Sunday, August 10, 2014

Faith Amidst the Storm--And Given ISIS in Iraq, the Storm is Certainly Brewing

Faith requires us to step out into the storm.

There was a storm gathering around the disciples.  They must have seen it.  For Jesus seemed to attract a storm.  Like clouds gathering on the horizon people gathered around him.  As they gathered they brought their needs: food, water, healing, forgiveness, wholeness, life and peace.  Like strong winds their needs were overwhelming.  But Jesus responded to them. 

As his popularity grew so did the rumble of thunder: thunder from the religious leaders of his day.  Thunder of skepticism, disbelief, jealousy and envy.  Rumbles of rejection even from his own people.  For Jesus was gaining popularity and making claims that seemed to be simply blasphemous.  How could they be true?  And so the storm started to gather and pick up strength. 

Lightening also struck.  Lightening that took the life of his cousin, John.  Lightening that seemed to strike pretty close to the other disciples, too.  For if John could lose his life, why should they be kept safe?  And so the storm gathered. 

But they said yes to follow him.  That day on the seashore when he asked them to leave everything and follow, they said yes.  It seemed that faith required them to say yes to step out into the storm.

It was no different that night on the boat.  The storms had gathered around the disciples and they were scared.  Scared of capsizing; scared of drowning and of death.  Their fear only grew when they saw the man approach on the water.  Was it a dream? A nightmare? Was it a ghost?  They cowered in fear for it was too much for them.  But that beautiful voice broke through the winds.  That voice they had come to trust.  That voice that whispered to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  They knew that voice.  They knew what it meant. 

So Peter in his glory, in his attempts at being a leader, remembering his first call on that seashore asks Jesus if he can still follow.  For he knows what faith requires.  Faith required him to step out into the storm. 

I don’t think that our situation today is much different than that which is described in the Gospel.  For the storm continues to build around us too.  The thunder rolls and lightening strikes in Iraq and so many other parts of the world where converts to Christianity, and really many of the faithful, are persecuted and crucified in the heat of the desert sun.  Their bodies hang on trees much like that of their founder. They are evidence that the storm still rolls on.

The earth also cracks and shakes as deeper divisions happen in our church: divisions of ideology; divisions of power, divisions of class. These divisions threaten to tear our own temple asunder.  

And there are the rains of skepticism and atheism that seem to flood our faith.  They accompany winds that blow fiercely against the shelter of our own Christian lives as we attempt to live our faith in a place where it is not always so easy to do. 

But in the midst of the storm Jesus says the same thing to us.  He whispers to us: Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.  Come, and follow me.    For faith requires us to step out into the storm. 

And many have stepped out into the storm.  No matter how dark or scary it had been, they were brave and courageous.  Their witness assures us that there are followers of Christ who are willing to step out of the boat.  From St. Peter to St. Mary, St. Kwinten to the martyrs of our own day, many have heeded the call of the Lord—they understood that faith required them to step out into the storm. And these brave witnesses are all around us, too.

The couple that remains open to having children and raising them in the faith steps out onto the water in the midst of the storm.

The student who decides to leave her own country to pursue a degree in a foreign land amid a foreign language in order to better her country and her family steps out onto the water in the midst of the storm.

The theologian who attempts to think with the church even though it is not always the most popular thing to do steps out onto the water in the midst of the storm.

The community that gathers for Mass as the church bells ring, bells whose symbols have lost their meaning in the present culture, when they gather they step out onto the water in the midst of the storm.

Over and over again disciples throughout the ages have headed the call of Christ—even in the midst of the most tumultuous storms—and been courageous enough to step out onto the water and follow him. 

But.  But my brothers and sisters I believe we must also be aware of what happens next in today’s gospel.  For most likely, if we step out into the storm to follow Christ, we may inevitably begin to sink.  Perhaps we even need to sink.

Peter was certainly confident in his will to follow Christ.  But he began to sink.  And this would not be his only moment of weakness.  And down through the ages the greatest of saints stepped out onto the water and began to sink.  For sometimes the storm is too much.  Sometimes our faith is just not that strong 

In our own time we will probably begin to sink, too.  In the midst of cancer we will curse God and wonder where he is.  Waking up to attend to our children for the third time in one night we will wonder if the sacrifice was worth it.  Having the opportunity to stand up for our faith we will hide safely in the background, blending into the crowd.  Overcome by the lure of an overly sexualized culture, we will have our moments of weakness.  Overwhelmed from leaving the familiar we will cry tears at night thinking that it is simply too much.  We too will sink.  For our faith sometimes just isn’t strong enough.

But we can be assured, that in our darkest hour, in our greatest moment of despair, in our most shameful self, he will be there.  His hand will grab us.  He will lift us up.  He will bring us to safety.  His voice will whisper in our ear that it is him.

And with faith like a child let us hope that we too might be able to say on that day, and every day until we see him face to face: 

Truly, you are the Son of God.