Storms, Metaphors, and Adorable Humanity

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Lake Ossipee in all her glory.

This sermon was preached at the Outdoor Chapel of Camp Calumet in Freedom, NH, on June 24, 2018.

Job 38:1-11
Mark 4:35-41

There’s this Tumblr post that’s made its way around the Internet in recent years called, “Humans are adorable,” taking the tone of a scientist talking about humans the way that humans would normally talk about the cute behaviors of animals on the nature channel.

Listed as “supporting evidence” for the claim “humans are adorable”:
1. Humans say “ow” as an expression of pain, but they sometimes say it even if they haven’t been hurt. It’s just a thing they sometimes say when they think they might have been hurt, but aren’t sure yet.

2. Humans collect shiny things and decorate their nests with them. Each individual has a unique taste for style and coloring of their nest.
3. Humans visit each other’s nests for fun! It’s not their nest; they’re just visiting each other.

4. If a human sees another creature in distress, they will often try to help, even at risk to themselves. They are very compassionate creatures.
5. If a human hears a catchy tune, they will mimic it, even to the point of annoying themselves! 

6. Humans love treats! They individually love treats some more than others, and will sometimes save their treats for a time when they need extra comfort or reassurance. 

7. Humans are not aquatic or even amphibious, but they flock to bodies of water not to drink it, but just to play in it! They can’t even hold their breath for all that long, they just love to splash! 

8. They’re learning to travel in space! They can’t get very far, but they’re trying. So far they’ve made it to the end of their yard and found rocks.

I’ve added another one: humans can think about abstract ideas as well as concrete objects, but sometimes they distract themselves by doing so, making everything into a metaphor. For example, you will tell them a story about a whale and they will have an existential crisis.

Pastors, having seen and possibly had more existential crises and metaphor-ing than most, might know this even better than most people: it’s true. Humans are adorable. And one of the adorable things we do is to turn every story in the Bible into a metaphor. 

We do that so badly with this story about Jesus calming the storm that we forget that it’s not a parable. The storm, we think, is the great storms of our lives, which Jesus calms. The boat is the church or maybe your family. I think we’ve nailed down everything from the cushion Jesus fell asleep on being the church music you like the least. 

You also run up against other questions: Mark throws in this detail “Other boats were with him.” What are they? The Presbyterians and the Catholics? A press gaggle?

Point is, it’s not a parable. It’s a story about Jesus in a literal boat with his disciples. But because your preacher is a human, we also know that it’s a story about what happens when crisis comes.

Let’s review. I wish it weren’t daytime so that I could shine a flashlight into my own face and say this: it was a dark and stormy night.

What? It was. What, did you think Jesus calming the storm happened in the daytime? Nah. Sometimes the Son of God has a flair for the dramatic.

But it’s not like they planned to get caught up in a storm. First of all, they didn’t have the Accuweather app, and second, if you’ve ever been boating out on Lake Ossipee or any other body of water, you know this to be true even if you have a weather app: sometimes storms come out of nowhere on a summer day.

So there’s a sudden storm swamping this boat full of disciples, including some experienced fishermen who presumably are very good with boats, and some very freaked out tax collectors, and meanwhile, the Messiah is knocked out drooling on a cushion in the back of the boat.

And this is when I get annoyed with how poorly passed down this story probably is. Because Mark quotes the disciples as saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

Right. ‘Cause that’s what you say when you think you’re about to drown and the person who’s supposed to be in charge is asleep. 

I imagine the disciples who were fishermen doing everything they could to keep the boat afloat, while Matthew the tax collector, who just peed in his tunic a little, holding tight to the side of the boat screaming, “RABBI! WAKE UP WE’RE DYINGGGG!” 

The disciples aren’t mythical figures. They were humans, adorable and easily startled, just like us.

Jesus wakes up, almost annoyed. It doesn’t even say he stood up, so I imagine he just leans his hand over the back of the boat and says, “SHHHHH! PEACE! BE STILL! 

Suddenly the raging sea becomes like Lake Ossipee early on a clear morning: completely calm, like glass.

The disciples say, in today’s parlance: “Who even is this?!” He even controls the wind and sea! 

Humans are adorable indeed: everything is and has been a metaphor for us. Nothing is ever just the thing. For ancient people, control of the sea was a sign of super sovereign power. Large bodies of water were — and are — unpredictable and chaotic and scary, and those who knew how to navigate seas and oceans were among the bravest humans. There’s a reason we say that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the beginning as God brings order to chaos, or that Revelation says that in the end, God will bring peace to everything and make the sea like glass. 

In the Job reading, part of the evidence for Job of why God is powerful is that God tells the sea: come this far, and no further. Job, mind you, has been in a metaphorical storm of his own. He’s lost his entire family, his money, his property, and even his health. He’s miserable. 

Job’s friends, in case you haven’t heard, were famously horrible friends. They come to sit with him when tragedy strikes, like friends do, but in chapter after chapter after chapter, they try to get him to admit that he must have done something wrong to deserve God’s punishment. Aside from God not working that way, Job was about as good as a good guy could be. The book of Job tells us over and over that he was righteous. He didn’t deserve all that at all, as if any tragedy comes from God’s pettiness at all. 

Here we find a thing that humans do that’s not so adorable: we tend to look at the misfortune of others and assume it’s their fault. However, God comes in at the end of Job, at a time when Job must’ve thought God was sleeping or something, because God was so silent, and stretches out God’s hand and comforts Job and restores everything to him. God finally stills the voices of Job’s friends and tells Job he’s the righteous one. 

After chapters and chapters of rain and the thunder of accusations from Job’s friends, God calms the storm. God does the same thing today when we tell those who are hurting that it’s their fault — or perhaps we’ve been told that ourselves — that you must’ve done something to anger your abuser, that you must’ve done something — maybe led that guy on? — to deserve to be sexually assaulted, that immigrants are to blame for whatever happens to them when they arrive here. That if you’d just managed your money better, you wouldn’t have fallen into crippling debt, or if you’d chosen a better job or a better college, you wouldn’t be so unhappy. (1)

To all the voices of your accusers and sometimes even to us when we play Job’s friends to the rest of the world, Jesus stretches out his hand and cries “PEACE! Be still.” 

Just like Job, God’s voice is not found in the voices of the accusers. God’s voice is found in the voice that cries out over the thunderclaps of the storm just when you thought that God was asleep to say “Peace! Be still.”  

We live in an in between time. Storms in our lives still rage. But luckily, we are given places like this and people like these. We are given the gift of staring out at Lake Ossipee in the morning when it looks like glass and dreaming of a time when all the storms are calmed forever. We are brought to the table with our entire broken selves, and Jesus meets us here, not to blame us, but to give us peace in bread and wine and his very self. We are invited to touch love and see peace and taste grace. 

Humans are adorable indeed: decorating our nests, prone to make everything into a metaphor. But take heart, church: this love, this grace, is no metaphor. Christ is here in this place. And may the God who made a place this beautiful calm the storms of your heart this week, still your accusers, and grant you peace. Reach out and take grace at this table. Find rest for your soul.

May God and those around you remind you, you human you: not only are you loved, you’re kind of adorable. Amen.

1. Interpretation of Job borrowed from Dr. Anna Carter Florence’s talk at the 2018 Festival of Homiletics.

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