The Storm Before the Calm

Scripture: Matthew 8:23-27
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 6, 2017

Imagine the smell of the ocean breeze.  Warm wind blowing through your hair.  Sunshine reflecting off the waves.  The sails flapping in the air.  Sea lions and dolphins swimming in the wake.  And John Denver’s “Calypso” playing in the background.  It is a magnificent way to spend a summer afternoon, but then suddenly, without warning, the serene sunshine turns into a roaring thunder storm.  It sounds a bit like “Gilligan’s Island”.  Do you remember the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island”?  (Play theme song)

“The weather started getting rough (put on yellow raincoat), the tiny ship was tossed.  If not for the courage of the fearless crew The Minnow would be lost.  The Minnow would be lost.  The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle…with Gilligan (hold up picture of Gilligan), the Skipper too (put on captain hat), the millionaire (throw out money) and his wife (hold up white gloves), the movie star (put on feather boa), the professor (a book) and Mary Ann (a bandana on head), Here on Gilligan’s Isle…”

I love Gilligan’s Island.  It was my favorite sit-com as a child.  I always wondered, “How will Gilligan try to get rescued today?”  This morning we read about another sailing adventure — not in the Pacific Ocean, but on the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee is actually a beautiful freshwater lake six miles wide and fourteen miles long.  At 600 feet below sea level, it is the lowest lake on the planet.  And the Sea of Galilee is an inland sea.  An inland sea can be more furious than the open sea, because an open sea has such width to spread its turbulence. But the inland sea, like the Sea of Galilee, is confined within mountains.  The mountains act like a funnel and winds come screaming through in concentrated fury and storms roll in with amazing ferocity, sometimes with waves fifteen feet high.  And it happens suddenly.

Matthew is very careful about the word he uses here.  He by-passes the common terms for spring shower, summer squall, cloudburst, downpour.  Those words don’t capture the essence of that storm.  Instead he uses the Greek word “seismos” — that is, a trembling eruption, a quivering shoreline, an explosion of waves.  Seismos.  The only other two times Matthew uses this word is at the death of Jesus when Golgotha shook and on the day of the resurrection when the stone was rolled away.  The stilled storm shares equal billing in the trilogy of Jesus’s great shake-ups.  Seismos.  (Thomas Long, Matthew Commentary, pg. 95)

And the disciples were terrified.  Remember the disciples are fishermen.  They knew the Sea of Galilee.  This was their profession.  But on this particular occasion with the lightning flashing, the thunder rolling, the wind screaming, the waves thrashing — these experienced fishermen were terrified.  They had never seen a storm like this before.

One moment the disciples are shuffling cards, the next moment they are gulping buckets of Galilean sea water.  One moment it feels like a Galilean dinner cruise, the next moment they are trying to keep their dinner down.  One moment they are basking in the sun and the next moment, they are holding on with white knuckles for dear, dear, precious, precious life.  

We often call that first moment the calm and the second moment the storm. It’s the calm before the storm.   Meteorologists tell us that there is truth in that statement — the air becomes heavy and quiet just before a storm erupts. When life is calm and peaceful for us, we think, “This can’t last much longer.  Life is too good.  This is just the calm before the storm.”

Interestingly, Jesus was on the boat with them.  Some Christians make the mistake thinking that because they have Christ in their lives they will be immune to trouble, tribulation and trials.  Even though Jesus was in the boat, the storm still struck.  And even if Jesus is in our lives, we will still encounter storms.  There are physical health storms, financial storms, emotional storms, relational storms…and sometimes they strike suddenly, without warning.  This does not mean that God is trying to punish us; it does not mean that God does not love us.  Storms are a part of life — we all go through them.  Yes, storms rage even when Jesus is in our boat.

As one person said, “It’s not the absence of storms that set us apart.  It’s whom we discover in the storm:  an unstirred Christ.  ‘Jesus was sleeping’ (v.24).  Now there’s a scene.  The disciples scream; Jesus dreams.  Thunder roars.  Jesus snores” (Max Lucado, Fearless, pg. 8).  

They run to Jesus and raise doubts about his character:  “Do you not care…”  Not “are you aware of the storm” or “can you still the storm”, but “do you not care?”  Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness.  We begin to fear that Christ does not care when our eyes grow wide while his stay shut.

In fact, the image here is a parable for the early church.  Remember, a church building is called a naive — a boat.  The disciples are in the boat at sea in a windstorm.  Ancient people feared the wind and the sea — believing them to be untamed, life-threatening, chaotic forces.  The pictures of the disciples being tossed about in a boat is a revealing symbol of the early church in the midst of persecution, ever shaken by the battering wind and waves of the world.  And they wonder where is their Jesus?  He is asleep, silent, passive, unconcerned, apparently distant (Thomas Long, Matthew Commentary, p. 95).

The disciples cry out, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing,” they cry.  In Mark’s account of this story, Jesus says, “Peace!  Be still!”  Jesus handles the great quaking with a great calming.  Turning typhoon time into nap time.  Jesus has a non-anxious presence.  A mark of a good leader is a non-anxious presence.  The disciples wonder, “Who is this man?”

It reminds me of when I was six years old.  My friends had warned me about the Boogie Man.  And one night I was lying in bed and my imagination got the best of me.  I was convinced that a hand was going to reach from under the bed and get a hold of me.  I was sure the Boogie Man was hiding there.  I laid there holding my breath, my heart pounding away.  I was afraid that if I jumped off my bed, he would grab on to my ankle — but if I make a run for it, I would be his victim.  On the count of three, I mustered all of the courage I could; I stood up on the bed and jumped as far from his reach as possible.  I ran with lightning speed into my mother’s bedroom. I woke her up.  Like Jesus in the boat, Mom was sound asleep in the storm.  How can a person sleep at a time like this?

With her eyes closed, she asked, “Jill, what is wrong?”  “Mom, the Boogie Man is under my bed.”  With great courage, she climbed out of bed, walked through the darkness of the hallway, turned on my bedroom light, and looked under the bed.  And I thought, “Wow!  What kind of person is this?”

I think that Jesus views our seismos storms the way my mom viewed the Boogie Man.  We can lead quite dramatic lives.  We run here and there, turning this way and that, frightened for our lives, and Jesus simply says, “Peace, be still.”

I know that we sometimes say, “This is just the calm before the storm.”  But that saying comes from fear.  I think there’s another way to live.  We can live a life of faith. Trusting that whatever happens, God is going to carry us through.  For God will not let us go under.  The next time you find yourself in a storm, smile and say, “This is just the storm before the calm!  Yes, this is just the storm before the calm!”  (David Dykes, This Is Just the Storm Before the Calm sermon, September 20, 2009).  Let Christ speak peace into your heart.  “Peace.  Be still.”  The storm is passing over.