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Posted by on Jun 23, 2024

Power Over the Storms

Power Over the Storms

Two winters ago, we had a series of atmospheric rivers on the West Coast. They began in November and continued well into March. Storms are normal at that time of year, but these were far more powerful and destructive than regular winter storms.

Living just a block from the ocean, we are used to hearing two days in advance when a big storm is coming. The waves crash on the beach, water splashes up over the cliffs, and we can hear them from our home. We don’t hear the waves except in winter.

That year, the winds howled, the waves crashed, trees fell across paths in the state park across the street from our home. In fact, the park was closed after a falling tree killed a man walking through one afternoon. The road along the cliffs above the water washed away a few blocks from our home. Fences along the sidewalk by the field were toppled and seaweed landed across the street, clear over to the field on the other side. Two parts of the cliffs, in areas where people are warned to stay away, slid off the rest of the cliff. One slid into the ocean. One slid down onto the beach. To my amazement, a day later, all of that rock from the cliffs had been washed away into the sea.

As it happened, in mid-March I needed to go to a nearby city to help care for a baby. The family lives near the bottom of a hill, one house removed from the road to the top. Electric buses go up and down the hill day and night. There is a distinctive whine from the engines as they go up the hill. More than once during the time I was there, I woke with a start in the night as I heard the bus go up the hill. It sounded very much like the whine of the wind as the storms blew from the ocean, across the field, and over our home.

It used to be that when I read the story of the calming of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, I thought of a storm with lots of waves and some wind. I’ve seen waves in lakes and on rivers. I’ve seen storms blowing in from the ocean. But after that winter, I have an entirely different comprehension of what the stakes can be and how powerful the winds and waves really are. It’s no wonder peoples all around the world have believed that their gods are responsible for storms. Only a very powerful force could possibly cause so much uproar or still it so quickly. The storm stops. The sun comes out from behind the clouds. The birds begin to sing again. And all is right with the world.

Jesus had been teaching in Galilee for a while on the day he decided to leave behind the crowds and go to the other side of the lake by boat. Hundreds of people had followed him around the side of the lake to hear him teach and heal the sick. He needed a rest and some time to pray. Going just a bit up the coast was not going to be enough. At evening, people would not follow him around to the other side of the lake.

He lay down in the boat to rest and he slept deeply. He didn’t notice the beginning of the storm. His friends did their best to handle it on their own, keeping the boat afloat and heading in the right direction. But eventually the waves got so big they were crashing over the top of the boat. There was real danger they would all die in the storm. That’s when they woke Jesus.

To their amazement, he didn’t seem at all worried, just puzzled that they were so frightened. “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Although they had been traveling with him, hearing the stories he told about the Kingdom of God, learning the deeper meanings of the stories, and seeing the miracles of healing bodies and minds, they still saw him as a prophet or a wise teacher. But now he can calm a storm? That is mind-blowing. “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mk 4:35-41)

Job also had an encounter with God. He knew he was dealing with the Lord God, but he had not had a happy experience in the process. His entire family had died, his business and wealth were gone, his friends had abandoned him or tried to convince him he must be a great sinner to be so severely punished by God. Job believed in the depth of his being that all of this had happened unjustly. So, he confronted God and stated the reasons why he believed God had acted unjustly.

God responded to Job’s accusations and a conversation developed. God spoke to him from out of a storm, “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb…?” God pointed out the clouds he had made, the darkness at night, the shoreline that kept the sea from sweeping over all the land. If he could do all of that, who was Job to complain of injustice?

Their conversation continued. Eventually, having proved Job’s faithfulness in the face of tragedy, God restored his fortunes. Nevertheless, the lost family could never be restored, only replaced with a new family. And hopefully, the suffering he endured could only help him become more compassionate. (Jb 38:1, 8-11)

So how do we understand storms, figuratively in stories and in the hard times of our lives and/or literally and physically in the world around us? Why does suffering come? Who is in control of the forces of nature? Who controls our behavior to and with each other? Where does Christ come into the story?

In our Christian tradition, we return to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He was a man, an ordinary guy as far as anyone knew, who had a role and an origin no one suspected and we can’t really explain logically. Truly human and truly divine. One in being with the Father. Yet he lived an ordinary human life, followed the call he received at his baptism, shared the truths he had come to understand about the Kingdom of Love, the Kingdom of God, and eventually died because he would not deny who he was and what he had come to understand of God’s love and plan for all of us. He was raised from the dead and we all have a very special life because of him.

St.  Paul reminded the folks in Corinth that all changed once Jesus died and was raised again from death to life. Those who live believing in him no longer live for themselves. Those who live in Christ are “a new creation: the old things have passed away … new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:14-17)

The storms of life come and go. Sometimes they blow very strongly and we wonder if we will survive. They may come upon us quickly, like a storm that blows up suddenly at sea. Other times we see them coming from a distance and have time to prepare.

Storms never last forever. The sun comes out again. New life sprouts. It’s not that God causes storms to punish folks. Rain comes with storms and waters the earth. Crops grow, the land blooms, and life moves forward.

Like the people of Corinth, the disciples in the boat, and even Job so many years ago, we don’t always understand what is happening. But we live in Christ. We are a new creation. We have a well-founded hope and confidence that new things have come. All will be well.

This week, may we all keep our eyes open to see the Lord’s presence in the events of our daily lives: the people we meet, the challenges we face, the joys we experience, the surprises that cross our paths. The Lord is there with us in the boat. We never need to be afraid, even when the winds blow wildly, or the whining engine of the electric bus wakes us in the night!

Readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B