When The Storms Come
By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the 18 years that my family and I lived away from Minnesota, one of the things I had forgotten was how we Minnesotan’s love to talk about the weather. More so than sports, more so than fishing, more so than about our faith; we love talking about weather more than anything else. “Hot enough for ya?” “Cold enough for ya?” “That humidity is really something, isn’t it?” “How much rain did you get up at your place last night?” If you’ve never lived anywhere else, then someone must tell you that it’s not this way in…say…San Diego, or Portland, or Berlin. But in Minnesota, weather has our attention nearly every day.
Garrison Keillor loves to talk about “the winter of ’65.” He says that in describing the storms of that year, truth is only the starting point. The snow, the wind, the cold temperatures, yup, it was a miserable year, 1965. Keillor said that one night, it snowed so hard that he had to drive with his car door open so that he could follow the tracks in the snow; and he drove two miles before he realized that the track he was following was made by his front tire.
But people who are a bit older than me will want to tell you about the winter of 1940. In November of that year, the Mother of All Blizzards struck Minnesota with a vengeance. That autumn day started out balmy enough, but in the early afternoon, the temperature plummeted and the blizzard roared. The Twin Cities got 17 inches of snow; 27 inches in St. Cloud. Farmers were caught unprepared in their fields, and hunters were stranded in their duck blinds. In all, 49 people died in Minnesota, while 59 sailors died on Lake Superior. And everyone who survived The Armistice Day Blizzard will tell you the same thing; that the storm came out of nowhere.
It truth, most storms do. Even in an age with Doppler radar and SkyMax 5 and trained meteorologists, storms are not always predictable. When they arrive unexpectedly, they can wreak havoc in our lives. And yet, the greatest storms in life have nothing to do with low pressure systems or cold fronts. The greatest storms come through the sudden twists and turns of our own lives. One day you go to the doctor’s office for a routine exam and the next day your life is turned upside down by the results. Or your marriage is humming along just smoothly until one day your spouse tells you he wants a divorce. Or you struggle to keep your head just above water financially, and then the boss announces her downsizing plan. Or a child gets sick, or a parent dies, or there is a fire, or there is a family fight. Suddenly, a storm hits you with a vengeance, and your life takes a dramatic and serious turn. The one common thread in each of these circumstances is that you didn’t see the storm coming…just like the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.
And it’s not a question of “if the storms come” but rather “when they come.” None of us is immune from suffering, or tragedy, or heartache. Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Bad things do happen to good people. So the question is, what do you do when storms come upon your life? It is a rhetorical question, but I want you to think about it for a moment; what do you do when unexpected storms come upon your life. (SILENCE). What have you done when the storms have happened to you? (SILENCE).
It was late in the day, and Jesus has just performed the miracle of feeding more than 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish, and now it was time to leave. Jesus sends his disciples out into the boat and tells them he will catch up with them later, and he goes up into the hills to pray. Meanwhile, the disciples are trying to row the boat, but the waves were battering their tiny craft, and the wind was against them. I love that phrase, “the wind was against them.” I think that describes the reality of some peoples’ lives; they feel like the wind is always against them. It’s not that you’re not trying. You’re not lazy, or uncommitted, or whiney, or incompetent; it’s just that the wind is against you no matter which direction you row. Life is hard, yes?
So that’s how it felt that night on the Sea of Galilee; the disciples were going nowhere fast, and the wind was against them. They had been rowing most of the night; it was now the fourth watch, which meant that it was between 3 and 6 AM, and they found themselves caught in a storm. And in their particular circumstance, they think they see a ghost! That’s another thing about the storms of our lives; we often imagine the worst when the storms come. We often see barriers and hurdles and problems that aren’t really there, but our view of life is clouded, it appears darker than it actually is. The disciples think they see a ghost and they are terrified; “It’s a ghost!” they cry out. But then Jesus calls back to them “Take heart, it is I; don’t be afraid.”
For most of the disciples, that was enough. Most of the disciples were content to trust that it was Jesus speaking to them, but of course, Peter needed to push the envelope. It was always Peter needing to push the envelope. “If it’s you, Lord, have me walk on the water to you.” What was he thinking!??! But Jesus said “Okay, Peter; you come.” Peter actually walks for a few steps on the surface of the sea, but then he remembers that he is in the midst of a storm and he takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” he screamed, and Jesus reached out and pulled him from the water. When they got back into the boat, the winds died down, and the sea became calm, and those in the boat recognized again that Jesus was the Son of God. It’s a wonderful story; a miracle, in fact, and I love it.
But do you know what the problem is with this story? It’s that everything turned out okay. In fact, in most of scripture, things turn out okay. The blind man gets his sight, the adulterous woman gets forgiveness, the Prodigal Son returns home, Doubting Thomas gets proof, and Jesus calms the stormy sea. And the problem is, in our own lives, solutions don’t seem to come that easy. At the Relay for Life yesterday, there were 8000 luminaries surrounding the track at Stillwater High School. Many of the bags were brown bags, to celebrate cancer survivors, but there were a lot more white bags, which symbolized those who had died from the disease; what about them? In Colorado this week, thousands of people were searching and praying for a lost Park Ranger, expecting that he would be found alive, but last night they found his body: what about him? Tens of thousands of military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we pray for the safety of every single one of them, but 1500 of them aren’t coming home, and the war’s not even over yet; what about them? Good people still lose their jobs, nice families are divided by divorce, healthy children still die too soon. And I can’t make any sense of it. I know of no explanation for human suffering, and I am nervous when people offer explanations. The storms in our lives that catch us by surprise can do their damage. That much, I know.
But I also know something else; that the same Jesus who drew near to the disciples in that tiny fishing boat also draws near to us when the storms come. Author Robert Capon says that most of us would like to think of Jesus coming to the rescue in some heavenly tow truck, offering us hot chicken soup as he tows us to safety. In reality, Capon writes, Jesus does come to us in the storm, and he sits and suffers with us until the storm has passed. Jesus draws near to those who are hurting; that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that Jesus calls out to each of us to step out in faith. Even when faith seems unreasonable, and even when we can’t see any possible solution on the horizon, he invites us to not be afraid to trust in him. Peter may have been an impulsive character, but his faith was bold whenever Jesus called to him to follow. I love the way Martin Luther said it; “I must go to the one whom I think is my enemy, and I must trust him.”
The third thing is this; sooner or later, every storm ends. You may be going through a difficult chapter in your life right now. The wind is against you, and it’s been that way for awhile, and you are weary, or discouraged, or lonely, or afraid. I must tell you that the storm will not last forever. It will pass, and the sun will shine again, so don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. In 1998, a tornado struck St. Peter and the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College. It only lasted two minutes, but the people who endured that storm felt like the chaos lasted for hours, and when they emerged, the devastation was enormous. But have you seen Gustavus lately? It’s beautiful again, and the community of St. Peter has healed. So, it’s true; storms don’t last forever.
And finally, this; sailors know that when a storm comes, the best thing to do is to find a safe harbor – a place where you can be protected and surrounded by strength. And this is it; the people of God at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church are as safe a harbor as you will find. Here, among these people, you can rest and heal, and be loved. Here, among God’s people, you can get out of the wind for maybe just an hour, but long enough to remember that God is near.
Today, we’re not singing a hymn of the day. It says so in the bulletin, but that was just to fool Royanna, who proof reads the bulletin. Today, her choir will sing, and they will sing these words:
“Come follow me” says the Lord
“Be at peace within my care
Be as a child. Show me your need.
Take my hand and I will lead.”
May all who struggle and all who hurt this day take heart and not be afraid; Jesus has come to share the storms with us. Thanks be to God.
Copyright 2005 Steven Molin. Used by permission.