Sunday, June 22, 2003

Second Sunday of Pentecost
Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3,23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-11
Mark 4:35-41 

Then are they glad because they are quiet; So he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

Zack has Cub Scout day camp all week. Well, they are trying. Unfortunately we are in the middle of a rather persistent wet weather pattern. We have seen storms daily for some time, and though they have not been the kind of storms considered severe by the meteorological world, they've been pretty bad. The worst part is the incredible amount of rain that is falling, causing flash flooding on the streets and overflowing creeks and streams. There has also been some lightning and thunder, but thankfully no tornadoes.

The camp directors planned for rainy weather, putting everything under some sort of cover. The weather on Monday was not too bad and the boys managed to have a good time. Unfortunately, Tuesday was another story. The rain poured, causing gullies to sweep through the camp. The boys were soaked to the bone by lunchtime. The lightning was dangerous and the thunder loud. Zack told me that it was scary to be out there during the storm and I don't blame him. I wasn't very happy he was there. As a matter of fact, the leader who drove Zack to the camp called me by mid morning to tell me that he was not staying all day. If I wanted Zack to stay with the others, I would have to go get him. I told him I preferred that he come home. It didn't matter because by the time he left with his son, the whole camp was closed down. It was simply too dangerous for the boys to be there. They also canceled today, hoping that the storms will pass, the ground will dry and they will be able to finish the week. Meanwhile, the boys came home a little shaken and soaking wet, but anxious to go out again when the weather clears.

I imagine the disciples had been through many such storms when they were fishermen. The Sea of Galilee is known for sudden squalls that seem to come out of nowhere. It would have been somewhat frightening to face such a force of nature, but not unheard of for men in that profession. They knew how to handle the water, the nets and their boat, to get into safe harbor.

Yet, on this occasion, Jesus was in the boat with them. He was lying on a cushion fast asleep while the disciples became frightened by the storm. What did they expect from him? He was just a carpenter and they were the experienced fishermen. He did not know how to handle a boat, even in calm waters. If He had not been with them, they would have gotten right to work to keep the boat afloat and steer it toward shore. Yet, because they had come to rely on Him for so much, they turned to Him in their fear. "Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?" Jesus trusted that his disciples would use their talents. He had no fear of the storm because He knew they could deal with it.

Isn't it funny that Jesus, the Lord, had more faith in fallible man than the disciples had in their God? Jesus did not come to do it all, to feed them or clothe them. He did not come to take care of all their problems or make their lives easy. He came to teach them how to trust God and go out in faith to do the work they were called to do.

I love the way God addresses Job in today's Old Testament lesson. In the previous verses, Elihu - a fourth counselor who arrives on the scene after Job and his friends spend all day discussing Job's troubles - warns that God Almighty would come to talk to Job. "Hear, oh, hear the noise of his voice, And the sound that goeth out of his mouth.  He sendeth it forth under the whole heaven, And his lightening unto the ends of the earth." (Job 37:2-3) He goes on to tell of the magnificent work of God in the storm, how He brings the rain, snow, wind and ice. "Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: He is excellent in power; And in justice and plenteous righteousness he will not afflict.  Men do therefore fear him: He regardeth not any that are wise of heart." (Job 37:23-24)

Then God appeared. "Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel By words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me." (Job 38:1-3)

We don't know God's mind; we don't know His plans. God asks Job, "Where wast thou when I...?" Job was not there in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. We only not that which He has revealed to us, and though Job was close to God, he can't speak for Him. God's ways are truly higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than ours. We can only walk in faith, trusting that God is in control and doing that which He has gifted and called us to do.

That's what Jesus wanted from the disciples that night on the sea. He wanted them to trust God, even when God seems to be missing from the situation. See, God does not call us to do anything He hasn't equipped us to do. Jesus suggested that they cross the lake, perhaps even knowing that the storm would come. Even if he did not foresee the weather, He knew they were capable to handle whatever would come. Then He went to rest, leaving the work to those more qualified.

When they cried out to Him, He took care of the storm. "And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still." (Mark 4:39a) The storm calmed and Jesus turned to the disciples. "Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?" I think this must be an exaggeration on the part of Jesus, for certainly the disciples must have had some faith - they had left their lives to follow Him. Something kept them in His company; something was building in their hearts and minds. But they still did not trust God - more perhaps about His calling them. They trusted Jesus to care for them, but they didn't trust their own abilities. When the storm came, they went to Jesus rather than do what they knew how to do. Yet, Jesus would not be with them always. They had to learn to go it on their own. They had to have faith that God knows what He's doing in calling them to be disciples.

This is not the first time God calmed a storm. Consider the story of Jonah. When Jonah ran away from God's calling, God sent a storm to rock the ship. The sailors called on their gods, but none could halt the wind and rain. Only when Jonah repented and called to his God, cast into the sea for His care, did the storm stop and save the lives of the rest. When the storm stopped, the sailors offered sacrifice to this God who could control even the sea and wind.

Elihu told Job that God's voice resounds and He holds back nothing. In today's Psalm, God spoke and a tempest was stirred that lifted the waves toward the heavens and into the depths. The people saw the work of God and their courage melted away. When they cried to Him, He saved them from the dangers of the deep. "He maketh the storm a calm, So that the waves thereof are still.  Then are they glad because they are quiet; So he bringeth them unto their desired haven." (Psalm 107:29-30)

I'm sure the disciples were the same way when Jesus calmed the storm. Yet, they were also terrified. "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41) Though they definitely had faith, faith enough to call on Jesus to seek His help, they still did not know Him or His purpose for being with them. He is the revelation of God in flesh, come to set the paths of the crown of His creation on the right path. It is a path of righteousness, a path of praise and prayer and mercy. He did not simply come to take care of their needs, but to guide them into lives in which they would take care of the needs of others. God does provide, but He often provides through the encouragement, gifts and abilities of His people.

Paul tells us what it is like to live in God's Kingdom and he warns the Corinthians not to take God's grace in vain. What does this mean? God is to be trusted, for He has heard the cries of His children and answered their cries. He has calmed the storm of sin and death. Yet, all is not smooth sailing. God also sends the tempest, takes us into the storms of life - not to bring us harm, but to test our faith. This testing is not a pass or fail. He doesn't do it to see us fall, but to build us up. Teachers often give practice tests to help students gain confidence in their abilities and knowledge. One of the best ways to prepare for standardized tests such as the SATs is to take a sample test. Testing, tempering and molding are just some of the ways that God prepares us to go out into the world to do His work.

As I type this, the thunder is once again rumbling in the distance. Can I finish before the storm strikes again? That's how we live our lives. We try to do as much as we can while things are going well, but we stop dead short when things get messed up in our world. Financial problems? We stop giving to the church. Relationship troubles? We become hermits. Sickness? We become disheartened and cry "Why me?"

To this Jesus asks, "Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?" He does not give us more than we can handle, but we do have to have faith that what God has given us will help us through the rough times, the storms of life. We should not receive the grace of God in vain. "At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succor thee." God is faithful. He is with us even when it seems like He has fallen asleep in the stern of the boat. He can calm the storm, but He trusts that we can make it through with all that He's given us.

Paul writes that we should never put a stumbling block in anyone's path. What sort of stumbling blocks do we put out there? Do we act as if we are God, like Job, thinking we know all there is to know about God? Acting as if we are God? Are we like the people in the psalm, going forth in their boats as if they own the oceans and seas? Are we like the disciples, afraid to use our own gifts and abilities when things get a little rough? Do we use God as a crutch; call out to Him when He has given us all we need to see us through? Do we use God as a 'pop-machine' magician who will give us whatever we want?

God has blessed us to be a blessing. He did not bless us to sit around and let Him do all the work. Paul writes, "...giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in long suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

Faith is not sitting around on our bottoms expecting God to hand us the good life on a silver platter. It is stepping out into the world, trusting that God is with us giving us the strength, courage, wisdom, knowledge, love, peace and joy we need to get through the storms of life. The people in the Psalm were glad when the sea turned calm, but joy in Christ is not for just the good times. "Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people, And praise him in the seat of the elders." (Psalm 107:31-32) This is not just for those times when the sea is calm and the wind is soft. We are to praise God at all times, even in the midst of the storm for He is always with us, even when it appears He sleeps. The day of salvation has come in our Lord Jesus Christ. In that salvation, we are called to live in faith, trusting in God to know exactly what He's doing. We can open wide our hearts, give without fear and speak freely that which God has spoken to us. Jesus is Lord, Lord over all the earth, and He has entrusted us to take His Gospel to the world. Thanks be to God. 

A WORD FOR TODAY
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