Nobody enjoys being out of control, yet often we find that is just the situation in which we find ourselves. Further reflection suggests two forms of loss of control: the first is due to unpleasant, even dangerous circumstances. The second is connected to good, even beneficial events. Accidental falls, whether we’re a toddler practicing the vertical life or further along in years when our bodies and sense of balance function less reliably, are events which may introduce us to but certainly remind us of what it means to be out of control. Gravity is not always our friend. Receiving bad news, frightening or shocking events, and hearing some sobering truth also shake our foundations. On the other hand, falling deeply in love (or perhaps buying the lucky ticket for the Irish Sweepstakes) also can shake us to the core. Discovering that we are the object of the abiding love of the person we also adore throws us as assuredly off balance as the most embarrassing pratfall. Spiked heart rate, sweaty palms, idiotic blathering when we hoped to speak love sonnets, and loss of appetite go hand in hand with being out of control in love. In time, we will risk life and limb for the sake of those we love.
Being out of control is the perennial stuff of song. Elvis (I’m All Shook Up, 1957), Jerry Lee Lewis (Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On, 1957), Bill Haley & His Comets (Shake, Rattle, and Roll, 1954), and Carole King (I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet, 1971) all wrote &/or recorded songs focusing on the uproar relationships cause. Two deal with questionable relationships at best, and the other two wrestle with true love. Pr. Hill chose a quiet song of faith for this past Sunday’s hymn, a song formerly attributed to the Quakers and Shakers. Although written in 1869 by the Baptist pastor Robert Lowry, “How Can I Keep from Singing” [ELW 763] was later adopted by the American Quakers as an anthem of absolute trust in God’s protection in times of danger as well as good. The Quakers and Shakers earned their denominational names because of the practice of their communal dances which depict shaking off temptation, evil, and the devil’s wiles. Having witnessed a community of Shakers singing and shaking, I can also attest that through worship and song they get a healthy workout.
Last Sunday’s Gospel was Mark’s account of Jesus stilling the storm [Mark 4:35-41]. The disciples and Jesus (who is in the stern snoozing – this is significant!) are crossing the Sea of Galilee one evening when a sudden storm catches them unprepared. Even for fisherman, the shake, rattle, and roll of the gale frightens them out of their wits. They are also exceedingly miffed at Jesus for his ability to sleep right through it, apparently not in the least concerned for their welfare. Like the disciples, we, too, prefer that the National Guard, the Canadian Mounties, and the US Department of Defense be on high alert when the least thing threatens us. We quiver and quake, no longer having any patience with delay, wondering why someone else has allowed this to happen to us. Anything else is deemed inappropriate response, and so we curse and fume at the folks who are “supposed” to be in control. Jesus, for the disciples, is the designated control person. However, he sleeps, obviously resting. Their frenzied chatter wakes him.
We might find Jesus’ initial response puzzling. First, he “muzzles” the howling wind (that is what the Greek verb translated as “rebuked” is). Then he takes a long look at them as if wondering what the big deal is. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And lo!, we are at the heart of the passage. Jesus is not criticizing them nor faulting them for not having the “right amount” of faith at hand to weather this natural uproar. Several weeks ago, we heard the familiar and thus easily dismissed account of mustard-seed-sized faith, which is to say God in Christ does not look for bushel basket faith from us. Faith is NOT a quantity. Repeat that, please: faith is NOT a quantity. Rather, faith is how we humans inhabit the relationship God has established with us; sometimes we’re secure; other times we doubt and wonder. The way God inhabits this abiding relationship is by grace. Jesus is merely asking why the disciples [and us!] haven’t yet fathomed that God loves us all to pieces and is there for us always.
Mark tells us about the scary storm to remind us that we tend to go berserk when confronted with unexpected challenges and dangers. Our fears blind us, shorting our circuits, prompting us to spit out silly things and believe the most idiotic rumors and conspiracies. Yet God is quietly present throughout wielding the power to quell with a word the irrational evils which we imagine as well as providing us the gifts, insights, and support (including the faith community) to address the challenges we face. We may think that Jesus is asleep on the job, but St. Paul reminds us in the second reading for last Sunday: As we work together with [Jesus], we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation [II Corinthians 6:1-2]! And that’s why we learn to sing hymns like the one for last Sunday, for they proclaim the Gospel so faithfully: Since Christ is Lord of Heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing? (…and let the people sing, “Amen!”)