Rejoice! | 3rd Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem. 15 The LORD has removed your judgment; he has turned away your enemy. The LORD, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you will no longer fear evil. 16 On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem: Don’t fear, Zion. Don’t let your hands fall. 17 The LORD your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing. 18 I will remove from you those worried about the appointed feasts. They have been a burden for her, a reproach. 19 Watch what I am about to do to all your oppressors at that time. I will deliver the lame; I will gather the outcast. I will change their shame into praise and fame throughout the earth. 20 At that time, I will bring all of you back, at the time when I gather you. I will give you fame and praise among all the neighboring peoples when I restore your possessions and you can see them—says the LORD. (CEB)

Rejoice!

How many of you knew there was a black prophet of African ancestry in the Old Testament? Well, if you didn’t, then meet Zephaniah. He was the son of Cushi, which, in Hebrew, means African, and usually refers to the upper-Nile region south of Egypt. Whether Cushi is the name of Zephaniah’s father or a racial designation, we don’t know.

Zephaniah the prophet went beyond naming the usual two generations of his genealogy, expanding it to four. He was the grandson of Gedaliah, and great-grandson of Amariah, and the second-great-grandson of Hezekiah (c.f. Zephaniah 1:1). It’s assumed that his second-great-grandfather was King Hezekiah. So, Zephaniah was a distant part of the royal family: maybe second-cousin to King Josiah.

After all, King Hezekiah had strong political ties to the 25th Dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs, who were Nubians of the Kushite Empire. The Scriptures mention several people of African descent living in Israel in the days of the prophets Zephaniah and Jeremiah. It was common for marriages to be made between royal families to seal political alliances. It’s possible that a daughter of Gedaliah, who would have been King Hezekiah’s great-granddaughter, was given in marriage to a Nubian noble named Cushi as part of the continued alliance between Judah and Egypt. If that’s the case, then Zephaniah was born from that political union. And, we have a black prophet in the Old Testament.

This section of Zephaniah’s writing stands out as a sudden and unexpected shout of joy. The first eight oracles are only bad news for, and judgment against, Judah and Jerusalem. While King Hezekiah “…did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 18:3), his son and successor, Manasseh, was one of the worst. And, while Josiah was described as a faithful king who tried to reform the Kingdom of Judah by returning to the laws of the Covenant at Sinai, Zephaniah saw a different reality on the streets.

The people neglected the matters of justice and righteousness. They didn’t take care of the poor. They withheld their tithes and offerings from God. They treated their neighbors with disrespect. They worshipped idols. They put their trust in wealth, power, and prestige. They believed that God wouldn’t act on account of these things. They thought they were secure.

But, through Zephaniah, God said, “I will wipe out everything from the earth, says the LORD. I will destroy humanity and the beasts; I will destroy the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea. I will make the wicked into a heap of ruins; I will eliminate humanity from the earth, says the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:2-3 CEB).

Not only did Zephaniah suggest the destruction of the earth, but he said that the Lord would invade the darkness of Judah’s heart like a person who takes a lamp into a dark place to ferret out secret and hidden sins (c.f. Zephaniah 1:12). The people thought that God didn’t see the things they did or read the thoughts of their minds, or know the sinful desires of their hearts, so they did whatever they wanted. But Zephaniah declared that the day of the Lord is coming: a terrible day of judgment, and a bitter day of distress and anguish, ruin and devastation, darkness and gloom.

It’s almost-but-not-quite astonishing that the last oracle of Zephaniah is one of rejoicing. To be sure, Zephaniah doesn’t foresee everyone rejoicing here. God declared that the corrupt priesthood which was more worried about appointed feasts than justice for the poor, lame, and outcast, would be removed. Their concern was for ritual. But they neglected the weightier matters of righteousness, namely, caring for people.

This was a problem that persisted to the time of Jesus, who said, “How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. You ought to give a tenth but without forgetting about those more important matters” (Matthew 23:23 CEB; c.f. also Luke 11:42).

It’s somewhat ironic that the lame would have been considered sinners according to Deuteronomic theology. They would have been outcasts. Their infirmity would have been proof, in the minds of some, that they were sinners. Yet, it’s the lame and the outcast whom God will deliver, gather, and change their shame into praise and fame throughout the earth. These are the very people who were neglected by the king and by the priesthood. He tells those who were being oppressed, “Watch what I am about to do to your oppressors…” (Zephaniah 3:19a CEB).

One thing we need to understand is that, in the Scriptures, promise does not come apart from judgment. The Scriptures do not offer comfort to the comfortable. Rather, God’s promises, like that declared by Zephaniah, come after dark times of death, destruction, despair, and pain. Yet, twice, in the imperative for the people to rejoice, Zephaniah tells the people not to be afraid, and he says that the Lord is in their midst.

But, if we’re honest, we’re afraid of a lot. One scholar suggested that, if we read between the lines of verses 16-20, we can see something of our own souls. “We fear that God is not in our midst… We fear that our hands are weak and powerless… We fear insignificance, doubting that we matter in the course of events and dreading that we will be crushed by them. We fear political defeat and natural disaster. We fear shame and reproach, that our faults… will be discovered and render us less than the person we had fooled ourselves and others into thinking we were. We are afraid that we won’t have enough, won’t be enough. We even fear that God may keep God’s promises, and interrupt the safety of our fears and the familiarity of our enemies with something new” (D. Block in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1, pg. 54-55).

Zephaniah’s oracle acknowledges our fears and dispels them with a promise of restoration and joy. It’s as if the prophet has brought us forth to the very lip of the chasm of judgment and doom, only to draw us back at the very last moment. Our joy is made all the more intense because of the absolute hopelessness out of which it springs. The word of God which began as irredeemable judgment has been transformed into transcendent gladness! That which once anticipated the silence of the people (c.f. 1:7) or, worse, our cries of sorrow (c.f. 1:11), now celebrates with a song of joy (c.f. 3:14).

The roots of this song of joy don’t lie in the strength or sudden turn toward goodness of the people. Rather, this song of joy is rooted—absolutely—In the grace and benevolence of God. The God who is Israel’s judge is also Israel’s lover and faithful partner in a holy covenant. The coming of the Lord looked like a moment of disaster and fear, but all that has changed. Now the presence of God among us removes all of our fear; it brings salvation.

This song promises us a day of great joy and exultation. It’s a day of renewed love, gladness, singing, salvation, gathering in, and the restoration of fortunes. It is the Lord who has championed the cause of God’s people. Because our God will now rejoice and exult, we, too, can be caught up in this same celebration. Since the Lord our God will renew us in his love, we are invited to accept this love and to participate in this love with gladness and joy.

Today we are called to rejoice! Rejoice in God our Savior! Rejoice in the one who comes to save us, to heal us, who comes to BE our joy. Christ our Savior not only gives us reason to feel joyful, he IS our joy.

Every December, I hear people lament that they can’t get into the Christmas spirit, that they don’t feel like they should at Christmas time, that they’re missing a feeling of joy. I can relate to that. I think we all can admit there are times in our life where the feeling of joy has been absent. Yet, while joy is a feeling, it’s also a response to what we know to be true. That’s one of the beautiful things about this Sunday: we are reminded that no matter what trouble, trials, or tribulations are going on in our lives, there is reason to rejoice!

Rejoice!

Rejoice that God loves you!

Rejoice that God has put God’s own love into us so that we might share it with everyone around us!

Rejoice that God has redeemed us!

Rejoice that God remembers your sins no more!

Rejoice that God calls you by name as his beloved daughters and sons!

Rejoice that God will one day wipe every tear from our eyes!

Rejoice that God has given us each other, to bear with one another through whatever happens in our lives.

Rejoice that God came into our very midst as a human being, born so many years ago, to dwell with us and share our humanity!

Rejoice that Jesus, the Christ, has gone to prepare a place for us where there will be no more sorrows!

Rejoice that our Lord will one day return and make God’s home among us.

Rejoice that we will live forever in the presence of the living God who is Love!

Rejoice!

Rejoice!

This Sunday, we are invited to rejoice and exult with all our heart in the salvation of our Lord and God. Don’t fear. The Lord our God is in our midst.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Rev. Christopher Millay

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Simple Ones | Proper 19

Proverbs 1:20-33

20 Wisdom shouts in the street; in the public square she raises her voice. 21 Above the noisy crowd, she calls out. At the entrances of the city gates, she has her say: 22 “How long will you clueless people love your naïveté, mockers hold their mocking dear, and fools hate knowledge? 23 You should respond when I correct you. Look, I’ll pour out my spirit on you. I’ll reveal my words to you. 24 I invited you, but you rejected me; I stretched out my hand to you, but you paid no attention. 25 You ignored all my advice, and you didn’t want me to correct you. 26 So I’ll laugh at your disaster; I’ll make fun of you when dread comes over you, 27 when terror hits you like a hurricane, and your disaster comes in like a tornado, when distress and oppression overcome you. 28 Then they will call me, but I won’t answer; they will seek me, but won’t find me 29 because they hated knowledge and didn’t choose the fear of the LORD. 30 They didn’t want my advice; they rejected all my corrections. 31 They will eat from the fruit of their way, and they’ll be full of their own schemes. 32 The immature will die because they turn away; smugness will destroy fools. 33 Those who obey me will dwell securely, untroubled by the dread of harm.” (CEB)

Simple Ones

After reading this passage from Proverbs at Bible study on Tuesday, the comment was made that I was going to get myself into trouble with this text. That might be true. Especially because, in places, the tone of the text, itself, is a little troubling. It almost comes across as arrogant and vindictive. But I think that’s how I usually hear those who are trying to correct me or get me to see something straight. My own arrogance and pride can cause me to hear such correction as arrogance on the part of the corrector, even when they’re meaning it lovingly. It’s too easy for me to think, who are you to tell me anything? Then again, there are those whose wise counsel I have sought, and those who have given it without my solicitation. Trust, in such moments, matters a great deal.

Sometimes I wonder where wisdom has gone. It seems that, within our culture, wisdom is sidelined in favor of more lucrative things and personal gains. Wisdom is a topic that’s largely ignored in the church, too. The Revised Common Lectionary provides readings from Proverbs on only 5 Sundays of the three-year cycle. Our Protestant Bibles cut two works of Wisdom Literature from the canon of Scripture: The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, (though you can find them in the Apocrypha if your Bible includes it).

Many voices in our culture clamor for our attention. The voice of the church is merely one of many, and even the church’s voice is plural, not singular. How do the claims of God and the call of wisdom find a hearing when there are so many other voices out there, enticing us to seek the good life, to seek power, to seek notoriety, to seek wealth, and to chase the illusion of a life of ease? Where do we find wisdom amid the noise and attractions of culture?

Contrary to pop culture, wisdom is not found at the feet of a lonely male guru on top of a mountain. Instead, the writer of Proverbs presents a scene we can envision: a woman standing in the middle of the busiest places of our cities who calls out over the noisy crowd, trying to get people’s attention. Wisdom shouts in the streets, raises her voice in the public squares, speaks at the entrances to the city gates. In the ancient world, these were the places where people bumped into each other, where business and trade happened, where legal cases were heard, and where judgments were made. These were the crowded places of life and community. Wisdom, then, vies for our attention amid the mundane, every-day, humdrum of life.

Wisdom, personified as a woman, demands to know how long we’ll keep this up: how long we’ll prefer naïveté, mocking, and foolishness to her correction. The woman, Wisdom, tells us that she invited us and stretched out her hand to us, but we rejected her, paid no attention to her, ignored her, and didn’t want her correction. (The women in Bible study particularly enjoyed this, by the way. They sighed and said, if men would just listen).

Then, the woman Wisdom: her tone turns harsh. She almost sounds vindictive and cruel. She says she’ll laugh at the disaster that comes over those who rejected her. She’ll make fun of the dread that comes over those who paid no attention to her invitation. She won’t answer those who call out to her after terror hits us like a hurricane and disaster comes tearing through their lives like a tornado, when distress and oppression overcome them because they paid no attention to her, they ignored her before these things happened.

They’ll call to Wisdom from the eye of the storm, but she won’t answer. They’ll seek Wisdom from the upheaval of disaster, but they won’t find her. It sounds harsh because it is harsh. But it’s also reality, isn’t it? When anyone refuses wisdom’s counsel, there comes a point in their life when the stupid things they’ve done catch up with them. We’re told over and over in the Scriptures that we will reap what we sow (c.f. Proverbs 11:18, 22:8; Hosea 8:7, 10:12; Sirach 7:3; 2 Corinthians 9:6). How we judge is how we will be judged, and the measure we give is the measure we’ll get. * Or, as the woman Wisdom tells us, “They will eat the fruit of their way, and they’ll be full of their own schemes” (Proverbs 1:31 CEB).

When our own bad choices catch up with us, when living contrary to the way of God finally comes to a head, what can Wisdom do then? Wisdom is about preventive maintenance, not emergency repair. The woman Wisdom is crying out in the streets, trying to get our attention, now, so that we don’t end up in a mess later.

But how do we listen to wisdom? How do we accept her correction and respond appropriately to it? She tells us that when we respond she’ll pour out her spirit on us and reveal her wise words to us. So, how do we even begin to listen and respond?

Earlier in the chapter we’re told this: “Wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 CEB).

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. We’ve probably all heard that before. Sometimes it’s stated the other way around, “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Psalm 111:10 NRSV). Yet, that word fear is a little jarring to us. I remember talking to one of my fraternity brothers in college about fearing God, and his response was that he didn’t believe we’re supposed to be afraid of God. And he was right, to a degree, but it was a misunderstanding of the word fear as I was using it that made him say that. He was right in that our relationship with God isn’t supposed to be sniveling, trembling terror before the Lord (though some people certainly have their moments).

But the word fear, in this sense, means to have reverent respect for God, to be in awe of God, and to live obediently to God. Fear of the Lord is an ancient way of saying a person is living rightly and righteously. People who fear the Lord understand that God loves us, and we can only be in awe that the creator of heaven and earth, the God who made the Pleiades and Orion, and hung the stars in their places would deign to care for each of us so intimately that God knows the number of hairs on our head. (For some of us, it’s an easier count than others). To fear the Lord means to stand amazed at the profundity of God’s mercy and care for us. To fear the Lord means that we respond to God’s loving-kindness by offering our loving-kindness to those whom we encounter every day.

Those who fear the Lord do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Those who fear the Lord turn their belief in God into faithful actions for the world. Those who fear the Lord seek God’s kingdom first in their lives.

Those who fear the Lord sing a different song that often becomes a refrain of resistance against the bellowing discord of our culture and society. When the choruses of our society tell us who to hate, the sweet overtones of God tell those who fear of the Lord whom we need to love. When society’s songs tell us who to blame, those who fear the Lord sing a harmony of hope because we know who to accept. When the jingles of culture tell us who to despise, those who fear the Lord croon a lullaby because we know who to seek out and invite into communion with us. How do we listen to wisdom? We start by fearing the Lord and walking in the ways of our God.

The text admits that Wisdom can sometimes be difficult to hear, especially in a culture that values power, wealth, fame, and control. Yet, Wisdom raises her voice above the noisy crowd. We can hear her even through the clamor. We don’t really have an excuse for ignoring her.

The thing is, Wisdom is not some esoteric, unreachable thing that only those lonely gurus can find in meditation on mountain tops. Wisdom is found in community. Wisdom meets us in the busiest places of lives. Wisdom calls to us where we interact with each other every day. Wisdom comes to us, Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life (U.M. Hymnal #427) because wisdom is about how we relate to others. It’s about how we live in community with others. Wisdom is how we interact and love and give and serve. Wisdom is righteous living, life lived for God and for each other.

And that leads to the last verse of this passage: “Those who obey me will dwell securely, untroubled by the dread of harm” (Proverbs 1:33 CEB). It’s quite a promise. But I don’t think it means that nothing bad will ever happen to us. We know that’s not true because good things happen to good and bad people, and bad things happen to good and bad people. The promise isn’t that nothing bad will ever happen, it’s that we’ll “dwell securely, untroubled by the dread of harm.” You see, the church is a community. When trouble comes our way, as it inevitably does, we have each other. We surround each other. We pray for each other and visit each other.

Yet, for those who fear the Lord, our care and concern never stop at the edge of our church community. It extends to the broader communities in which we live, even to the ends of the earth. Wisdom calls to us in our workplaces, in our grocery stores, in our courthouses, and along our sidewalks.

When we listen to Wisdom, when we respond to her correction and amend our way of life to something that is lifegiving for others, she’ll pour out her sweet spirit upon us, and teach us her words. When we listen to wisdom, when we fear the Lord, that’s when we’re striving for God’s kingdom. Wisdom is calling. She’s been calling to the human race from the beginning, and she has called to each of us from our first breath till now. I implore us to listen and listen well, lest we eat the wayward fruit of our way rather than the sweet, life-giving fruit of the Spirit.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

*(c.f. Matthew 3:10, 7:1-2, 7:19, 12:36-37, 16:27, 25:31-46; Romans 2:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; James 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23, 2:26, 14:13, 16:11, 18:6, 20:12, 20:13, 22:12).

Afraid | Proper 7

Mark 4:35-41

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” (CEB)

Afraid

I heard a story kind of like this once. It was about a small cruise ship on one of the Great Lakes that had been hired for a fraternity reunion party. Of course, everyone knew a storm was coming because they could see the front clouds in the distance. They could feel the wind pick up and the air grow cooler as the clouds approached. The captain assured everyone that there wouldn’t be a problem, and they should all enjoy themselves. So, the fraternity brothers and their significant others danced, ate, drank, and talked. As they caught up on each other’s lives, the storm grew suddenly wilder.

Wind buffeted one side of the ship, causing it to list and rock side-to-side. Waves crashed harshly against the same side, sending spray high above the windows on the dance floor. Drinks spilled. People lost their balance. Men and women screamed. Most everyone started to panic. Then, a terrified man grabbed one of his fraternity brothers and said, “Didn’t you say you’re a pastor? Do something pastoral!”

The pastor glanced at the growing terror of those around him. He quickly dumped a bowl of caramel corn on the table, held it out and said, “We’ll now receive the offering.”

Our Gospel reading begins with, “Later that day, when evening came…” (c.f. Mark 4:35 CEB). Those words alert us to the fact that something must have happened earlier in the day. So, let’s recap what happened. Jesus taught beside the lake, but such a large crowd gathered that he got into a boat and taught while the people stood on the shore. He told several parables about seeds: seeds that are sown on a path, on rocky ground, among thorny plants, and on good soil (4:3-9); seed that grows into a harvest (4:26-29); and a small mustard seed that grows into a rather large plant (4:30-32), among other things. Later, Jesus explained the parables to his disciples and others who were nearby (4:10-20, 34).

Verse 2 and verse 33 tell us that Jesus taught with many parables that day, as much as they were able to hear. He wore the crowds out with speech, and wore himself out, too. Public speaking takes a lot out of you. I get why Jesus was tired. I take a nap every Sunday afternoon before going to Youth Group in the evening. So, it’s understandable that Jesus crashed on a pillow in the back of the boat. He taught all day, and he was tired.

Then, the storm came. But not just a storm. A great gale of wind (λαῖλαψ μεγάλη ἀνέμου). In our idiomatic English, we might say it was a massive storm of wind. It whipped up waves that crashed against the boat and swamped it. Usually, when we read this story, we imagine panicked disciples who wake Jesus so he can perform a miracle and save them. But, honestly, there’s little in the story to suggest that. The only suggestion that the disciples were afraid is when Jesus asked them why they were frightened, and that word isn’t fear, the word means timid, cowardly, or lack confidence.

Several of the disciples were experienced fishermen who made their living on the Sea of Galilee. They knew the waters, knew how to handle their boats, and had probably survived more rough storms than they could count. There is no reason to assume the disciples were panicked, but they were obviously concerned and probably working hard to save their skin.

When they woke Jesus up, I don’t think they were expecting a miracle. I think they wanted an extra pair of hands to help bail the boat. Their comment to Jesus, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” (Mark 4:38b CEB) seems more akin to Hey, Professor, don’t you care that we’re getting swamped here? Get up and help bail the boat, you lazy git! Nothing in the story indicates the disciples expected Jesus to do what he did, that he could rescue them with a few commanding words to the wind and sea.

He rebuked the wind and spoke to the sea saying, “Silence! Be still!” and the wind stopped so that there was a great calm (γαλήνη μεγάλη). Then, Jesus asked the disciples a question that is challenging, confusing, and haunting, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” (Mark 4:40 CEB). It begs the questions: What is faith? What kind of faith is Jesus talking about? We can look back in the earlier parts of Mark 4 and see that Jesus was teaching on the matter of faith all day. That’s why he was exhausted and fell asleep.

At this point in their lives, the disciples seem to have had the kind of faith that was like the seed that was sown on rocky ground. “When people hear the word, they immediately receive it joyfully. Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away” (Mk. 4:16-17 CEB). The faith of the disciples withered in a storm. And I have to admit that my own faith has done the same at times; not with a literal storm, but with the figurative storms of life’s trials and difficulties.

The disciples’ lack of faith is revealed fully in the next line. Some Bible translations tend to tone this down by rendering the Greek into English as, “Overcome with awe” like the CEB or “they were filled with great awe” like the NRSV. But they disciples feared with great fear (ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν). They were terrified at what Jesus had done. They were more afraid of the fact that Jesus had calmed the storm than they were of the storm itself.

How do we respond when fearful things threaten to overcome us?

There are fearful things out there. There’s a difference between saying There is nothing to be afraid of and Don’t be afraid. In the Scriptures, when something fearful happens, the admonition is always, Don’t be afraid (c.f. Genesis 15:1, 21:17, 35:17, 46:3; Exodus 14:3; Deuteronomy 1:29; Ruth 3:11; 1 Kings 17:13; Daniel 10:12; Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:13, 30, 2:10; Acts 27:24; Revelation 1:17, among others). Though fearful things surround us and press against us every day, having faith is trusting that, despite the fearful things of this world, God reigns and will not leave us alone. Fearful things do not have the final say over us no matter what happens.

Another storm story comes from the journals of the founder of the Methodist Movement. On Sunday, December 23, 1735, John Wesley was aboard a ship heading for the Georgia Colony, and the ship experienced a storm. He wrote in his journal, “At night I was awaked by the tossing of the ship and roaring of the wind, and plainly showed I was unfit, for I was unwilling to die” (Baker Vol. I, 19). He admitted that he was afraid, that his faith failed, that he didn’t trust that God was with him even if death should come for him. And he felt that failure of his faith keenly.

Several weeks later, on Sunday, January 25, 1736, Wesley described another storm, saying, “At noon our third storm began. At four it was more violent than before… The winds roared round about us, and (what I never heard before) whistled as distinctly as if it had been a human voice. The ship not only rocked to and fro with the utmost violence, but shook and jarred with so unequal, grating a motion, that one could not but with great difficulty keep one’s hold of any thing, nor stand a moment without it. Every ten minutes came a shock against the stern or side of the ship, which one would think should dash the planks to pieces” (Baker Vol I, 21).

At seven o’clock, after the storm had passed, Wesley went to speak with the Germans aboard who had been worshipping during the storm. He wrote, “In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied, mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’” (Baker Vol. I, 22).

Those German Moravians had a profound impact on John Wesley’s faith. They sang songs of worship through a storm so violent that they were sure their ship was already going down. The Moravians had faith that, whether they lived or died, God was with them, and God would have the final say. They had faith that even death is not an end.

In essence, the Moravians acted with the faith of Psalm 107: “The waves went as high as the sky; they crashed down to the depths. The sailors’ courage melted at this terrible situation. They staggered and stumbled around like they were drunk. None of their skill was of any help. So they cried out to the LORD in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. So they rejoiced because the waves had calmed down; then God led them to the harbor they were hoping for” (Ps. 107:26-30 CEB). Faith moves like this: when great storms give way to great calm, the response is supposed to be rejoicing and praise.

For the disciples, it didn’t go that way. When the great storm gave way to great calm, their response was great fear. In calming the storm, Jesus showed the disciples that he is, quite unexpectedly, king over all creation. Our faith holds fast to that truth no matter what fearful things come our way. Faith is knowing that, no matter the storms that come against us, God is greater than the storms. Faith tells us that we don’t have to be afraid because God is with us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay