One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got in a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. (Luke 8:22-23)
A terrible storm engulfed the life of a religion professor who taught at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Dr. Gerald Sittser lost his wife, mother, and 4-year-old-daughter in a single car accident. One by one, by the side of the road, each died in his arms. Following the accident, Gerald Sittser chronicled the extreme emptiness he felt. With gut-wrenching honesty he recalls the despair that threatened to destroy him but amazingly never did.
He survived because he believed in the ancient Christian doctrine of grace. In his book, A Grace Disguised he writes:
Though I experienced death, I also experienced life in ways that I never thought possible before–not after the darkness, as we might suppose, but in the darkness. I did not go through the pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.
Let me repeat that last line: “Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” That’s what I’m talking about. Gerald Sittser continues, saying, “To live in a world with grace is far better than to live in a world of absolute fairness. A fair world may make life nice for us, but only as nice as we are. A world with grace will give us more than we deserve, it will give us life, even in our suffering.”
Who is this who dispenses grace in the midst of our storms? It is Jesus, our Lord, the Lord of storms:
The disciples went and woke him saying, “Master, Master, we are going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water and they obey him” (Luke 8:24-25)
In this story, Jesus isn’t changing the weather as much as he is inviting his disciples to change. He’s speaking to the storm within them as much as he is speaking to the storm without. Likewise, the storms each of us will face in this new year will either sink us or strengthen us from within. We enter the new year with Jesus asking each of us, “Will you trust me with what is to come?”
I’m sure most of you have seen that very popular Super Bowl ad for Volkswagen that pictures a child dressed in a Darth Vader costume attempting to use THE FORCE all around his home. With the familiar Vader music in the background, the little boy marches down the hallway and raises his hands dramatically toward the treadmill. Nothing happens.
Next, little Darth points his hands at the family dog. The dog looks up quizzically, but again nothing happens. Determined not to give up, he goes into a bedroom raising his hands forcefully toward a doll seated on the bed. The doll stares back blankly refusing to budge. Little Darth’s arms drop to his side in frustration.
In the kitchen, still in costume, his mom has to push his sandwich toward him when The Force fails him once again. It’s then that little Darth hears that his father has pulled into the driveway. He runs out to the car as his father walks into the house. He hasn’t given up!
One more time he raises his hands and points them dramatically at the new Volkswagen. Suddenly the lights come on and the engine starts! The startled little boy stumbles backwards as we see that his playful father has started the car from the kitchen with his push-button ignition. Amazed, the little boy whirls around to look toward his house and then back again toward the car.
As we step into 2018, I have a question for all of us little Darth Vaders. Will we continue trying to control and manipulate (navigate) the storms heading our way or, will we trust our father who is in the kitchen with the keys of grace? A grace that will sometimes come disguised as sorrow and pain.
Happy New Year!
Dr. Richard Hipps