An Ocean of Chaos
I. “The wind rises, and the waves mount up, your ship is in peril; your heart is buffeted by waves, your soul is endangered...you have forgotten Christ. Then awaken Christ, bring Him to mind; let Christ keep watch in thee: look upon him. Let us awaken Christ that we may sail on in peace, and come safely home.”
~ Saint Augustine
The ocean is staggering and fearsome. Over 70 percent of the earth is buried beneath its waves. It’s overwhelming just to think about its volume and gravity, miles and miles of darkness and a whole world of creatures that would give any child nightmares. You get the fullest sense of this by being out at sea at night.
I once had this opportunity at the coast of northern Italy, where I’d sit for hours past sunset gazing into the sea, watching the waves beat against the coast and listening to its roar for miles and miles. Civilizations have come and gone. Governments and cultures have flourished and vanished. But through the whole history of humanity and long before, the same ocean has ebbed and flowed, the same sounds, the same force. Even today, with all our science and technology, we still haven’t tamed the sea. It continues to sink ships and swallow up whole cities. It’s not a bit surprising that the Jews feared the sea. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, the ocean is a symbol of wild, chaotic power; a place of destruction and death. But even the ocean is subject to the power of God.
Psalm 69 starts out by praying: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths…Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up” (1-2, 13-14). But soon, the prayer takes a sudden change. “I will praise God…Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion” (34). Psalm 104 says, “At your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight” (7-9).
The bible sets out with another reference of the ocean. “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters…and God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2; 6). Whether this is literal or allegorical, you get a sense of a bottomless ocean of chaos and darkness. Then, God separates from the chaos a firmament, a place with land and stability, where humans could thrive.
Our God is the God who brings peace from chaos.
We see this in creation. We see it in our own lives.
Our fears, anxieties and insecurities can weigh on our heart like the ocean on the earth. But if we let Him, God can take away that weight, and into a place of peace.
II. Today, we read about another occasion when God looked at the chaos of the sea and calmed it.
“When he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!’” (Matthew 8:23-34).
The disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus Christ. But what did our Lord do? They had been on solid, dry land. The weather was calm and the sunshine cozy. But then Jesus took them out to sea. You can be sure He wasn’t surprised by the storm. He knew what was coming. But this was the journey that He had for them.
Why does God allow the storms to come?
It is in the storms that we are forced to turn to God.
III. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about last Sunday.
It was a stormy Mass to say the least. When Kevin started screaming, I thought, ‘This is bad, but it can’t last long.’ Then I stepped down from the altar to preach. Kevin was still screaming. I started my homily…and Kevin screamed even louder. I won’t deny, there were many moments in that sermon that I would have given anything to just quit. By God’s grace, we made it through, barely, and then my mind was so choked up that I couldn’t think straight at the consecration. Then, the amber alarms went off…and I knew, none of this was a coincident. First, I thought it was the devil trying to throw us off. But the next day a new thought came to my mind. No, it wasn’t the devil. It was God.
It is in the storms where we are most able to turn to God.
IV. I once knew someone who had stopped going to church because it no longer made him feel “at peace.”
His friends had gone. The atmosphere had changed. Sunday service just wasn’t comfortable anymore.
I wanted to tell my friend, “Brother, don’t you see what you’re doing. You’ve missed the whole point of church. When the disciples followed Christ into the sea they were unsettled too, but they turned to Jesus. You were unsettled and dove completely off the boat.”
It is important that we conduct our services as reverently and beautifully as possible. The peace, the quiet, the majesty all has a way of working in our hearts, healing our pains, and molding in us a proper attitude towards God. Our service teaches to be reverent and full of awe. Parents and the whole parish share this responsibility to teach children to be quiet and still. The way kids learn to behave in church will affect the way they behave in every part of their lives. We adults too, have just as much work to focus and pray. God knows we come to church with a thousands thoughts in our minds, and that’s okay. But we have to gently push ourselves to let go and let God.
But having said all this, the noise and distractions at church are equally as important. When people come to church looking for relaxation or recharge they will always be disappointed. That’s what our day-to-day lives are for. Quiet, meditation, and stillness need to be part of our morning and evening routine. We are supposed to spend the week in a way that when we come to church our hearts are recharged, so we have the strength to do God’s work in the Liturgy. It was the custom in the early church and in many parts of the Orthodox world to go to confession every week before taking the Eucharist. The reason was to make a final act of cleansing before standing before God as God’s assembled people. Mass is not yoga circle. Mass is the marriage of God and humanity.
Why do we come to church? We come to church to be the Church.
There are plenty of churches without kids and without noise…
Well…. there used to be….but they’ve all died out or are in the process of dying. If the church is open to everyone of every background, if people of every age and from every sociodemographic feel welcome at church, then you can be sure it will be noisy at times.
But Christian culture today breeds the spirit of division. Church hopping is just a way of life. Religion has become one more convenient escape from reality, like a yoga den or meditation circle. We treat God like alcohol, or pills, or any other medium of self-medication. Sunday, in America, ought to be called ‘Segregation Day,’ for each and every church tailors to a specific, tightly knit clique. “That’s the church for hipsters.” “That’s the church for the elderly.” “This is the cowboy church.” “This is the upper-class church.” One way or another, we have to be honest with ourselves. This is not Christianity.
“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,” St. Paul writes to the Galations, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ” (3:26-28). Paul spent his ministry urging Christians to worship in unity, without division, without grumbling, and it wasn’t easy then just as it isn’t easy now.
The early church was a clash of cultures and subcultures. The upper class didn’t want to sit with the lower class. The ladies annoyed the men. The men annoyed the ladies. Children and the elderly, servants and masters, gentiles and Jews were all obliged to pray together, eat together, and grow towards God as family. You can be sure attending Mass then was often uncomfortable. But you’ll never find in scripture anywhere where Paul said, “If going to Mass doesn’t make you happy anymore just hop along to another place. The grass is truly greener on the other side.” Far to the contrary, Paul urged one another that with every division in the brethren you lose Jesus Christ. With every tendency towards cliquishness, you stop being the Church. Whenever someone grumbles about another, the Holy Spirit withdraws. God is in unity. God is in forgiveness. God is in love.
What is the Church?
The Church is the Rock Tumbler. God tosses in a bunch of raw stones and mixes them up. The stones come out as diamonds.
What is the Mass? The Mass is the act of stepping off from the solid land and sailing forward into the deep sea.
There are times when worship is beautiful and awe-inspiring. There are other times when it’s bumpy and you think you’re going to drown. This is a microcosm of the Christian journey, through valleys and hills. Both seasons are important. Both are equally salvific.
V. Let’s look back at the Gospel reading.
“There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us: we perish.’ And he saith unto them, ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was doing asleep in the storm?
Isn’t that how we feel in our own lives during rough times. We pray but feel like our prayers are going nowhere. We cry out, but hear no response. We demand, “Where is God? Is He sleeping? Is He here at all?”
But Jesus Christ didn’t leave the disciples. He was always in the boat, and He is always with you.
This man sleeping in the storm was God Himself, who was in charge of the storm and aware of every thought in the breasts of the disciples. He hadn’t forgotten them. Instead, He gave them an opportunity. It was when the storm grew loudest that they finally fell on their knees and asked for help.
Origin, that famous theologian, said it all. “Mystically, all we who are united with the Lord in the bark of Holy Church float above this stormy world. The Lord however sleeps quietly, lovingly awakening our fearfulness, and our turning to Him from evil…Let us turn quickly to the Lord, saying with the prophet: Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord. And He will command the winds, that is, the demons who stir up the waves; that is, the princes of this world who persecute the saints, and He will make a great calm round about body and soul, and He will give peace to the Church, and tranquility to the world.”
VI. Today, after Mass, we will be holding our annual All Parish Meeting. We’ve entered into my third year here with you, and through the two years behind us we’ve gone through seasons of joy and loss. Each and every one of you has struggled with different trials. Each has encountered God’s grace in new and life-changing ways. Our parish has had to say goodbye to a number of people we loved, such as the Mannions and Mikhails and dear Nelson. God has brought new members into the fold, each with unique talents and personalities, and the church has grown in number, in ministries, leadership, and fruits of all kind.
There are so many good things happening here that people all over town are talking about it. There’s a lot to be excited about, and at the same time, there are equally as many challenges and unknowns ahead. But, first and foremost, remember, it is in the storm out at sea that we will find God.
The bigger the storm the more abundant the grace.
The more unknowns there are the more opportunities to grow in faith.
At the heart of the sea, when the waves rise highest, get on your knees.
Turn to Jesus and He will give you peace.