The Fourth Sunday in Pentecost [Proper 7], June 21, 2015
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA ~ The Rev. Roy Almquist
Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.
This line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge reminds us of two great nautical fears … the fear of being set down in the midst of a large body of water without sail or oar and the fear of not having water to drink while all at sea and surrounded by water.
What do we make of water? Our bodies are predominantly water, probably up to 65%. We know that we can go for quite a while without food, but we know we will not last long without water. Water is all around us, and it is important for nearly every natural process. The water cycle is a critical balance in our world, as water moves from the ocean to the atmosphere, to snow, soil, aquifers, lakes, streams, and ultimately back to the ocean again.
Most of us would probably agree that water cannot be thought of as a private resource but must be seen as a common good meant for everyone and essential for all if they are to survival. People need access to water. For that reason water usage has become extremely controversial in places as diverse as California and Israel.
Experts in global concerns tell us that over 700 million people around the world have no regular source of clean, potable drinking water. Without clean water we know that children get sick and older people die sooner than they should. Women spend countless hours walking to secure and carry home water, a frustrating activity that prevents them from more creative, productive activities.
People have a visceral, emotional, spiritual attitude toward water. Why else would people pack into cars on Friday afternoon and battle traffic across New Jersey to the beaches or drive congested roads to get to the mountain lakes.
When most people think about a vacation, they include water in their plans. We like to be near it … we like to be on it … we love to be in it. Viking Tours is convinced that Shannon and I fall into that category – they send us a book this thick every month encouraging us to set off for a water adventure!
Water was a big part of Jesus’ ministry.
He began his mission after being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
He spoke to a Samaritan woman at a well about Living Water, his way of describing what it means to enter into a life transforming relationship with Him. Water is central throughout Scripture.
For many people water represents danger.
Folks who cannot swim are often deathly afraid of the water ~ a trip to the beach is not their idea of an idyllic escape;
Water is a challenge for us at Washington Memorial Chapel. The recently released architectural and engineering study by our consultants sets out for us in an illustrated narrative the serious water incursion problems that challenge the viability of this glorious building we love. Water is our enemy!
Our Gospel lesson for today focuses our attention on the volatile nature of water, in this case the sudden appearance of a huge storm on the Galilean Sea. This story of Jesus calming the storm is told in all three of the Synoptic Gospels ~ Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Mark tells us this morning that Jesus had been teaching and healing along the banks of the Galilee and that he had reached a point of burn-out. Simply put … he needed escape from the madding crowds. So, we are told, he and the disciples climbed into a small boat to sail to the opposite shore in the hope of finding peace and quiet. Jesus had cured a variety of people, spoken to the people about the meaning of God’s Kingdom, and even had a little confrontation with one of the religious authorities who did not approved of Jesus’ teaching.
Once they were on the boat and away from the pressing crowds, Mark tells us, the Lord lay down in the stern of the boat with a pillow under his head and went to sleep. Jesus must have fallen asleep immediately. Thus the arrival of a sudden storm had no effect on him, not even when the waves got so high they started washing in over the sides.
Initially the disciples just let Jesus sleep, but in time they became so fearful that they could endure the terror of the storm no longer. So they woke the Lord with this childish reproach: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? [Mark 4:38]
This morning we see a crisis on the water as a metaphor for the testing of faith. After stilling the storm … we do not know how … Jesus turns to his disciples and says: Why did you panic? What kind of faith do you have?
One of the painful realities of life is that we are never in a storm-free zone. We wish we could be. We do all that is prudent to minimize risk, but we still pay our insurance premiums! Our desire for safety is one of the reasons why we are inherently opposed to change and deviation from the normal.
We often interpret change as disruption or danger because we cannot control it. Transition is never a happy word, as I so well know having dealt with the pain of change in many congregations during my ministry. We enjoy the song There’ll Be Some Changes Made when it is part of an evening of music but not when it becomes a metaphor for our lives.
Jesus’ question to his disciples merits our attention ~ Why are we afraid? Now in saying that, I understand that there are things in life that are truly frightening. We are not living in the Garden of Eden! But it is one thing for us to experience fear in certain appropriate situations; it is another thing for us to live in a constant state of fear and distress. Experiencing fear is understandable. Living in a state of fear can perverts our lives and destroy our souls.
Let us remember, dear friends, no matter how terrible the storm may appear, it will pass. There is calm and comfort in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the hot blasts of anger and vindictiveness blow, there is peace and security in the presence of Jesus. When the storms of doubt seek to destroy our confidence and faith, there is safety in the presence of the one who calmed the sea. And nowhere do we feel that presence more palpably than when we dwell in a Christian community.
So let us not fear the future. We know that the one who holds the future … also holds us. I have come to love a contemporary prayer that has come from Holden Valley, a wilderness retreat center in the Cascade Mountains in the State of Washington. The prayer reminds us that we are all called by God to be pioneers ~ forging our own unique path as we discover and develop our God-given nature and talents. I close with that prayer:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.