I spent the past week at Chapel Rock, our diocesan camp, training counselors for the upcoming Children’s Camp. This year, Children’s Camp is Narnia-themed, which means that our Canon for Children’s Ministries went whole-hog and built a WARDROBE over a door. (Pictures in a future post, so campers won’t be spoiled.)
Suffice to say, I spent the day of the wardrobe’s construction running back and forth through it like a maniac. People, it even had MOTHBALLS stuffed in the corners for authenticity of smell. (Behind safely stapled black fabric. Accidentally poisoning children isn’t Christian.)
It was a fantastic week. Bible study every day with counselors, in which we dream-cast a movie of the Prodigal Son (Father: Morgan Freeman, Elder Son: Christian Bale, Younger Son: Charlie Sheen), and composed time-shifted versions of the Resurrection accounts.
Then, home I came, and to Sedona, I preached. They got more or less the following sermon.
When I was a kid in Pennsylvania, we lived behind a Southern Baptist church, with a church sign out front. Each week, my brother and I would wait anxiously to see what message they’d put on that sign. Every week, it featured some pun, or saying. “God answers Knee mail.” or something about Jesus: “Jesus: he’s coming. Justice: its coming too.”. So basically– of puns and vague threats. A certain, specific type of evangelism.
The one I really remember said “Tears bring rainbows.”. And it appeared the week my mother had a mastectomy, and I decided I just hated that sign. Because it came to encapsulate all of the token phrases people repeated, over and over, like magic words: hoping they would have some effect in the world, but repeated so often that they lose their meaning. Those platitudes we say all the time, without thinking, almost, like charms. God will provide. It’s God’s plan. Have faith.
It’s the easiest thing in the world repeat these. And to say them to someone else. To tell someone else to have faith! Trust in Jesus! But what on earth does that actually look like? In 2012, at the end of June, here, today, what, does that actually look like? Because repeated words are well and good, and sometimes very comforting, but oftentimes, we need a little bit more of a concrete reassurance than that.
So how do we have faith? How do we trust in God?
Like most behaviors, trust and faith are learned. When babies are born, they learn that someone, hopefully, will be there when they cry to hold them, and feed them, and change them, and stay up all night with them, becoming horribly sleep deprived…but in this way, hopefully, we begin to learn the concept of trust. It’s also how peek a boo works. I’m gone! But I’m coming back.
And also like most behaviors, faith and trust are tricky beasts to master. All the world does not operate like a game of peek-a-boo, and so many of us also learn that occasionally trust can be misplaced. And that hurts. And we get cautious. We get careful.
Observe the disciples. They have been following Jesus around for a bit now. They’ve left house and family, their livelihoods, and their security behind. They’ve seen him preach, and heal, and cast out demons. They’ve witnessed the massive crowds that are following him.
They’ve seen a lot, they’ve heard a lot. The action in Mark’s gospel up until this point has been nonstop. This is the first break Jesus has had since his ministry started– he’s been followed pretty continually by large crowds, and now he gets in a boat for some peace and quiet, and a nice nap. The introverts among us can identify with this.
And through all of this, the disciples have been witnesses of how Jesus has acted towards them, and towards others.
But their first reaction, when the storm hits, is “Ack! Jesus! Why are you abandoning us to let us drown in a boat!!!!”. You don’t love us, we’re all going to die, ahhhhh!!!”
It’s definitely a human reaction, to be sure. It’s a reaction of sheer panic. To be in a storm in a boat at sea is not a pleasant experience. I can see how they thought they were going to die.
But what in the world had given them the idea that Jesus was going to just let them all drown? The same guy who had healed the sick, conquered demons, and saved Peter’s mother in law from death was now just going to sleep through their collective doom?
In this moment, fear trumped the faith that they had learned. Fear overrode what they knew to be true about Jesus. They knew who Jesus was– they knew that Jesus was not going to abandon them, and hadn’t abandoned them. They knew that Jesus didn’t do that, wasn’t going to do that. But fear is a primal force at times, and can speak pretty loudly, while faith is quieter.
It’s a challenge to keep listening to the quiet voice of faith, even in the midst of fear. It’s a lot easier sometimes to fall back into our patterns of cautious behavior. Easier to go back to believing that trust hurts, faith gets broken, and God acts like everyone else who’s ever hurt us.
And so, when storms strike, we fall back. When disaster strikes, we revert. We accuse God of hurting us. What caused the earthquake, the hurricane, the wildfire? God must have been punishing someone’s wickedness. What caused the cancer? God must have been trying to teach a me a lesson. Why are we sitting in a boat in the middle of a storm? Jesus is trying to kill us.
It’s easy to listen to fear, and to forget that none of that fits what we know about God. Certainly, none of that fits what we know about Jesus. The loving God who promises to be with us always, who stayed with the Israelites, even when they complained for 40 solid years, the healing Christ who made whole torn up and sick people. God doesn’t send disasters and sickness and death as punishment, or to teach us lessons. God doesn’t abandon what he has created. God doesn’t manipulate people like that. God suffers when we do–and has suffered with us, in the person of Jesus.
God doesn’t leave us. And will never leave us. Jesus is right in the boat with us, even when we are scared, and even when we panic, and cover our eyes with our hands. Jesus is still right there in the boat with us.
That’s what we know. That’s what we have faith in– a living, loving God-in-Christ. Even when we’re scared, and most especially then. Thomas Merton expressed it in this prayer:
Lord,I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.