Jesus in the Storm

Lord Jesus helps us to give ourselves to you and your way. Help us to lay down our own wills and plans for our life and see you as good. Help us to be followers of you willing to listen and obey. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

During World War II there was a German Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was alive in such a time of the Nazi regime. As the Nazi occupation began to take over Germany and the churches Dietrich bravely opposed what he saw happening in government and in the church. Dietrich saw the Nazi agenda for what it was an evil overtaking of the people and the world. He was one of the founding members of the Confessing Church and sought to oppose the Nazi occupation through spreading Christian love and teachings of the church. He wrote a Christian classic called The Cost of Discipleship, which if you haven’t read you should. Outlining what it means to be a Christian and encouraging the faithful to follow Christ. He lived during such a difficult time in history and I don’t think that in his humanity he would have chosen it for himself. I don’t think he wanted to be put in a concentration camp and to die there. Yet God used his work and his life some 70 years later to continue to influence Christians around the world with encouragement and a vision for Christian living. 

We were all made for such a time as this, we were all born when we were born in order to influence the world for good whenever it was we were born. So often we divide ourselves up by age and we separate ourselves one from another looking down on each other for our age differences. We make subtle comments like, “Well you wouldn’t know that you are too young.” Or comments like, “When you get to experience such and such then you will know what I mean.” Or comments like, “They are too old to understand.” We distance ourselves from each other and try to put down others for being too young and being too old to understand. The way of Jesus is instead to see value in one another to value what someone old has to say and to equally value what someone young has to say. The Jesus way is one that honors human beings for being made in the image of God and for having worth because He made them.

When I was sixteen years old I was elected to my church’s vestry. I spent much of my time listening and learning and what I found amazing was that they wanted to hear what I had to say. During that time period the Episcopal church was making some serious steps away from traditional Christian teaching and we as individual churches and as a diocese were trying to form our responses. God had me in that place and time period for a purpose despite my age. If God has made each one of us and has made us for a purpose in the world, a purpose that changes as our lives change. A purpose for good if we so choose it. A purpose that can give us an abundant life that we find fulfilling, life-giving, and occasionally exhausting if we are truly giving ourselves to it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born given the education and experiences that he was given in order to prepare him and to make him ready for the storm of his life. What has God prepared you for? What is God wanting to do in your life, with your experience, and your age? What are you supposed to share with the world to change something for the good? 

When you speak, send texts or emails, or post on social media, how are you doing something for good? How are you bringing beauty into the world and bringing the message of the gospel to others? Not other messages of gloom and doom that cause fear, distrust, or lack of understanding. But rather messages of hope, trust in a good God, and kindness to others. Our godly purpose in life is meant to be reflected in our values as Christians. We were reading a book to our older children in the evening called Tech Savvy Family in which an illustration was used to drive home the importance of remembering what we do on social media. Imagine standing in the front of the church with everything you say, post on social media, and listen to being projected above your head for everyone to see. Imagine everyone connecting your thoughts, posts, and web pages with your face. That is how we are supposed to live our lives. We are to make sure we live lives of integrity, honesty, and godly thinking. When something in our lives does not line up with this then we need to kick it to the curb.

The Gospel passage today is following the feeding of the thousands. Jesus has dismissed the crowd and sent the disciples on in a boat across the sea. He then goes higher up the mountain in order to do the work of prayer or communing with His Father. Jesus would have these incredible time periods of ministry and outpouring of the Holy Spirit and then knew the only way to go from there was to His Father in communion in order to be filled up again. Jesus shows us the way we are supposed to go. If you truly give yourself to the purpose that God has for you then you will grow weary and you will become exhausted and you will need to be filled up by God. If you do not care for yourself by praying earnestly, daily, and consistently then you will find yourself like an unmoored boat drifting out into a part of the water you were never intended to be in. A faith-filled life is one that comes back to the Father over and over again to receive right thinking, a softened heart, and being corrected in the way you should go. The Gospel of Mark says that Jesus sees his disciples struggling in the water against the waves and storms and goes out to them not intending to be seen. Jesus sends the disciples knowing full well there would be a storm. 

In our lives we are going to face storms and difficulties, you can not exist in this world without experiencing them. Everyone despite their age faces difficulties. Perhaps the storm you are facing is meant to provide a time of testing, a time of acknowledging God’s mercies in your life, or a time to let go of the outcome you want in your life. Mark for some reason was inspired by the Holy Spirit to let us know that Jesus never intended to be seen but He was near. Despite the fact that Jesus had a physical body then He did not intend for His disciples to lay eyes upon Him but rather to weather the storm in what appeared to be in isolation. The reality however is that Jesus was with them and rather close to them in their time of need. By ascending into heaven Jesus has given us all the great gift of being able to draw near to all of us in our time of need. He can be everywhere at one time or throughout all of history.  

This whole episode is a good illustration of the life of discipleship, seen as a constant experience of testing and deliverance; for it was again not through stubborn self-will, but through direct obedience to the command of Jesus, that the disciples found themselves in this danger. The storm did not show that they had deviated from the path of God’s will: instead, God’s path for them lay through the storm, to the other shore of the lake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was called to walk through the storm as his life happened, not being able to deviate around the problems. It was in the midst of the storm that he was shaped, formed, and made into Christ-likeness. The situations that happen in our lives are meant to test us and to show us God’s great deliverance if we allow him. Being saved by Jesus is far more awesome or awe-inspiring than coming up with our own flawed and short-sighted solutions. We are incredibly creative and can come up with all sorts of solutions to address our problems, however, walking close to Jesus and receiving His words of wisdom has power we can not even imagine. 

The disciples were battling to row across the lake in the midst of this storm in the middle of the night. They had worked and labored all day and into the night trying to cross the lake. The waves and wind were unrelenting and they were struggling to see the way forward. How many times have you been in the thick of it during a storm wondering what is next or when will it end? Have you looked around for your Savior in the midst of the storm or just assumed like the disciples that you were alone? Jesus shows up walking across the water and scaring the bejebbies out of the disciples. I have to admit that I identify more closely with the disciples here. Mark says that Jesus never intended to be seen here but rather to go across checking on the disciples. He was going to meet them on the other side, they were to arrive despite the storm to the other side. They scream in fear at the sight of him and He comes to be in the midst of them creating peace and calming the waves. Jesus responds to His disciples with love, presence, and peace. 

We so often like to imagine that Jesus is off somewhere holy and pristine not getting mixed up in our messy lives. We like to imagine Him contained and not going all the places we do. The reality is that where you go Jesus goes as well. Whether you are doing church things and serving or whether you are off carousing in ungodly ways there Jesus is. We often want Jesus when we want Him and we want Him to remain in a box or separate place to only see us in our cleaned-up Sunday best. The disciples were not in their Sunday best. The disciples were not presenting their best faces or most polished versions of themselves. The disciples were struggling, losing hope, and probably fearing abandonment. The reality in their lives and ours is that God does not abandon us but we often abandon God. We often turn away lost in our own anxieties, worries, anger, lack of listening, or lack of trust that God will provide. All of us have had experiences as children in which we did not get something that we needed or someone should have protected us or provided for us and they did not. When we do not receive healing for these things it makes it difficult for us to see God’s presence in our lives.  It makes it difficult for us to know His presence in our lives in the midst of our own storms. 

In some storm-like situations in our lives we are meant to row hard against the wind and waves and to struggle to make it to the other side. Cancer wars are sometimes won, painful divorces, illness of children, the burying of parents, and all sorts of painful situations. We are meant to be tested, tried, and to find Jesus mighty to save. In some storm-like situations we panic and find Jesus walking upon the water and being in our midst. Either way Jesus is the same, He is consistent, loving, present, able to be in the midst of our struggles, darkness, and intense storms of our lives. Jesus will not leave you or forsake you. Jesus will be with you loving you and giving you peace only if you allow Him, only if you turn to Him. Jesus is not a bully, he does not hoist himself upon you. Jesus will not force His way into your life but rather He longs to help you, to love you, to be the one who is there when you need someone. Jesus can always bring peace to your situation and to your heart despite the circumstances surrounding your life. 

When Jesus is responding to the frightened disciples to let them know who it is on the water he uses the words from Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” Jesus calms them by telling them He is God who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in creation. Jesus claims the Jewish words of power to show them a glimpse more of who He is in the world and what He has come to do. Jesus’ presence often brings calm and peace to the disciples, however they are often shocked, in fear, and amazed at His workings. 

Smallness of faith and hardness of heart are two constant sins of the disciples in the gospel of Mark. Hardness of heart is that lack of spiritual perceptivity, that lack of readiness to learn, for which we are ultimately blameworthy ourselves, and which, in the extreme case of the scribes, can lead at last to the sin against the Holy Spirit. Hardness of heart is when we refuse to learn or to grow in the ways of God. It does not matter how old you are, you can always learn more of God. I had a wonderful friend in Pittsburgh who had just died in the last two years. She was in her late eighties and always sought out opportunities to grow in her knowledge and love of the Lord. She would take classes at the seminary, go to lectures at different churches, and attend as many classes at church as she could and be a part of her small group. She was always learning and growing even up until her death. Hardness of heart can be overcome by seeking to know the ways of the Lord and the willingness to submit yourself to some other aspect of God. To learn more of Him and to become more like Him is the way.  

Smallness of faith is a failure to remember God’s working in the past and to apply that knowledge of his nature to our present problems. If the early Christians, especially in centres like Rome, saw these storms as pictures of persecutions through which they must go, then this was an important lesson to learn. It is important to remember in those storms of our lives that God is always present. I encourage you to write down the ways in which the Lord has moved. Keep a journal and write down the ways you see God present and active. Because if you do then you will have a record of His faithfulness and of His mercy in your life. It can bolster you up in the times when you struggle to see and hear God. Even the most faithful people have gone through seasons when they can not feel or hear God. Your record can become a lifeline in those seasons. 

When you find yourself beginning to panic about your difficult life situations, come before the Lord in a posture of openness and willingness to see Him in your life. Where is He moving in your life? What does He want you to learn in the midst of the ups and downs of your season? What have you heard Him say to you? God promises that if we seek Him and look to Him for direction then He will guide us and speak to us. I recently found a necklace that I acquired when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Pittsburgh. On the front of the necklace is the cross of Canterbury and on the back it says, “So that we who come to you rough-hewn, may by you be fashioned according to your will.” Each of us for our whole lives need to be fashioned by God and made to look and be more like him. It is our choice as to whether or not we will submit our lives to him and grow in his favor and goodness. Every time we go through something difficult it is a chance to experience God more intimately and to know Him more fully if we want to. He longs to draw near to you and to comfort you with His love if only you will allow Him. 

So it is my prayer for you this week that God might bring to mind some way in which He sees you, hears you, and profoundly loves you. It is my prayer that you would let Him into your life circumstances trusting His good will for your life. For the Lord is merciful when we do not deserve it and He longs to heal you and to give you peace and calm. To the glory of God!! Amen

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