Sermon Summary 2.13.22 "When the Storms of Life are Raging." Isaiah 64, Mark 4.
2.13.22 Sermon Summary
When the Storms of Life are Raging… Stand by me. We read a lament from Isaiah 64 and a story of Jesus calming the storm from Mark 4. Isaiah 64 was written after the exile - as the remnant of those who had been taken away by the Babylonians returned and worked to rebuild the temple and their society - and met resistance. Things are not going well. It’s not the glorious renewal they’d hoped - “oh God - that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
I shared last week about a Jars of Clay song called “Flood” and its role in my journey. It too is a lament, the rain and the flood are making us “one with the mud… can’t swim” We cry out to God to save us, to hold us. That’s the sense of Isaiah 64 as well.
A number of metaphors are used in this passage - God should come as kindled brush - fire - such as causes water to boil. Both serve to purify, to renew. God is reminded of the history of Israel - the wilderness and the promised land, the ways God has shown power and helped the people in the past, yet the author cries that their every effort at righteousness now are wasted - they are like filthy rags, or dried up leaves, blown away by the relentless wind. And yet… there is hope. Once again the metaphor of God as potter and the people as clay is used.
At this point I shared two pieces of ceramic art I own that are precious to me. The first is by Daniel Reffner. He was a youth, about to go to college when I was appointed to Calvary UMC and already an accomplished potter. The piece I have, however, is one of his mistakes. He was throwing a pot when it collapsed, too heavy or impure on one side. In frustration he swiped at it, but with the wheel slowing, wound up making kind of an L shape with his fingers… and he recognized it as a cross. He intentionally swiped again, completing the cross shape and finding some beauty in this ruined pot, a promise of God’s presence. He flung some glaze on haphazardly and fired it as it was. I was later able to purchase it, captivated by its beauty and the story behind it. The other was a paten made for me by Dave Hilley in Pretty Prairie, using the image of a “living stone” from 1st Peter - a heart echoing the art of a bulletin cover like I used here a few weeks ago.
God is with us in our storms, forming us into the church to share his love and grace. Each week we pray “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen” This is never more true than in the midst of our storms. We are reminded that “we have this treasure in clay jars to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Then we turned to our reading from Mark 4. I have had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land - sent by the Knights Templar Masons to see the places Jesus walked and tell the stories of Christ. The sea of Galilee is located in a valley. It’s about 5 miles wide and 13 miles long - surrounded by hills and mountains, then desert. Because of the different air temperatures mixing, storms form very quickly. Our reading from Mark 4 is the story of one such storm. As Jesus and the disciples cross, the storm frightens the disciples. They discover Jesus asleep - “Lord! Don’t you care that we are perishing!” Jesus wakes, saying “Peace! Be Still!” and the storm ends. The disciples, however, are still frightened. After all they’ve seen, after even calling out to Jesus, presumably thinking he could rescue them - they are amazed. “Who is this that the wind and waves obey him?”
I used Rembrandt’s masterful “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” as an illustration. One of the things I like about this painting is that there are 14 figures in the boat. Jesus, the twelve, and an extra figure - looking out at the viewer. Most art historians think it is a self-portrait. Rembrandt is inviting the viewer into the boat - and helping us realize that Jesus is in the boat, with us. Jesus is in the midst of the storm - and we can experience and share his peace.
God is with us - when we celebrate and when we lament. I concluded the sermon reading another passage from Isaiah - from chapter 43:1-3, written in the midst of the storm of exile. It is one of my go-to passages when I need to be reminded. “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
God doesn’t always end the storms - but God is always with us in the midst. Nothing - not even the cross - can separate us. Indeed, God transforms the cross itself, the symbol of cruelty, hatred and suffering, into a symbol of hope and redemption. God can transform your life too.
Blessings on your journey!