Calm Amid the Storm

June 20, 2021

Mark 4:35-41

What are your storms?

We all have them. Be it struggles in a relationship, hiding a truth we are not comfortable sharing, financial, vocational, and made even more apparent this week, the death of a loved family member. We each react to our storms differently because we are human. While some are bold to confront them head on, others would rather find a quiet place of peace. Maybe you could name these storms, I know I can, or maybe they are beginning to form, and you are yet unaware. We never know where the next storm is going to come from.

Chris Gardner shares his story of overcoming such storms in his memoir and a movie of the same name, The Pursuit of Happyness. Chris had dreams of making it big. Chris wanted to provide for his family and give those things to them which he did not have growing up. He seemed to be looking for the next best thing. As a salesman, he invested his life savings in portable bone density scanners. Thinking he could sell them and turn a profit. However, the sales were not consistent. He would encounter a storm when he had no money left to pay for a cab he was sharing and made a run for it. Unfortunately, he left behind a scanner which meant he was out a lot of money. In that encounter he learned of the opportunity to work for a stockbroker.

Unfortunately, the position was an unpaid internship which may lead to a job but there was tough competition. His wife’s response is to leave for New York City and leave their son with Chris. He eventually gets evicted and one scene from the movie has him and his son sleeping in a subway station bathroom. He will also get his paycheck garnished because of unpaid federal income taxes. Chris finds himself in a storm so big, he wonders if he will even be able to get out.

You may have not been in this position yourself. Your storms may not appear as big. Regardless, Jesus is in the boat to calm the storm and speak peace to the chaos. Jesus calming the storm is a reflection of God’s very action in the beginning of Genesis. “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). It was this wind from God, or the very breath of God, which swept over the waters and brought a calmness to the dark. It is in Jesus’ words in which he rebukes the wind, waves, and storm that a breath of peace and calm is brought to the fearful disciples.

The storms of our lives reveal many anxieties. You may find yourself in a constant state of worry. Worrying about what if and wondering if you could have or should have done something differently. As we see in the disciples, there is a state of fear. When you do not know what is going to happen, it is easy to become fearful of the unknown and once again, the what ifs. The storms can bring out the worst in us, yet they can also bring out the best. When we confront the storm as Jesus did, there can be a sense of peace and calmness. Praying for God’s help and guidance in such storms gives us the courage to not back down. It gives us a courage to get back up if the storm knocks us over.

Of course, individuals are not the only ones who can be battered by storms. The church is no stranger to storms. This weekend we return to the sanctuary after a long fifteen months of wondering when we will be back. We have attempted a couple of other times only to see infection rates rise again. While the church is not the building, there is a sense of welcome here and belonging. Part of it is tradition. Part of it is feeling comfortable. As we listen to the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark, we are reminded of the ship Jesus was in. There was safety there once Jesus calmed the storm. Another name for the sanctuary could also be a nave. It is derived from the Latin, navis, which means ship. Many churches actually resemble upside down ships as you look at them. We too, returning to our ship, can pray and sense the storm is being calmed currently regarding the pandemic.

While that storm is being calmed, churches find themselves with other storms not necessarily present pre-pandemic. There is concern over membership: is everyone going to return? There is concern over the budget: is it still going to add up and are we going to find ourselves in the black at the end of the year? There is a fear of what will happen and also of what may never happen again. There is a question of will the church survive this major shift in faith we have witnessed since last year. These are not only questions for Trinity, our partner churches, our denomination, but for Christianity as a whole. This past year we may have all been in the same storm, but we are in different boats and are responses are going to be varied.

As we think of our sanctuary as a ship, what would it look like if we were to offer safe passage to the fearful and hopeless people of God? What would it look like for us to open our arms to all and welcome them in unconditionally? What if we think outside the box and do something radical? This is where the church is headed post-pandemic.

Storms affect as all. The question is, how do we face them? At the beginning I shared the story of Chris Gardner. A story of one storm after the other. Chris would eventually get the stockbroker position and would venture off and start his own firm. While he would become wealthy, he realized it was not the main thing. He writes, “Wealth can also be that attitude of gratitude with which we remind ourselves every day to count our blessings.”

The daily storms we face can be overwhelming. They require us to stop and take a deep breath and maybe even get angry and shed some tears. This is not an inappropriate response. The storm does not last forever and Jesus lets us know we are not alone. While the disciples thought they may perish at sea while Jesus slept, he was present. Bringing a sense of calmness to the boat. Calm enough that he could sleep through the storm. It was in the worried voices of the disciples he awoke and spoke words of rebuke to the storm and the wind, and the waves calmed. The disciples were left in aww. We are invited into the aww of Jesus as we ask him to rebuke our storms. We pray for his presence to guide us through the dark nights and a peace which can only be found in Christ.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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