This sermon was delivered by Wendell Griffen, pastor of the New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on June 21, 2009.
Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all? Mark 4:40 (The Message)
Being in a boat with Jesus did not keep the people with him from encountering a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee. Storms do not discriminate. Life with God does not make a person immune from health storms, family storms, school storms, work storms, or any other storms. Life can, life does, and life will become stormy. Faith in God will not change that reality.
We must also admit that storms are dangerous. Tornadoes and hurricanes are dangerous. Sea squalls are dangerous. Economic storms are dangerous. Family conflict storms are dangerous. It is also important to admit that storms in one area of life can produce other storms. The hurricane named Katrina flooded the Louisiana Gulf Coast and New Orleans, dislocated people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and resulted in lost jobs, scattered families, health challenges physically and emotionally, and other consequences. Just like hurricanes can spawn tornadoes and tornadoes can spawn severe thunderstorms, a storm in any area of life can trigger or produce storms on other fronts.
So if we cannot escape storms by because of our relationship with God, and if storms are dangerous, why did Jesus scold his disciples after they awakened him during the dangerous storm on the Sea of Galilee? Jesus is God’s love personified. How was the scolding consistent with God’s love? What does the scolding say to us about fear and faith?
Doubting God’s care does not fit trusting faith. When the disciples awakened Jesus during the storm, they did so with an amazing statement: “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we going down? (The Message)” The NRSV renders that question in these words: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Although the disciples were with Jesus, they did not sense that Jesus was mindful of their predicament. They were battling a storm for their lives. The Sea of Galilee had turned violent. Although these were experienced sailors, they were no match for the storm, sea, and wind.
Like them, we often are beset by storms that threaten our lives. A bad report from the doctor will threaten us. The death of someone we love and the grief that comes with it will hang heavy over us. Misunderstandings, disappointments, setbacks, failures, betrayals, and so many other things can shake us up. Sooner or later, we will encounter storms that are more than our money, schooling, experience, and strength can handle.
Jesus was upset with his disciples because they allowed the storm to shake their trust in His concern for them. Shaken by their storm, the disciples questioned whether Jesus was concerned for them. They had no reason to doubt his concern. Their doubts did not cause the storm to subside. All that their timidity accomplished was to weaken their hands for the task of battling the storm and handling the boat. They saw themselves as perishing in the storm, not persevering through the storm.
If we trust God’s care, love, and power, we must not accuse God of being unloving, uncaring, or impotent when we are in storms. Trusting faith hears the winds and looks at the rough seas of life, to be sure. Then it keeps courage by knowing that storms do not change God. Storms do not change God’s love for us. Storms do not change God’s awareness of us. Storms do not change God’s power to keep us and deliver us.
Well, Preacher, what should we do when our storms arise? What good news do you bring for the Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, terminal illness diagnosis, and termination notice, and other storms of our living?
Where can I begin? How about this: “Trouble don’t last always!” “The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow.” “My Soul is Anchored in The Lord.” These songs of our heritage remind us that others have known storms. “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” tells me about praying “through the storm, through the night” and trust God’s grace and love to “lead me on to the light.” Storms are for trusting God more. Storms are for praying more, hoping more, and standing our ground for God more! Storms are for faithful living, hoping, praying, and acting, not fearful cringing and doubting God’s goodness, power, and love.
The Good News is that our storms are not God! In Jesus, we see that God’s love is with us in our storms. In Jesus, we see that God’s peace is with us in our storms. In Jesus, we see that God’s power is with us in our storms. So let us be of good cheer in the storms of life. Let us encourage each other to look at our storms with faithful eyes and strong hearts. Let us remind ourselves and one another that other people have passed through storms like ours. They left us a good record. We are God’s children. Our storms are opportunities to glorify God by our faith.
I conclude with two memories that are very vivid to me concerning how people of faith chose to face their storms with faith rather than tremble in fear. One of my memories involves a man whose son was assigned to undergo paratrooper training at the Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. One Sunday afternoon the man received a phone call from his son. After a few minutes of the usual questions and answers about how relatives were getting along, the young man expressed anxiety about the next day, when he would have his first jump from a moving airplane. The father listened, then said, “Just remember your training.” So the young man reflected on the weeks of running, jumping, and training that he had received. Rather than focusing on fears, the son focused on that training. That focus calmed him, steadied him, and allowed him to face the open door of moving aircraft over the coming days and jump into space with strength. My father’s advice during that phone conversation has returned countless times as I have faced other open doors and stormy situations—”Just remember your training.” So I have remembered his favorite scripture—Psalm 23—and repeated it whenever my storms begin to unsteady me. That too, is part of my training.
The other memory concerns a woman I know whose husband died of a chronic illness. They were happy together and so fond of each other. His death was a great pain to her. Yet, as we helped her plan his funeral and went through the usual ritual of making final arrangements, I sensed a special nobility about her. And at the cemetery on the rainy day of the funeral, I witnessed the kind of faith and courage that is unforgettable. The widow handed me a hymnal and whispered, “I want us to sing this before we leave.” So we sang:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well—it is well
With my soul—with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
The widow remembered her training. She knew she was not alone. She sang that song with us. Let us face our storms as she did to the glory of God. 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.