In the Middle of the Storm

Preaching, Theology

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — August 10th, 2014 — the Rev. James Joiner from Christopher Craun on Vimeo.

Sometimes in the middle of a storm, even help can look terrifying at first glance.

Imagine a woman in the middle of her own life’s storm. Her passion is writing, but writing doesn’t always pay the bills. For most of her adult life she’s been able to piece together enough freelance copy-editing to make ends meet, and even save up enough for her daughter to go to college. It’s when her daughter leaves the house, actually, that things begin to feel unsettled. After eighteen years of having her daughter at home the house feels lonely without her, and the woman’s routines begin to skip a beat here and there. At first, she doesn’t see the point in keeping any routine at all, she can finally stay up late binge-watching her favorite reality shows, she doesn’t have to wake up early to get her daughter to school. She fits her copy-editing in where she can, her creative writing less so. In the silence, she begins to notice something like dead weight in her heart, something that has always been there but which has been easier to avoid when her schedule has been more crowded. She begins losing the will to find new assignments. She begins putting off her bills and some doctor appointments. She stops leaving the house except to get a few bare necessities here and there. She feels isolated. It’s not that she doesn’t know anyone, its more that she doesn’t want anyone she knows to see her like this. She feels embarrassed to have gotten so out of order. There is one friend she can think of whom she trusts completely, one of her old college classmates, someone whom she could always confide in. Every time she feels very alone, she thinks of her friend, and what it used to feel like to be heard. One day, she finally picks up the phone to call her.

On the phone, the two make light conversation, but the woman’s friend can hear the depression coming through beneath the spoken words. She can hear it because she has experienced it herself. She makes plans to stop by and see her. When the friend of the woman arrives at her house, she tries to tread lightly, because she remembers what her own life felt like when it was broken in several places. She tries to simply be present with her friend, sometimes bringing food, sometimes helping with errands, but mostly, simply being around once in a while. Despite her friend’s gentle presence, the woman begins to resent her. Her friend seems to have everything figured out. She has a successful teaching job which she loves, she seems to find a balance of work and activities she enjoys, going to the theatre, trips to the coast. If anything, inviting this friend into her life only makes the woman feel more broken. Seeing her friend so seemingly at peace makes her own deep sorrow feel like like a personal failure. Finally, things come to a head in an argument. She accuses her friend of things both know aren’t true, the friend is taken aback, the woman rages with decades of unheard, hurt feelings. When she is finished screaming, when she is done crying, her friend is still standing there. Both apologize. Both forgive. The next time her friend comes, the woman feels more at ease in her presence.

Sometimes when we’re in the midst of a glimpse of what we want our life to be is painful.

When we see Peter this morning he is storm-tossed, but I imagine it’s not the first storm he’s passed through since meeting Jesus. He had done just fine as a fisherman. Then suddenly here is this man asking for so much more than fish. Here is a man who embodies everything good about the world insisting that it can be even better, even fuller, even closer to God’s dream for it. To follow this man, to attempt being anything like him at all turns Peter’s world upside down. All of his old sense of competency is gone. When he is caught at sea with his new friends in a storm, he should, of all people, know how to handle the familiar rigs. Instead he is terrified. Jesus comes to him bringing presence and peace. But Peter wants proof, also. If it is you, Lord, command me to come to you on the water. If you are really with me, make me do amazing things. Prove your presence in my life by making me accomplish superhuman feats of strength and endurance. Jesus has not asked this of Peter, but when Peter asks it of himself, Jesus invites him to give it a try.

Sometimes when we’re in the middle of a storm even help can look terrifying. Sometimes when everything feels broken, even receiving a glimpse of what we want our life to be like can be painful. It can be painful to be faced with a vision of wholeness and peace that seems wholly inaccessible. Sometimes when we’re used to fighting for everything all the time, we even fight the one who has come to be beside us. It is only when Peter collapses into the waves under the weight of his own expectations that he can cry to Jesus for the thing he has come to bring. Help. Salvation. A strong, steady grip in the midst of churning waves. When Peter can finally ask for this, when he can finally receive it, he finds peace in the storm.

We all likely have different ideas of who we think God wants us to be. Able to walk on water at a command. Capable of caring for four separate sick friends and family members without letting anything fall of our plates at work. Deft community organizers for the sake of justice. In fighting out our own expectations for who we believe God is calling us to be, let us always also remember who God is: with us, beside us, stillness in the storm, our very strength, our very peace, our salvation.

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