You ever see something on the internet that was so funny that you watch it over and over?
Yeah, I did the other night.
I was minding my own business and getting ready to go to bed wicked early, like I do, and suddenly I get this video of a toddler.
But not just any toddler.
It was a toddler whose mother thought it was hilarious to turn on one of those facial filters that puts your eyes and mouth on a fruit or a vegetable. This particular toddler’s nose and mouth were on a banana.
“NANA!” the toddler exclaims.
Then the banana-toddler looks troubled, then conspiratorial. The banana turns to something off screen and says, “Mommy?” The banana then proceeds to ask its mommy why it is a banana.
I watched it over and over and laughed harder every single time. It’s the little things these days.
Today in both our texts, God shows up, facial-filter style, looking like a ruckus. In one, God shows up in the sheer silence after a storm and fire; in the other, God shows up in the midst of a raging storm on the sea. In both, God gets mistaken for part of the ruckus.
My message today is very simple: there are, needless to say, storms raging all around us and within us. There is the storm of the pandemic, the storm of racism and white supremacy, the storms of political division. Then there are the more individual storms that are always with us: storms of conflict within families. Storms of depression and anxiety and other health problems. The list of storms is seemingly endless, and they do constantly rage all around us and within our chests.
In both of our texts today, we see storms and fire and humans who are afraid. In the Gospel text, Jesus sends the disciples ahead in a boat while he goes off by himself. The Son of God seems to do that a lot — go off by himself. Must be a Messiah thing.
They don’t ask him how he plans to join them; by then they must be used to bonkers things happening and knows that the Christ has his ways and they know even more than that not to ask questions. So they go ahead and they leave him behind.
Nighttime rolls around and a storm brews. The wind is against the disciples, Matthew says, and the boat was battered by the waves.
Not a terribly big deal, maybe, hopefully, since so many of the disciples were fishermen to begin with. But then they see a figure coming towards them over the waves, in the storm, in the night.
They “cry out in fear” — the brave disciples squeal like children, thinking that they’re seeing a ghost.
A storm they could handle, but a storm with a poltergeist is just too much.
You know the rest of the story. It’s not a storm with a ghost. It’s Jesus, showing up in the midst of a storm, helping Peter to walk on the water, which he ultimately fails at, but hey, he tried. Then, of course, the storm gets calmed and the disciples’ minds are absolutely blown. What an emotional journey — they go from the terror of a storm at night in a boat with an attached poltergeist to the joy and wonder of the Son of God controlling the weather. Wild.
Then there’s Elijah in the Old Testament reading for the day: Elijah, the great prophet, who’s got a storm in his own life — namely, in a nutshell, that he’s been chased down and his life is in danger.
In the Gospel text, Peter had prayed the most common prayer in all of humanity — “save me” — but I think that here in the Hebrew Bible text, God says to Elijah what God most often says to us: “What are you doing here?”
In this and most cases, it isn’t about sin, or about being somewhere you “shouldn’t be” in a moral sense. It’s about God finding us in the midst of chaos and asking us to reflect. God’s asking Elijah to reflect on how he got to where he is. Elijah is so sure of his purpose that he repeats it twice, and he gets reassurance from God: “Go, return on your way.”
He gets direction and a renewed purpose in the midst of his storm. But first, God showed up looking like the storm itself. Like a toddler with a facial filter, only not.
It’s a trope in literature and movies that a main character might have a guardian angel or other type of mystical mentor — someone who shows up in the midst of chaos to advise, protect, or help. Generally, whenever this character faces a quandary or gets into trouble, they learn to ask their mystical guardian, “Where are you?”
In the same way, God loves showing up in the midst of a raging storm. Maybe if we learned to look for grace in the midst of chaos, we might see God more clearly and more often. Just a thought.
In the same way that God shows up in the midst of storms, God also shows up in bread and wine. So here we are, in the midst of our storms, and the first place we’ll look for God is in the bread and wine. Thanks to our current storm of covid, it won’t look like it has for us for years. It’s a little odd and a little awkward and may even produce a little anxiety.
But God is still here, all the same, in the midst of the storms around and within us.
So come to the table and be fed. Then go out into the storm and look for God — even if God shows up looking like the storm itself, at first — God is there.
Oh, and when you get home, do yourself a favor and look up toddlers and facial filters, because God also shows up in laughter in hard times. You’ll be glad you did.