September 29 2019
Luke 8: 22-25
What Do We Know?
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
When I was a young adult in my mid-twenties I lived in an area of Toronto known as the Beaches. Two blocks from my apartment was a long stretch of sand with a boardwalk running parallel to the shores of Lake Ontario. After a day of working downtown, in the heart of the city I loved coming home and heading down to the water for a stroll or a jog.
The boardwalk became an especially important place for me during a time in my life when some internal storms began to brew within me. After happily working in the same job for a number of years our office was moving from Toronto to Ottawa and I was being asked if I would move with them. I’d also returned to church after a long absence and I was beginning to feel within myself the first stirrings of a call to ministry. I referred to this period of my life as the Autumn of my Discontent. As I wrestled with the decisions that faced me, I spent hours walking up and down the boardwalk. There was something about the water that calmed and soothed my soul. Even when the water was rough I would feel reinvigorated and more confident after spending time by the water.
In the bible, references to water, specifically to seas and storms are often represent the chaos and disorderliness of life. Sometimes, God is described as coming to us in the form of a storm, like thunder and lightning. That makes me wonder, as we look at this morning’s story, what if we were to imagine that Jesus knew there was a windstorm coming that day on the sea of Galilee? What if he purposefully sent the disciples out into the pathway of the storm. And if so, why would he do that?
The storm that rises up on the sea of Galilee and nearly capsizes the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were travelling seems to reference the kind of chaos, the kind of storms we often face when we are heading into uncharted territory. It’s a storm of change. In the chapter that follows this one in Luke’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples find themselves in the land of the Geresenes. It’s an unknown and therefore scary place for them to go. In fact as soon as they come ashore Jesus is confronted with a man full of demons and people who want him to leave.
Any of us who have ever experienced a change that has transformed our lives whether by circumstance or by choice, we know that we rarely arrive in a new land, in a new place in our lives, without going through a storm or two. Those storms tend to arise in those moments when we think we are losing control or when we are confronted with something that sends terror into our hearts because it’s unexpected or we think it is going impact us in ways that will disrupt the status quo of our lives.
There’s nothing like unwanted change to send us into a panic. Even desired change can stir up a whole tornado worth of emotions when we don’t know what awaits us on the other shore or when we think we do and it’s something we don’t think we will be able to manage.
Years ago, when I was trying to make a decision about whether to go to Ottawa or stay in Toronto, whether to pursue a call to ministry or stick to the rivers and lakes that were familiar to me this was the kind of chaotic windstorm that blew up in me. Just the thought that I was losing control of my life, that my future direction had suddenly become unknown, that I didn’t know which decision was the right decision to make caused enough turmoil in my life to make me feel like I was going under.
So, here’s something worth noticing in this morning’s story. The whole time the disciples are wrestling with the sails and bailing the boat and losing their grip on the rudder, Jesus is sleeping soundlessly in the hull. All they had to do was wake him up and he who had no fear of the wind and the waves rebuked them. The winds stopped blowing, the waters stopped raging and there was calm.
I often have people tell me they are good with God but they have a lot of trouble with Jesus. I think that’s because sometimes in the midst of the turmoil of our lives it can feel like Jesus is doing nothing to still the winds and the waves. Sometimes even after we’ve shouted “make it stop!” The storm has just raged on and on.
What if instead of thinking about Jesus as one who literally makes the storms stop, we think instead of Jesus as a compilation of those God-given aspects of ourselves that we all carry within us. Those things that travel with us in our boat so to speak, that when awakened have the capacity to bring us courage, strength, wisdom, calm and even peace in the midst of life’s storms. What we refer to as the Christ-life within. What if we were to trust, at least in some circumstances, that the storms we are experiencing are a necessary part of what will guide us safely into a new reality. What if we were to trust, in those circumstances of unbidden storms, that we will be safely delivered to the other side by the grace and goodness of God, of life itself.
Is it possible, that if we were to cultivate a practice of regularly calling upon and accessing our internal wisdom, courage, strength, the presence of the Divine, that when the storms of life are raging, we might be able to remain calm or return again and again to a sense of equilibrium?
Storms are a natural phenomenon. Rain storms bring much needed moisture to drought stricken regions. Japan receives over half its’ precipitation from typhoons. Lightning strikes that result in forest fires burn decaying plant matter and dead trees turning them into ashes and returning their nutrients to the soil to facilitate new growth. Heavy snow serves as a thermal layer to protect crops from freezing in the winter. Wind storms carry seeds from one place to another literally blowing life into new lands. There are many benefits to storms that are a regular part of the created world.
However, our current dependency on fossil fuels, our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the way we are heating up our planet is creating bigger and more frequent storms of every kind. In the words of Greta Thunberg, the 15 year old climate activist who has been leading the climate strikes we’ve seen around the globe this last week, change is coming whether we like it or not.
Either we are going to stir up a storm of change in our behaviour as citizens of this planet to halt the damage we are doing; or the storms of change are going to come in the form of mass migration, death and destruction due to the changes we are making to our climate. My preference is the former over the latter.
Whichever change we chose as we move into the future, we will always carry in our boats wisdom, courage, strength and a capacity for calm to weather the storm. The question is whether or not we will remember and trust that we have it.
In my own experience, if anything is going to throw us off course or sink our boats, it will be our fear. That’s what threw the disciples off that day in the boat, their fear that they were perishing.
I have to confess that in the last few weeks despite being encouraged by the next generation of climate strikers, I have also felt a lot of fear that we are perishing. I am overwhelmed by the forest fires raging in the Amazon and Indonesia. I am distressed beyond words by the slaughtering of our ocean’s top predators, the destruction of the coral reefs and the loss of species at 1,000 times the natural rate per year. Some days it is very hard for me to imagine how we who live in the 21st century in this part of the world are going to get ourselves beyond the politics of progress and into a place of sustainability.
But the example of Jesus in today’s story encourages me, even the part where he falls asleep. Because that’s the part where he is so at peace with journey itself, that he is willing to allow himself to be carried through it even when the weather is at its worst. He also knows when it’s time to call a halt and say enough is enough.
So I find myself wondering, can I too be at peace knowing that we will be carried through these storms that we have created one way or another. Is there something about moving through these turbulent times with a calm and trusting heart that will help us to access the wisdom we have been given to meet this moment in which we find ourselves and our planet. I wonder, are the current storms we are facing, the very catalyst we need to propel us onto newer and greener shores?
In those days back in Toronto when I found myself walking back and forth back and forth along the boardwalk by the shores of Lake Ontario, it was the water that calmed my soul and gave me peace. It was the place I went to remind myself of God’s faithful presence in my life and the promise that no matter what was being asked of me and no matter how much it felt like I was going under, I had within me everything I needed to weather the storm and to make it to the other side.
Whatever storms you may be facing in your own life whether they be due to changes that have been thrust upon you or because you have intentionally chosen to set out for new lands; as together we face the storms that are coming to us due to climate change however we chose to do that, may we remember the strength and courage, the peace and calm we carry within us, may we remember the capacity we have to say to the winds and the waves, peace, be still.