In the Midst of the Storm

Sermons Proclaim
Homily: Ordinary Time 19
August 9, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Jesus is with us in the storms of life. We need to keep our eyes on him and trust him in everything.

In 1911, the Morton Salt Company started adding magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, to their salt. This allowed the salt to pour freely, even in damp weather. To emphasize their free-pouring salt, they came up with advertising to communicate that idea.

They decided upon the famous umbrella girl image quickly, and then they worked on a slogan. "Even in rainy weather, it flows freely" said what they wanted, but had too many words. Next, they thought of the old proverb, "It never rains, but it pours." But that was nixed when they decided it was too negative.

Then they hit on one that was just right, one that has stood the test of time and been in continuous use by the company ever since: "When it rains, it pours." Since 1914, both the umbrella girl (which was an artist's rendition and not based on a particular girl) and the slogan have been integral parts of the company's message and advertising. 1

Has that slogan ever rung true in your life? Faced with one bad thing, you find that another is close at hand. One bright spot in those challenging times of life is that, even in the midst of the trials, we often sense God's presence most clearly.

"Rainy days" for the disciples and for Jesus

Matthew 14 describes a hard couple of days for both the disciples and for Jesus. It starts with some of the details leading up to the beheading of John the Baptist.

Jesus was the same age as John and was related to him. Elizabeth, John's mother, is described by Luke as a relative of Mary's 2 and was six months along in her pregnancy when Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel. So, it's likely Jesus and John grew up knowing each other. When Herod had John killed, Jesus lost both a beloved relative and the man who came to "prepare the way" for him.

John's ministry was unlike any other. From his manner of dress ("John wore clothing of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist ...") to his diet ("and his food was locusts with wild honey."), to his message ("Repent") and his message to the religious leaders ("You brood of vipers ..."), John's ministry was singular in history. 3

Can you imagine Jesus hearing and seeing John do all of this and more? Can you imagine Jesus, as both a relative of John and as the Messiah, watching all the boldness of John and realizing that he was, indeed, preparing the way? Surely John held a special place in Jesus' heart. So, it's not a surprise when Matthew says that "when Jesus heard [about John's death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself." 4

But the crowds would not leave Jesus alone. Matthew tells us they "followed Jesus on foot from the towns. When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick." 5 All he wanted was to spend some time by himself, to grieve or to talk with his Father. But Jesus' heart was always open for those who needed him, and he gave his time to this crowd.

And that's when the "rain" started to fall on the disciples. As the day grew long the disciples took stock of the situation and came to Jesus with a reasonable request, saying in effect. "It's late, and the crowd is large, so let's wrap this up and send everyone away so they can get some food for supper."

"They need not go away; you give them something to eat," Jesus said. The disciples protested and then Jesus took charge. "Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds." 6 When all was said and done, five thousand men plus women and children ate the fish and loaves.

Then Jesus "made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds." Why did Jesus do that? Why didn't he have his disciples help with this huge crowd? There were 5,000 men and perhaps another 10,000 women and children. It was the disciples who wanted the crowd to go in the first place. We don't know the answer to that, but what we do know is this: Jesus sent everyone away; the crowds and the disciples.

When they had all left, Jesus went up the mountain by himself to pray. That's why he came to this deserted place. Finally, he could spend time with his Father in prayer, no doubt sorting out all the recent events, beginning with the news of John's death, and then the teaching and healing and feeding of the crowd, and then the disciples - slowly learning to be men of faith. And, of course, Jesus' primary reason for coming to earth - to be the Savior of all who believe - was always on his mind. Jesus had much to bring to his father. Was it too much? "When it rains, it pours ...."

While Jesus was spending time with his Father in prayer, the disciples were in trouble in their boat. Matthew says, "But by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them." "And early in the morning (another translation says, "During the fourth watch of the night," which would be between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m.) he came walking toward them on the sea." The disciples didn't know Morton Salt's motto, of course, but from experience, they knew the idea behind it. Battered by the waves, frightened for their lives, and now this, Jesus walking toward them on the water. They were terrified. " 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out in fear." But Jesus spoke to them, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Jesus' presence amid the storm

Three things stand out in this account of the storm. First, the disciples are in the boat because they were obedient to Jesus' command: "Jesus made the disciples get into the boat ...." Surely Jesus knew the perils of setting sail at night. Surely Jesus knew what would happen with the weather and the wind that night. Jesus was not surprised by the storm. As believers and followers of Jesus, all of us have had storms pop up in our lives when we least expected them.

Second, Jesus reveals himself in the midst of the storm. "Take heart, it is I ..." This can also be translated, "Take heart, I AM." When Moses questioned God about going before Pharaoh, he asked, "[When] they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.'" 7 Jesus revealed himself to the fearful disciples, "It is I ..." or "I AM."

Third, having revealed his presence and his identity, Jesus encouraged the disciples and said, "Do not be afraid." Jesus encouraged them in their obedience. "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Jesus said this while the storm and the wind were still swirling around them.

"Lord, if it is you ..."

It's hard to wrap your head around how Peter's mind worked. For anyone who has ever lived through a storm on a large body of water, the furthest thing from mind when help finally arrives is to get out of the boat and into the water. We've all watched water rescues after floods and hurricanes and, even with life jackets wrapped securely around them, the people being brought to safety are often in a panic. And then there's Peter. " 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' [Jesus] said, 'Come.'"

So, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. When he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink. "Lord, save me!" Jesus reached out and caught him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And the disciples (including Peter) worshiped Jesus, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

God's desire in the midst of the storm

It is not much of a stretch to recognize ourselves in the disciples' story today. Whether you are a Christian who's been following Christ for decades or a new believer who's still trying to figure out where you fit in the kingdom of God as a follower of Jesus, life comes at you (and all of us) pretty hard from time to time.

"Jerry" is on dialysis for kidney failure. He's on a nationwide registry for a kidney donation. Twice, he's been bumped up the list as his situation deteriorated. Two possible living donors have surfaced, and things are looking a little promising. In the meantime, he's "in the boat" dealing with the wind and the waves that accompany kidney failure and dialysis. But Jerry is a believer and he's not just sitting around doing nothing. He's campaigning within his community and within his church for people to consider becoming a kidney donor. He believes Jesus is in all of this with him. He's waiting for the day when he will receive the call to get out of the boat and take a leap of faith toward better health. He's keeping his eyes on Jesus every day.

You may be in very rough water today and your world is rocking and knocking you about like a small boat in a big storm. But know this: Jesus is with you in the storm. And Jesus says, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

And remember, when it rains, God pours out his Spirit on us in abundance.