Year B, 5th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7 June 24, 2018 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’”
Our Gospel reading for today and the ones for the next two weeks have traditionally been seen as illustrations of the Kingship or Lordship of Jesus. This week with the stilling of the storm His Lordship over the natural order is demonstrated. Next week, with the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ dying daughter, He is the Lord of life and law. And the week after, Jesus gives spiritual power to the twelve and sends them into the world. He is the Lord of the Spirit Realm.
A quick language note. “Lord” and “King” are both problematic, highly patriarchal terms for a God who is as beyond or as all-encompassing of gender as ours is. I think “Lord” is probably better. We certainly use “Lord” more in our liturgical practice, it is “The Lord’s Prayer” after all, and in the Hebrew Bible, Lord, when written in those weird small caps means the proper noun YHWH. “The Lord” in Job would more appropriately be written “YHWH.” (It was a shorthand introduced by the KJV that has kept on in biblical translation).
But thinking of Jesus, of our Triune God in terms of Lord or King, most Episcopalians do that only in a very nuanced way. We generally use those titles in abstract, mystery laden ritual ways. “The Lord be with you.” The royalty of God is not being emphasized. It is not a title so much as a name, which, like in Job or the psalms, it is. But that, I fear, can leave us hanging sometimes, in particular in the times when we need God the most. We need almightiness sometimes. Sometimes we need a Lord. Freedom does have its cost.
Our Gospel today is amongst the most familiar stories in the Bible, Jesus stilling the storm. You know how it goes, they board boats and quickly encounter a great storm and they were in danger of being swamped. Jesus slept through the excitement until they woke Him up, crying “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He rebuked the wind and told the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then He turned to them and asked, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” In return, the disciples, still “fearing a great fear”, translated as “filled with great awe,” they wondered “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” If they only had faith…
That is the object lesson here, it is precisely what Jesus says: if they, if you, if we had faith, have faith that Jesus is in fact Lord (in small caps, as in God), then we’d have no reason to be afraid. Especially with Him lying right there on the cushion in the stern of the ship or residing right here in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts. If Jesus was really there, if we had faith, shouldn’t we know that every little thing is going to be alright?
Well, that’s complicated, because it’s not. Everything is not going to be alright. Not all the time. Not for everyone. We are all going to die some day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “Life is suffering” like our Buddhist friends do, but it is sure full of it. For some a lot more than others. Look at St. Paul, he suffered afflictions, hardships and calamities. His list there in 2nd Corinthians includes beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. This is Paul! He is in the bosom of God and he and his companions are suffering like this? This is the anti-prosperity Gospel; that’s the modern American theology that says that wealth and ease of life, the absence of suffering is a sign of God’s favor. (Which of course implies that suffering, that calamity indicates God’s displeasure. Which is false. Which is the worst possible theology to ever preach or believe because it is heresy. That is not what Jesus said, it is precisely opposite of the Word. It is un-Christian on every level).
This is the whole point of the Book of Job. For 36 Chapters, Job argued back and forth with his friends. He insisted that he did nothing wrong, nothing deserving the punishment he received (and he didn’t, he didn’t do anything wrong). His “friends” insisted right back that he must have, because God rewards the righteous and punished the wicked. No. False. God says that from the whirlwind. God said, “Just shh. You, none of you know what the heck you are talking about.” God does not afflict suffering. God does not punish. But obviously that does not mean that bad things don’t happen. Tragedy, suffering, death happen. To all of us.
If Jesus is Lord, Lord of the natural order, Lord of life and law, Lord of the spirit world why doesn’t He just stop it, the afflictions, the hardships, the calamities? Why doesn’t He just cure all the cancer in the world, or end all poverty or make war to cease with a “Peace! Be still!”? Though there are occasional reports of miracles, that is not the general experience of almost all of us. Every breath, every baby, every sunrise is a miracle, for sure, but stilling the raging sea, spontaneous healings, raising of the dead? Where are you King of Kings, Lord of Lords?
So the story here is clear that the wind ceases and the waves calm for real, not metaphorically. Whatever happened was experienced and remembered as a miracle. We’ll leave that as that. But there might be more subtly there. What could also be miraculous is the miraculous expectation that Jesus had while sleeping away on the cushion. He has the expectation that the disciples should not have been afraid. But there was a lot to be afraid of. I’ve been in a canoe being swamped by rapids, that’s scary. An almost brother-in-law of mine is a Gloucester fisherman who had more than one boat sink under him, that is terrifying. His brother died at sea, he was played by Mark Wahlberg in “The Perfect Storm.” Horrifying. So to rely on faith and not be scared even in the midst of a gale? That could be a less than minor miracle.
Or the woman who was shunned because a bleeding woman was ritually unclean. When she touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak she was cleansed less of the blood than of the shame others tried to impose on her. Certainly a miracle from her perspective.
Or the ordination, the empowering and sending of the 12. They were sent to teach, to cure, to cast out demons. We’ve seen how bumbling the disciples could be, but Jesus ordained them with the power of God? I’ve been involved in ordination processes. That is a profound miracle!
Jesus Christ, Son of God makes Himself known to us. People. Human beings in our infinite variety. We are His domain, our hearts and minds and bodies are His inner kingdom, His homeland. He is Lord of our action and reaction to the world around us, if we let Him be. If we have faith. If we give our fealty, if we give our faith to Jesus Christ, if we not only let Him in, but if we follow Him where He leads, then, everything little thing will be alright. Maybe not out there, that is just not how usually it seems to work, but in here. Most of the time, Jesus is not going to stop the boat from rocking. But with faith, in faith, we can learn to live with the rocking, or learn to not be so scared of the rocking. Or maybe even, with Jesus Christ, following Jesus Christ, we can be scared, we can feel discomfort, pain, we can suffer, and get through it. We can know that suffering is not the end of the story. No, it is part of it. Christ with us, we can endure the suffering of injustice so we can turn around right the wrongs of the world. Christ with us, we can endure the suffering that has no “why,” no meaning, that we may live another day, give comfort to those around us, or even to go into the dust in more peace than could otherwise be possible.
Sometimes it is as dramatic as dying. Or dealing with that diagnosis. Or your child being in real trouble. Or the boot of empire, of the man, on your throat. Or poverty nipping at your heels. Or forgiving that spouse or parent, or whoever it is that wronged you that badly. Or much more commonly, just simply resisting your special temptation, your special weakness: the craving for intoxication, for sex, food, risk, whatever your poison. Resisting it, suffering through and knowing “This is not the end of the story. Like Gloria Gaynor teaches, “I will survive.”
I’m game! I need that in my life. I’ve got my struggles, ones I can’t handle on my own, we all do. So how do we have faith in Jesus Christ and allow His loving presence to enter into our lives to do all these marvelous things, to still the storm(s) in our hearts and minds?
One of the monks we lived with had the answer to that question and he preached it every time he took the pulpit. “Say the Jesus Prayer,” he preached, for years. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is as ancient a prayer as we have and if you say it faithfully 10,000 times, I have little doubt that it wouldn’t work. But that type of mystical, apophatic practice isn’t for everyone (and who has the time)?
St. Paul didn’t. He had places to be, things to do. The Corinthians were a cosmopolitan crew. I bet they were very busy, too. So Paul offered a very practical teaching to them. In his second letter to them, he tells them what to do. He tells them that he did all the things he did, endured all he had to endure “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.” That is how he did it, by being, doing, consenting to those things.
When things are terrible, be kind, try to be kind. When it seems it can’t get any worse, be patient or try to be patient. When the lies of the world are drowning you, use, try to use truthful speech. When you just don’t think you can hang on for one more second, be open to the power of God, stop saying no to it. In all things, have genuine love and a holiness of spirit. Sometimes it is that simple. When you do these things, God is with you, if you pay attention, you can feel it, and when you do start noticing that, ahhh… now there is something to have faith in.
It really is that simple. NOTHING easy here, but simple. It is one of those great double helix religious teachings. When you do these things, when you are kind, patient, loving, truth speaking, when you do those things, that is a sign that God is with you. That is a revelation that Jesus’ Lordship is in full effect, or even that you are consenting to it, you are following Him. When you do these things, it is a sign of true holiness.
But sometimes, much of the time even, our less than godly nature has the helm of our storm-tossed ship. Our sinful nature has the tiller. In those moments (or decades), God’s presence usually isn’t too noticeable, those signs above, aren’t readily apparent. So there comes to opportunity for practice. This is the second half of the helix. When you act kindly, you invite God in. When you are patient, an opening for God is made. When you are truthful in your speech and honest in your knowledge and genuinely loving, when you act that way, poof, you are being that way. And being that way, that is the presence of God, in Christ, with the Holy Spirit happening in you in that very moment. That is you, hat swept off in a low bow or a deep curtsy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Now that sounds pretty good.
Don’t dismiss the power of that, the power of changing everything by changing your perspective. In so many ways, that is what accepting the Lordship of Jesus is about, a profound, even ontological change of perspective. Paul testified that, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see– we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” That is not hyperbole. Like in Franco Zefferilli’s movie “Brother Son, Sister Moon”, a monument to St. Francis (and the 1970s… Donovan does the soundtrack). Francis and his brothers, the poverellos, tramp through Assisi begging, singing “For sister poverty, we give thanks. For brother chastity, we give thanks.” (and they mean it). That is what having a King of Kings, Lord of Lords in your life can mean.
Miracles happen. Daily. Minute after minute. Right here. In the hearts and minds of the followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And you can have them, too. Miracles. A Lord. And a first step, a first step in a journey of 10,000 miles is to try to live “…By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.” Notice it. Invite it in. Let salvation begin. AMEN