My husband and I lived in the little mountain community of Idyllwild, California until three years ago. It’s still a favorite place to visit, so when our dear friends, Fr. Tom and Susan Johnson (of last week’s “Heavenly Avocado Soup” fame), mentioned that he had been asked to fill the pulpit for the vacationing priest at St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church, we made plans for a trip up the mountain—to enjoy the cool fresh air; to give and receive hugs from old friends; and to hear Fr. Tom speak–always a treat. We didn’t know that he had planned his message with us in mind, that his words would be a balm, a gift – a powerful gift – to bring us comfort during these stormy days ahead – so needed this week before surgery. Though he may have been thinking about our circumstances as he worked on his sermon, the message clearly touched the hearts of others going through troubled times. I didn’t see many dry eyes at the end of the sermon – and heard from friends later about the difficult storms in their own lives.
I have asked for and received permission to post excerpts here. Any disjointed “feel” to what follows is my doing (not Fr. Tom’s) in trying to present excerpts rather than the whole sermon. Here is just a portion of his gift to us yesterday . . .
“I’m not really into scary movies . . . however, I do remember one movie that . . . kept me literally on the edge of my seat, my fingers tightly grasping the armrests, and I was struggling to breathe. The movie was, “The Perfect Storm.” If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. Having experienced that movie — and I use the word “experienced” rather than “seen” for a very good reason — I can certainly understand the feeling of the disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee.
“Remember, several of these guys were fisherman. They had spent many a day on that sea and understood clearly the potential of a “perfect storm.” Like many fishermen, I suspect they were fairly superstitious, too. They probably knew of a story of a wave, with its white fringe of fire, just waiting to strike the unwary sailor. So, as the waves swelled and crashed around them . . . when they saw this ghost of figure walking across the water, they understandably were screaming in terror.
“If the story ended there, the situation would be gloomy indeed; the violent wind, the darkness, the angry billows . . . the absence of Jesus! Ah . . . There’s the key. That’s what makes this story different. Because Jesus shows up and suddenly things changed. He calmed the waters — AND calmed the troubled spirits of his disciples . . . Just like he intervenes for us when we face terrifying storms in our lives.
“The disciples realized they couldn’t fight the storm alone. That’s why they were so afraid, and why they were so relieved when Jesus showed up. In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus rebuked the disciples for having so little faith. They had doubts and fears instead of faith.”
Diane’s thoughts: Like little gremlins, doubts and fears sometimes creep in, nagging at the edges of my mind. Some take on the task of pointing out the “what-ifs,” others yammer about how each test result is worse than the one before. Some tell me to forget the blessings of the love and support of friends these past weeks, and to dwell on the dire news instead. These gremlins usually appear in the dark of the night, surfing in on the crest of the storm that whirls in my heart. My faith weakens . . . the night grows darker, my faith weaker . . . but the story doesn’t end there! Here are a few more of Fr. Tom’s thoughts on faith in the midst of a storm . . .
“A. Have Faith in the Prayers of Jesus: In v.46 we read that Jesus “…went up on the mountain to pray.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus spent much time in prayer. He probably spent several hours in prayer on this particular occasion, for He didn’t come out to rescue His disciples until early in the morning . . .
He knew their distress, and no doubt He prayed for their safety, and He prayed that their faith would remain strong. Though the disciples were scared in Jesus’ absence, they were secure in Jesus’ prayers. Likewise, the Bible teaches that right now Jesus is engaging in intercessory prayer on our behalf. Heb. 7:25 says, “He always lives to make intercession for those who approach God through him.” Romans 8:34 says that Christ “makes continual intercession for us.” So the next time you go through a storm, just remember that Jesus cares for you and is praying for you. ”
Diane again: What a comfort to consider this! Though I’ve read these verses before, I haven’t stopped to think about Christ praying for me now, interceding with the Father about these specific circumstances in my life—my fears, my doubts, my uncertainty about the future. This truth, perhaps above all others in yesterday’s sermon, will remain tucked away in my heart to mull over again and again.
“B. Have Faith in the Power of Jesus: . . . there are three applications we can make. First, Jesus was showing His supremacy over whatever storm we face. Jesus showed His mastery over the very thing they feared: the wind and the waves. . . . Always remember that Jesus is greater than the storm you are facing. So no matter what trial you face, Jesus is able to see you through.
“Secondly, we ought to imitate the disciples [when they realized it was Jesus who came to them], bow at Jesus’ feet, and acknowledge that He is King of kings and Lord of lords! And finally, just as He brought peace to the raging waters of the Sea, even so He can bring peace to your own heart! When you go through a storm, He can either calm the storm, or He will calm your heart and bring peace if you will trust Him.
“C. Have Faith in the Presence of Jesus: Often we feel like Jesus has deserted us when we are going through hard times. But for the child of God, Jesus always comes to us in the storms of life. He may not come at the time we think He should, but He will come just when we need Him the most.