, we have
something the disciples lacked that day on the lake: We have faith. We trust
that in emptying ourselves before Him, Jesus will intervene. He will come to
our rescue, calming the wrath of almighty God that would consume us.
Note—if you will—the predicament Job faced in our Old
Testament lesson today. Though a faithful man, Job had not emptied himself on
this occasion and humbled himself. Rather, Job began to question God’s wisdom
in the troubles he had faced. And how did God confront Job? In a storm—a
whirlwind that made it clear who was truly in control of all things, who
governed creation and all its wonders and powers, and who held it back from
making humanity face complete and utter destruction.
When Job and the disciples lost faith, that’s when
they faced destruction. They only saw and believed what was visible to them.
They saw and felt the storms and concluded that this was all there was, and
they realized they couldn’t stand up to it.
That’s what unbelief does: It only trusts what can be
seen, felt, and proven. That’s because unbelief is an ordinary thing. It is
common, unremarkable, drab, dull, and worldly. Unbelief scoffs at the
But faith is different. Faith sees what is not
apparent. It grasps onto what is not easily accepted as real, and it overcomes
what is visible and what is felt. Faith not only embraces the extraordinary,
it IS extraordinary. It subdues the flesh, holds back the devil, and
rejects what the world sees and thinks is important and true. Faith does
battle with the turbulence in our lives caused by the devil, the world, and our
Faith is not merely an oil poured out on troubled
waters to smooth them, but it is the reaching down of the almighty hand of God
to actually compress the tempest of sin and unbelief, and to hold it back
against its will. Faith holds all these powers at bay—not merely withstanding
them or struggling to a standstill or a standoff, but actually beating them
back, subduing them, and defeating them. Faith is so extraordinary, in fact,
that it conquers the world and even destroys death.
So do not fret with anxiety or cower in fear when you
face the storms of life, either the little swells or the great tempests. It
may appear to you that your Lord is sleeping, unconcerned with your welfare, or
even whether or not you perish.
But you need not fear. Remember that He is with you
in this vessel of the church. You are tossed about, but you have also been
splashed with water there. You call out in fear, but He is here in flesh and
blood, offering you protection and safety. And here His rebuke to the wind and
the waves is also sweet Gospel that is applied to your fears: “Peace! Be
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey
Him? He is Jesus, your Savior—and He cares so much that you were perishing
that He threw Himself in the stormy path of God’s terrible wrath. Through
faith in this, you will find peace and eternal rest from this world’s storms, and
receive the crown of glory on the golden shore of that distant, glassy sea.
In the name of our perfect heavenly Father, the
Son—our Prince of Peace—and the Holy Spirit who gives you faith. Amen.