September 27, 2015
Meeting God in the Midst of Storm
A long time ago, I remember reading a story about a school teacher who saw that one of his students wasn’t well; sad, depressed, or desperate. Although teachers are trained not to have any physical contact with their students, not even a pat on the back for fear of being mistaken for sexual harassment, he gently put his hand on her shoulder, feeling that she needed some kind of emotional and mental support. By his surprise, later on he discovered that she was considering suicide but touched by his gentle support, decided not to do it. We could say, he was God’s instrument in showing the student that she was not alone in whatever darkness she was going through.
When we go through darkness in our lives, when things don’t go as we need them to, or when we are scared, we could easily wonder where God is in that situation. How can we know God’s presence in our lives, especially when things don’t go our way and we are scared?
In today’s Bible story, the disciples are left alone in a ship in the middle of the night (“the fourth watch” implies the Roman system of dividing the night into four watches. Fourth watch is between 3-6 am). Then the storm came. Sounds like a scene in a horror movie, doesn’t it? Anyway, the disciples were scared. At this point, they were not quite ready to take on their teacher’s job as God’s witnesses or agents. Then Jesus came to them like a super hero, walking on water and saying, “Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid”. I can almost hear the Superman theme music or the Star Wars music in my head when I read this. What a great relief for the disciples! Encouraged by this heroic appearance of Jesus, Peter felt like he could walk on water too! Empowered by the power of Jesus, he walked on water… for a while until he was distracted by the wind! As soon as the fear kicked in, he started to sink. After being saved by Jesus, he had to endure the “you-of-little-faith” comment, which was not the first time. And after Jesus calms the sea/ lake, the disciples confessed, “You are truly the Son of God”.
Any miracle stories in the gospels were intended to give hope and encouragement to the persecuted Christians of the first century. It is the message of the gospel authors saying to their readers, “Take heart! Jesus our teacher and Lord is more than capable of saving us and empowering us to endure anything!” The story of Jesus calming the sea is also in the Gospel of Mark (except for the part where Peter walks on water), but unlike Mark’s account, Matthew’s version is about discipleship; what is required to be a disciple, and what should happen when a disciple encounters danger or fear along the way while following Jesus. Unlike Mark’s account, the disciples in Matthew are not tainted with the lack of knowledge concerning Jesus’ identity or the lack of faith. Although they were scared at the beginning, after seeing the power of Jesus, they ended up confessing, “Truly you are the Son of God”. Jesus appeared to his disciples walking on water to empower their faith, and Peter responded by trusting Jesus and following him… until of course, fear overtook him.
Mark’s readers were under the Christian persecution of the Roman government, but the persecution that Matthew’s readers went through was a little more complicated than that. Matthew’s community was in the process of breaking out of Judaism and becoming an autonomous Christian group. In the synagogues, Jewish Jews were trying to pick out the Christian Jews using a sneaky prayer condemning the Christians. Christian Jews were about to lose their religious root and Jewish identity by having to break up with Judaism because they were followers of Jesus. In the midst of this crisis, they read this story and heard Jesus say to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”. Their faith was empowered; with strong faith, they felt that they could walk on water in the midst of storms just like Peter did in this story.
As contemporary disciples, there are times when we also go through storms in life, whether it’s a personal crisis or a crisis of our community. Whenever we do, I urge you to remember this powerful story. As we listen to the same message that Matthew’s readers heard in their crises, I want you to focus on the fact that Peter walked on water. For so many Christians, this is the story of Peter’s failure because he ended up sinking. But let’s focus on the fact that he was able to walk on water; apart from Jesus, he’s the only one in the Bible who did it! The only reason he failed in the end was because he was distracted by the storm instead of keeping his eyes and focus on Jesus, the source of his power. So whenever we go through challenges in life, I want us to picture Jesus walking towards us in the midst of the storm and empowering us to walk on water along with him. When we are met with diverse and difficult challenges in our lives, it is our human instinct to wish them to just go away; but God doesn’t always take the easy solution and get rid of the problems for us; but even if the storm doesn’t go away, God will help us to walk through the storm.
Hmm, it all sounds great in theory; but does it always work like that in real life? We all experienced life long enough to know that real life doesn’t always work like it should in theory. We know that there are so many helpless people in the world. Hunger, poverty, oppressions and alienation, tragedies in life quite possibly caused by the things I just mentioned, and they are left in the desperate situations. It seems neither like the storm is being calmed nor God is helping them to walk through the storm. Why is that? Is God ignoring their cries?
God’s people are constantly being called to do God’s work, to be God’s agents and instruments in this world; that’s how God works. God doesn’t want us to merely be a part of the church or “believe in Jesus Christ” but also to BE the church and live as disciples. If God’s people are not being helped in times of trouble, it is not God’s failing. It is OUR failing, the disciples of Jesus. Remember that God works through people, and we are called as God’s people. As we would experience Jesus walking in the midst of the storm with us, we should provide vulnerable people of God with the same comfort, encouragement, and empowerment. It is our job to help others experience the love and power of God as we have.
As we keep praying for Syria, I would like to mention that through the United Church of Canada, we can help them through donation, prayer, and sponsoring a refugee to help them settle in Canada. I would like us all to think about it and pray for it to determine if we as a congregation can save a life by sponsoring a refugee or in any other way. Let us be God’s people who do God’s work in this world. Let us think of the times we experienced storms in our lives and God was there for us through the people in our lives. In return, let us be those people who expose God’s love. Let us be like the teacher who stopped a student from killing herself with a small gesture of kindness. May God inspire us and guide us in our gestures of kindness to those who go through storms in life. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim