Sunday, June 23rd, 2024

Peace! Be Still

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our living Savior Jesus Christ the Lord, Amen. A long time ago I was at Fort Jackson, SC. I was there for phase two, the advanced course for Army Chaplains, and I had the privilege of serving as an Army Reserve Chaplain, during my ministry, and that day in chapel, while I was at Fort Jackson, I remember a young chaplain right out of seminary preaching in our daily chapel service, on the same gospel text we heard this morning. He said we must never be like the disciples during the storm at sea. He was a young 1st Lieutenant right out of seminary and he was not a Lutheran Chaplain, by the way. In his fiery sermon, he exhorted us, we must be confident at all times he shouted. We must never have doubts. Went on to tell us that if the disciples truly believed, why they would have relaxed and enjoyed the ride, not worrying for a moment about what might happen. He went on to say, in fact, that the disciples lack of faith was what caused the storm to occur in the first place, to teach them a lesson, and he concluded his message by exhorting us never to be afraid on the battlefield, should we find ourselves in the midst of bullets and bombs. We must set an example for the soldiers around us even if they’re acting cowardly. We must never disappoint God, he said, or disgrace the Chaplain Corps by showing fear, a lack of faith in a combat zone. Now that was my first taste of this kind of theology from a pulpit, very bad theology at that, and after the chapel service and a quick launch we reassembled in the lecture hall at the Chaplains Training Center, the Lt. Colonel leading the class that day had served in Vietnam. A Bronze Star and a Purple Heart he had received, and before he began his lecture, he said something like this, and it’s been a long time, so I’m doing my best to recall his exact words but it was very much like this: “That was a most interesting sermon we just heard during chapel. Our preacher meant well, I’m sure, but I can tell he’s never been in combat,” and he had that young chaplain stand and say “Have you?” “No Sir,” was the answer. The Lt. Colonel went on to say, “Well I have, and if you aren’t afraid when men are being shot, blown apart, screaming and dying around you, then you aren’t human. Every soldier I’ve known has experienced fear during a firefight. Courage is not the lack of fear, but moving forward and carrying out your mission, even when you think you may be the next one to go home in a body bag.” He said good chaplains talk with their soldiers about their fears and good chaplains are humble enough to admit their own. His wise words, born of personal experience, are edifying not just for young chaplains but for all people who have faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t think it’s difficult to understand the disciples concern, wouldn’t you be worried, wouldn’t you be afraid if you were on the water during a storm, and the waves were crashing over the side of your boat, and it was sinking down, sinking down. If you were in that boat, would you think that you were about to go down and drown? I would, and if we were together with Christ as the waves kept filling the boat with water, we too might stir him from his slumber. “Hey Jesus, wake up. How can you sleep through this? Don’t just see what’s going on? We’re going down. Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Well, we weren’t in the boat that day, of course, but we have experienced uncertain times. The storms of life. We’ve been in situations in which we’ve tasted fear, and sadness, and dread, and disappointment. I suspect you’ve said in a spoken prayer or in the quiet voice of your heart “God, where are you? I’m so afraid.” Maybe you, or those you love, have said, “Don’t you care Lord that my son has cancer, Lord why is my wife slowly fading before my sight with Alzheimer’s, dear God don’t you care about me, Jesus why did I miscarry and lose my baby, why was my father killed by a drunk driver?” During these past few days there were more than a few fearful fellow new Mexicans panicking, and wondering if they would escape with their lives during the horrific fires in Ruidoso, and that three-hour tornadic like storm that dropped over 8 inches of rain and two inches of hail near Willard NM. And on that stormy sea, Jesus said “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Now at first, we might think that Jesus was speaking like that young lieutenant during the chapel service at Fort Jackson. We might think that if we just had enough faith, then nothing bad, or dangerous, or worrisome would ever happen to us. We might be led to believe that real Christians, genuine Christians, authentic Christians are never afraid, or sad when the storms come, when bad things happen, horrible things, to them and those they love; yet we know Jesus, who calmed the sea and caused fierce winds to cease with his Word, with his command, is the same Jew’s Jesus who said “ABBA, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me,” as he prayed alone in the garden of Gethsemane. Our Lord was so consumed with the knowledge of what he was about to suffer, that the scriptures tell us his sweat was like blood, and yet he said, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” The very same Jesus who said from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Brothers and sisters, this is why we understand and confess a theology of the cross over against the theology of glory; a theology of glory expects nothing but good times, nothing but happy times, nothing but success in life.  We find all the answers we seek and we live happily ever after. This theology would have us think that it’s our own strength, our own power, our own works that matter, and we can do it all, by golly. Theology of glory calls evil good, and good evil. And the theology of the cross is not a theology of glory, for what do we see when we look to the cross? Yes, we see that God so loved the world that he gave his only son. We see that God loves the world even though it was completely in bondage to sin and death. We see a God who has chosen to suffer alongside those who suffer. The Lord is with you and your suffering; however, Jesus does more than simply suffer with us. He is the one who suffers for us on our behalf. He is the God who died in our place on the cross. He is the God of love who made himself nothing, emptying himself, so that he could save sinful men and give us life. Martin Luther, in explaining the 20th thesis of the Heidelberg disputation says, “It does a person no good to recognize God and his glory and majesty unless he recognizes him in the humility and the shame of the cross.” In other words, when we look to the cross, there we truly see who God is, and then we can begin to use that understanding in our own experiences, and those of others, when we suffer. To be sure, following Christ is not living with a theology of glory. It does not mean that this life will always be easy, and you know this. It will not. It is not, but in the midst of the burdens and hardships we all experience, we are loved by the one true God who has promised us, as we heard the children, as of that comforting final verse of Matthew’s gospel was read, he is with us always, always. We are loved by the one true God who has promised us that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love in Christ Jesus, no power, no principality no disease, no fire, no flood, not even death itself, and this can only be comprehended by the work of the Holy Spirit through the cross of Christ, the cross alone is our theology. You may have heard how Martin Luther and his wife Katarina experienced so much sadness during the illness, and then the death of their 13-year-old daughter, Magdalena. In 1542, Magdalena became very sick and in September of that same year, while Luther was in Leipzig, he was called home, because she had taken a turn for the worse, and was nearing death, and in his book entitled Luther at Home, the author, Theophilis Stork, describes what took place. I’m reading from his text. When Magdalena was breathing her last, “Luther threw himself on his knees by her bedside and with clasped hands and bitter tears, prayed the Lord to spare her. Soon her consciousness ceased, and she breathed her last, in the arms of her father. Katharina, in the agony of her sorrow, had turned away unable to look upon the dying child. When all was over, Luther gently laid the head of his dear child upon the pillow saying ““Dear Magdalena, thou hast found a Father in heaven. Oh my God, let thy will be done!”” The next day Luther followed all that remained of his child to her grave; and as the coffin was lowered, he exclaimed: ““Farewell dear little Magdalena, farewell! Thou shalt rise again; shalt shine as the stars, yes, like the sun!”” And then after a short pause, he continued. ““I am joyful in spirit, but oh, how sad in the flesh. It is strange to know that she is so happy in heaven, and yet to feel so sad!” Over the grave of Magdalena was placed the tombstone with her name, age, day of her death and a text of scripture. Sometime after Luther composed a Latin inscription, which was carved on a monumental slab, in English; ““I, Luther’s daughter Magdalena, with the saints here sleep, And covered calmly rest on this my couch of earth; Daughter of death I was, born of the seed of sin, But by Thy precious blood redeemed, O Christ, I live.”” So, back to the disciple’s worrisome question. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus cared then, yes, he did, he calmed the storm. Even so those disciples would go on to suffer and die, would they not?  If you’ve ever asked “Teacher, Jesus, Father, do you not care?”  He cares. He cares for you. And Jesus has done something for all of us who are perishing and destined for death and the grave. He’s gone way death himself and defeated it. He was able to calm the wind and the seas with the Word and by the resurrection of the Word made flesh our Lord has conquered the power sin and death had over us. Without him, we wouldn’t have little faith, we’d have no faith at all. Without Jesus, we would rightfully fear death and the grave, but you know we cannot by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called us by the gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, sanctified and kept us in true faith.  And on the last day, he will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. May the God of peace bless your hearts and minds, now and until you see the Savior face to face. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.