Frightened? Have Faith!

“Frightened? Have Faith!”

Jesus calming the storm – icon

Mark 4:35-41 (4:40) – June 20, 2021

            Have you ever slept in a tent while a huge thunderstorm crackled and poured overhead? The blustery wind, rain and loud thunder seem right next to you. I know firsthand; I spent several summers in high school at a Girl Scout camp, sleeping in a platform tent every night.

            Except, in our Gospel reading, Jesus and the disciples did not even have the cover of a tent. They were out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of a fierce storm.

            Our Gospel writer Mark tells us “Suddenly a strong wind blew up, and the waves began to spill over into the boat, so that it was about to fill with water.”

            This storm on the Sea of Galilee blew in, all of a sudden. How many of us can relate? How many of us have had real storms suddenly come upon us? Without warning? We can be thinking of a real storm, where the skies turn black, and the heavens open up with pelting rain. Or, it may be a figurative storm, where something catastrophic suddenly comes upon you or some member of your family. Perhaps a car accident, or house fire, or sudden hospitalization, out of the blue. These are serious storms, too, and they can overwhelm us with their intense effects.

            I spent the last three months of 2020 and first three months of 2021 enrolled in a unit of chaplain internship. This was a community-based internship, and I had the opportunity to have this church, St. Luke’s Church, as my clinical site. I needed to do a final project. My chaplain supervisor asked me to make up a church timeline for our church. This fascinating project that took me a long time! And, it provided many rich and valuable insights into our church life.    

            This 20-year timeline informed me that this church has been through some real storms, and repeated choppy water. And, not just one little storm, either. Repeated cloudbursts, in fact.

            Have you encountered churches that have weathered big storms? Either a church you attended, or that one of your family or friends went to? This kind of tumultuous happening can be utterly paralyzing! Plus, this stormy weather in the congregation can give an absolute chill to any viable ministry or church work going on, inside or outside the church walls.   

            I hold an Illinois certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. I know from experience that a tried and true saying from the program of recovery is “you are as sick as your secrets.” St. Luke’s Church had some big secrets, indeed. Not completely hidden, but certainly wallpapered over so that I needed to dig further to find out about some of them.

            Stories about storms from your local church history can be damaging, to be sure. However, stories about storms from church history can be helpful, and empowering, too. Take, for example, the true story about Anna B. About 100 years ago, Anna B. was a faithful member of a dying church. The building was run-down, the congregation could not afford to pay a minister. Without a minister, people stopped attending Sunday services. Except – Anna B. kept coming to the church. She opened the doors on Sunday morning, week after week. She lit the candles and provided a place for prayer. She filed the necessary papers to maintain the church as a legal entity. These simple acts of faithfulness and diligence kept the congregation going for several years. Eventually, rebirth happened, and it was in great part because of Anna B. [1]

            That is the basic story of Anna B., who was instrumental in faith and revitalization when that church was going through a series of storms in the life of that struggling congregation.         Yet, what does Mark’s Gospel reading have to say? “Jesus was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The disciples woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” With all of the strong tumult, wild waves and whistling wind, we can be tempted to shake our Lord Jesus awake, too. We can say, “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” Can you relate to the disciples? They knew what to do – they asked Jesus for help!  

Each church, each denomination here in the United States has been dealing with significant storms over the past year and a half. With the pandemic and all of the related shutdown, isolation, sickness, deaths, and general tumult of all kinds, this COVID-time certainly has been a whole series of storms we have all had to weather.

39 Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, “Be quiet!” and he said to the waves, “Be still!” The wind died down, and there was a great calm. 40 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you frightened? Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus calls on us to have faith, even in the midst of the raging storm. We can believe, we can have faith that Jesus will be right by our sides. Even through the darkest storm, though the wild waves and choppy water threatens to flood our little boat, Jesus will be with us. Through the storm, and even calming the wind and waves.

A good way for us to weather storms that come through our churches is to remember the faithful and trusting stories from our own congregations. Just as Susan’s former congregation lifted up the true story of Anna B. to encourage their corporate faith, so we can find stories in our own churches. Where were people faithful to God? Where did God’s grace break through?

We can tell stories about this past year of COVID-tide, too! Where has God been faithful to us? Where has God’s grace shown through, like the sun behind the dark clouds? Let us be expectant, persistent, on the look-out for these true stories of faith. We all can tell how this church made a difference for each of us, in this past year, and write our own hopeful, faithful stories. Are you ready? Write your own story of faith! And, Jesus will be right by your side, all your life long. Alleluia, amen.

(Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] Beaumont, Susan, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 99.

“God Changes Things!”

Mark 4:26-34 (4:30-32) – June 13, 2021

            When my children were small, they loved reading time, every night before bedtime! I read them all kinds of stories. I remember reading some lovely illustrated versions of Aesop’s Fables. These taught children (and adults) some moral or practical lesson, wrapped up in engaging storytelling. Who doesn’t remember the lessons of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” (slow and steady wins the race) and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (honesty is the best policy)?

            The Rabbi Jesus also was a master storyteller, like Aesop.  Jesus used a different method. He regularly told parables. Parables are not quite the same as fables. Jesus told many parables to help people learn what God is like and how God wants us to live. “Parables are useful when the truth you want to share is difficult, whether difficult to hear, comprehend, or believe.” [1]

            In today’s Scripture reading from Mark chapter 4, Jesus tells two parables, both about seeds. Parables can be seen from a number of different viewpoints. Children can view a parable as a simple retelling of people planting seeds. As we age and grow, our understanding ages and grows, too. As I would sometimes tell my children, these Bible stories – or parables – are thinking-about stories. We think about them, ponder them, and ruminate over them.

            Parables, as pastor and writer Eugene Peterson has said, are in this sense like narrative time bombs. “You hear them – tick – wonder about them – tick – think maybe you’ve got it – tick – and then as you walk away – tick – or over the course of the next day or so – tick – and all of a sudden the truth Jesus meant to convey strikes home – boom! – almost overwhelming you with its implications or … blinding you with its vision.[2]

            Both parables Jesus relates talk about sowers and seeds. I was drawn to the second one in my study for this sermon, the parable of the mustard seed. How many people here today have ever seen a mustard seed? You can often see them at a produce market or ethnic food market, in the spice section. A fairly large tree will grow from that tiny seed, half as small as an apple seed!

            Children especially really like the idea of a tiny mustard seed growing into something big. Children are small, much smaller than adults. Yet, they can see a tiny little thing like a mustard seed growing big and bigger, and indeed taking over the garden, if we don’t watch out. Small children intuitively appreciate this story about something small having great influence. And perhaps, grown people who feel as if they don’t ordinarily have much influence also appreciate this parable about tiny things becoming big, grand, and having influence after all.                

            Aren’t we amazed that such a tiny seed can turn into a small tree? What is more, seeds germinate and grow when hidden under ground – hidden from everyone’s sight. As Jesus said, every small thing we do can make such a big difference. 

But it does not stop there! One little mustard seed doesn’t just produce one bush. Mustard bushes are what many people consider weeds. One quickly becomes several and several soon take over the whole field. Understanding that about mustard trees tells us something else about God’s Kingdom – it is unstoppable. It is going to fill the whole world.

Here in suburban Chicago, we are now into the beginning of June. Many gardens are starting to grow, producing flowers, and the beginnings of fruits and vegetables. Our Lord Jesus relates a number of parables about sowing seeds, and these parables have multiple meanings, and can be viewed from different points of view.

When the sower first sows seed, the plant has not started growing yet. But, there is potential for it to grow! As we sow good seeds in this congregation, these seeds have the potential to grow, too. Are we going to tend these tender young plants carefully? With love? Or, are these plants going to be left alone, and allow the weeds take over the plot of ground?

As we prayerfully consider this beloved congregation, a change seems to have come upon St. Luke’s Church, accelerated by this past year of Covid-tide. (as some church folk are now calling it) It is true that St. Luke’s Church is no longer the church it used to be, 20, 30, 40 years ago. St. Luke’s Church has changed, and the world has changed, too.

Do we – faithful believers in Christ – know what is coming next? Frankly, I do not. Our church leaders do not, either! Do you? This is a waiting time, an expectant time. A time when seeds can be sown, and nurtured, and a time when God may bring forth unexpected growth and exciting events! Are you eager to see what happens next? I know I am!

We know what happens when a caterpillar goes into a cocoon. The caterpillar gradually turns into a chrysalis, and after a time, a beautiful butterfly emerges. But – that is from the point of view of a human, watching over the chrysalis. What about the caterpillar? Did you ever think about the caterpillar’s point of view? I suspect the caterpillar has no idea of what is happening to it all the while it is in the chrysalis, transforming into that butterfly. That is where we are, now!

Can you see it? Feel it? St. Luke’s Church is on the threshold of a new thing! The sower sows the seed, and it goes into the ground, where the growth happens unseen. Something new is coming. “The Kingdom Jesus proclaims has room for everyone. It creates a new and open – and for this reason perhaps a tad frightening – future.” [3] Maybe Jesus is telling us God’s best dream for us – for St. Luke’s Church – is like that. Once God’s love gets planted in us and starts to grow, it changes everything around us forever. Sure, the next thing might be a bit frightening, from the caterpillar’s point of view, but I’m excited to see what is coming next! Aren’t you? I know God will be right by our sides, no matter what. And, it will be all right. Truly.

(Thank you to David Lose for his commentary “Preach the Truth Slant,” from “In the Meantime” in 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-3-b-preach-the-truth-slant/

“Preach the Truth Slant,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

We Want What We Want!

“We Want What We Want!”

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20 (8:5) – June 6, 2021

            Is there anything you ever really wanted? I mean, really, really wanted? So much that you could taste it? Were you absolutely certain – after you got it – that this thing would make you really happy, so happy you never would wish for anything else ever again?

I know my children wanted things like bicycles, and iPods, roller skates and cell phones, during their growing-up time. I know that occasionally they even said if they just were to get that much desired thing, then they never would ask for anything else, ever again.

            We see that deep wish, that urgent desire expressed here in our Scripture reading today, from 1 Samuel chapter 8. The people of Israel really, really wanted a king. An earthly king, like all the other tribes and nations around them had.

            Just to orient ourselves to time and place, the time period of 1 Samuel was after the people of Israel came to the promised land of Canaan, conquered it, and lived in it for several hundred years. Samuel is known as the last Judge, and a prophet of God. The prophets helped the people of Israel understand messages from God, and helped lead and guide the people, too.

            The people of Israel wanted a king. But, what is the matter with this sentiment? Samuel, knowing God a little better than many of the people of Israel, understood God had tried to be a heavenly King for Israel for several centuries, with the Judges being God’s right-hand guys. The Judges had been the Lord’s representatives on earth, judging, leading and governing the people of Israel for God.

            Except, this did not work out too well. We can see that from the fact that the people of Israel kept falling away from the worship of the Lord, and started to sin – to worship idols and other, false gods. This would happen again and again. Everything would be okay for a while. The Judge would govern the people, things would prosper, the people would become complacent, and then fall away from the Lord. The people would be conquered by a neighboring tribe, repent and call out to the Lord. Another Judge would rise to chase the tribes out of Israel and bring the people back to the worship of the one, true God. Again and again this familiar pattern happened.

Does it sound familiar to you? Have your friends or family members fallen away from the Lord and had problems or difficulties, and needed to get right with God? This sadly familiar situation happens again and again, throughout the centuries. Not just in the time of the Judges.

 The elderly Samuel knew better. He had walked with the Lord for a number of years, and he understood exactly what the people of Israel were asking for. Perhaps the people thought the earthly king would protect them, or make them strong, or even have great wisdom. Perhaps a king would make the other tribes and nations respect the people of Israel! After all, the nation Israel was a little like a football, getting tossed around from tribe to tribe for the past few centuries. Perhaps Samuel’s feelings were hurt by the people’s demand! After all, he was the Judge appointed by the Lord, and he was the one who was God’s representative. But, no. The people wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. They really, really wanted a king!

Does this sound familiar? Someone wants what they want, and no one can tell them any different. They stubbornly decide they really, really want it, and that is that.

Samuel tries to reason with the people. He knew how kings acted in other nations. Samuel told the people of Israel that a king would not treat them well. He tried to spell out exactly how much a king would cost the nation of Israel. A king would take a lot of their crops and animals as taxes, and recruit their sons to fight wars and daughters to work for him, and the people would eventually complain bitterly to the Lord about the king.

Predictably, the people refused to listen. They demanded a king from Samuel.

So, Samuel went before the Lord. The Lord told Samuel to give the people what they wanted. You know the proverb “Be careful what you wish for – you may get it.” That is exactly what happened to the people of Israel. God added a postscript: someday, the king would indeed treat the people of Israel poorly, even enslaving them.

When the people of Israel finally got their king, did it really, really make them happy? Was it the best, most prudent thing for the nation? I don’t know for sure, but I think not.

            Of course, looking back at the book of 1 Samuel, we now have 20/20 hindsight. We can see clearly the kinds of things the new King of Israel will require the nation to do for him. Sometimes, “we want what we want when we want it!” is definitely not the best decision for us.

            While we are talking about leaders, and leadership, some of our current leaders today are battered and bone-tired of serving in their agency or government structure. In the past 15 or 16 months, everything has been turned topsy-turvy and inside out. Even if they might not be the most effective or the “best” leaders, we can pray for them. We can ask God to help them govern and make decisions. We can support them, even if we did not vote for them or hire them. And, God bless our leaders, even if they lead differently than the way we think they ought to.

            Do you think we ought to demand things from God? Demand what we want when we want it? Or, is it a better idea to trust the Lord to know what we need? “In giving us what we so desperately want, God disciplines us so that we learn to leave these things in God’s hands. In biblical terms, we must focus on seeking God first, and trust Him to add all those things He deems best for us. Let us be cautious that our requests to God are not demands. Let us learn from the Israelites of old so that we need not walk the path they had to walk.” [1]

God truly wants a receptive, open heart. Don’t be like the people of Israel! Instead, have an open heart and a willing spirit. Hear the word of the Lord!

  • Alleluia, amen.

(I would like to thank Illustrated Worship for their summer Worship Bundle for 2021. I appreciate the thoughts and insights found for this Lectionary reading for June 6, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, which I used in the creation of this sermon.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-give-us-king-1-samuel-81-22

“Give Us a King! (1 Samuel 8:1-22),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.