June 24, 2018

What Does Trust In God Look Like? – June 24, 2018

Passage: Mark 4:35-41

Five weeks ago on Tuesday, May 15, as I began to settle in on the plane, awaiting takeoff from San Francisco Airport, I learned that our flight back home to JFK in NYC was going to be delayed for 3-hours. Instead of getting home at 8 or 9 pm, I probably wouldn’t be in bed till after midnight. Just about everyone on that very full flight was annoyed. We got off the plane and then re-embarked about 3-hours later. Couldn’t the big jet have flown through or around the thunderstorm? There were a couple small trees and big limbs down in my yard when I finally got home, so I could see that that there must have been some wind. It wasn’t till later, when a neighbor from across the street of our new home in Brookfield called, did I have any inkling how severe a storm that Jet Blue had wisely avoided. Ours was one of the very few homes on our new street that did not have a tree on our roof. We were very fortunate, she told us, she walked all the way around our yard and noticed no damage. She was not so lucky. A big tree was partially lying in her bedroom. Four other large trees had fallen, destroying one of her cars, knocking off the chimney, her flagpole and light, not to mention her shade and privacy. Power lines were down everywhere; power was finally restored after 10 days. Docks and boats were strewn all across Candlewood Lake and trees knocked down everywhere as a macro burst from the storm devastated a 9 by 7 mile area of land. As the thunderstorm continued its SE path tornadoes broke out in Southbury, Oxford, and Hamden. It was quite a storm.

How scary it must have been to be in the midst of that storm. How scary it must have been for Jesus’ disciples to be in that boat with him, crossing to the other side of the lake as he had told them, as the waves crashed over their bow and threatened to swamp them. Jesus was an amazing prophet, and preacher, and healer. They would follow him anywhere. But they didn’t take any comfort in seeing him still sleeping on some waterlogged cushions in the stern of the boat. One of them shook Jesus awake: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!” Then Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Next Jesus rebuked his disciples. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Who is this, they wondered, that even the wind and the sea obey him.

A verse from an old song from the 1960’s by a group of Roman Catholic Nuns, the Medical Mission Singers, Joy is Like the Rain, captures the challenge of trusting God in the midst of the storms that buffet us.

I saw Christ in wind and thunder,
joy is tried by storm
Christ asleep within my boat,
whipped by wind, yet still afloat
Joy is tried by storm

Rarely, but sometimes, God or fate intervenes to protect us from some grave harm. Maybe it happens a lot more than we realize. We should certainly be grateful for those many blessings when inexplicably we’ve escaped harm. But sometimes, all too often, the storm rages all around us. We look for help and God doesn’t seem to be doing anything. He might as well be asleep in the boat. “Where are you God? Can’t you see I’m in trouble here; I need your help! Save me from this storm.”

The question this passage seems to be asking us is the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” How do we trust God in the midst of life’s storms and challenges? Of course, we want God to protect us from harm, to rescue us, to bring us safely through. But sometimes trust in God means something deeper. Even when Jesus appears to be sleeping, even when we don’t see any action on God’s part to help us, maybe there’s still a reason to trust.

We can trust Jesus because of who he is. He has taken our part. He is God come down from heaven to share our human life. He has walked in our shoes. He shared our human life, our human condition, our pain and our death, our sin and brokenness, so that breaking the power of sin and death we might rise to new life with him. Even when we don’t see Jesus actively doing something on our behalf, we can trust his life and grace for us. We have reason to trust.

We can trust in Jesus’ presence. Even if we walk through great trials, even if the wind buffets our boat and it is filling up with water, even if we are going through the worst crisis we have ever faced, we know that Jesus is with us. He abides with us and invites us to abide in him. Sometimes he calms the storm and sometimes he calms his child and lets the storm rage. Knowing that Jesus loves us, forgives us, strengthens us, teaches us, nourishes us and lives within us: helps us get through anything.

Faith often prepares us to be able to deal with the many challenges that life throws at us. How many remember the movie The Karate Kid? The Karate Kid is about a teenager who feels alone and unprotected in the hostile environment of his school and community. He is scared — unable to defend himself against the hoodlums of his neighborhood. He is afraid. It happens that the lad — whose name is Daniel — meets an old man, Mr. Miyagi, who has a black belt in karate — and the old man agrees that he will teach him what he knows so that he can protect himself. On the first day of his lessons the old man asks Daniel to wax and polish several old cars that he owns — wax on — wax off. All day the lad labors to follow these instructions: wax on — wax off. On the second day the old man asks the boy to paint his fence — paint up — paint down. Again it takes all day.
On the third day the old man asks him to sand the wooden floor of his verandah in a circular fashion, and again it takes all day. At the end of the third day the boy is very angry — “I’ve done all this work for you,” he says, “and you still haven’t taught me anything.” At this point the master tells Daniel to stand in front of him and do the motion for wax on — wax off — and lo — as he does this — the master makes to hit him — and his blows are deflected by the boy’s arms. The boy’s work for Mr. Miyagi — his obedience, his trust — has made him ready for his first lesson in how to face danger; it has prepared him for the lessons, and the dangers, to follow. (Homiletics Online, “Uncommon Scents, Mark 4:35-41, 6/25/06) So it is to follow faithfully, growing in Christ’s love, learning to follow him in all things, prepares us for the challenges and difficulties that life throws at us.

Sometimes trusting Jesus means making changes in our lives. A husband and wife were watching TV one night in their living room. Perhaps related to a show they had just watched the husband shared a concern that he wanted his wife to remember as an advanced medical directive. “Just so you know,” he told her “I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.” His wife got up, unplugged the TV and threw out all of his beer. (Homiletics Online, same article) Sometimes trusting God means making changes in our lives. How might we be depending on unhealthy ways of behaving, or eating or living that trust in God is challenging us to change?

I’ve lived through a lot of storms. And I know sometimes they can leave an ungodly mess. I’ve cleaned out flooded basements and helped rehab houses where the walls had to be stripped down to the studs. I’ve seen homes completely destroyed, with only the foundation remaining of what once had been a stately home. Trust in God sometimes means living through the devastation and cleaning up afterwards. Trust in God means helping my neighbor who is trying to overcome the damage done by the storm.

The storms that blow through our lives can certainly wreck havoc. But they can’t take away our hope. They can’t take away what is most important: our love, our faith, our hope and trust in God. It’s hard seeing our new neighbors in Brookfield having to clean up and do repairs after so much wind damage and trees down everywhere. The sound of chain saws and wood chippers is a daily constant. Still, houses can be repaired, trees cut up and burned as firewood. Trust in a power greater than ourselves gives us the resilience and courage to rebuild. The support of neighbors to come to one another’s aid in the midst of disaster encourages us. The trust of God in a hope that is greater and more unshakable than any tree no matter how deeply rooted, is what matters most. “Why are you afraid?” Jesus who has been in the boat with us all along asks: “Have you still no faith?”

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