July 13, 2014
Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
Matthew 3:13-17 & 8:23-27
Sunday July 13th and already a category two hurricane has brushed the eastern seaboard of the United States. Our daughter in New Hampshire called on the 4th of July and said it rained hard all day. Shutter companies can hardly keep up the demand for new shutters. More folks are watching the weather than the new summer shows, the weather channel’s ratings are climbing! The young woman ringing up my sale at the dollar store said, “I just moved here and already there is a major storm!” I could see that nervous fear in her eyes as she anxiously awaited my response. The day after the 4th it rained over four inches in this area and they reported the lightning strings in the thousands per hour or did they say per minute? Yup! The summer storms have arrived! The anxiety and fear even – has begun to climb!
No, I am not scoffing or mocking the seriousness of a hurricane or a tornado or even a bad lightning storm. I plan to evacuate my rented manufacture home if hurricane warnings are posted in my area. I plan to make and take the necessary precautions when and if the time comes. Just like the folks from the mid-west that hunker down in their storm cellars, you must respond and take cover in an emergency. But, I refuse to live in fear! I did that for years when they talked about the winter northeasters that came roaring through New England. And yes, people die in those northern storms. The harsh cold takes numerous lives every year; their deaths are reported in section c of the newspaper rather than the front page, because it is so common.
In our scripture passages this morning we have Jesus involved in two separate situations, very different, but yet they both involved water; water is central to both of these occurrences. We go from Jesus being blessed through water, via John the Baptist’s Baptism, to Jesus showing his power as our Deity when he calms the storm thus stilling the water. In these illustrations we see the sacredness of water in and through the cleansing action of the baptism and we see the force – the power that water can have – as it tosses the small vessel that Jesus and the Disciples are in.
As I chose the title of our conversation this morning I saw the irony of the blessing, the baptism, of Jesus and the turmoil of the storm; in contrast to what the experience of Vacation Bible School can be like; both for the children and all the volunteers that work so hard and diligently to make the event a success. It can be a blessing for everyone that takes part in this event and at times it can feel like you are in the middle of a perfect storm. Oh yes, both of these emotional highs and lows are possible at the same time!
Let me take you back to a space when I felt both blessed and felt the full force of the turmoil of a mid-summer Florida experience!
It was the summer of 1995 or was it 1996, I’m not sure, but I remember the event well. I had volunteered to take part in a summer camp event here in Florida. It was out in the center of the state. The location was owned and run by the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ. It was a huge log cabin with three floors of rooms around the perimeter; the center, on all three floors, was wide open and gave the location a very expansive feel and look. The building, the Lodge actually, set on the shore of a small lake called Lake Byrd in Avon Park, off route 27, smack dab in the heart land of the state. It was mid-July and I had volunteered to help with the activities. The campers number in the fifties and we spent a week together.
The very first thing I noted as I dragged my belongings into this huge log cabin was the heat. It was well over 100 degrees outside that day. It was apparent there was no air conditioning in the main building where the campers and I would be staying. As I climbed the stairs, (no there was not an elevator), I could feel the heat intensify. By the time I stowed my belongings into my private room, (thank God for that small blessing) I was totally drenched from the heat and humidity. It was clear I would not spend the days in my room! As I continued my exploration, I found that it was a blessed facility with lots of opportunities to have very functional small group activities and meetings, and a large central area on the main hall for gatherings as a large group.
There were all types of meeting activities planned and I quickly got into the buzz of it all, as the campers and staff all arrived. No, it never got cooler – only hotter as the week moved forward. Nights were hard as the heat never left that small third floor room. I was grateful for the quite space and exhausted sleep that came, interrupted only by the occasional banging of the water pipes that passed through my small room.
During the day we had group meals, times of worship, arts and crafts and other such indoor activity; but the main focus of every day was centered around the lake; in it or at a campfire along the shore line. I was grateful that there was not the quantity of leaches in the water, as there had been at the small pond in which my blessed grandfather’s summer Christian camp utilized. At night: the high points were the campfires with the making of that old camp favorite: roasted marsh mellows, milk chocolate and gram crackers; a true delight. Short memories erased the swarms of mosquitos, the ants and dust from ash that was always present.
By the time the week drew to a close, my throat was ablaze with what was later treated as strep-throat. I had to get my parked car ‘jump-started’ as the battery succumbed to the record high 100 plus degree weather during the week. As I drove home I basked in the air conditioned environment of my car but was afraid to stop along the three hour drive home for fear of it not starting again.
On the ride home that day I healed, but more importantly, I put the turmoil, the anxiety and discomfort into its proper place in my heart and mind. The camp had been a roaring success! The two campers from the church I served, as an assistant pastor, rode home with me that day. As the miles passed by I learned that they had had the time of their lives! They loved it, every aspect of it! Their young minds did not remember the heat, the mosquitoes or the exhausting schedule. No, they remembered and shared about a blessed event that seemed to have affected them profoundly! The heaviness lifted from my heart. The tightness in my throat eased as I listened to them.
Why was it these two lads, perhaps ten or eleven years old, had experienced what I had somehow missed? In their youthfulness they soaked in the true joy of experiencing, first hand, how blessed the waters of a small lake could be. They didn’t need a rookie associate pastor to tell them that the Spirit of God was moving in and over those waters. They didn’t feel it necessary to speak about how their full emersion in that small lake baptized them into the wholeness, into the fullness of an ever present and Living God! They found belonging, they found community! They were in the midst of the chaos of the event, but they felt God still the waves that splashed over them. In the load uproar of the days, that now seemed blurred together for eternity, they had experienced the presence of the love and concern of those that had organized the events and had put together the resources and scheduled the meals that had nourished their young bodies, minds and their very souls. Somehow, through God’s grace and mercy, they basked in the Spirit of wholeness that was theirs to enjoy.
My heart soared as I took this all in!
Starting soon after we end today’s service, this very room will be transformed and become something new. It will seem like chaos for a bit, yet its form shall take hold and Vacation Bible School, VBS, our version of a vacation summer camp shall come to life. Perhaps there will be those moments that will make adults want to break down and cry, but we must not fear, for our God is near! The waters we use will not be from the River Jorden, but sacred non-the-less! The ‘Well’ that shall become the focal point of activity shall be build, brick by brick, even if it does not take the exact form thus envisioned; it shall be our ‘Well’ where a community shall take root!
From the waters shall we see, shall we become aware, as we allow God’s Spirit to calm our trembling hearts, shall we see the seeds of grace mercy and love ‘take root’ as the sacred waters of life transform the hearts, minds and souls of the children left in our care? Or shall we be like the frighten disciples who in their humanness begged Jesus to save them as the waves and perils of the sea seemed to overtake them!
John the Baptist seemed humbled as Jesus approached him in the waters of the river that day, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus responded: “Let it be so for now.” Allow your humility to pave the way for the blessings offered. Allow the sacred waters to cleanse not only your body, allow the waters to cleanse you of fear and doubt. Surely “the Spirit of God will descend upon this year’s Vacation Bible School… like a dove.”
As the disciples and Jesus got into the boat and set out into the waters a great storm arose, yet Jesus had fallen asleep. “And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O ‘ye’ of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”
Through the sacredness of water the seeds that shall be planted during these next five days of Vacation Bible School can be and shall be nourished by the waters; therefore, be at peace. We shall begin, we shall create something new and we shall build it, brick by brick, day by day, lesson by lesson. We shall take in the life giving, nourishment of sacred water; henceforth: we shall be cleansed and blessed in the waters. With the fullness of faith granted unto you, move ever forward, allowing the mighty force of the waters to move you, till Christ calms and stills you and the waves of life that wash over you. Be at peace. Amen.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; 17 and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”