The Common Good

Fear, Self-Centeredness and the Storm at Sea

NBW sermon 6_24_2012 <——- Click here to listen along. Preaching is a spoken art form!

Jesus calming the storm, Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com
Jesus calming the storm, Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

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This might come as a shock to all of you, but I have not always gotten everything I’ve wanted. And I’m sure unlike all of you … sometimes I blame God for that.  

As a matter of fact, there are things in life that I prayed like hell to either get or to keep – because I knew if I could have them I would be happy and all would be well. And yet, I did not get them. Some of these were slightly more critical than others. 

When I was 9, I wanted a ventriloquist’s dummy I saw in the Sears catalogue and didn’t get it; when I was 14, I wanted my disfiguring auto-immune disorder to go away and it didn’t; when I was 22, I wanted to be able to drink like a lady and I couldn’t.

I had reasons, good reasons for God to do these things for me. I had a certain way I wanted things in my life to work out, and when God didn’t make these simple things happen—things I deserved, things that would make me happy—I wondered why God was not doing what I wanted God to do. I wondered why God didn’t seem to care. And by the way, why has God abandoned me?

Here in this church in the last few months things have happened in your lives which you desired, and things have happened in your lives for which you have suffered. You’ve buried one of your own, gotten new jobs, endured the death of your parents, birthed your babies, lost your jobs and finalized your divorces and announced your engagements.  

Some of these things you would choose, and some you would not. Some of these things made you happy, and some made you miserable, and yet …. God was still present in all of it. Not just the stuff that felt good, but also the stuff that felt awful. God’s presence with us and love for us simply cannot be judged on the basis of how things feel to us.

I think that’s one of the issues in our Gospel text about the storm at sea. The disciples assume Jesus doesn’t care that they are in peril.

But maybe that’s where feelings can get us into trouble. I feel close to God; therefore, God must be close. I feel abandoned therefor God must be far off.

I’m more and more convinced, not that how we feel is unimportant, but that how we feel is not the gauge of reality we’ve been told it is. A lot of time when I meet people for pastoral care and they are in the middle of a storm, I end up saying to them: “I think you’re actually doing better than you feel.”

See, when our faith in God is directly correlated to how we feel about our life, maybe it’s a bit askew. Because we can so easily think God is indifferent because God isn’t doing what we think God should do if God really loved us, and we totally miss the fact that at least God’s in the dang boat with us! Jesus never left them; he just didn’t act the way they thought he should. And that made them feel bad.

God caring about us doesn’t always end up looking like God doing for us what we think God should. Because sometimes the faithfulness of God actually looks like the fact that there is a better story than the way you want things to work out.

This week I started to wonder about the role fear plays in all of this. Because in the end, it is my desire for the story of my life to unfold in a certain way with particular casting, props, setting, and storyline that creates fear in me – since fear is usually about either not getting something I want or something I love being taken away.

And fear is what the disciples experienced in the boat that day when faced with a storm and a Messiah who didn’t act like he cared.

In that Gospel reading, we hear that after a day of teaching, Jesus and the disciples left with some other boats to go to the far side of the Galilean sea … there was a great storm and they were afraid, and to top it all off Jesus was being useless. So useless in fact that he was actually napping … on a cushion. (Just parenthetically for you Bible nerds: this story appears in varying forms in all four of the gospels, but God bless him, Mark is the only one of his fellow gospel writers who mentions that there was a pillow involved.) 

Anyhow, the disciples are freaking out thinking they are going to die. They look at their situation and see that the cast isn’t acting how they are supposed to, and the script isn’t unfolding the way they thought it should if Jesus really loved them. So they wake Jesus up saying “don’t you care we are perishing?” Jesus then stilled the storm and said, “Why are you afraid?”

Why are you afraid? Is an eternally valid question.

Sometimes we are afraid because we think we are not going to get something we want, and other times we are afraid because we think that something we have will be taken away. And there are many things to explore about when fear is good and healthy and when it’s total bondage. But the one thing I kept thinking about this week is how fear is almost always small and self-centered.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this storm-at-sea story from Mark but it’s a lot. And I’ve read tons of commentaries on it, and I have never seen anything written about this one thing that I now think might be important. And that is this: Verse 26:

"And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him." 

So here’s my question: What about the other boats? I mean, the text says that there were other boats with them, which means that the people in those boats were experiencing the storm too. So maybe in their fear, the disciples forgot about anyone but themselves. They wanted Jesus to help them, to act toward them in a certain way. But is God not the God of those in the other boats as well?

What I mean is this: sometimes when we get so wrapped up in how we think the story of our lives should look— the cast and setting and  plot—we forget about the other boats. Maybe we think God’s faithfulness to us has to look a certain way, but sometimes God’s faithfulness looks like the fact that there is actually a better story than the way you want things to be. And that better story is always a bigger story. A story with a lot of boats other than ours.

We can easily forget about God’s ability to use our storms, our struggles, our disappointments to help others. I know for myself that despite my fears and desires, that it is not my blessings and strengths and skills that have been of use to others nearly as much as my recovery from addiction and my difficult medical history and my failings. Yet if I had gotten what I wanted, if God had acted at the time in a way that I deemed to be loving and faithful toward me, so little of what I have to offer now as a person and a pastor would be available to others.

To be clear, this is not the same as saying that your fear and crises and loss are not real in a totally painful way.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel bad when there are storms in your life. It’s just that God’s redeeming action in the world involves a lot of other boats. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of how God should act. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of my understanding of what is happening in my own life. And even though it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, in a way that’s actually good news, because you need a God who is bigger, more nimble, and mysterious than your ability to understand God.

We may want our own personal Jesus for our own little private boats, but God’s dream for the wholeness of all of creation is a dream that we are drawn into through the Gospel and through the Eucharist and through the water of baptism. And it’s a story that includes a lot of boats, and for sure it’s a bigger, better story than any of us could come up with on our own. So good people of God: Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Amen.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado — an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more atwww.houseforall.orgThis post originally appeared on Nadia's blog, Sarcastic Lutheran.

Jesus calming the storm, Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

 

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