A sermon offered by Bishop Craig at First Lutheran Church in Williston, ND on June 20, 2021.
Mark 4:35-41 • June 20, 2021
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
First of all, Happy Father’s Day! Happy Father’s day to my dad as well as my father-in-law. Happy Father’s day to everyone who has been a blessing to me as a father figure. And even, Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who struggle to be a dad. All of us get this dad-duty wrong from time to time. And some, get it wrong more often than they get it right. You are not alone if I’m speaking to you. There are many ways you and I can grow and get better at being a dad most especially by surrounding ourselves with other dads along the journey.
So…to all the dads…Happy Father’s Day!
Second, this may just be my least favorite time of the year. We celebrate the Summer Solstice this weekend. For those of us who live this far north in the hemisphere, the solstice is the beginning of the end. It is. It’s the start of shorter days, which all too quickly bring us back to the darkness and cold of winter.
And for some reason – I’ll let you pick whatever reason you’d like to pick – this year it seems even more significant that summer is already on its way out. It’s all downhill from here folks…snow shovels and winter coats will soon be part of our everyday life on the prairie once again.
Third, it is a great joy to be with you in worship again. I am so excited to be celebrating the installation of Pastor Madsen – albeit a bit delayed because of all of the storms we’ve faced in the past year – so, this day, without question, is a great day of celebration. Thank you, for the invitation to be with you!
Finally, I do this at every opportunity I have, I bring greetings on behalf of your brothers and sisters across the Western North Dakota Synod – more than 160 congregations; I bring you greetings on behalf of your brothers and sisters who are part of the more than 9,000 congregations within our Lutheran Christian denomination of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and, I bring greetings on behalf of the Lutheran World Federation, of which we are the only Lutheran body represented from the United States. LWF encompasses 148 Lutheran churches, more than 77 million children of God serving in 99 countries around the world.
The gospel before us today involves boats and fishermen; storms and the power of God; and, the faith of people who claim to follow Jesus – or lack of faith as we just heard a few minutes ago.
Certainly, storms are something we can all relate to as people of the prairie. I live in a house that overlooks the Missouri River valley. My backyard has an amazing view of the western horizon. As I look west, the view of storms rolling in is incredible – regardless of the season.
Being a native of the North Dakota prairie, I find myself more often than not, standing in my backyard looking across the valley, watching a storm roll in, even when I probably should be taking shelter in a safer location like the inside of my house.
This week’s gospel is found in three of the four gospels. In Mark’s telling of the story, I’ve always been struck by verse 36 that says “other boats were with him.” Why is that little piece of information important to Mark and not to Matthew or Luke?
Well…one theologian believes that it helps us see that we are in the “other boats” as we are called to faith by God. From the very earliest days of Jesus’ ministry among the first disciples and through-out our own life of faith as Jesus’ followers, we are invited to come along.
After all, you and I believe that Jesus, the Son of God, is not merely a first-century miracle worker. We believe that Jesus is the very presence of God conquering evil from the beginning of time and through any and all storms that we will travel through in our own lifetime.
Over the past year, and probably even since I was last with you just a few short months ago, you and I have faced storms.
Storms that have affected our families.
Storms that have impacted the communities in which we live like greater Williston and Williams County areas.
You all had a pretty intense thunderstorm in Williams county just a few days ago.
Other storms that have maybe have even happened within First Lutheran Church’s mission and ministry over its long history in this community.
Or storms, that are often the most painful kind, storms that happen within our individual lives.
We can identify some of these storms easily as things like addiction, broken relationships, a global pandemic, sluggish energy prices and an uncertain future, drought that is directly impacting ever part of our state’s economic engine, or any of the -isms you can think of that occupy news headlines and social media pages this days, like racism, sexism, nationalism, ageism, elitism, etc.
As you and I sit in this boat, that the church of today calls a sanctuary, with all of the storms that rage within us and around us, how are you doing? Are you panicking? Are you asleep? Are you afraid? Have you reached a point where you have yelled out to Jesus because we are perishing!?!
In your own journey as a child of God, follower of Jesus, which has been greater in your recent faith life…fear of the storm or fear of the power of God?? Because fear is at the heart of everything that tears us away from being in relationship with the God of all creation.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t fear the storm that has come upon the boats they are in. If we look at the rest of the story of Jesus that we have in the gospels, Jesus doesn’t fear any of the storms he faces.
And, as we see over and over and over again, he definitely doesn’t fear the power of God.
In fact, throughout the gospels, Jesus embraces the power of God in order for God’s power to be a blessing to God’s children.
Jesus’ clarity about God’s power keeps his head above the swirling waters of anxiety and fear that submerge his disciples. Faith – not lack of care – is what drives Jesus’ character.
As faith communities, our churches act like the disciples on that boat all too often, don’t we?
Do we allow God’s power to bring peace in the middle of the storms that rage around us?
Or, do we continue to allow destructive behaviors to persist in our lives and the communities in which we live that feed storms with fear. Fear that strengthens their ability to destroy our relationships with each other and with God?
A good friend of mine offered a blog post early in the pandemic of 2020 called “My House Has Seen A Lot of Days.” He has lived for the past 20 years in a house in small eastern Pennsylvania town that was built around 1860. That’s before North Dakota was even a state. He was reflecting on all the things his house has experienced – the Civil War, two World Wars, assassinations of legendary leaders with names like Kennedy and King, the civil rights movement, two waves of the Spanish Flu.
As he pondered the stories the walls of his house contain as he wrote, “We can search ourselves, finding ways to contribute and change the world for the better. Or we can sit around pushing disproven conspiracy theories and inflammatory garbage on social media. We can approach our problems and each other with the intention of finding both solutions and unity. Or we can come at everything and everyone with a shield of self-righteousness: ready to fight, be right, and win.
Our outcomes are not guaranteed.” he wrote. “What we say or don’t say matters. What we do or don’t do matters.
Years from now people will sit around in what’s currently my living room, talking about these extraordinary times, what it must have been like to live through them, and how we reacted to our situation. If part of me is somehow still there in spirit, I hope I can listen in proudly.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue our journey of faith together as brothers and sisters in Christ of First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota, called into ministry and mission together as the Western North Dakota Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran World Federation, remember always that Jesus is with us.
When storms rage around us that stand in the way of God’s mission and ministry for us in this time and place, Jesus is there to rebuke the wind.
When storms rage that cause us to cower in fear, Jesus is with us, Jesus is there to say Peace, be still…to the waves and to our fear-filled bodies.
When storms rage that try to convince us that the power of God is not with us, Jesus is with us to us that the power of God is always with us to bring blessing.
Will future generations of the Lutheran Christian tradition believe that we actually lived out our faith confident that Jesus was with us? If we could hear their conversations taking place in our boat 10, 20, 100, 500 years from now, what will you and I hear them say?
In a few minutes, we will have an opportunity to exchange the peace of Christ. Take note that for followers of Jesus, this isn’t another opportunity to say good morning to one another. This isn’t a simple greeting to friends we know well who are sitting next to us only to ignore friends we don’t know who are also sitting next to us.
The greeting of peace within a Christian worship service – whether you are online or in-person today – is our opportunity to fully live into who we are as Christian community. A community that is unlike any other community we are part of, because this community believes that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the one who can command the storms of our lives to be still.
Sisters and brothers in Christ of First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota, Jesus is saying to any storm that may be raging in your life or in this congregation today…peace, be still. Peace, be still. Amen.