One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So, they put out and while they were sailing, he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake and the boat was filling with water and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up shouting: “Master, Master, we are perishing!”. And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased and there was calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8: 22-25)
The Bible is full of stories (parables) that show us how to live in faithful, praiseful, healthy and peaceful ways both individually and with one another, as we move through our days. The stories focus on ways to live and navigate through both calm, as well as, troubled and turbulent seasons of life, for as we all know, life is full of both beauty and suffering. The opening parable focuses on living by faith as the way to calm and cease the turbulent seas we encounter in our lives.
There is no question that at this time in our lives we are all living through a very turbulent, stormy season which originally swept over us approximately six to seven months ago in the form of the Covid-19 virus that spread across the world, causing extensive fear, pain and loss (among other things). Subsequently, as this pandemic has continued to spread, great controversy has arisen among people throughout the world as to how to manage the effects caused by this deadly virus including: health care, economic losses, and the reality of an uncertain future for education, churches, businesses, and social interaction. Unfortunately, these differing views have escalated in this storm and have led to extreme threats being made between the various sides, as well as blaming, violence, and protest. Though some of the protests have been peaceful the majority have been very violent. The divisions and what now appear to be irreconcilable differences between the differing views as to how to manage the effects of the virus, appear to be fueled by fear and frustration as well as political agendas. Prejudices, that clearly existed to some degree for years prior to the pandemic, in many ways have been stirred up and have now become a focal point of the unrest. There exists in our culture, a clear divisive mind view of “us” and “them” resulting in decisions being made, both individually and politically that often are unjust and exclusive. More times than not, when differences arise, rather than reaching out to one another with an open hand and heart, listening and respecting one another and offering compassion and understanding to one another in order to reach a consensus that takes all people and all views into consideration, people appear to be reaching out with clench fists.
The general atmosphere is extremely turbulent, and fear driven at this time. Under these current conditions, the water that we, like the first disciples are traveling in, feels extremely turbulent and unsafe. It is a challenge to feel hopeful and balanced as the virus continues to spread, and the storms and expressions of irreconcilable differences including hateful interchanges between one another, and threats and violence continue to increase. Not unlike the disciples in the opening scripture story, as this season of life we are currently experiencing continues to be growing more turbulent, there are times we feel we are taking on water, out of control, and as if we might perish, in our case, be it from the virus or from the unrest and divisions that are emerging. As you listen to the national news each day, don’t you feel like screaming out for God to do something, saying: “Master, Master, we are perishing.”? As we read the story of the calming of the sea, we hear that Jesus our Lord, was not the least bit worried about the turbulent sea. In fact, as the sea became increasingly turbulent and the disciples panicked, our Lord fell asleep. We read that as he was roused by their fearful screaming, Jesus got up, calmed the raging wind and turbulent sea and then in a peacefully powerful voice asked the disciples where their faith was? It was faith that God was in charge and would protect them that calmed the troubled waters. Jesus knew that and he wanted them to know that, for faith is the bedrock of our hope and hope is the fuel for our healing.
So, the question is, as we find ourselves in the midst of a raging storm that is creating troubled waters that threaten to overtake us, what are we to do? We are not powerless, though it may feel like we are at times. We can do something. We live in a covenant relationship with God. God is ever present with us and guides us and empowers us by the Holy Spirit to follow him as we journey through our seasons in partnership with Him. As dark as this complicated Covid-19 storm is, it is important to remember that storms do not last forever, and that not all storms come to disrupt our lives. Some storms come upon us to clear pathways that open doorways and opportunities for us to make different choices. When water is flowing smoothly down a stream and suddenly encounters an obstacle, a log or a stone or something that appears to block the flow, the water will always find a way to continue to flow by finding another route around, over or through the blockage. The same is true for all of God’s children when they encounter a storm that blocks their path. God will always make a way for us to move forward, ever closer to Him, living into His image in which we were created.
We know that God can calm the storms and heal the turbulent waters that come with the storms of life. The question remains as to whether we will follow His lead in order to participate in the healing and the calming of the troubled waters created by the storms of life. As much as we may want to, we cannot heal the troubled waters that come with a storm all by ourselves. We hold the treasure of our life in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. God will always show us a way to participate in the healing of troubled waters. It is up to us whether we will follow His lead or not.
In the parable of the “Good Samaritan”, another powerful parable that shows us how to live in faithful, praiseful, peaceful ways individually and with one another as we move through our days, Jesus shows us what we need to do in conjunction with God’s help in order to heal the troubled waters and calm the sea of life. As with all the parables, the actions and subsequent healings are based on faith in God.
Just then, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Jesus answered him in simple, as well as, both timeless and painfully timely words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind: and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But, wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” It is clear from the context that the lawyer from the tone of his voice was seeking to diminish or limit the scope of who his neighbor was. His question isn’t one of expanding the reach of loving his neighbor but of restricting it. Jesus replied with a story; “A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now, by chance, a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So, likewise a Levite when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said: ‘Take care of him and when I come back I will repay you whatever more you spend.’. Which of these three, do you think was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him. “Go and do likewise.”
Through his stories, Jesus repeatedly challenged the listeners to shift and expand their view and their way of living to reflect God’s character and thus to calm and heal the conflict and the troubled waters caused by views reflecting actions and decisions counter to the love of God. The story of the Good Samaritan is often seen as a teaching on extending self, giving loving kindness and compassion to the needy which of course is a way to reflect God’s love to others. However, the question is, how to we decide who the others are? How do we decide who to love and who to hate, who to include and who to exclude? In addition to being kind and compassionate and respectful to people who walk on the same path that we do, people that are on our side or agree with us or are of the same tribe or race or hold the same political views we do, Jesus comes addressing the expansion of what it means to truly love the Lord God by expanding who our neighbors really are and how to show the inclusive unconditional love and compassion God has for all His children. Hearing what it really means to love the Lord our God with our whole being and to have our living be informed by that love by expanding who our neighbors really are and how to love them, are surely words we all need to hear and then follow as we struggle in the troubled unsettled waters created by the storm we are currently in.
At the time of this story, the Judeans despised the Samaritans. They viewed them as no good. They were considered a mixed race, considered half breeds, and foreigners to the Jewish tribes. Nobody liked them, and most tried to avoid them. They usually provoked disgust, not admiration. But Jesus, who was also a Judean at that time, in an attempt to expand the destructive view of the Judeans and expand it to promote and spread the unconditional love of God and thus heal the troubling waters caused by hate and exclusion chose the hated Samaritan as his example of who our neighbor is. He showed us what it means to be a neighbor to others.
In the eyes of the Priest and the Levite, the wounded man in the ditch, and the Samaritan were not one of their own. They were different and thus the Priest and Levite did not consider either of them a neighbor worth crossing the street to help. (Sadly, this does sound somewhat familiar to us in our day doesn’t it?) The Samaritan on the other hand, who was despised by them, looked at the man in the ditch with pity and reached out with an open hand to help him. The Priest and the Levite looking upon the man, asked themselves what would happen to them if they helped this outcast. Would they be judged and ostracized by their own people or attacked by robbers as the man in the ditch was? The Samaritan on the other hand reversed the question and asked himself what would happen to the man if he did not help him. Without any judgement, without even knowing the wounded man, the Samaritan recognized him as his neighbor and with compassion and love and self-sacrifice, he reached out and helped him heal his wounds and in so doing participated in calming the troubled seas and narrowing the gap between “us and them”.
So here we are in troubled waters of division and hate and of exclusion and fear that threaten to overcome us. What are we to do? How can we navigate through these waters in a faithful way and participate in the healing that is so necessary? When the religious leaders of that day asked Jesus that question Jesus answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Our neighbor is not whom we find in our path, but rather he or she in whose path we place ourselves, he or she whom we approach and actively seek. An authentic life is found in serving God and caring for others and respecting others regardless of whether they are like us or not, regardless of whether we agree with their opinions or not. Loving God and neighbor are a matter of faith not something to be debated or to feel indifferent about. How we live as people of faith is a spiritual issue not a political issue. Jesus says: “Go and do likewise”. To love God means to show mercy and compassion to those in need. This is central tenet of discipleship. Neighbors are not determined by race, creed, or gender; neighbors consist of anyone in need made in the image of God. Who is our neighbor? The answer is everyone, for we are all created in the image of God.
We are indeed currently living in very in troubled waters that threaten our lives. When the disciples asked Jesus to save them in the storm, he asked them where their faith was. Faith in our Lord is the starting place for us as we look for ways to navigate the tumultuous waters we are in. When the lawyer asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, Jesus answered by sharing the 2 commandments saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you strength and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And, there you have the answer to the question: What can we do in this challenging time to participate with God in the healing of the troubled waters we find ourselves in? Following God’s directive, we are called to have faith, love God with everything we have, and to love one another as we love ourselves. As Jesus said to his disciples, so he also urges us to: “Go and do likewise”. As we step forward in faith in answer to His call, let each one of us humbly lean on God to guide us through these days and to give us strength to follow, ever singing the words from the familiar hymn of aspiration:
“Be Thou My Vision”
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light
~Created by Rev Kathryn Bindig, MDiv. MS; Pastoral Care Minister
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