Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Be Still and Know

(Read Luke 8: 22-25 and Psalm 46)

Have you ever been boating on a large body of water in the midst of a storm? The skies darken first. You can watch the black clouds coming towards you. And then, the wind picks up, hitting your face, whipping your hair in every direction. And the water, it begins to roll. The boat begins to rock back and forth, back and forth. The swells grow larger and larger, and the boat, it stops rolling and instead it smacks against the surface of the water, landing in between the pointy edges of the waves. At some point, the rain begins to fall. Lightly, at first, until it comes down in pelts. Being on a boat in a large body of water in the midst of a storm is an awesome and terrifying experience all at the same time.

I know because I grew up boating on Lake Erie. I’ve seen 8 footers break over the bow as our 30’ Carver raced for the harbor. When the weather is nice, the water is still, motionless, and as the speedboat glides over the surface, you feel like you are flying. But when the wind whips up and makes waves, the boat slams against the water, bouncing you up and down and shaking your insides. Your sense of security is stripped away, and the fear that swells in your heart rises up just like the 8 foot waves and sends your mind into a panic.

It is no wonder then that the disciples are terrified when the storm picks up on Lake Galilee. They rush over to a sleeping Jesus, screaming, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” or “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Whenever I read or hear today’s Gospel reading, I imagine a real storm upon the water and how overwhelming it is. How loud and chaotic. But when I try to make sense of this Scripture, I spiritualize it into a metaphor about the human life. Our lives are also loud and chaotic. Storms blow unexpectedly through our lives all the time. The winds of fear and sadness gain speed. The waves of troubled experience or burdensome thinking rise up, and we find ourselves being beaten and battered like the boat.

The Alban Institute devised a Stress Survey, and on it, are all sorts of different events that can happen to a person, and each event is ascribed a certain level of stress on a scale from 1-100. The events listed on the Stress Survey are some of the major storms that blow through our lives. Death of a spouse ranks the highest at 100, followed by divorce at 73, and marital separation at 65. Some other of the storms listed are: death of a family member or close friend; personal injury or illness; caring for someone you love who is injured or ill; financial problems; problems at work; losing your job; fighting within a family; discord in one’s church; a move or change in living conditions, and the list goes on.

As stressful events or storms come into the external reality of our lives, they also create a different kind of storm in our inner world. For example, getting fired from a job can set off a state of panic in someone’s inner world. Getting into an argument with a relative can whip up anger and hostility that lives like a tornado inside of you. The problems that we face in life on a regular basis, problems that don’t just disappear quickly often leave us feeling restless, anxious, worried, angry, insecure, tired… Our inner world can become so loud that it’s all we hear.

At such times, when what we really need to do is slow down and seek some sort of peace and quiet, we often find ourselves speeding up, which escalates our inner storms.
We often push ourselves even harder trying to fix the problem, find the solution, just get some semblance of control in our lives.

You know how you know when life is getting too loud? This happened to me. I was driving along, lost completely in my thoughts, when I finally looked in my review mirror and there was a firetruck, sirens blaring and everything, on my tail, trying to pass me. I hadn’t even heard it.

Or how many times have you driven in the car, totally lost in thought, and then all of a sudden, you have arrived at your destination? But you don’t even remember turning left or right or any of that. In a sense, you missed the whole drive. In a way, you missed that part of your life. It’s like when you have to keep reading the same page over and over in a book because you are two distracted by your own thoughts to engage the story.

Living in our heads is not really living. Life happens in the present moment. Here, now, tuned in and aware. Also, God exists in the present moment, and nowhere else. God isn’t out there or back there. God is here, now, with us. We are most alive and closest to God when we are present, fully engaged with the people near us and the events going on around us.

Not being truly present to a car ride or a couple pages of a book is not such a big deal, but what if we are spending large portions of our lives not being truly present, missing one moment after the next? The danger is that we could spend our lives thinking about our lives instead of living them. The danger of tuning out is that we will miss the presence of the Living God, who comes to us to comfort us and guide us when the storms of life begin to blow. When we are stuck in our heads, trying to figure it out ourselves, than we are not able to fully rely on God and experience his healing power and presence.

This is why God says to us, “Be still and know that I am God.” We need the quiet; we need to stop trying to figure it out by ourselves. And in the quiet, we find God in all his power and goodness. In the stillness of the moment, we feel the Spirit’s presence and we experience God at work in our lives.

Psalm 46 is the story of people living amidst change and trouble, just like us. Imagine this: The mountains are shaking in the heart of the sea; the waters roar and foam. The nations are in an uproar, and the kingdoms are beginning to totter. Nothing is stable anymore, nothing is steady. That is except God. This was the experience of Israel. God was faithful to them and helped them in their trouble. So, the people cried out with joy. “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” (Psalm 46:7).

What God was for Israel, God is for us today. The Living Lord is “A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1b). Jesus is here to call our storms like he did that day on the Sea of Galilee. “Peace! Be still,” He says to the wind and water. “Peace! Be still” he says to our souls.

There is a hymn called Stand By Me in our hymnal under the heading of strength in tribulation. It is a faithful hymn that calls upon God to help us when our lives are filled with pain and our inner world is filled with turmoil. Let me read you some of the words. But first, find that place in yourself that is in conflict and tumultuous. Take a deep breath and breath out all the pressure, all the pain, all the fear and anxiety that you have been carrying. Close your eyes if you want to.

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea, though who rulest wind and water, stand by me. In the midst of triublation, stand by me. When the hosts of hell assail, and my strength begins to fail, thou who never lost a battle, stand by me. In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me. When I do the best I can, and my friends misunderstand, thou who knowest all about me, stand by me. When I'm growing old and feeble, stand by me. When my life becomes a burden, and I'm nearing chilly Jordan, o thou "lily of the valley," stand by me.

This hymn is assurance that no matter what is going on in your life, your loving God who loves you even more than a human mother AND father ever could, will hold you safe and fast amidst all turmoil. God will stand by you in your troubles.

The Heidelberg Catechism is a statement of faith, of what we believe to be true about God. It’s in the form of question and answer, and #26 says this:

What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ his Son.

I trust him so much that I do not doubt he well provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.

He is able to do this because he is almighty God, he desires to do it because he is a faithful Father. (From the Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 26)

I know the weakness and temptation that accompany being caught in a storm. We grasp and we struggle, to figure things out, to make them right. But today, I invite you to hear God’s counsel. The Lord says to us, please, just be still. And know that I am God. I will take care of this storm. You will not perish. This too shall pass.

So, let us take a moment to be still as the Lord has asked us to. If we don’t do it now, then when will we? If we can’t do it here, then where can we do it?

Be still and know that God is God.
Be still and know that God is.
Be still and know.
Be still.

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