Well, many of you know that during the pandemic, I led several weekly online centering prayer sessions for all of you, in which I joined you, virtually from the meditation room in my home. And if you joined us online for one or more of those sessions, you probably noticed that I have this beautiful painting hanging above my meditation altar at home. I brought it in for you today to show it to all of you. This beautiful painting is called "Walking on Water," by the artist Julius von klever. As you can see, it depicts the story of Jesus walking on the water. And I have this on such prominent display in the room where I pray, because it is a reminder for me that when I'm going through storms in my life, that the presence of the Christ walks with me.
Like many of you, when I go to prayer, I go to prayer during times of my life when my boat is being rocked, when I'm going through rough waters in life. I'm experiencing some turbulence. In the silence, I remind myself that the presence of the Christ is with me. And in the silence, I just allow that presence and that power to wash over me, to bring me to a place of stillness and peace.
Now most of you are, of course, very familiar with this story from the Gospels. The apostles are in a boat. You can kind of see it here, the boat is being swamped in the storm. The apostles look out and see Jesus walking to them on the water.
And if you remember, Jesus not only stills the water, but he actually gets Peter to come out of the boat and to also walk on the water. You know, we forget sometimes -- we think Jesus is the only one who demonstrated miracles. But Peter walked on the water too. And if you remember, Jesus said to all of us, "Everything I've done, you can do," and he added, "these things in greater."
Now the story that we heard from this morning's lectionary is not the one where Jesus walks on the water, but it's very similar. As we just heard, the disciples are in a boat, they're in a storm, but this time, Jesus is with them in the boat.
But notice, even though they're panicked and afraid, Jesus is fast asleep. The storm's not bothering him at all. But when they awaken him, he says, "Peace. Be still." And everything is calmed.
Now these are just two of the many storm stories in the Bible. We heard others today too, from the lectionary, our call to worship, Psalm 107. The reading from the Old Testament from Job that Lynn just read for us are also about storms. And there are so many others. Sadly, though, most of us who grew up in the Christian church were taught that storm stories meant that God was angry with us, that God sends storms to punish people, that it was God's wrath.
And that interpretation has continued. You know, in recent years, we have heard from several prominent evangelical pastors whenever there is a hurricane, or the latest tsunami, or the latest earthquake. They say, God sent it because of gay marriage and because of abortion. And of course, all of that is ridiculous. God is not an old man up in the clouds who gets angry with us and send storms to punish us. We have got to get rid of that idea of this angry, vengeful God. Because if you still are fearful of God, you're never going to grow spiritually.
One of my favorite spiritual authors of the 20th century was the late Henry Nouwen. Henry said that Jesus came in order to help us overcome our fear of God. As long as we're afraid of God, we can never truly love God. As long as we're afraid of God, we can never truly love God can't love what we fear.
I don't know why we ever thought that storms meant God was angry, because every time you read a storm story in the Bible, it always goes hand in hand with the idea that God is our refuge from the storm, or God is our shelter from the storm. God is our stronghold. Why should we be afraid? That's what it says every time there's a storm.
But we see in today's Gospel reading that the disciples are afraid. And Jesus says to them, "Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?"
I think of that often when I go to prayer, when I'm worried and fearful, I often hear those words of Jesus, "Why are you afraid? Where's your faith? What we really need to do is remember that these stories are really about us. I mean, that's the beautiful thing about scripture.
I've told you before the Bible isn't a history book. We're not just reading a story that happened to Jesus and the disciples in a boat 2000 years ago. The reason that the Bible is so alive is because scripture is about us. You could read it at a literal level, you could, but that's like the lowest level of meaning. We are to read these stories symbolically, or spiritually.
So let's look at this story spiritually. This story is about us, about the times in our lives when our boats being rocked. Life's going along fine. We're having a beautiful day out at sea, life is going great. Then all of a sudden, there's a storm in our life. We lose our job. Our spouse says, "I'm I'm leaving you." A loved one suddenly dies. And all of a sudden, now we're in the storm. We're in the boat, it's being rocked, we're scared, and we're panicked.
So what do we do?
Well, we have to do what the disciples did. They they woke up Jesus. We, in those moments, have to call upon,to summon the presence and the power of the Christ. We have to awaken the Christ presence within us. That's what the story means. So in those moments, we go into that presence and power of the Christ that Jesus said is within us.
That's why we get still. "Peace. Be still."
In this stillness, I allow that presence and power and light to wash over me, to calm me and to reassure me that all is well. All is well.
Now we hear often that there's a calm before the storm. And there's a calm after the storm. But I want to let you know, my friends that you can experience calm even during the storms in your life. You can.
For me, what's always been helpful is the metaphor of a hurricane. So you think of a hurricane, right? There's so much chaos and things swirling around. But in the center of that storm, there is a still and untouched place. In the eye of the storm, it's totally calm, totally peaceful. There's a lot of stuff swirling around it. And that's true of the storms in our life. There's a lot going on around us. But we can find that center within us, where all is calm, and all is still.
That's what we were doing in centering prayer. When we were doing those sessions together online. We were centering ourselves, we were trying to get to that place of peace.
Some people commented that they saw when I was doing my centering prayer online, I had a smile on my face. When I sit there, I've got a little smile. That is true. I learned that from the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda.
I've talked with you before about Yogananda. He was a Hindu Swami who came over from India to the US in the 1920s and taught these spiritual teachings. He taught us, when you pray and meditate, have a little smile on your face. That smile helps negate the negative thinking and the worries and the fears. It helps us to know more fully that Christ presence that's within our center.
So today for our offertory song Max Brown is going to sing the song, "Smile." You know that old Charlie Chaplin song. And if you think of the words the lyrics, it says, "Smile, though your heart is breaking. Smile through your sorrows and your fears." Because my friends, we're all going to go through storms in life. There's no way we can get through this human incarnation without them. They're a part of life's journey.
But we have to remember, they're temporary. They're just temporary. Storms pass. But if right now you are in the midst of a storm in your life, please remember, you are not going through it alone. You have your spiritual family here. We're with you through your journey. And remember, you have within you the presence and the power of the Christ. And that presence and power is your stronghold, your refuge, your shelter from the storm.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Rev. Richard Rohr
The Incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. That is just when we started taking it seriously. The incarnation actually happened 13.7 billion years ago with a moment that we now call “The Big Bang.” That is when God actually decided to materialize and to self-expose. Two thousand years ago was the human incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast.” This was the “Cosmic Christ” through which God has “let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made from the beginning in Christ.” Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but the title for his life’s purpose. Jesus is the very concrete truth revealing and standing in for the universal truth. As Colossians puts it, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.” He is the one glorious part that names and reveals the even more glorious whole. “The fullness is founded in him … everything in heaven and everything on Earth.” Christ was the very first idea in the mind of God, and God has never stopped thinking, dreaming, and creating the Christ.
What did you think?