Father Nicholas Lang
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
Several years ago, I spent the first two weeks of my vacation in a house right on the water here in Milford. I love the looks of the water but I have a peculiar relationship with it. I can’t swim and so I go no further into the ocean than my ankles and, having once experienced the effects of a Nor’easter while on a cruise in 1988, I am reluctant to repeat that ordeal. The words of Psalm 77 are the focus of my preaching this morning: “Your way was in the sea and your paths in the great waters, yet your footsteps were not seen.”
Hurricanes, tropical storms, typhoons—all these demonstrations of the power of the great waters frighten me. Yet I love sitting and watching the calm sea, the sun or moonlight reflecting on its placid waves, enjoying the sensation of tranquility of the soft swishing sounds that can lull one to sleep at night. It is for me a beautiful icon of creation at its best and a place for a time of respite.
Yet every morning as I walked that beach front neighborhood, I saw reminders of the damage that those same waters can inflict as I passed by a number of boarded up houses, empty lots, and homes in the process of being rebuilt –all the result of the ravages of hurricane Sandy.
Storms. They have long been a metaphor for life and we hear that in the psalm today. “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.” The waters can calm us or make us tremble. Too, we experience all kinds of storms in life, not all related to the weather—storms of unrest and violence and division and hostility; storms of injustice and oppression. Some storms approach slowly; we know they are coming; we try to prepare for them. Others are abrupt, disruptive, surprising. With a crash of thunder and bolt of lightning they are here.
Again, from psalm 77: “The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; * the earth trembled and shook." In those painful, crushing, even life-threatening circumstances that have us weeping in the depth of our soul, God does not always seem discernable in those stormy times. The psalmist tells us, “Your footsteps were unseen.” Who is there to comfort us?
We find Jesus walking towards his own storm in the Gospel today. He is on his way to Jerusalem—his ultimate destination where he will suffer humiliation, violent abuse, and death. The disciples and he stop at a Samaritan village where they were denied hospitality and for Jesus who taught and lived radical hospitality that must have been very discouraging and hurtful.
As they continue on the journey, he invites people along the way to join him in his ministry and they all think it’s a great idea but offer excuses why they can’t do it immediately. And although the excuses offered by the people Jesus encounters seem to be very sound, rational justifications for not following right then and there, his seemingly unsympathetic reaction to these folks indicates the level of his own disappointment in his strong sense of urgency about building the Kingdom of God in the world.
No doubt he felt very alone approaching the tempest he faced in Jerusalem. I wonder if he prayed psalm 77: “Your way was in the sea and your paths in the great waters, yet your footsteps were not seen.”
Recall that after the last supper when he faced his arrest and death, he prayed “If this cup can pass from me…”
I think Jesus knew the terror and anxiety we feel in our storms. I think he knew what isolation and fear we experience when the waves of our lives threaten to overcome us. God may seem absent, and we may think we are all on our own. It may look like there is no refuge in sight. What we do know is that sooner or later storms pass or at least diminish. Eventually, we come out on the other side of the downpours, the great waves, the thunder and lightning. We may not emerge without a good soaking; we may not surface totally unscathed, but we do emerge. We may even see the footprints of God in the aftermath of it all.
What we also know is that we are not alone. I suspect that there is no one here today who does not bear the scars of some tempestuous uproar in our life. It is our common struggle, our shared pain that cement our humanity to each other and to Jesus. Like Jesus, when we go out into the world today, some of us may be facing “Jerusalem” – whatever that may be for us— an unwanted and difficult situation.
How will we navigate it so that our ship does not capsize? What words come from our heart when we need to pray that those storms will not be overly devastating? That God will support us even in the worst of times and bring us to the place of the rainbow of hope and peace, and that God’s footsteps will be evident even in the midst of troubled waters?
Mystic Thomas Merton once wrote: My God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end…though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.