Proper 7

June 25, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Reading 2: 
Psalm 9:9-20
Reading 3: 
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Reading 4: 
Mark 4:35-41
Alt Reading 2: 
Psalm 133
Alt Reading 1: 
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16
By Patricia Farmer

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Here is another sermon on the passage that really inspires the mystic in me, Mark 4:35-41. As a process thinker, I feel that we can tap into the contemplative aspects of our faith from texts like this, reinforcing the presence of Christ in all the storms of life. I have added for this week a guided mediation to be used in conjunction with this text. I used it before communion on this particular Sunday.

"Peace of Mind in the Storms of Life"
In my life, I have traveled many places and been on a lot of airplanes, but I never quite get over the butterflies, when the engine roars and the plane takes off the runway. If, like me, you sometimes have a fear of flying here is a story for you.

There was a flight attendant who noticed a passenger clutching the arms of his chair until his knuckles turned white. “Are you nervous?” she asked.

“I'm petrified.” Said the man. “I don't travel well in the best of times, but lately . . . . .”
“I understand,” the attendant said. “But you must know that the airplane is still the safest form of travel.”
“I know,” said the man, "but I'd feel better on the train.”
“The train?” chuckled the attendant. “Did you read about the train going through Death Valley last month? A clear, hot day; miles of visibility; nothing near the track for miles; then-Boom! The train exploded an all was lost.”
“Heavens!” said the man. “What happened?”
Answered the attendant; “A plane fell on it.”

Try as we may, there are some things that we cannot escape. Adversity is one of those things. Some of us live in fear of adversity, like the man on the plane, and others learn to deal with adversity more cheerfully and even use the term “blessings in disguise.” But sometimes we feel like the salesman in the cartoon who turns to another salesman and says “What I need is a blessing that isn't in disguise!” Don't we all feel that way at times?

Each of us at one time or another has to face some stormy weather in life. Whether we are dealing with emotional storms of anxiety or depression, or outward calamities like losing a job, a home, or facing an illness, we all experience some kind of adversity. It's part of being human.

Adversity is a fact of life, especially a life that has the courage to take risks, a life that is full of meaningful, a life that is not afraid to embark on journeys of faith and adventure. It's not adversity, itself, but how we respond to adversity that counts.

The Scriptures have a great deal to say about adversity, and today's scripture is about another form of transportation which caused great fear in the disciples, not an airplane, but a vulnerable little boat out on the Sea of Galilee. This short passage gives us tremendous hope and actual instruction in how to respond to the stresses of life. It's a marvelous passage and, when interpreted as a metaphor for the spiritual life, it helps us find peace of mind in the inevitable storms of living.

Picture this scene: a throng of people milling about at the seashore in pursuit of a man that they have accompanied for days. This man, an itinerate Jewish rabbi named Jesus, has been preaching a message of love and justice and has healed many people. Small wonder that the crowds have gathered, either seeking spiritual food or hoping for entertainment. Jesus and His disciples, extricating themselves with some difficulty from the multitude, board a small boat. Thus protected from the press of the crowd, Jesus continues to preach for a while; then he and the disciples head out to sea. Others attempt to follow them in several additional boats but eventually turn back. Jesus, exhausted from teaching and healing, falls asleep in the stern, his head pillowed on a cushion.

The Sea of Galilee is famous for sudden and violent squalls that can easily swamp or capsize a small boat. As Mark reports in the fourth chapter of his gospel, “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Weary as He is, Jesus continues to sleep through all the commotion. Finally, the frightened disciples awaken Him with cries of “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Mark continues, “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said the sea, 'Peace! Be still.' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?' And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk. 4:37-41)

This story has much to teach us on our spiritual journey. If we look at this story on a spiritual level, the apostles represent the human consciousness that is terrified by the storm. The storm can symbolizes any sort of threatening occurrence in life: acute anxiety, depression, worry over the health or safety of a loved one, anger, despair over financial troubles, guilt, fear of the unknown future. These men called to Jesus for help. In times of stress we call on the Christ spirit within us. When the indwelling Christ is aroused by our call, the storm subsides. Jesus then asked a question that we often ask ourselves, 'Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?'

When we were teenagers, life was truly filled with extreme emotions. Do you remember as a young teen feeling insecure, rejected, confused ? And what about those break-ups? To break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend seemed to be the end of the world. Despair comes easy to young people because they are experiencing storms for the first time, and they don't yet have the life experience behind them to know that the storms are like the squalls on the Sea of Galilee. They pass. Life does go on.

The disciples were like teenagers that had never experienced a storm before. But Jesus had been out on the Sea of Galilee a time or two, and he undoubtedly was aware that the sudden squalls ceased as quickly as they arose. This is true of many, if not most, of the difficulties we face in life. Mark Twain once observed that his life had been filled with terrible calamities, most of which never happened. So Jesus in remaining calm and seeking peace was modeling the faith response to his disciples.

Then, too, the disciples may have been feeling a little self-pity mixed with their fear: “We're all tired, and we have to bail while the Master sleeps like a baby. Might as well wake him up so he can at least be worrying while we're bailing.” Misery loves company. “Master, don't you care that we're all going to drown?” A little sympathy, please! But Jesus did not give them sympathy: He gave them peace.

Today the Good News is that we can have peace of mind in a turbulent world when we awaken the Christ within. Let us now look at Jesus' few but significant words on this occasion to discover some concrete ways to realize this inner peace in our lives.

First he said, “Peace, Be still!” This is one my favorite Bible phrases. I have always found great peace by repeating these words when I am upset. We can use this phrase, synchronized with our breath, to calm us down in any situation (and we'll be practicing that in our communion mediation today.) It helps us align ourselves with the Christ within, who, in the form of Jesus, had stood up in the stern of the little storm-tossed boat and rebuked the very forces that appeared to be threatening him, not with anger or some great might, but with “Peace! Be still!”

This very same power to calm any storm is within us as we bear Christ in the deep places of our souls. We can use this phrase as a prayer to affirm over and over. The very power of our words to evoke a change in our emotions and physical state is incredible. Once we find the calmness within, we will then find the clarity and wisdom we need to solve our problem.

Now, let us look at what Jesus says next: “Why are you afraid?” Try asking yourself this very question when you feel that you are being blown overboard in the storms and stresses of life? Make a list in a notebook or journal or work with a friend or counselor in asking yourself this very question? Why am I afraid? And what am I afraid of? Am I afraid that I will not be loved? Am I afraid that I am not good enough? Am I afraid that I will fail? Am I afraid of dying or being in pain? Am I afraid of being alone? These are questions to ask ourselves when the storms of anxiety rise, and the answers will help us take responsibility for our lives as we understand ourselves better.

Jesus has often been referred to as the greatest psychologist who has ever lived. Jesus was interested in the underlying fears of the disciples. He knew that just to name a fear is to be free from its tyranny. And in this naming we are not fighting the storm, we are not ignoring the storm. We are simply acknowledging the storm and riding it out like a boat riding the waves of the sea.

Now take the next phrase, “Have you still no faith?” Here we come back to that word, “faith.” Deborah G. Whitehouse says, “Sustained, habitual peace of mind is only possible when we believe in a good God and a friendly universe.” Jesus taught us to think of God as a loving parent. As the grownup children of a loving and wise divine parent, we have a vital role to play in co-creating the events of our lives, and God is right there, helping us every step of the way. God does not cause the storms of life but God is present in them, understanding our fears, seeking to transform them. Trusting in a loving God who does not abandon us when the storm comes is our anchor of faith. Then, no matter how intense the winds may blow or how wet we get in the process, we know that we will be safe with Christ on board.

In the movie, Children of a Lesser God, a young deaf woman explains how she has gotten through the difficult, sometimes painful circumstances of her life. Slowly she signs, “I've discovered that even when I hurt, I won't blow away.” Faith is knowing that we will not blow away in the storm.

One way we can express our faith is with the simple affirmation: “God and I together can solve this.” We are co-creators with God. So we must do our part, which may be to start bailing water in addition to awakening our Christ spirit. That means we are responsible to bring about peace by choosing peace, picturing a peaceful outcome and following Christ's leadership to appropriate action.

Thus, these three phrases that Jesus gave us teach us how to respond to the storms of life: “Peace, Be Still" is our prayer which calms us and takes us to our center in Christ, “Why am I afraid?” Is our challenge to name our fears, and his last question, “Have you still no faith?” calls us to resolve with confidence that with God, our heavenly parent, we can weather any storm and solve any problem.

It is possible to maintain peace of mind in just about any circumstance because God is in the midst of those circumstances. By looking to God, we can maintain that undisturbed mental state of tranquility and harmony, no matter what is going on outside us. We may not be able to control the storms, but we can be at peace within where the Christ is waiting to be awakened.

This means that we have to dedicate some our time to strengthening the inner life on a regular basis. Thomas R. Kelly, in his classic work, “A Testament of Devotion,” reflects upon a life immersed in the divine presence. He says, “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center . . . . Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened” . . . . Kelly is speaking here of a deep and consistent prayer life, a life which is daily awakening the sleeping Christ who offers us peace.

We will never learn to trust in this deeper level of Christ consciousness until we have tasted adversity. We know that adversity can turn us into bitter angry people. Or, if we choose, we can use adversity's energy to grow and heal.

There is a story about a fisherman and his son who were lost in a storm of the coast of Norway. The sea played havoc with their vessel as they fought to keep from going under. At precisely the same time the fisherman's house on shore caught fire. The house and everything in it were lost in flames.

When the two fishermen miraculously arrived at the pier, they were met by a weeping wife and mother. When she related the story of the house and belongings being lost in the fire, the father laughed. That upset the mother. He explained that while he and their son struggled for their lives they saw a faint light in the distance and headed toward that light. He added, “The light that brought us to safety must have been our burning house. We were saved by our loss.” So, too, we can use the energy of our pain to guide us to safety and salvation.

God desires for us to find a peace of mind in a turbulent world, a peace “that passes all understanding.” As Jesus prepared His disciples for what they were about to face during his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, he told them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. May each of us learn to find our peaceful center in Christ, the Prince of Peace.” For as Thomas Kelly said, “a life that is daily awakening the Christ within, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, it's love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child.” Peace be with you. AMEN.

This sermon was inspired by an article by Deborah G. Whitehouse, "Peace of Mind in a Turbulent World" Unity Magazine May 1997. Ibid, 12.
John F. Westfall, Enough Is Enough (New York: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993) 34.
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper and Row, 1941), pp. 35ff, 54.
Sandra G. Clopine, “What time is it?” Pentecostal Evangel Feb. 28, 1993. Kelly, 54

Meditation
In preparation for Communion

. . . . . You may wish to close your eyes and focus for a moment on your breath. Feel the calming effect of a long, slow, deep breath. Know that in this state of calm we are receptive and open to the divine urgings of the spirit. We are aware of the gentle and peaceful presence of Christ within. We know that we are not alone. We feel the energy of one another's prayers and presence.
Let us now awaken the Christ within and offer this prayer with the rhythm of our breath:
Peace (Breathe in)
Be Still (Breathe out)
Now take, one by one, your heartaches from this past week. See your pain or worry or fear in your mind's eye, and simply say to it, “Peace, Be still.”
As you enter into communion, you enter in peace to nourish your soul with Christ's presence and love.
Know that the Living Christ is here, now, in this moment, ready once again to forgive, to share your sorrows, and to mend that which is broken . . .