On What Faith Requires
June 20, 2021
Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-30
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Mark 4: 35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Today’s sermon is titled On What Faith Requires. It seems to me that as I age I become less adventurous in what I am willing to do, but more adventurous in pushing the edge of my belief systems. Sometimes I miss the old me, though. Sometimes who I was seems like a dream. In my thirties I did not think twice about hitchhiking to Alaska with the man I would later marry. With our first child we would carry him with us on long-distance backpacking trips into the wilderness of the pacific northwest and into remote valleys on the islands of Hawaii. With the second child, though, I traded in my backpack for a canoe. Traveling on the water was much easier on my back and my knees, but it presented another set of challenges, as you might imagine. The water presents dangers that you never need to think about on land.
One could argue that there are places we humans are just not equipped to go. Even with all the safety precautions like lifeboats and personal flotation devices and confidence in our ability to swim, we are vulnerable when out on the water. We are vulnerable when surrounded by forces that are out of our control.
When my husband and I started to travel with the kids in a canoe, we were compelled to come up with some of our own safety devices. We thought about the worst case scenario which, for us, was capsizing the canoe and not being able to find the kids in the water. My husband, Rimai, came up with the perfect plan. We used a surf leash. A surf leash is designed to keep the surfer and their board connected even in turbulent waters. It is made for high impact. It attaches on both ends by a wide velcro band. It was the perfect thing to give us the peace of mind we needed and therefore the confidence to try more challenging adventures.
We went on many smaller trips before attempting something really major. When the kids were 7 and 2 we planned a two-week paddle on the Moose River in Maine; the route is called the Bow trip. It was a 34-miles of mostly lakes connected by short stretches of river. The trip must have gone rather smoothly because the only thing I really remember about it was a long crossing of Attean Lake. It was not too windy when we left shore, but things quickly changed. As the wind picked up, so did the waves and we were only a third of the way across when the whitecaps started to form. It became obvious that the crossing would take much longer than planned and would require way more effort than we anticipated.
When you really need to paddle hard and fast in choppy waters, it’s best to get off the seat and kneel on the floor of the boat. This keeps the center of gravity low and you can paddle deep. I made a soft place in the bow of the canoe for Ave, my two-year-old daughter. She seemed to sense that the situation was dire; she crawled up in there and stayed very still. We paddled for an hour and we were nearly half way across when it began to rain. Now had I been in this situation a year before, without much paddling experience, I would have probably broken down in tears from exhaustion and desperation. But we had practiced and we were prepared. I had faith in the boat, I had deep faith in my husband, I was so proud of my little 7-year-old paddling with all of his might. Out there in the middle of that crossing I tell you I found a faith in myself and in my abilities that I had never experienced before. I put a rain jacket over my daughter to keep her dry and I saw that she was sleeping…sleeping in the middle of that storm. No, I did not think of Jesus in that moment; I could only think of getting to the other shore. I turned my face to the pelting rain and paddled deep, paddled hard, paddled long after I thought I could not paddle anymore.
We made it safely to the other shore and by the time we arrived there, I was not the same person that had pushed off from the opposite shore hours before. My faith was deeper and wider and stronger. In retrospect I see that this increase of faith was no accident and it was no gift from God, either. It did surprise me; I was not expecting it, and yet I see that it was because I had practiced and it was because I was prepared that I was able to find faith in my ability to cope with the situation without being broken by my circumstances.
I was elated to have made it, much like the psalmist we meet in our scriptures today who is celebrating and giving thanks to God because the storm was stilled “and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Those voyagers are grateful for the respite and can celebrate their good fortune in the weather’s turning, giving thanks to God. But the story in the scriptures from the book of Mark has a very different twist. Jesus’s disciples fear for their lives when the storm arises and threatens to capsize their boat. They wake up the sleeping Jesus, questioning him why he doesn’t seem to care. I think they never imagine that Jesus could calm the storm, so when he wakes up and says, “Peace, be still” and the sea and the winds subside, the disciples are filled with a new kind of fear…a fear of just who Jesus was and what he may be capable of doing.
Little did they know then of what Jesus was truly capable of. Little did the disciples know then what would be required of him. Little did they know that there exists a faith so strong that even death can not overshadow it. Jesus is a man who, I believe, was the embodiment of the spirit of God, endowed with heavenly wisdom and divine understanding….yet even Jesus was not always so confident; his faith in himself was not always so strong.
In the first chapter of the book of Mark, when Jesus returns from the wilderness, he attends a wedding with his mother and when the wine is running low, she implores him to change the water into wine. He protests, “My time has not yet come.” Over and over again Jesus instructs his disciples not to tell anyone about what they have seen. Even in the life of Jesus we see that his faith is a work in progress. I find great comfort in this and I hope you do, too.
Faith is not something that falls upon us if we are deemed worthy. Faith is not a gift that we are given if we are lucky. Faith is something we construct by the trial and error of our lives. Faith will grow if we nurture it. Faith will grow if we challenge it over and over and over again by pushing our edges and expanding our limits.
I said in the beginning of this sermon, I think it was the second sentence: It seems to me that as I age I become less adventurous in what I am willing to do, but more adventurous in pushing the edge of my belief systems. For example, I often catch myself having thoughts and opinions that are very limiting. These limiting thoughts and opinions are often directed at myself, like thinking, “How could I possibly do that? I don’t have the skills or experience. They would never take me seriously.” On and on these limiting thoughts can undermine my self-confidence and, even more importantly, crowd out any room for my faith to grow. These limiting thoughts can even reach further afield to set limits on what I think is possible for humanity, for our culture, for our systems of government, education, and religion, too.
Friends, this kind of limited thinking is antithetical to the way we are called to live as Christians. This is Jesus’s message to those disciples in that boat: Do not be afraid. Do not put limits on what is possible. Do not doubt. Find your faith. Push the limits of your thoughts, opinions and beliefs.
If you think someone will never change, recognize that as a limiting belief and allow room in your mind and heart for them to change. Faith will grow if we give it a chance. If you think that violence in our world is a given, then mend the relationships of your life, present and past if possible. Forgive and ask for forgiveness, create peace within your life and you bring more peace into the world. Faith will grow if we do the work. If you think our democracy is too fragile to withstand the forces of corruption and greed, then take the time to communicate with your representatives and let them know what is important to you. Faith will grow if we speak our truth.
In closing, I hope that when the storms of life threaten to capsize us we will remember Jesus’s call for faith. Faith will grow if we give it a chance. Faith will grow if we do the work. Faith will grow if we speak our truth. The life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth will show us the way. So be it. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer: Lord of all things, we find ourselves in tumultuous times. Your presence is often difficult to sense among the news headlines and stories from around the world of disasters large and small, and yet Your Presence is in us and among us in ways we can not comprehend. We pray for a heightened awareness of how we may be instruments of your goodness and your peace. Help us to still our bodies and minds so that we may respond to your guidance, Lord. Spark our memories, that we may be reminded of the power of prayer, as we pray for ourselves, and as we pray for our sisters and brothers around the world. I pray for Fathers especially today. May they be guided by the highest form of love as they care for those around them. This I pray in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray by saying…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Benediction: I leave you with a blessing for Father’s Day: May we be blessed with fatherly love that protects us, encourages us, and helps us to grow in faith in ourselves, in others, and in the goodness that is God our heavenly Father. Amen.