Do You Not Care?

In 2015, I spent my summer working as an intern chaplain in a hospital. I learned so much about the whirlwind that life and death can create and how so many of us just need someone to be present with us in the darkness. Though I had no idea how much grief would come for me in a few years, later that summer I read one of the greatest books on grief that there is, C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. Written so honestly and tenderly about his grief after the loss of his wife of only a few years, Lewis wrote and published this book under a pseudonym because it does not hold back. The image from that book that has stuck with me all these years later is when he describes a desperate need for God, “when all other help is vain, and what do you find?” he says, “A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” A bolting and double bolting; you are perishing on one side and God not caring on the other side. This is the emotional experience that I imagine the disciples undergoing in our gospel text today.

We hear the story of Jesus calming the wind and the sea as they are whipped up in a storm. Before Christ calmed the storm, though, he was sleeping through it soundly. It wasn’t until the disciples woke him up asking the very question that C. S. Lewis found himself asking years later, “do you not care that we are perishing?” I wonder if Jesus, with sleep still in his eyes, could hear the terror in the disciple’s voices. I wonder if their hair was wet from the rain and their eyes wild as they sought help from Jesus. I wonder if their hearts were beating franticly and if they said short prayers and thought of their families in what could be their last moments on earth. I wonder if they began to doubt this Messiah whom they were just getting to know, but knew they wanted to follow. Jesus wakes, calms the storm, and then asks the disciples why there were afraid. At this, the text tells us that the disciples were filled with awe, but a more accurate connotation would be to say they were terrified at Jesus’ power.

When we read scripture, it is important to know how much we carry to it. We don’t just read the words in our Bible and cut and paste them into our lives, we have to listen to the whole of them, to pay attention to how things are translated, and to know what baggage we carry to the scriptures as well. Unfortunately for me, one of the things that I carry is a sarcastic Jesus (not the funny kind of sarcastic, the mean kind), and I tend to hear Christ’s response to the disciples’ fear as taunting, with a hint of exhaustion. When I read how Jesus responds to the disciples, “Why are you still afraid? Have you no faith?” It’s like I can see the spittle on the lips of our Savior as he mocked the disciples. But with all that I know of Christ, this instinctive image feels wrong. What if the tone that I hear is shaded by the people who taught me about Jesus? What if the implication I hear in Christ’s voice is not from God but from my own frustration with my failings? Frustration with my own fear, with my own doubt that following the Way of the Cross is worth it? I truly believe that it is not that Christ did not care about the disciples’ boat and all the danger that they were in during the storm, but that he simply wasn’t worried because he knew that God was with them.

My friends, this life, this terrible, beautiful, fragile, painful life will have storms. If you haven’t faced them yet, they will come. The storms will come, and you might be afraid, you might be like the disciples who cry out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” And in that, believe that God can handle our big questions when we are scared. So often the storms in our life feel like they will destroy us; so often in our lives the storms that we wade through scare even those of us who have been through hell and back, and it might feel like you are perishing. Trust me when I say that I know what it feels like to think you are perishing and worried about whether or not God cares. I’ve been there. You might be there this morning, or maybe you were there six months ago, or maybe you can’t quite imagine holding the kind of doubt and fear that I’m talking about and that the disciples showed in our gospel passage.  

The Good News here is that God is present in the storm; that when the storms surround us in the world or even within our very souls, God is present. No matter how we navigate through the storm, God is present. And not only is God present, but the very Christ that commanded the winds and the waves by saying, “Peace, be still!” that same peace is offered to us, but like the disciples, it is only offered when we bring our whole selves, scared and trembling, to God in prayer.

If I were to ask you what one thing you would bring to God in prayer today, I wonder what it would be. Your answer has probably already come to you, you already know what you need to do with it. And I want to encourage you to hold it in your prayer every day this week, when you brush your teeth, when you walk your dogs, when you pick up your fork to eat your lunch, hold it in prayer. And in that prayer, rest in the knowledge that not only can God handle our big questions and our doubts, but also believe that doing so will change us. If you aren’t currently in a storm right now, maybe this sermon isn’t for you, but I hope it still challenges you when the storm comes to ask God the big questions. And if you are currently in a storm right now, know that you God can handle you shouting over the storm, “Do you not care that we are perishing??” Beloveds, no matter where you are in relation to the storm today, I pray that you will know that God is always present in your storms, that God deeply cares for you, and that God desires you to be at peace.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Proper 7B, June 20, 2021.

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