Faith in the Storm
FAITH IN THE STORM
I called it Spiritual boot camp. It was the summer of my second year in seminary and I had enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE for short). That means I was a Chaplain intern for a summer at VCU medical center, one of the major trauma centers in Virginia. It wasn’t exactly a cake walk to begin with and I was assigned to the surgery trauma and neurosurgery wing, in other words I dealt with victims of gunshot wounds and violence and stroke victims.
Obviously, most of us do not work daily in the E.R or in trauma centers so many of us are not equipped to handle the stress these professionals handle. I was and am included in that group who doesn’t handle stress very well. I learned this first hand when one day that summer I was on one of the top floors of the massive hospital I worked in. I was near the helicopter pad where patients where medevac’d in and out of the hospital. I remember that a chopper had just landed and I ran into one of the medevac pilots. Of course I had my white coat and Chaplain badge on. He approached me and asked, “are you the Chaplain?” Well I was a Chaplain intern and had been on the job for about a month at the time but I thought, “I got this.” So I replied something along the lines of, “yes, yes I am.” He asked if I could visit a patient that was going to be medevac’d within the hour. I don’t remember the exact condition but she had some mental issue, may it be a stroke, schizophrenia, or something else, and the pilot thought I could keep her calm for a while. When I heard this I sort of regretted my decision but I was committed by that point. “How bad could it be?” I thought.
So I went to the room and tried to talk to the woman for a bit. But she was pretty unresponsive so I decided to pray for her. I started to pray that the Lord would bless her and help her. And all of a sudden the woman started screaming. She started screaming something along the lines that God did not love her and that she was worthless. I mean she was really going crazy. It was shocking. And instead of backing down I decided to argue with her in my prayer that God did love her and that she did have worth. You can imagine that didn’t make things much better. I somehow managed to say amen and get my emotionally battered self out of there. Frankly, I was in shock. I was so confused. I could not make sense of what happened. I returned to my supervisor’s office dazed and confused. I tried to explain to her what had happened but I could barely get the words out. “I am in shock!” I declared. And in a self fulfilling prophecy I started to hyperventilate. I guess my reaction surprised even my supervisor so she went to get her supervisor. The man came in and set down with me. He very calmly asked me, “what’s the problem?” In between short breaths I replied,
“I can’t feel my face.” The man replied with all seriousness;
“It’s okay I can’t feel mine either.” I thought to myself;
“What did he just say?” I was so taken aback by his humorous and sarcastic response to what I thought was a very serious situation and that broke my shock and I began to calm down. What I learned from the “I can’t feel my face” incident as I have come to call it is what I would like to call the first lesson about having faith in the storm. That being, we need to recognize sometimes what we think is a storm is more a light spring shower. I mean did I really have to hyperventilate after that woman screamed at me? No, not really. That’s why my head supervisor joked, “I can’t feel my face either.” Because he had been a Chaplain for years. He had seen it all. He knew that what I had went through was bad but it wasn’t the end of the world and a little humor was the medicine I needed. I don’t think it is always a good thing to compare people’s trials. I mean have you ever told your kids or were you ever told that you should clean your plate because somewhere in Africa there is a child starving of hunger? I mean that may be true but how will me cleaning my plate or not cleaning my plate help that? Are you going to take my leftovers and ship them to Africa? I mean they will probably be rotten by the time they get there. The argument that you may have it bad but you best be grateful because someone else has it worse really isn’t a good one if you think about it. It trivializes people’s trial and pain and that just isn’t helpful. But we got to admit in the midst of the storms in our lives it is easy to loose perspective. I mean last summer our missionary Julie Mckeighen visited us from Liberia and gave her testimony about how Rafiki Village, the ministry she works at, survived the Ebola Epidemic. Now saying, “thank God I am not over there where people are dying of Ebola,” really is not an appropriate response if you think about it. But actual stories of crisis do help us to put things in perspective. The trials we may go through in our lives are real, they matter, sometimes they are serious, but rarely are they a crisis, especially in the Western World. And we need to remember that. I confess that I need to remember that and often I do not.
But look at our passage today. How does Jesus’ respond to his disciples when they cry out to him in the storm, “Save us, Lord, we are perishing!” Does Jesus reply with a similar advice that the Apostle Paul gives in the book of Philippians? Does he say something along the lines of, “ it’s okay, the storm isn’t that bad. Just rejoice in all circumstances. I am with you in the storm. You shall not perish.” No. Jesus recognizes that this is a life and death situation. I mean his disciples are not inexperienced land lovers. They are experienced fisherman. They had fished on Lake Galilee, which is a pretty big lake, for most of their lives. They were used to the unexpected storms that could pick up without notice. And these experienced fishermen were scared out of their wits. The text suggests that they are caught in the perfect storm. The waves tower above them. None of their training has prepared them for this. And they are desperate enough to call on a man who is a carpenter by training. And Jesus, well he is asleep. Because well, he is Jesus, he is God, and nothing much phases him. How many times have we cried out in the storm and felt like God is asleep at the wheel, or at the rudder as the case may be here. But even if Jesus is asleep in this passage, it is clear he is still in control. He doesn’t respond with some trite religious phrase about being with them. They know Jesus is with them. They can see him, they can feel him, they can smell his sweat from a long days work ministering to the sick and the poor. They know Jesus is with them. They need Jesus to do something. So what does Jesus say? “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then the scripture tells us that Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and the waves. The word here for rebuked basically means to give a tongue lashing, to put the wind and waves in their place, to spank them like a spoiled child so they go ruining back to the evil place they came from. The text suggests that the waves were riled up by demonic powers. Jesus not only performs a miracle. He punches the Devil in the face for the knock out. And there is a great calm. And the disciples declare, “ What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
Our second lesson about faith in the storm is that having faith in the storm means believing that God can change our circumstances. Perhaps you have heard of the Serenity Prayer, commonly used by Alcoholics Anonymous and authored by Reinhold Niebuhr which goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This is a wonderful prayer. It’s only fault is there is no acknowledgement that God can change our circumstances. That God can calm the storm. But we have all had the experience where we cry out in the midst of the storm, where we believe we have faith, and there is no great calm. It seems that sometimes God intervenes and sometimes he does not. The book of Acts acknowledges this apparent contradiction without offering a direct explanation. In Acts 7, Stephen, one of the first Deacons of the Church, boldly proclaimed the Gospel. Luke tells us that some could not stand the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking and they organized a crowd to stone him. With his final breath Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” But in Acts 12 Luke tells us that James the brother of John is killed and yet Peter gets freed from prison by an Angel. Why did James and Stephen die horrible deaths why Peter got a Divine jail break? The answer to that question binds together the different ways God gives us faith in the storm and we will come back to this point.
The third lesson we learn about having faith in the storm comes from the book of Philippians. Paul teaches us that sometimes God does not change our circumstances but provides us the Grace to have peace in those circumstances. Paul calls this the peace that surpasses all understanding. Now you may be thinking like I am that I don’t understand what that is because it surpasses understanding but I am pretty sure I don’t experience the peace that surpasses understanding all that often. Yet, Paul does not promise that we will automatically experience this peace during the storm. This peace is conditioned upon our response. And our response should be this, “ in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Now how often do we make our prayer requests and our troubles known to everyone else before we make them known to God? How often do we react to a situation before we take substantial time to pray about it? Now Proverbs 15:22 declares, “ Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is important that we seek godly council in matters of importance. I am sure you as well have people you confide in about situations you are going through. But the scripture tells us first to seek God till we have peace before we seek the counsel of others. Otherwise we can fall into what we call in the South the “bless their heart” phenomena. You know where we say, “oh bless so’ heart but..” and then say something that in fact does not bless them.
The fourth lesson we learn about faith in the storm is that the scriptures teaches us that however God deals with our circumstances, whether we believe our trial has come as a testing from God, the Devil, our own mistakes, or for reasons that we shall never know, that God will bring good out of bad, he shall bring beauty from ashes. As Paul declares in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We have no better example of this than the story of Joseph. You know the story. Joseph was the youngest of his brothers. An interpreter of dreams. A predictor of things to come. And he really didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. He had a gift but let’s admit it he was a little full of himself. And his brothers hated him for that. They organized a trap and sold him into slavery. He somehow ended up in the house of Pharaoh as a servant. But Potifar’s wife accused him unjustly and he was sent to prison. He helped interpret Pharaoh’s chief cupbearers dream but then the cup bearer forgot about Joseph and he spent at least two years in prison. But at the right time the cup bearer remembered Joseph and called upon him to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph predicted a famine. And Pharaoh trusted him. He made him second in command over all the land and with this new power Joseph was able to save his family, even the brothers who betrayed him. When Joseph’s identity is revealed to his brothers they are sure he is going to punish them. But the scripture tells us that Joseph said, “ Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Whether our circumstances change or not God is working we need to believe that.
The final lesson we learn about having faith in the storm shows us why Stephen died and Peter lived. Now God is our good father and will provide for our needs. Jesus is compassionate and is willing to heal us mind, body, and Spirit. But if our needs alone moved the hand of God to calm the storm then we wouldn’t have any problems would we? I think the common thread that binds together all these scriptures is the glory of God. Whether he calms the storm, whether we endure through it, whether he brings good out of it, or whether we die from it, he is seeking to reveal his glory to us. For as our Psalm says today he is not a mute idol that does not speak. The word for glory in the Hebrew means weight. And throughout the scriptures we see people falling to the ground when the glory of God is revealed. He wants us to know the weight of his glory that we may cry out that God is truly among us.
Now maybe you are thinking option two and three are far more likely in your lives and in the life of this congregation than God changing your circumstances. When you are a small church you have to depend on God. There is never enough money, time, and people. It puts us in a mentality of scarcity. It is not like God is going to send us a check in the mail that solves all our problems. You are right. But he might send cash.
I say this because I believe it was January of last year when I checked my church mail box and I found an envelope addressed to me with no return address. Inside, I kid you not, was three hundred dollars in twenties, with a hand written note that said something to the effect, “Reverend Will the Lord put it on my heart to give this money to you because he said you needed it.” Now I want to be clear this is not a regular occurrence so don’t be expecting to win the lottery by checking my church mail box. I was sort of flabbergasted to be honest. It was super awesome. But I wasn’t sure it was from the Lord. Because I really didn’t need the money.
But that very same day we had a preschool board meeting. And I discovered that a couple of families were having trouble paying tuition and would need a scholarship. I ran back to my office and gave the preschool the money. I do believe we still had some of that money left over at the end of the school year. It’s been a year and three months since that happened. I have not made a big deal about it because I didn’t do it to get acclaim. I gave that money away because it brought my heart joy to do so. And I believe it was the Lord who sent me cash in the mail. Not just to help those families but to give us faith today, that we may feel the weight of his glory, that we may have faith in the storm.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.