We can find calm and peace in the midst of the storms of life by remembering that: God is a good God who knows what we need better than we know ourselves and has our best interests in mind; God can satisfy the deepest desires of our heart; God can redeem any situation; and God is always present with us and won’t abandon ship on us.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Bible Passage: Mark 4:35-41; Job 38:1-7
One of my favorite movies that deals with faith is called Bruce Almighty. How many of you have seen it? It came out in the early 2000’s and stars Jim Carrey, and is one of his more serious movies, though there’s a lot of good humor in it as well.
In the movie, Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a news reporter for a TV station in Buffalo. His career has been stalled for a while, and when he gets passed over for an anchor position by another reporter, played by Steve Carell, he loses it.
Carrey’s character goes on a rant, and he goes straight to the man upstairs, complaining about his dead-end career to God, played by Morgan Freeman.
(It’s really a great cast—Carrey’s girlfriend is played by Jennifer Aniston.)
After hearing Bruce out, God gets this idea, and says to him- “OK Bruce, if you think that you can do a better job of running the world, show me.” So God gives Bruce all of his divine powers to do whatever he wants with them.
Bruce is tickled pink, and he goes right to work trying out his newly acquired Godly power. In one memorable scene, he places his hands over his bowl of tomato soup, and “parts the waters”, reminiscent of God parting the waters of the Red Sea so Moses and the Israelites could escape slavery at the hands of Pharoah.
Over the next while, Bruce uses his Godly power to control the outcome of events so they benefit himself and his own needs and wants.
I think that one reason why I like the movie Bruce Almighty is that I can identify with Bruce in some ways. I mean, I like to be in control of things.
There are probably some people who are farther along on the “control freak” continuum than I am, but still, I like to know what’s coming next. The more power I have to “call the shots”, the more certainty I have of what’s going to happen, and the better I can prepare for it and avoid those unpleasant surprises.
And the more control over my life and my circumstances that I have, the more that I can steer them in my favor. I feel more safe and secure, because it gives me some power to avoid the storms of life that can rain down pain and suffering.
And when all these ducks are in a row, the less fear I have about the future.
In the scripture story today, Jesus’ disciples are dealing with a lot of fear. They’re out on a boat with Jesus in the Sea of Galilee, and the wind picks up almost out of nowhere and they find themselves caught in a huge storm.
How many of you have ever been out in a boat and got caught in a storm? The boat starts rocking, and there may be rain is pelting down on you. If you’re like me, you hope you took your Dramamine before getting on the boat, because you could get seasick and things could get ugly.
When you’re out at sea or in a big lake and a storm rises up, there’s not much you can do except hope it ends soon and try to head back to shore. You get this helpless feeling that you’re outmatched, that the forces of nature are controlling you, and there’s not much that you can do about it.
Several years ago our family was on a cruise ship heading to Alaska from Seattle, and we encountered a pretty big storm. Usually in those big ships that hold several thousand people, you don’t feel much movement, even when the sea gets choppy,
But this storm was so strong that we were rocking and rolling, and the captain came on the intercom and said that everyone needed to get off the deck and and go down into our cabins to wait it out. So that’s what we did.
Jesus and his disciples were a lot more vulnerable to the elements than we were in that cruise ship. Water starts pouring into the boat, and the disciples start to panic.
But the “captain” of their boat isn’t shouting out instructions to help out the passengers. No, he’s asleep in the stern. In all fairness, Jesus must’ve been exhausted, after all the teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons that he had been doing the past several days.
So he’s in the seat that is supposed to steer the boat, and he’s catching some Zzzees. Now I’ve been known to fall asleep basically anywhere, in an instant. My dad and some of my brothers are the same way, so I think there’s this borderline narcolepsy gene in our family.
But I don’t think I would’ve been able to sleep through that storm that Jesus was sleeping through.
In any case, the disciples are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus up and they basically say what may have become the inspiration for a Carrie Underwood song 2000 years later: “Jesus take the wheel!”
They say, “don’t you care that we’re all about to die?” And so Jesus takes matters into his hands and just like that he rebukes the wind, and it calms down.
And just like that he shouts out “Peace! Be still!” And in an instant the waves disappear and the water becomes like glass.
And you’d think that the story would end with the disciples all relieved and being at peace, calm as the wind and the water. But instead they’re afraid, maybe for a different reason than they were when they were fearing for their lives in the storm.
It says that they were filled with great fear, another version says they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
You see, the disciples were still trying to understand who this Jesus guy really was. They were still figuring out his identity, and to think that he really could be the incarnation of God, with all the power of God, right there in their midst, was kind of frightening.
I can imagine that it would be a hard thing to wrap their head around, and it could have implications and ramifications beyond what they could comprehend.
But what happened in that boat gave them a clue of Jesus’ identity that they had to ponder. Jesus has the power to control the forces of nature, even the incredible power of storms on the sea.
And the words he used to calm the storm they had heard before. The original words behind Jesus words “Peace! Be Still! can be translated to “Be muzzled!” and it’s the same word that Jesus used to silence and cast out demons from people.
So it’s clear in this story that Jesus is displaying a power that only God can possess. And the disciples were not yet at the place where they had the understanding and the faith to go all in with Jesus, and put their trust in him.
So they were afraid.
One commentary that I read while preparing this message made an interesting distinction. It said that we usually think of the opposite of faith as doubt, and there are stories in the Bible that you can read that way.
But he said that in this situation, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. In other words, as we more fully understand who Jesus is as the Son of God, and then the more that we put our faith and our trust in him, our fears start to subside.
The fear that grips us about the future, about the unknown, they don’t consume us or paralyze us as much as they used to.
And as our fears subside, our need to always be in control subsides as well. Because we can put our trust and our hope in the One who is truly in control. And God can do a much better job of being in control than we mortals can.
In Bruce Almighty, Bruce’s experiment of having the power of God doesn’t last very long and doesn’t end well. For the most part, he uses that power to serve his own selfish needs and desires, but the things that really matter aren’t changed.
And when he does try to help other people out by answering their prayers, it turns out to be a complicated and overwhelming task, and the world around him descends into chaos.
Bruce realizes that having God’s power is not as fun or easy as he thought it would be. He goes back to God with his tail between his legs and basically says, “I surrender. I’m not cut out for this job—you can have your power back, God!”
There’s a freedom and a peace that come when we realize that it is really God who is ultimately in control and not us. Yes, we need to take responsibility for our lives, and use wisely the “powers”, the resources, gifts and talents that God has given us to guide our lives and serve those around us.
But at the same time, it’s important to know our place, our limits, and not try to control things that are beyond our sphere of control.
That’s like trying to play God. And I don’t know about you, but when I try to be “Tig Almighty”, what happened to Bruce Almighty can easily happen to me:
I try to manipulate other people to get what I want, I become self-serving instead of serving others. I try to find an easy way out to avoid situations and conflicts that are messy, but that need to be addressed. Situations where there’s a lesson to learn, some growth that needs to take place, but only if I face it head on.
One area where our need for control manifests itself is when we try to completely understand God. We want to put God in a box, we want to know the mind of God, know why God does things, predict how God is going to act in every situation.
This desire to figure God out is a main theme in the story of Job, which we heard a part of earlier. The overarching question in the book of Job is “Why did God allow Job to go through losing everything he had, and suffer so much?”
I would guess at one time or another we have all asked that question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
And there have been book after book written about it, and I don’t know of any book that has been able to answer that question clearly.
And that’s because there really isn’t an answer that fits our finite human minds that see life in terms of cause and effect, what’s fair and unfair.
Instead, we get God’s words to Job in chapter 38. Where God says, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth, when I measured it out exactly, when I laid it’s cornerstone.”
Where were you when I created the heavens and the morning stars sang together, when all the heavenly being shouted for joy?”
In other words, God is saying to Job, I’m the one who is in control of the world, not you, not your friends who are trying to explain why you’re suffering.”
God is basically reminding Job that he won’t ever be able to completely understand Him, that there is a mystery to God that we humans just have to accept and live with.
But instead of stressing about it, instead of living in fear, we can find peace, we can find calm, we can have hope even in the midst of the storms of life.
We can find peace within the storms when we hold onto the things that we CAN know about God’s identity. And this is what I believe that we know:
We know that God is a good God, who always has our best interests in mind.
We know that God knows us and what we really need better than we know ourselves, and has the knowledge and the power not only to provide for our needs but also satisfy the deepest desires and longings of our hearts.
We know that God can redeem any situation, even the ones that seem hopeless to us. God can find a way to turn our brokenness into something beautiful.
And we know that no matter what we’re going through, no matter how strong the storm may be, that God is present with us and won’t abandon ship on us.
Knowing these things about God gives us the confidence to trust Him with our lives. And it gives us permission to relinquish our need of controlling everything, our need to understanding everything, our need to know exactly how things are going to turn out.
These self-imposed needs are the cause of much stress and much fear in our lives. And when we let go of them and surrender our lives to the One who created the world and loves all of His creatures more than we can imagine,
We will find that peace, that calm, that hope.
The drawing on the bulletin cover was done by a guy named Scott Erickson. There are these big hands cradling a small boat, with gentleness, tenderness, and loving care. At the bottom written really small are the words “be not afraid”.
Erickson also wrote a short reflection on this drawing, where he said the following:
“It is folly to attempt to control the vast mysterious Sea (with a capital “S”). You will be shipwrecked in no time. But it is wisdom to learn how to implicitly trust the vast mysterious Sea. All adventures begin with this surrender.”
I want to close by having us listen to a song called “Don’t Be Afraid”. It repeats several times the phrase “Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger than you fear, and I have promised to be always near.”
This version was actually sung by the choirs of Eastern Mennonite School via Zoom, and I think it’s beautiful. I invite you to meditate on the words and what they mean to you in your life right now.