Linda and I spent a couple of days at the beach this past week. Topsail. The plan was to spend as many hours laying out on the sand as we could without incinerating our bodies . . . eat some seafood . . . and read.
The first afternoon we arrived, we dumped our luggage and headed over the dune and down to the beach. We spent a few minutes trying to erect a little tent we had purchased that would supply a scrap of shade. Then we slathered suntan lotion on our pasty bodies, laid out the beach chairs and plopped down for the duration of the afternoon. But you know what hot summer days in eastern North Carolina mean as well as I do. It was not all that long before we heard some rumbling in the skies . . . off to the north. It got closer and the skies got darker. We probably hadn’t been out more than an hour or so when we saw the first bolt of lightning. A few minutes later, we saw another. Some folks up and down the beach began to close up and head to safer places. And though we did not want to, we decided to do the same. Chairs, towels and tent came up in reverse order, and after a little climb, we found ourselves on the back porch of the cottage watching the rain and the bolts of lightning. The storm made itself known with gusting wind and the sights and sounds of the lightning and thunder. But Linda and I just rocked away peacefully – safe from the storm, inside our shelter.
As the week progressed, and another afternoon storm blew through, I found myself thinking about a story that Garrison Keillor once told entitled, Storm Home.
When I get scared now, one of the ways that I have of quieting myself down is to think back on when I entered Fourth Grade and so didn’t go to Sunnyside School anymore but caught the school bus to go into town to go to Lake Wobegon High School. And Mr. Hedman was the Principal there, and though it was September, he was already thinking ahead to winter and to the blizzards we had every year. And on the first day of school, each of us children who rode the bus in from the country was handed a little slip of paper that said, 'Your storm home is and then a name', and each of us was assigned to someone’s home in town where if a blizzard came during the school day, they wouldn’t try to ship us home on the buses, but we would go to our storm home and spend the night there.
Mine was the Krugers. My storm home was the Krugers, an old couple who lived in a little green cabin down by the lake. And I can see it now because I have walked past it so many times. . . . It was the kind of house that if you were a child and lost in a dark forest and came across it in a clearing, you would know that there was a kindly old couple living there that would take you in and rescue you, and that you were a lucky child who had gotten in a story with a happy ending. . . . I often dreamed of going to see them when things got hard. Blizzards aren’t the only storms, you know, and not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a child. And I often dreamed of going and knocking on the door. And she’d open the door and say, Oh, it’s you. I knew you’d come some day. Won’t you come it. Get out of those wet clothes. Come on into the kitchen and I’m going to make you some hot chocolate. Would you like an oatmeal cookie? . . .
I never did go there. We never had any blizzards that came during the day that year or the year after that. They were all convenient blizzards – evening, weekend blizzards. But they became a big part of my imagination. But I always thought that I could go to the Krugers. And I didn’t, I guess, because all of my troubles were bearable troubles, but I am certain that they were more bearable for imagining that the Krugers were there. (Garrison Keillor, “Storm Home,” Winter – Stories from Lake Wobegon)
The writer of the Second Gospel gives us this story about a storm that blew up on the Sea of Galilee. You heard the story – Jesus is asleep . . . the disciples wake him . . . he calms the storm. And the first thing that I would offer is that it is hard to believe that the story is really about a storm at the beach. As Keillor says, Blizzards aren’t the only storms . . . and not necessarily the worst thing that can happen. Most of us have lived long enough to have been through a blizzard or a lightning storm or even a hurricane, and I doubt we would say that any of those days have been the worst days of our lives. Because most of us have lived long enough to have been through some other storms . . . storms which shook the very ground beneath our feet, but not because of anything that Mother Nature was throwing at us. Illness, loss, fear, pain. Oh, there are other kinds of storms in this life that are much worse than some rain and wind and lightning. And there is a promise in our story that if Jesus is in the boat with us, we will be able to weather those horrible storms . . . that in time, we will again step out on solid ground.
But the other thing that I want us to think about this morning is the question that is put to Jesus in the story: Don’t you care? Don’t you care about us? That, of course, is a crucial question.
Well, I said that Garrison Keillor’s story about his storm home came to me because of the beach storms I rocked through earlier this week, but truth be told, I think the story came back to me because of all the other disturbing events of the week: children crying . . . separated from parents . . . the cages. Blizzards aren’t the only storms, said Keillor, and not
necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a child.
Now before any of you say that that is political and not a proper topic for preaching, let me say that is ridiculous. First, I know that it is political. I know it is political because of all the demagoguery that has been flying around. I know that it is political because there has been so little desire to solve and so much intent to blame. I know that it is political, but here is the thing – it is not only political. Anyone who would tell me that is simply wrong. When we begin to consider how we will treat others, we are in the purview of faith. We are back to wrestling with one of the first questions that we, the created, asked our Creator in scripture: Am I my brother’s keeper? And how we answer that is profoundly an expression of faith.
So let me tell you why the events of this week have hit me so hard . . . have created such anguish. In the end, it isn’t the politics as frustrating as that may be. And oddly, it is not the human suffering, as awful as that seems to be. Not the pain or the hurt. Not those things, because we have known such suffering. The United Nations refugee office reports that 68 million people had to flee their homes last year – an all-time high. 68 million. So, we have seen suffering that far outstrips what we are seeing now on our southern border. Not that we should ever be desensitized to pain and suffering. But that is not what has created such a crisis of faith for me.
It is something else. It is something in the news coverage where people who have had microphones shoved in their faces in diners are saying, Stop trying to make me feel guilty about the children . . . it’s their parents’ fault . . . they shouldn’t even be there . . . I don’t care!
There, that’s it.
I have read it and heard it too many times in the past week from people I don’t know. Christians mostly, I am guessing.
I don’t care.
But I have heard it from people I do know. Friends. People I love. Facebook has become an awful thing where people seem to be able to rant about anything. I don’t care! I even heard these words: They are not our children. Where do we come up with words like that? Not them . . . us. Church people. People of faith. Christians. I ask again – where do those words come to us – because I cannot fathom that they come from scripture? What came to my mind was a time when Jesus said, Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, in the face of the disciples saying, they are not even supposed to be here.
Leave the politics out there.
We are in God’s sanctuary now, and I am left to wonder – as a Christian . . . as a person of faith . . . as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: what is happening, to us – to our souls, to our goodness – that we could say such a thing?
I don’t care!
They woke him up. He was sleeping, but they woke him up. And in their heart of hearts, they cried out to him, do you not care?
It is a question that we ask him . . . it is a question, I am sure, that he asks us. It is a question that is hanging there still.
#fccwilsonnc #ccdoc #ncdisciples #dontwecare #idontcare #storms #stillingthestorm
A sermon preached by Rev. Gary Walling to the congregation of First Christian Church, Wilson, North Carolina on June 24, 2018.
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.