Psalm 42
Luke 8:19-25

The story of Jesus calming the sea was my daughter’s favorite story when she was young. That is probably true for many children. Storms can be scary things, with hard rain, or even hail that can cause damage, and winds, if they become strong enough, that can rip apart trees, sometimes even buildings. Like the movie, “The Perfect Storm,” it seems that storms at sea are even scarier, because there is no safe land on which to hide. One is at the mercy of the waters. For a child, the story of Jesus calming the storm is very comforting.

Just before today’s passage, Jesus had concluded a time of teaching, giving his first parable, the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, and words about not hiding one’s lamp under a jar or the bed. His last words of teaching were: “They pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away” (8:18). They are puzzling, almost harsh words. Then Jesus was told that his mother and brothers had come, but could not reach him because of the crowds. Jesus, as far as we know, did not go to them, did not make a way for them to come to him, but used this as a moment of teaching that also, at first glance, seems a bit harsh: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” he said (v. 21). But this is what he had just been trying to teach, and it is a constant theme of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus had earlier told the story of the man who built his house on the rock, and not the one who built a house on the sand, as an example of one who heard his words and acted on them (6:46-49). “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” he asked (6:46).

Obedience, then, was important to Jesus. In Greek, the word for obeying is closely tied to the word for hearing. They come from the same root. So to hear is to obey. So hearing the Word of God implies more than just listening. It also intends that we do something in response. The Presbyterian Order of Worship is laid out with just such a response in mind. We come into worship and confess our sins, as we prepare ourselves to hear the Word, and the Assurance of Pardon helps us to clear out those things that bind us to the world. Then we hear the Word in various ways – read, sung, children’s message, sermon. The latter part of our service, the offering, the sacraments, the welcoming of new members or commissioning of missions, the ordaining and installing of officers – all of these are our response to the Word of God. At Westminster, we tend to move the baptism before the Word, during the children’s time, so that the younger children can be a part of this wonderful act before they leave the service to go to the nursery. But it too is a response to the Word of God. We hear, and we do the Word of God. And as we leave, we are charged to go out into the world with God’s love, and to do something good with it.

In Luke then comes this most familiar and beloved story of Jesus calming the sea. It is a curious story when we examine it a bit more. Children love it, and we do too. Jesus got his disciples into the boat to go to the other side of the lake. And while they were busy sailing the boat, he fell asleep. The sea was the Sea of Galilee, which is a very large but not especially deep lake. On its western side are hills, with the Pigeon Pass through the middle, and winds from the Mediterranean can come through this pass and very quickly whip up high waves. Even the most experienced sailors, as some of Jesus’ fishing disciples must have been, could be caught off guard by these winds and waves. The strange thing is that Jesus kept sleeping through the storm. Either he was very, very tired, or, as some think, there is a foreshadowing here to his death and resurrection. The disciples finally woke him up, letting him know they were afraid they would die in this storm. Jesus “rebuked the wind and the raging waves,” says the text, and they calmed. We tend to think of Jesus as soft-spoken and tender, perhaps like he was with the children, yet he “rebuked” the wind, just as, also in Luke, he would soon rebuke the demons out of a man gone mad. It was only Jesus’ word that was needed to calm the waves. The sea obeyed. Yet, the disciples did not quite understand. “Who then is this,” they asked, “that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

Jesus asked them, “Where is your faith?” “Where is your faith?” In the midst of a raging storm, in a small boat with no shore in sight, with water quickly filling the boat, Jesus asked them to have faith. Maybe Jesus asks the same of us. We find ourselves in the midst of storms in our own lives. Family crises like the loss of a job, or a divorce, or a diagnosis of cancer or another harsh disease beset us. The violence and disharmony in our community, our country, our world bewilders us. To watch the news seems to me often like standing in a boat in the middle of a raging storm with no safe spot in sight. Is Jesus asleep? Sometimes we think so, as the chaos continues unabated. Surely, some say, God is not present when so many lives continue to be torn apart by dread diseases or by unexpected gunfire and destruction. God must be asleep.

Yet the power of the resurrection reminds us that God is never sleeping. “He who keeps you will not slumber; he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” says Psalm 121. But the Psalm also says, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life,” and we want to believe that literally and with all our hearts. So when evil does come our way, we can find ourselves disappointed, or angry. Some even turn away, never to look back at God again.

But if we continue with the story, Jesus awoke when the disciples called on him. They had to yell to be heard over the storm. But he heard them, he awoke, and he calmed the storm. Jesus seemed to question why they needed him to calm the storm. “Where is your faith?” he asked. Did he think they should be able to calm the storm themselves? Or maybe he thought they should be able to endure the storm, knowing that he was there. That’s the interpretation that I like the most, at least at this point in my life. We can look at a Scripture passage, at God’s Word, at different times in our lives, and see different things, perhaps because of where we are in life and in our faith walk. So for me, the image of a sleeping Jesus beside me as I make my way through the storms of life is very reassuring, especially since I know that Jesus will wake up and calm the storm one day. Have faith, perhaps Jesus is saying, even as you are going through the storm.

I didn’t hear about the horrors in Orlando until after church last Sunday. I went home and turned on the news, and wept that anyone would enact such horror on other human beings. As this and other events in the news, in the lives of those who are hurting or grieving here or elsewhere, weighed heavily this week, I ran across a song that spoke for me just what I needed to help calm the storm in my soul. Carrie Newcomer is an American songwriter, singer, and author. The song is called “I heard and owl.” It seems very theologically sound and comforting to me, and I hope it will to you as well:

I heard an owl call last night, homeless and confused,
And I stood naked and bewildered at the evil people do,
And up on the hill there is a terrible sign, that tells the story of what darkness waits if we leave the light behind.
So don’t ever tell me hate is ever right or God’s will.
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves,
And the whole world weeps and is weeping still.
Though shaken I still believe the best of what we all can be and the only peace this world will know can only come from love.
I am a voice that’s calling out across the great divide,
And I am only one person that feels they have to try,
And the questions fall like trees or dust and rise like prayers above,
But the only word is “courage” and the only answer “love.”
So don’t ever tell me hate is ever right or God’s will.
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves,
And the whole world weeps and is weeping still.
Though shaken I still believe the best of what we all can be and the only peace the world will know can only come from love.
Light every candle that we can, we need some light to see.
In the days of deepest loss, treat each other tenderly.
And the arms of God will gather in every sparrow that falls,
But makes no separation, just fiercely loves us all.
So don’t ever tell me hate is ever right or God’s will.
These are wheels we put in motion ourselves,
And the whole world weeps, and is weeping still.
Though shaken, I still believe the best of what we all can be, and the only peace the world will know, can only come from love.

Jesus, as we know, is love. Jesus also is the Word that calls us to listen and obey, even to DO something! As we go through the storms, Jesus is right beside us. And at some point, Jesus will rise and calm the storm. In the meantime, we have each other, we have love, we have faith in the God of love, to help us make it through any storm.

Thanks be to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.