June 24, 2018 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B
When the Playshare children are gathering outside the classroom door, every once in a while, I hear a parent say to an excited child, “calm down.” When I am over excited about a topic, you are likely wanting to say to me, “Laura, calm down. We get it – we hear you – enough.”
“The church is dying” says a fearful congregation. And it hears today’s scripture text and wonders how it will let go of the fear. Where is peace when beloved institutions are changing or closing right around us?
I attended a yoga ½ day retreat 6 weeks ago and pulled a meditation card with the words “there is peace in every breathe,” on it. In short, it is saying “Peace! Be still!” Slow down enough that you can pay attention to your breathing. Once one is aware of our breathing, then we can pray, meditate, and reflect. We can reflect on God’s message. God might well be saying “calm down, I am with you.”
Hurricanes, tsunamis, and floods, terrorist attacks, war and violence, the pain of personal suffering leave us crying out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing.” Of course, God cares. Yet, it is in the most anxious times that we are least likely to take that slow, deep, peaceful breath and wait. It is in the intentional waiting – mindful attentativeness – that we know deep in our bones that God is telling us to calm down – “Peace! Be still!” is our mantra.
I wonder if the scriptural story might have gone something like this: They waited awhile after the storm abated, until he fell back to sleep. When his breathing lengthened, and the stillness of his body lingered, they huddled close together to talk. “Who is this man!?” Did you see what just happened? “What have we gotten ourselves into here?”
They shook their heads in stunned silence until one said, ”Well, I don’t know how he called the seas that way, but I do know that I don’t appreciate how he challenged our faith at a time of such danger. Surely he, of all people, could understand our fear. He has been so kind and compassionate, but tonight he was hurtful. I don’t understand.”
Then another spoke. More timid than the rest, he was a quieter man whose words were always well chosen. After thinking for a moment, he said “What if Jesus meant that we didn’t need to be afraid, not because he was with us in the boat, but because we had it within us to save ourselves? What if he was trying to teach us about the power of faith?”
In the stern, Jesus lay as still as the waters around him, with eyes fixed upon the starlit night and with the slightest bit of a grin on his face.
What is it in our lives that we most fear? Is it major health concerns? Is it troubles facing our families? Is it financial despair? Is it losing your beloved? Jesus knows all about these worries! He has stood through them with countless others. If any of these realities are yours, be assured that Jesus walks with you, holding your hand. The ever-present Christ offers peace and sustaining calm.
How do we access this ever-present peace? Taking time for intentional prayer, meditation, and mindfulness exercises quiets the mind chatter and opens the soul. Going for walks, preferably in the out-of-doors, yoga, thai chi, fishing, and other activities that engage the full body connect us to the divine. Speaking with a Spiritual Director, Minister, or Soul friend all help us to relate to the Holy One. All of these suggestions are “Soul Work” and help open us to the holy which is internal. We rest in deep assurance that peace is God’s gift in the storms of life.
Our meetings of Council, Long Term Planning Committee, and the Finance committee often have conversations concerning our church’s financial picture. Comments such as “we have only enough money in reserve to stay open for 3 to 4 years. We won’t be open to see our 100th anniversary. The church is slowly dying. We have to make drastic cuts.” Have all been uttered. I want to suggest this is fear talking rather than imaginative, calm planning.
Let me lay out alternate facts. I will be retiring in 1 ½ years. The Minister from Summerland will be retiring in 2 years. The Minister from Oasis will be retiring in 2 ½ to 3 years. Osoyoos, Oliver and Okanagan Falls United Churches are all without Ministers as of July. What about initiating a conversation with all these churches and look at clustering. Perhaps these 6 churches could find a creative way of working together and sharing ministry personnel. Perhaps staff with special expertise could be called to serve the cluster and all the churches benefit. Wouldn’t it be awesome to call 3 or 4 ministers to serve the south Okanagan and they ensure that excellent preaching happens in all 6 churches, tremendous faith formation options are available throughout the area, meaningful outreach is supported, and each congregation is supported administratively. Instead of being deluged by the storm of debt, there can be calm and peace – and dare I say it, excitement at new possibilities.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Your 16 year old grandchild comes to you to tell you she is pregnant. You are sad and angry. This is not what you wish for your beloved grandchild. “Peace is in every breath you take” runs through your head as you give her a hug and say to her, “God’s peace be with you, my child.”
Your Doctor stares at the computer and says, “I am sorry. You have cancer of the lung. I will set up an appointment with the oncologist.” Or, at least that is all you heard. The wave of fear washes over you and you feel like you are sinking to the bottom of a crater. The Doctor says, “Keep faith in the Great Physician.” And you breath in a breathe of calm.
Even when we are in the boat with the disciples and the wind comes up and the waves are crashing against the side of the vessel – we have nothing to fear. Take a deep breath – inhale peace. Take a deep breath – inhale calm. Know that Christ, the great captain of the lake is with us. We are not perishing. Peace! Be Still!
I want to finish with a Readers Digest quote: A ship crossing the Atlantic ran into a terrific storm. One of the passengers went to the captain asking, “Captain, is there any danger?” “No,” replied the captain, “not yet. The sailors are still swearing, but if they start to pray, put on your life-belt.”