I have faced difficulties as one who did not truly know or understand the fullness of grace afforded to us in Jesus Christ, so much so that I denied any faith in Jesus Christ and, for a time, was anti-Christian. I have also lived in Christ's unmitigated grace, thankful for all that he provides. As I reflect, I don't know how anyone could survive the struggles of this world without Christ. We can see the difficulties as we look at two recent lives, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, that ended as a result of suicide. Both lives would appear to have everything to live for yet we find that with all the outward trappings of success, in the end, it was not enough. Their deaths were a shock to many and the sad loss of great talent that blessed many lives.
We can't speak to any one thing that drove either of them to see that all things were hopeless and for those survivors of a loved one who had died because of suicide the questions left behind are often significant. When faced with the storms of life, it can appear as there is no alternative. The readings from this past Sunday offer a great insight into the heart of God, and how he never leaves those he loves behind, as well as how one can survive great struggles in the midst of painful loss. The first reading is from Job 38:1-11, it is a response from God to the questions that Job had placed before God. Job had lost everything, yet he maintained his faith in God and did not curse or turn away from God. In reading this we might think it harsh, but God is reminding us that to ask "Why?" can often be the wrong question. We live in a sin-sick world that is fallen and full of temptations. Temptations that can easily distract us from God's love and some of the difficulties are because of these temptations. Other issues, such as health issues and accidents often have nothing to do with our own actions but are just a part of our fallen world. Death and disease were not in the original creation, but because of the actions of Adam and Eve in the garden, it all entered in.
We are reminded in Psalm 124 of how God continues to provide for us and protects us in our daily living in spite of our failings, and then we jump into Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians in which we speak of how God through Jesus Christ we have entered into a favorable time. Paul speaks these words in spite of the struggles that they are facing at that time. The witness that Paul calls them to give is not to based on attempting to fit into the world, but by standing firm in their witness and the faith as it has been revealed. The struggles that he speaks of in 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 are real. The witness of our faith is not in living like the world, but contrary to it. It's not that we don't, as Christians, accept others because of their sin but quite the contrary, we are called to shine Christ's love to all in spite of their sin and are called to be a light. This is not meant to be a facade, but a witness of lives transformed. The freedom of the Gospel is a freedom from the Law. Under Christ, we are no longer under threat of the Law's condemnation but have been made free from the Law. Though for the sake of those with whom we desire to witness we may need to refrain from things that could cause one to stumble from or be resistant to the faith because of our poor witness. In the time of Paul, there were a great many practices that people of the gentile faiths followed. Though in Christ we know that there is nothing to the other gods a new convert could be easily confused if he or she saw a Christian doing the same as those of their former faith would do. To speak contrarily of another's faith practice would also make a person unpopular at the minimum, but could possibly put the life of a believer in danger. As Christians, we are called to be different. Our lives and our actions are not to be like everyone else. God desires for those who follow him to not be just like everyone else, but weird. Being weird to those that do not know Christ should not trouble us. If we are mocked for our faith, so what? We aren't to respond in kind, but we are called to respond in love.
That is what is different about Christians which Christ shows us in the Gospel reading from Mark 4:35-41. The disciples, I am confident, had no clue what was going to happen as they called out to Jesus Christ as he was sleeping in the front of the boat. The storm was bringing waves crashing against the boat and pouring water into the boat. I would dare bet that the minds of the disciples seeing Jesus sleeping in the midst of the storm was one less set of hands helping to bail water out of the boat and help keep the boat moving to the other side of the sea. It reminds me of an event of my youth. When I was an early teenager, my parents regularly visited a family friends lake home with me in tow. It was a beautiful area, but this particular visit I was the only youth. So, looking for some fun, I went out in the friend's paddleboat and paddled across the lake. While I was returning back to the lake cabin, a storm moved quickly over the lake creating white caps that started to splash over the side of the paddle boat making it more cumbersome and heavier as it was bogging down and it became harder and harder to peddle. I was crying out to God and bailing out water as I was working to paddle, afraid the paddleboat would sink, which gave me a two-fold fear of losing our family friend's paddleboat and having to fight to swim to shore and walk back to the cabin. As I was there our family friend and my dad pulled up in the boat and threw me a line. God is like that for us. The difficulties may not go away, and events can occur that are beyond your control that creates a lot of pain, but God does not leave you or forget you in the midst of it. In the midst of chaos, he can bring calm and a sense of peace. This can be confusing to many who do not believe because they only see the outward situation. Like the stories of the martyrs in recent years singing praises to God as they were being executed. For those that do not know Christ, who have not been met by him, that just seems crazy, weird. But that is how our Lord is. He prayed for people as they beat him, as nailed him to the cross, and as they mocked him while he hung dying. He did not curse them, he prayed for them. He gave the promise of paradise to one who hung beside him. He offers mercy to those who realize that they are trapped in a cycle of death and provides a way out, an escape. This doesn't necessarily change everything outwardly, but inwardly everything is different, and that is the transformation. Financial blessings may come, but that would be minor compared to the eternal blessings received. The grace that God gives us is encapsulated in the words, "Peace, Be Still!" With Christ, I have weathered some terrible storms that I don't think I could have otherwise survived and I know that my marriage would not have survived. God has blessed me with six beautiful, healthy children. It is not easy. Sometimes it is downright hard, but it is in those times I turn to Christ and recharge because he reminds me that I'm doing it wrong because I'm trying to do it on my own. In Christ, when the storms of life surround me I can cry out his words, "Peace, Be Still!" In doing so, I find that the peace he offers fills me and stills the trepidation in my soul. In Christ, there is always peace and that peace is not dependent upon the circumstances that may surround you, but in the one who has covered you in his embrace and has given you the promise of Paradise. Go in peace and serve the Lord. Amen.