I’m very excited for the opportunity Doyt has given me to bring the word this morning. Last week sitting out there in the pew was my first time at a worship service in person since Ash Wednesday of last year. For all of us this has been the longest Lent ever and while every Sunday is Easter, for me I am really feeling it being with you today.
I’m Peter Strimer a very part-time priest associate on staff here at Epiphany. It’s funny how much I was able to work with you during COVID doing video children’s sermons and teaching Zoom classes. But it is nothing like worshipping in person.
My wife El and I live in Florida half the year with the plan to get there on December 1 and to leave on June 1st. If you pay attention to the weather like I like to do, you will know that means we get out of Florida for Hurricane season. The first named storm of the year Ana popped up on May 23. We always say a little prayer when we lock up the villa that it will still be there when we return.
We’ve been lucky so far. The biggest hit and threat were from Irma. Our family members left the flooding around their house on Sarasota Bay and took refuge at our condo. But then the storm took a turn south of us and died out in the interior. But not before the front edge had entirely drained Sarasota Bay sparking a Manatee rescue effort for those beautiful creatures stuck in the mud. It was quite a scene.
That was a minor problem compared with the 1926 hurricane that single-handedly washed Miami Beach, Cocoanut Grove, Coral Gables and Palm Beach into the sea and ended the Florida land rush and probably started the dominos that led to the Great Recession. Andrew, Charly, Michael, Wilma; People in Florida take their storms seriously.
The disciples in our gospel story today took the storm they were in very seriously. Jesus stilling the storm is one of his most widely known miracles. It comes early in Mark’s gospel, when we as readers and his disciples as characters are still trying to figure out just who this Jesus is. The earliest of the disciples met Jesus as fishermen on these very same waters where our story takes place. Since that time, they have gone with him from town to town in Galilee as he established his first reputation as a famous faith healer. Just before they set sail for this fateful trip, he has introduced them to his primary means of teaching – the parable. The Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Parable of Lamp, and more. No one had ever taught them like this and because they did not understand them it says right before our story, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained in private to his disciples.
But stilling a storm, that is an entirely new level of miracle. And while it is presented as an actual miracle, it all serves as an earth-shaking parable. Jesus will have a lot of explaining to do: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Our gospel story finds us at the first of several times when Jesus commands his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee. These crossings are what set off the different sections in the Gospel of Mark, the first written Gospel telling the story of Jesus. His disciples, following his orders, launch their boat with him seated on a cushion in the back “as he was” whatever that means.
A hurricane arises, swamping the boats of the disciples in the most violent of storms they had ever seen. Remember these are professional fishermen; they have seen storms, but never one like this.
And there is Jesus asleep on his pillow right in the midst of this storm. This drives his disciples crazy.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
That dead calm, that is one thing you hear from many people who have suffered through the ravages of a hurricane. Afterwards comes a dead calm. The sun comes out. Peaceful winds return. You see people rubbing their eyes as they come out to see what the damage is.
I think that is sort of where we all are right now. The Covid Hurricane has washed over our land with immediate destruction and loss like no storm ever before. It makes Katrina look like a drizzly November day in Seattle. This fifteen-month storm came on top of another storm that roiled our country for the three years before the Covid Hurricane hit.
And now, with the anticipated announcement from our governor on June 30th, the vast majority of the storm will be declared past and here we all come out of the basement, rubbing our eyes. What is it we are going to see?
Some of what awaits us will be absolutely beautiful. Each year one way or another El and I have to make our way back to Seattle from Sarasota. This year we embarked on a “Hugging Family and Friends” Road Trip on May 16. 17 days on the road zigzagging through the south and Midwest with stops with brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, great-nephews and nieces, old dear friends weaving our way to Chicago where we turned in the rental car and flew the rest of the way home. It was pure joy to give and receive hugs again.
Of course, some of what awaits us will be sad beyond words – the loss of life, of livelihood, of a privileged sense of well-being and protection.
And some of what awaits us may be just as harrowing as the storm we just weathered.
I could give a whole range of examples, but since I was just on an airplane, I’ll use airplane travel as the sign of the latest craziness that is taking place. Forbes Magazine wrote recently, “This year, airlines have seen a dramatic increase in in-flight passenger incidents, and these have gotten increasingly violent and dangerous.
Through May, about 2,500 such incidents have been recorded, and those categorized as “unruly” reached 394, compared with well under 200 for each full year of 2019 and 2020. A Southwest Airlines flight attendant lost two teeth in one battle. Some airlines are postponing a return to selling alcohol onboard in order to reduce a potential accelerant to such behavior.”
These face-offs over face masks are just one metaphor for the continuing storm.
Yes, some of what is in store for us will be absolutely infuriating. Airplanes are one thing but how terrible have been the unprovoked attacks on Asian Americans as a result of scapegoating? This on top of the continuing violence against Blacks and Muslims and all people of color. Did you see where one entire Muslim family was run down in London Ontario?
After COVID dampened the violence for a while, we have seen the weekly return to senseless mass shootings across our country. The same battles, only rawer and meaner, the vitality of violence and rage, practiced and honed to a sharp edge over these past years could well be a storm unleashed in new and ugly ways.
I have a confession. I am so much more like the disciples than I am like Jesus. And I further need to admit that in these past months I have been more energized with hatred and anger and fear than I ever thought possible. I have fallen into a vitality of violence and anger and fear like never before in my lifetime.
There is a pent-up energy that needs an outlet and I fear it may not be pretty. Stormy Weather ahead.
So, what are we to do when these new storms approach?
Be like Jesus.
In the midst of these new storms gathering take Jesus’ example and help still the storm.
Our work, our duty, our Christian calling is to stand in the midst of the rising waters and be still. When the words are flying, the fists are clenched, the storm is rising, be still. Find that peaceful center that passes all understanding that comes from Christ alone and be the one who doesn’t lash out, who doesn’t fight back who doesn’t cast the first stone.
Well, hearing my own words humbles me, really. Because being still is not my forte. I am great at trying to talk sense into people, at attempting to make sense of things as I see them, of catastrophizing when the dark clouds gather. I’m like the disciples looking at someone like Jesus and wondering out loud “Who is it that can sit still during something like this?”
Instead, I want to be like Jesus. Calm, eyes closed, still, not taking the storms bait.
This in no way means giving in to injustice, of making peace with oppression. It just means that we don’t immediately respond to hatred with hatred, to violence with violence, to fear with more fear.
If that is what we should NOT do, what is it we are TO DO?
What does it actually look like to be the calm in the midst of the storm?
Ruth Anne in our sermon prep session gave me the perfect example of what it is we are to do. When engaged in a new challenging situation, to be curious rather than judgmental. To be kind rather than angry or mean. To listen and listen and then listen some more particularly to those most different from ourselves.
This is another of the spiritual disciplines that Doyt is constantly challenging us to take on. The toughest of those to adopt are the ones that go against our natural, selfish nature. Be calm and sit still – that is not something that comes easily to me. I imagine some of you understand while for others this might be a spiritual gift rather than a practiced discipline.
Hurricane season officially began on June 1. This summer we are going to see a whole new kind of storm. We can act like the disciples, getting caught up in the fray, afraid of what is before us, angry about it. Or we can be like Jesus, calm in the storm with grace and patience. Be like Jesus.