We all know the feeling of drowning. Maybe not actual drowning in water, but at least metaphorical drowning. You know what it feels like when you can’t keep your head above water, when there seems to be no reprieve from the waves of life crashing over the side of your little boat. The situation in which the disciples found themselves in today’s Gospel is entirely relatable. First comes the panic, then the expectation of help which does not arrive, followed by a call to the Lord for help. What’s the most troubling in our hour of need isn’t the trouble itself. We know how to overcome disaster, and often fare better afterwards than we had before. What’s the most troubling is that realization that we aren’t in control of our own lives, that, despite the façade of self-reliance, we are completely reliant on God for every good gift which we enjoy. Though life’s troubles bring a rebuke for not trusting the One whom even the winds and sea obey, we are reminded of the promise that our God has all things under His control.
The most important theological lesson in today’s Gospel, and that we learn in all of life’s troubles, Is that God is not like us. He does not submit to our ideas; His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts. We live by faith, not by knowledge or understanding. Unlike us, Jesus does not consider appearances before He acts. He doesn’t care what people think, or what people think the right course of action may be. Because, whether we realize it or not, whatever He does is the right thing.
And that’s exactly where faith comes in. Especially in times of distress, it doesn’t seem like God is doing the right thing. He seems to be asleep, seems to be ignoring us. Think of all the evils that surround us. We’re no strangers to war, disease, famine, poverty, bigotry, sexism, racism, crime, addiction, the disintegration of the family, legalized murder of babies in their mother’s womb pawned off as a safe and consequence-free medical procedure. And then, as if we don’t have enough man-made problems, nature itself brings even more problems—hurricanes, tornadoes, frigid cold, drought, earthquakes. No matter how many social programs are put in place or how many engineering feats are made, nothing seems to stop the advance of evil and destruction. Our efforts are the equivalent of trying to control the lava from a volcano with a garbage bag.
So instead, we sleep the sleep of Jonah—delusional people thinking we can run away from life’s problems. Every food blog run by a picture-perfect stay-at-home mom and every episode of a home improvement show on HGTV are the world’s ways of lulling us into false security. We think that if we try hard enough, make Instagram-worthy meals and tear down enough walls to create an open floor plan complete with a farm sink and shiplap as far as the eye can see, our troubles will vanish. But they don’t. Meals bring dishes and discarded leftovers, and the inevitable return of hunger. Homes accumulate clutter from our never-ending quest to buy more stuff to buy and hoard our way to happiness. So, what’s left? The realization that we’re still drowning, that life is beyond our control. No matter how rose-colored our glasses, we still see the evil all around us, and panic sets in once more.
Repent. The safety from evil, the answer to life’s problems doesn’t lie in gadgets, possessions, beautiful homes and beautiful meals, or Leave it to Beaver-style spouses and children. The only answer is in prayer, in submitting in faith to the goodness of God and waiting on the Lord. Peace will come in due time. The storms will cease. Jesus is with you.
And what if He rebukes your attempt to paint over life’s troubles, for little faith, for your panic? Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that you still have a smoldering wick of faith and that it knows where to go when troubles mount and seem like they will overwhelm you, that your faith still calls upon God in times of trouble, that still seeks salvation in Jesus. Thank God you are weak, because in weakness true strength is revealed. Though chastisement may come, God uses it to purify you, to teach you to rely solely on Him and not on yourself or on the things of this world. He will not let you ride out the storm in false confidence. He will keep you dependent upon Him.
What if your conscience is plagued by guilt and regret, by doubt and fear? What if you are weary? Thank God for that as well! It is faith that stirs your heart, that causes you to feel sorrow and shame. God works through those feelings to let you know that faith is alive and well, that it is doing its job of always pointing you to Him, to kill your self-reliance to find life in Him alone. Being broken by the Law is how He empties you of yourself to fill you with His love. He breaks you to mend you. He kills you to revive you. First comes the rebuke, then the calming of the storm. First the cross, then the glory.
Are you of little faith? Indeed. You are unworthy in every way. But God has made a promise with you. He has placed His Name upon you; He is your God and you are His child. He will deliver you from all evil and from the Evil One. Jesus is the greater Jonah who has calmed the sea of sin and evil with His self-sacrifice on the cross and by His three-day rest in the belly of the earth. Though He sends waves over the side of the boat to drive you to prayer, He will always give the peace according to His Word, and the faith that you lack. He gives you His Holy Spirit to bring you home. Then you will see clearly that your God always has all things under His control.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.