The Road to Emmaus, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669
A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2012. The lectionary readings are Job 38:1-11, Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, and Mark 4:35-41.
It’s the end of June and people are on the move. I sometimes wish that All Souls parishioners carried with them a kind of Global Positioning System—it could be tasteful, in the form or a cross one could wear, or something like that—and this GPS would let us know where you are. And so, on days like this and those ahead, we could look at the monitor in the undercroft and see where everyone is. There’s Sybil in Paris, Chuck and the others in Bagdad. We have people in the mountains and at the beach—folks are traveling.
It’s that time of year for many people, and so it may be for all these reasons, that as I listen to the scripture readings for today, I hear in them a kind of travel narrative. In today’s readings there are accounts of people who have been places. They have seen things, and they have been changed.
In the very short reading from Job, God reminds Job that Job really has not been to as many places as he thinks. But God takes Job back. But then in words and images God recounts to Job what it was like at the beginning, when God laid the very foundation of the earth. When God says to the very seas themselves, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.’” No, for all Job’s experience, put in that context, he really hasn’t seen very much at all.
The Psalm of the day reminds us that the God of creation is after all the God of the Exodus, who is the very God who continues to save us, to lift us up, and to keep us steady. We can read Psalm 107 as a record of where we have been. It’s a spiritual travelogue. Think of a time when you’ve felt overwhelmed, about to sink, as though the current of life is taking you way out into the deep and those words of the psalmist become very personal. Eugene Peterson’s translation brings it home:
With a word [God] called up the wind–
an ocean storm, towering waves!
You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats.
You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk,
you didn’t know which way was up.
[But] then you called out to [the Lord] …
[and] he got you out in the nick of time.
He quieted the wind down to a whisper,
[and] put a muzzle on all the big waves. (The Message, Psalm 107)
At the beginning of today’s Gospel Jesus suggests a trip—it’ll be great! There’s a light breeze. It’ll be just fine. And so, he and the disciples set out over the Sea of Galilee. But as the darkness falls, the wind begins to whip and the waves start rocking. Before long they are in the middle of a storm, there is water in the boat, the disciples are panicked.
This trip across the Sea of Galilee quickly becomes the kind of travel story you hope you never have to tell—“Remember the time.” Remember that time in the storm. Remember that time when we got lost. Or even more tragic, remember that time when it felt like a storm and we lost someone we loved. The disciples are afraid and so they wake up Jesus who looks at them with surprise. He speaks and the storm is stopped. The disciples are stopped. Time is stopped. “Peace. Hush. Be quiet. Be still.”
The storm calms, but the disciples don’t calm down quite so fast. In some ways they become even more afraid. “Who is this,” they ask themselves. In a new way they make the connection between the God of the Universe, Lord of Heaven and Earth, and their friend Jesus, who (they can now see) has in him the very power of God. He has the power to calm storms, the power to heal. He has the power of life in him—they’ve seen it move out of him and into other people. They feel it now and they are afraid. It is not Kansas anymore. Nor Cana, nor Capernaum, nor anywhere else they’ve ever been.
Faith is movement. If we are in love with God, and or if we have the slightest bit of belief that God is in love with us—that love will change us. It moves us from place to place. I don’t know where this travel narrative of Holy Scripture intersects with your own movement today. It may be you’re in a good place, settled with your faith, confident with your relationship with God, collected in the midst of a sea of calm. Some of you are in that place: give thanks and draw strength from this time.
But for others, things may not be so calm. It might be that you can identify more with those disciples in the middle of an angry sea, in a tiny boat, feeling like God must surely be asleep. If so, then hang on. The Jesus who goes with us wherever faith takes us has in him the full power of God—the power to overcome anything or anyone—any storm, confusion, disaster or disorder. God will prevail.
All kinds of storms come our way. Family can sometimes blow through our lives like an unruly storm. Sometimes we feel adrift and in a boat all alone. At work the winds can pick up now and then and we feel under attack. In relationships, the seas are not always calm. Even our church seems sometimes to be moving into deep waters, feeling alone in our particular boat while other churches seem to prefer the safety of the land, or the assurance of charted waters. But our faith allows us to be like those first disciples: to hang on to each other for the ride, to stay close to God our savior, and to look ahead without fear.
W.H. Auden names well the landscape of our lives. Of Christ our travel guide, he writes
He is the Way.
Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness;
you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love him in the World of the Flesh:
and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
W. H. Auden For the Time Being (a Christmas Oratorio)
We don’t always pack the way we should. We’ll forget things here and there. The weather may change on us. As Anne Lamott has written, “The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” (Traveling Mercies).
We have the little things that sustain, but even more, we have God our Savior surrounding us, leading us, pushing us, holding us, carrying us, loving us always and forever.
May we look out for each other along the way. May we enjoy the scenery and be strong and faithful travelers.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.