Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) | Streaming Licensing # 20105663Worship Guide Children's Sermon Guide
Making the Most of the Time: A Time For Faith
Luke 8:22 - 8:25
March 29, 2020
Reverend Jason Harris
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As you know, New York City effectively has been shut down as a result of Covid-19. The measures that have been put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus will help, but we are being told that things may get worse before they get better.
While we grapple with this serious health threat, we simultaneously have to confront an economic crisis as businesses close and people suddenly find themselves out of work or under-employed. The government’s stimulus package will certainly soften the blow, but we still face a lot of uncertainty in the days ahead.
So the question is: How should we respond to the current crisis? Ever since the coronavirus turned into a global pandemic, we at Central have been asking the question: How do we make the most of the time that we are in? And I would suggest that NOW IS A TIME FOR FAITH rather than FEAR.
Today, I would like to share with you a brief episode from the life of Jesus when Jesus’ disciples faced a similar choice between faith and fear. This reading is taken from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 8, verses 22 through 25.
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
I want you to notice a few things here in this passage. There’s a storm, there's panic, and then there's Jesus.
At this point in the Gospel of Luke Jesus decides to cross the Sea of Galilee with his disciples and a massive windstorm comes down on the Lake. What you may not know is that the sea’s location makes it subject to surprisingly sudden and violent storms. This one must have been especially fierce. The boat begins filling with water, and the disciples find themselves in real danger of their ship sinking.
We too find ourselves in the midst of a storm—don’t we?—now that the coronavirus has spread around the world and shown up at our doorstep. At first, we might have gone into denial and thought that it wouldn’t affect us. We assumed that we were invincible. Then we were perhaps angered or annoyed by the way in which the coronavirus interrupted our plans and disrupted our normal routines. Then we may have hoped for the best and assumed that if we did our part by staying home and practicing social distancing then it would all be over soon. But now we are coming to the realization that we really don’t know how long this is going to last or how this is all going to end.
Suddenly this all may start to feel very real as people we know and love are adversely affected either by the virus itself or by the accompanying economic fallout. We are in the midst of a storm.
How do the disciples respond to the storm that overwhelms them? They panic!
What’s striking about this is that we know several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. They were professionals. They knew this Lake. They had seen it all before. But this storm was different. Nothing had prepared them for this. Now perhaps for the first time in their lives they are actually afraid of dying. They go to Jesus and say, “We are perishing.” In fact, in Mark’s gospel, they doubt Jesus’ concern and say: “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” As far as they are concerned, Jesus is sleeping on the job and they are terrified about what is going to happen to them.
In similar way, many of us may be starting to panic too. Some of us—especially those of us in high risk categories—may be afraid of dying because of our age or because of our underlying health issues. Others of us may simply be afraid of the unknown. We’ve got all kinds of questions circling around in our heads. We are wondering:
Am I going to contract this virus? Or am I a silent carrier? Will I cause other people I love to get it? What will happen when the hospitals are overrun and we don’t have enough ventilators?
What about the economics? It’s shocking how many businesses have closed and how many people have already lost their jobs. Maybe you are wondering: Am I next? Will I lose my job? Will I lose my business? Will I lose my home? Will I run out of money? Will I be able to recover financially? How long can I hold on?
Finally, we may not be sure how much of this social isolation we can bear. A couple of days working in our pajamas might have been a nice break from the daily grind, but now it’s starting to get a little old. Perhaps, we can begin to see the creeping signs of depression and anxiety. If you don’t think you are stressed, just ask yourself how much TV you are watching or how much alcohol you are drinking.
We may feel like we can handle a little hardship if it is short and quick, but not if it is too prolonged or painful. Perhaps what we want above all is for things to go back to normal…….But what do we mean by Normal?
In the fall of 1939, C. S. Lewis gave a sermon at a church in Oxford right after Hitler invaded Poland. Some people have said that we should not compare the threat of the coronavirus to World War 2 - and I agree. We are a long way from the death and destruction of World War 2, but there IS nevertheless a parallel to be drawn. Listen to what Lewis had to say at the start of the war. He said:
“I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself...We are mistaken when we compare [the present crisis] with "normal life". Life has never been normal.”
Did you hear that? A pandemic like this one does not create an absolutely new situation—it simply aggravates the way things already are so that we can no longer ignore our predicament. Crises like the one we are confronting now simply bring to the fore those ultimate questions that were always lurking in the background so that we can no longer ignore them.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. Apparently, taxes can be averted—at least until July 15—but not death.
Do you see how the crisis strips everything away and reveals our true condition?
We may live under the illusion that we are invincible. People are talking a lot about death rates, but you do realize the death rate for human beings is 100% - everybody dies eventually.
We may live under the illusion that we can plan for the future, but life is always filled with surprises. There will always be black swan events like this one that throw off all our plans.
We may live under the illusion that we are in control, but of course we never really were in control in the first place. It only seemed that way.
The storms of life simply lift the veil and reveal to us the way things really are. And that is why this storm presents us with a choice. We can either choose fear or we can choose faith.
You see, there’s the storm. There’s the panic. But then there’s Jesus.
Did you notice that when Jesus set sail with his disciples, he fell asleep? You can just picture the disciples, pulling in the sails, frantically trying to bail out the water, and straining to keep the mast from snapping. And there is Jesus fast asleep even as the storm rages on. The disciples have to wake him up.
But when Jesus awakes, he rebukes the wind and the waves, and they cease their tossing. Jesus simply says: “Be Still”—“Stop It”—“Cut It Out”—“Zip It”—and the violent storm is followed by not just a calm—but a great calm. A calm that was as still as the storm was frightening.
And why do the wind and the waves obey Jesus?—because they recognize his voice. It’s the voice of the one who called all of creation into existence in the first place.
This whole event was meant to provide the disciples—and us—with an object lesson. You see, in the ancient world, the sea represented the forces of chaos and evil that threaten to undo us and destroy us. But all Jesus has to do is say the word, and even the wind and waves obey him.
Luke wants us to understand in no uncertain terms that Jesus has authority over the forces of darkness that threaten our life and well-being. Jesus is the sovereign Lord over all of creation – including every little cell in your body. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing to fear.
That’s why Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them: Where is your faith?
As for them, so for us—now is a time for faith.
But what do we mean by faith? Despite what people might say, faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It’s not what Mark Twain called “believing what you know ain’t so.”
Faith is simply placing your trust in Jesus rather than yourself.
Faith means basing everything you know about yourself on everything that you know about Jesus. You might say, “I don’t know very much.” But that’s ok—because you can start small. Jesus said that if you had faith the size of even the tiniest little seed you could move mountains.
Faith can vary in degree. It’s possible to have “little faith” or “great faith,” but even the weakest faith saves—because the decisive factor is not the strength of our faith but the object of our faith—the one in whom we trust.
My favorite analogy of this is an ice-covered lake. Let’s say the ice is 2 feet thick across the entire lake. Even so you might nevertheless have serious doubts that the ice is solid enough to hold you up. You might have had bad experiences with ice in the past. But none of that matters. Even if you have just the tiniest bit of faith that the ice will hold you—all you have to do is step out onto the ice with that tiny bit of faith.
It’s the same with Jesus. It doesn’t matter how many doubts or reservations you might have. All you have to do is step out and put your trust in Jesus—and you will find that he is solid enough to hold you up. Our problem is that we tend to focus on the storm and try to figure out what is going to happen next, when instead what we should do is focus on Jesus.
And what reasons do we have to trust Jesus?
Earlier I said that everybody dies. And that’s true, except that the gospels tell us Jesus is the only person who died but then was raised to new physical life and entered into a whole new mode of existence. And Jesus promises us that because he lives—we too will live in him—if we are united to him by faith.
Earlier I said that none of us know the future and life is always full of surprises. And that’s true except that none of this comes as a surprise to Jesus. There are no black swan events for Jesus. Jesus was not unprepared for this. Jesus knows the end from the beginning. He is never caught off guard.
Earlier I said that none of us is really in control despite what we might think. And that’s true, except for Jesus. Jesus is the Lord over creation. Nothing happens outside of his sovereign care for us. Even the wind and the waves obey him.
So if we put our trust in Jesus how does it change things?
Faith gives us confidence. Of course, we have to continue to be smart to limit the risk of exposure to ourselves and others. We should never be reckless. But we can live in confidence. We step into each day from a position of strength knowing that nothing can happen to us apart from the Father’s will. He knows even the number of hairs on your head. We are surrounded by so much uncertainty right now. But while that may be the case, you can be certain of God’s love and care for you. You can live in the confidence that nothing can ever separate you from the love of Jesus – not disease or disaster – not even death.
Second, faith gives us composure. It gives us a sense of poise which makes it possible for us to take each day as it comes without having to know what exactly will happen next. We can accept our circumstances no matter how long they might last.
I’ve often wondered how Jesus could actually sleep during the storm. But now I see that he was trying to show us something. If we put our faith in him then he gives us an inner calm – an inner peace that is as still as when Jesus quiets the wind and the waves. No matter what might be happening all around you – if you have put your trust in Jesus you can sleep at night. You’ve got poise. You’ve got composure.
Finally, Faith gives us compassion. Look, we all know what it’s like to be afraid, to be uncertain, and to feel out of control. That’s why our hearts go out to those who are struggling. We should seek to do everything we can to help support them – and that includes pointing them to Jesus because we recognize that he is the one that all of us most need all the time – and especially now.
I’d encourage you to think of someone you know from Central that perhaps you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. Reach out to them. Check in on them. Ask how you can pray for them.
Our compassion for one another simply mirrors Jesus’ compassion for us. Remember in all of this that Jesus loves you. You are never alone. Jesus is in the boat. He is in the storm with you. He’s not immune to your pain.
Jesus suffered for you. That’s what we remember during this Lenten season. Jesus suffered in your place in order to forgive all your sin and to heal all your diseases. He knows what you are going through. But suffering and death are not the end of the story because Jesus was raised to new life. Because he lives, you also may live in him. So don’t be afraid. Now is a time for faith.
Let me pray, and then please join us in singing the Lord’s Prayer together.
Father, we ask that in the midst of this storm, you would help us not to panic, but rather to turn our eyes to Jesus. Help us to place our trust in Jesus rather than ourselves and fill us with confidence, composure, and compassion as a result. We ask all this in the strong and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.