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Third Sunday After Pentecost
Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Mark 4:35-41
A Sermon on Psalm 107
The Sea. It is perhaps the most profound source of awe in human understanding. It is still unfathomable in many ways, filled with mysteries and untameable power. Ancient myth is filled with attempts at rationalizing the sea, from Gilgamesh to the Odyssey to Old English poetry, all the way to Moby-Dick. In that novel, Herman Melville reflects on our fascination with the sea, pointing out that we feel “a mystical vibration when first told that you and your ship were out of sight of land,” and how interesting it is that the ancient Greeks made the god of the sea Poseidon the very brother of the king of gods, Zeus. In the ancient myth of the Enuma Elish, the sea is the great chaos monster, the enemy of humanity. The sea is in many ways the most direct and profound expression of God in creation.
Psalm 107 is another song of praise, of unknown authorship, from the time when Israel’s exile ended. It is a longer psalm, as it deals with 4 different groups that would be returning from exile in Babylon or elsewhere, groups from the east, west, north, and south. The psalm begins with a call to give thanks to God who is merciful and gracious, God who gathers his people from all corners of the earth to restore them to their homeland.
Those who make their way on the sea, God will not forget. The sea, its unpredictable and mighty power, reveal the greatness of God: the one who created the mighty oceans and who has all control over them must be of incredible might, even unfathomable might.
These people are on a ship, which reveals “his wonders in the deep,” but then at his word the “wind arises, which lifts up the waves. They (the sailors) are carried up to heaven and down again to the deep, their soul melts away…” Imagine these waves, dark, roaring, mounting up into the sky while your tiny wooden craft is carried up, and you are completely unable to do anything about it; you are at the mercy of the wave.
We, the Church, are like these people. God’s people, holding on to the ropes and rails of our ship, weathering the storm. The Nave is in fact from the word for ship; it is our ship of salvation. Likewise, the storm is the world around us, filled with turmoil, strife, and destruction.
And so, like sailors on the storm, we reel as the Church, our ship, is rocked by the massive waves of the world. And all we can do is cry out to the God of the storm, the one who created the world and controls the waves, that we might be brought through this. Our response must be one of faith, of trust that if God desires we make it through the storm, we will. Many Christians do not believe this, which is why when they see society go in a different direction from Christianity sometimes, they react in fear, clamoring to regain power and influence. This is like sailing as if all were normal when atop a wave, thinking you will master the storm. But it is only God, who created the ocean, the storm, and the waves who can master them, not us.
God, this psalm tells us, will deliver them, will deliver us, out of our distress, making the storm cease, and bringing us to safe harbor. For the Jews in exile, this was the return to Jerusalem; for us, it is to leave our exile in this world, our ship, the Church, arriving safely in the safe harbor of the New Creation, when Christ returns and heaven and earth will be joined. It is the New Jerusalem, our haven.
In Jerusalem, the Jews found rest, and ought to praise and thank God for his goodness in bringing them there safely! So too ought we, to praise and thank God, as we await him to calm the storm, to bring this ship safely into our final home, a place of perpetual rest and peace.
Kids, can you remember a big storm? The kind where the wind howls, the house creaks, the branches of trees scraping against your windows, lighting in the sky, thunder rumbling above you? It can be very scary. But you’ve always made it through those storms, right? You’re here today. That is because God saw fit to bring you through that storm. Every time it happens, you should give him thanks! Life is like a storm. Things change, bad stuff happens, we get scared and overwhelmed. But you don’t need to be afraid, because God creates the storms, and God controls them. And if God wants to still the storm like Jesus on the sea, then he will. So Kids, call upon God when life is stormy and chaotic, trust him, and he will take care of you.
There is a passage in Moby-Dick that this reminded me of. In this episode, called “The Grand Armada,” they are hunting a huge school of whales. The whales begin to form into a massive circle, a swirling boundary of huge moving creatures called a shoal. The whalers, having stuck a harpoon in one, are being pulled into the shoal. The whale was pulling them through the maelstrom, but then, the harpoon jerks out, and it says this: “with the tapering force of his parting momentum, we glided between two whales into the innermost heart of the shoal, as if from some mountain torrent we had slid into a serene valley lake. Here the storms in the roaring glens between the outermost whales, were heard but not felt. In this central expanse the sea presented that smooth satin-like surface, called a sleek, produced by the subtle moisture thrown off by the whale in his more quiet moods. Yes, we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion.”
If you will permit me to draw an analogy, we are often pulled by the world into the commotion it creates. It can be many things that pull us into the chaos of worldliness and sin: maybe we step on others to make our way higher up in our organization; maybe you are afraid that you will fail at some effort, whether school or work or relational; maybe you cannot escape sexual sin; maybe you are engulfed in the fear of government abuses of power, or the pandemic; maybe you have suffered abuse, and fear you may suffer it again; or maybe you are simply very proud, and do not want to call on the Lord for aid. Let go. Let go of that worldly whale that pulls you in. Call upon God. For when you let go, and when you call upon the Lord, you will find yourself on the sleek, in the “calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion.” Letting go of our idols, trusting in the Lord, calling upon God for help, is the path to peace. For when we do so, and we trust that in his own time the storm will abate, we can be calm, peaceful, at rest, even while the storm rages around us.
Sometimes the call to the Lord means a call to others as well, asking one another for help, for when sliding overboard it is to our fellow sailors that we call for aid, those we call to grasp the rope with us and reef in the sail, to aid us in our struggle as we weather the storm together. Ask for counsel, for prayer, for help to escape abuse, for reassurance. But in all things, turn to God, for there is no storm for which God is not in control.
Our foundational prayer book is the 1662 prayer book. This was the book used for church worship in the official English Church at the time, and the book our prayer book is based on. I found a wonderful treasure in it when I received it. England is an island nation, and so the military and commerce always relied heavily on having ships. There is an entire section on “Forms of Prayer to Be Used At Sea.” I would like to read one to conclude. But, take the words meant literally, sea, and storm, and replace them in your mind with your storm, your sea, that which is battering you. And know that God hears, and God will save.
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