A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on June 24, 2012.
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The 2012 motion picture titled Good Deeds (directed by Tyler Perry) is a romantic drama about a young widow and single mother named Lindsey Wakefield. Her husband was killed during the war in Iraq. She’s raising her six year old daughter named Ariel alone. She is behind on her rent despite working as a janitor in a building owned by a wealthy business owner named Wesley Deeds. Lindsey’s minivan is almost towed after she parked in Wesley’s parking spot while going to pick up her paycheck. When she picks up her paycheck she is shocked that it is less than she expected because her pay will be docked for six months by the IRS. After dropping Ariel off at school, Lindsey returns to her apartment and finds their belongings dumped on a street. She and Ariel have been evicted. The hard-earned money she stashed in a mattress has been stolen. They are now homeless. Lindsey accepts a second shift at work to earn more money and hides Ariel in a cleaning closet while she cleans offices. But when authorities learn that Lindsey and Ariel are living and sleeping in the minivan, Ariel is taken from her. Lindsey is overwhelmed by social, financial, and personal winds and waves. In this romantic drama Tyler Perry shows how grace can lift us and sustain us despite the challenges of overwhelming circumstances.
Today’s lesson from Mark’s Gospel is about being overwhelmed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t a fairy tale. It’s about the very real and seldom romantic drama we often experience when life is too much for us. It’s about people trying to face their overwhelmed reality and the feelings of anxiety and desperation often associated with being overwhelmed by the storms of life.
Storms happen as we navigate the sea of life. While we’re trying to get “to the other side,” storms erupt in our family and other close relationships. Storms erupt at work. Storms erupt in our health.
What happens in us when the wind and waves of life’s storms overwhelm us? Where is God’s love when the layoff notice comes, a family member becomes ill, the unemployment benefits expire, you can’t pay the health insurance premium, the bank threatens foreclosure because you’re behind on the mortgage payment, and your car throws a fit costing money you don’t have to get it repaired?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ declares that we can be and often find ourselves overwhelmed! No matter where one lives, life can become turbulent, unpredictable, and difficult. No matter who we are, living exposes each person to wind and wave-like forces that become overwhelming. Yes, your world can be rocked. Yes, your life can get messy.
Real living means living in a world where the wind can shift from breezy to threatening. Real living means that change isn’t always pleasant or predictable. Real living is living knowing that storms can blow up anytime, anywhere, and for anyone. There is no such thing as a storm-free life.
So, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has “good news” for people when life gets stormy. There’s good news for us when our best efforts seem to be overwhelmed by the wind and wave forces that buffet us.
We are not alone! There’s a measure of truth in the saying that “misery loves company.” When we encounter storms during life it is important to remember that we aren’t alone. In today’s lesson the people in the boat were with each other and there were other boats with them in the stormy water. We’re not alone.
- We’re not alone. Others struggle with sickness.
- We’re not alone. Others struggle with guilt.
- We’re not alone. Others struggle to make ends meet.
- We’re not alone. Others struggle in their relationships.
- We’re not alone. Others struggle with fears, anxieties and feelings of desperation.
- We’re not alone. Moses felt overwhelmed. Elijah, Samuel, Mary (the mother of Jesus), the woman with the issue of blood, and John the Baptist felt overwhelmed.
- We’re not alone. Even Jesus felt overwhelmed in Gethsemane and on Calvary.
It helps to know when you’re struggling that this isn’t something reserved for you. Your struggle is personal. Your struggle may be private or public. But whether your struggle is private or personal know that every person goes through situations that are overwhelming.
God’s grace is available to and for us when we’re overwhelmed. In today’s lesson, Jesus was in the boat. As the men wrestled with the boat and their fears, anxieties, and feelings of desperation, Jesus was in the boat. Now some people might question if that’s “good news.” If Jesus was in the boat, why was there a storm, they might ask? If God’s grace is available to and for us, why should anyone go through storms?
Wind can shift from breezy to stormy when warm air collides with cold air. Warm air can collide with cold air because temperatures fluctuate. The weather of life can change! God’s grace doesn’t exempt us from changes in the weather or from feeling overwhelmed when we’re caught when the weather changes while we’re trying to navigate our boats. The fact that weather does and will change doesn’t mean God’s grace isn’t available with and to us.
But the “good news” is that God’s grace is with us in our storms. God’s grace is with us when health changes. God’s grace is with us when relationships become messy. God’s grace is with us when life shifts from breezy to threatening. God’s grace is with us.
God’s presence can be un-nerving! Sometimes we may feel, like the men did on the boat with Jesus, that God is napping during our storm. Mature people know that God’s grace doesn’t exempt them from storms, but even mature people can become un-nerved when God appears to be taking a nap during our storms.
For 250 years Africans were bought, sold, and abused as slaves by people whose greed contaminated everything they touched. The world was in a storm. Each enslaved person was in a storm. Who would not be un-nerved at the thought of God taking a nap through 250 years of slavery, another century of Jim Crow segregation, and all that was associated with it?
After Hitler’s Nazi regime was defeated, the world learned that six million Jews were murdered. The world was in a storm. Each victim of the Holocaust was in a storm. Who would not be un-nerved at the thought of God taking a nap through genocide?
In Rwanda, during Hurricane Katrina, during the tsunami that swept South Asia, during the current global economic mess, during the ongoing injustice inflicted upon Palestinians struggling in the West Bank, and in countless other situations, the biggest challenge to faithful living isn’t the reality of stormy circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us. No! The biggest challenge to faithful living is the image of Jesus napping on a cushion while the other men in his boat struggled.
We understand that we do not live in a world of unchanging weather. But when storms arise, we really want God to be alert and active on our behalf. We don’t want God’s grace to be asleep. When people are struggling and feel overwhelmed, we want God to actively care for us.
What kind of love naps during the Holocaust? What kind of love naps while people are snatched from their families, butchered, raped, robbed, and then blamed when they complain about it?
I cannot explain why Jesus napped. I can tell you that there are times when God’s grace seems to be napping as we’re feeling overwhelmed. There are times during our storms when we’re tempted to question whether God cares about us. That question can be more un-nerving than our storms. We can accept the idea that every person encounters storms. We can admit to feeling overwhelmed during our storms. But the idea that God’s grace is napping as we struggle is more painful.
That pain is clear in the question posed by the disciples when they roused Jesus from sleep. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” We know that your presence with us doesn’t exempt us from changing weather and the storms that come with it, but why can’t you stay awake? Do you not care enough to stay awake while we struggle? How dare you nap now!
Grace rises! I confess to being annoyed that God seems to be napping as we go through storms. But I take comfort in knowing the difference between a nap and a coma!
It may appear that God’s grace is napping. But I take comfort in knowing that God is not comatose. God is not dead. God is not insensitive to our plight. Jesus awakened from his nap. As much as I’m annoyed when God’s grace appears to be napping, I would rather be in a storm with God’s napping grace than in a storm alone.
Grace may seem to take a nap. Grace may seem to be unconcerned. But Grace does rise! And when Grace awakened during that storm in this lesson, God’s grace trumped the storm. God’s grace confronted the threats. Jesus awakened to remind his un-nerved followers that even the chaos of life must submit to the sovereignty of God’s grace and truth.
And Grace does rise from napping to confront the forces that threaten us. Hallelujah! However long may be the time that we struggle, God cares for us! God’s grace will rise to help us.
I think that was what Jesus chided his friends about after quieting the storm. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? The grace of God is trustworthy even when it seems to be napping. And the caring grace of God is able to overcome the threatening forces that overwhelm us during the storms of living.
Grace rises to confront the forces that threaten us. Grace rises and demonstrates God’s sovereignty over everything, including the chaos of life.
- Because grace rises, Hitler’s regime failed.
- Because grace rises, a reluctant Abraham Lincoln confronted the slavery regime of the South and defeated it.
- Because grace rises, a young preacher named Martin King led a movement of mistreated people to overcome armed and vicious regimes in the name of justice and love.
- Because grace rises, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
- Because grace rises, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me” is not the final word during our storms.
- Because grace rises, we live an Easter gospel.
- Because grace rises, we do not lose heart despite the evil others may do.
- Because grace rises, our storms may rage, but they cannot rule!
Grace rises to confront the wind and waves of our overwhelming circumstances. Grace rises to speak peace to our trembling and frustrated spirits. Grace rises to remind us that we are loved by God. And because grace rises, the overwhelmed can face our storms with faith and hope.
Grace rises! Hallelujah! Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.