There is a great story about a Dad who came home from work one afternoon tired and in need of a little peace. It had been a long day and all he wanted was sit down for a few minutes and read the newspaper. As he walked in the door, his wife headed out the door, announcing as she went that he would have to look after their two children.
Their oldest, a 10-year-old boy, was happily playing video games. Their youngest, a twenty-month-old little girl, was playing with her new plastic tea set in the middle of the living room floor. Sitting down near her, this Father picked up his newspaper and thought to himself that with the kids entertained maybe just maybe he could get a few minutes of peace.
Not five minutes later his little daughter peered around the side of his newspaper and announced that she had made her Daddy a cup of tea. Any annoyance he might have felt was immediately erased when he saw his daughter’s beautiful little face holding out one of her plastic tea cups with a little bit of water inside. Gingerly, he took the cup drank the water and praised his little girl for making such wonderful tea. After that, ever few minutes his daughter would return with another cup of imaginary tea to share with her Dad. About an hour later after many cups of water and lots of praise from Dad, the little girl’s Mom came home. The Father made Mom wait in the living room to watch this twenty-month-old bring him a cup of tea, because it was “just too cute!” Her Mom waited, and sure enough, here the girl came down the hall with a cup of tea for her Daddy. Mom watched Dad drink this special tea, and then asked, “Did it ever occur to you that the only place that baby can reach to get water is the toilet bowl?” It’s not easy being a Dad.
To find a little peace – isn’t that something all of us want, not just a Dad after a hard day’s work, but all of us? Peace from worry, peace from stress and demands, peace from the constant pressures of life. Yet peace is illusive isn’t it? Even the moments we think will be peaceful are often full of surprises we hadn’t counted on. In our Gospel for today Jesus and the disciples are looking for a little peace. They have been busy with the crowds – teaching, ministering, healing. Finally Jesus pulls them away and puts them in a boat and heads across the Sea of Galilee to escape the crush of people who want so much from him. Immediately, Jesus falls asleep. But as if often the case in that part of the world, a storm blows in and the apparent peacefulness of the sea is quickly turned into huge swells and strong threatening winds. You have to understand that the Sea of Galilee, like the Chesapeake, is quite shallow. As a result, when a storm comes through the water can get very rough, very quickly.
It must have been quite a storm to panic the disciples when many of them were seasoned fisherman who made their living on the Sea of Galilee. Fearing for their lives, they awaken Jesus and say to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.” Sitting up, Jesus calms the waters with the simple words, “Peace! Be still!” Then he chastises his friends. “Why are you afraid?” he says to them, “Have you still no faith?”
“In the Gardiner Museum in Boston there is a painting by Rembrandt entitled ‘The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.’ It is Rembrandt’s interpretation of this scene. It shows panic etched on the faces of the disciples, as their small vessel is being raised up on a high wave, about to be crashed down. Two of the disciples are attempting to rouse Jesus who is asleep in the stern of the boat. But if you look more closely, you will discover that there is something that is not quite right. There are too many people in the picture. So you count them. There are fourteen. There should only be thirteen (twelve disciples and Jesus). But instead there are fourteen. It is then that you notice that one of the men in the boat is Rembrandt. He has painted himself into the picture. He has placed himself in the same boat. Which is precisely what we should do. It is the way that we are supposed to interpret this passage. We are in the boat with Jesus, faithful but frightened. There is no immunity for any of us. We are caught up in the same fix. I suspect most of us would rather be numbered with the exceptions. Either we would like to believe that storms will never strike us or that faith will never fail us. But storms will strike us … because that’s the way life is.”(1)
How do you find peace when the weather rages and the waves are swamping the boat? How do you find peace when the routine checkup turns into the news that you have breast cancer or prostate cancer? How do you find peace when your child is out of control and every minute you are fearful that you will receive some awful phone call? How do you find peace when your marriage is so wounded and scarred that you don’t really have anything to say to each other? How do you find peace when there is no employment and the savings are running low?
On of my favorite popular religious authors, Philip Yancey, in his book, Disappointment with God, gives us some insight in a story he relates from his own life. During a trip to visit his mother – who had been widowed years earlier, when Philip was less than a year old – they spent the afternoon together looking through a box of old photos. A certain picture of Philip as an eight-month-old baby caught his eye. Tattered and bent, it looked too banged up to be worth keeping, so he asked his Mother why, with so many other better pictures of him, she had kept this one.
Yancey writes, “My mother explained to me that she had kept the photo as a memento, because during my father’s illness it had been fastened to his iron lung.” During the last four months of his life, Yancey’s father lay on his back, completely paralyzed by polio at the age of twenty-four, encased from the neck down in a huge, cylindrical breathing unit. With his two young sons banned from the hospital due to the severity of his illness, he had asked his wife for pictures of her and their two boys. Because he was unable to move even his head, the photos had to be jammed between metal knobs so that they hung within view above him–the only thing he could see. The last four months of his life were spent looking at the faces he loved.
Yancey writes, “I have often thought of that crumpled photo, for it is one of the few links connecting me to the stranger who was my father. Someone I have no memory of, no sensory knowledge of, spent all day, every day thinking of me, devoting himself to me, loving me . . . The emotions I felt when my mother showed me the crumpled photo were the very same emotions I felt that February night in a college dorm room when I first believed in a God of love. Someone is there, I realized. Someone is there who loves me. It was a startling feeling of wild hope, a feeling so new and overwhelming that it seemed fully worth risking my life on.” (2)
How do we find peace? I wish I could say peace is found by sailing clear of life’s storms. But that would be a lie. None of us can avoid the trauma, pain, and struggle of life. How do we find peace? Peace comes when we build our lives on the God of love, knowing that God’s strength and presence transcend the worry’s of the moment. Peace is found when we are aligned with that which is immutable and unchangeable. By becoming connected to it and living faithfully by it. That’s what Jesus did. He had enough worries of his own and plenty to share. But he found peace. He found peace in knowing something bigger than the waves that smashed his boat. And that’s what the disciples were missing. Fear of the moment doesn’t hold the same power when you know your life is connected to something much bigger than this day. It doesn’t mean the issue of the moment doesn’t matter . . . it matters a lot. But you can stand up to it, you can make your way through whatever it is you have to face, if you know your life is built on something bigger and stronger than any of life’s storms. That is the power of the Good News. That is the knowledge that has given Christians the ability to survive anything. On this Father’s Day, I can’t imagine a greater gift we could receive . . . or a greater gift we could give – than a faith that brings real rootedness and peace. A peace so great that it allows us to find a restful sleep, even in the midst of life’s greatest storms (3)
1) William A. Ritter, Collected Sermons
2) Illustration taken from a sermon by King Duncan.
3) The Rev. Peter M. Wiley