In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today on the Sea of Galilee, as the storm rages, as the wind blows, as the waters threaten to sink the boat, the Lord Himself slumbers and sleeps through it all.
And yet, today, dear Christian, despite all appearances, the Lord gives you in Matthew chapter 8 perhaps the most sympathetic and compassionate picture of your life and struggle in this world.
For who among us, cannot feel the panic and despair of the disciples as the waves crash against the boat and as Jesus keeps on snoozing?
Who among us has not known the fright of the storms in this life that threaten to take all that we have?
And on top of that, who among us, has not felt or thought that God has been sleeping on the job when all this was happening to us, that he doesn’t care about our prayers, or that He seems far away, while we in turn suffer and cry out to Him?
Indeed, whether we know the words or not, we have all at some point cried out the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 44, “Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us” (Psalm 44:23-26).
Today, the kind of Epiphany that our Lord shows us, the revelation of His mercy, His work and His redemption, is for lack of better terms, a tough pill to swallow.
Or to put that another way, it’s an Epiphany that absolutely requires faith.
For here, in the panicked boat on the Sea of Galilee, we find a God who does at times, appear to be sleeping, that He does at times, seem far away, and even more than that, that he does all this on purpose, that His sleeping, His apparent absence is actually part of His will and His work, for us.
That’s a tough pill to swallow.
Regardless of where you fall on our nation’s political spectrum, you have all experienced in the recent weeks, the kind of panic, despair, resentment, fear and divisiveness found in our nation and world.
As the Church found in this storm, we rightly and faithfully cry out the words that we are given to pray, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord save us”
And yet, so often, flipping on the news, listening to your neighbor, watching the world around you, it seems as though the Lord is far away, that He isn’t providing an immediate answer, that He doesn’t seem to care.
Today, Christ our Lord reveals to His disciples and so to us, that this is His mercy, this is His work and will and passion for us.
That there is actually something good to be found in suffering and persecution, in trial and tribulation.
For this is the life of the Church, it is the way of the Kingdom.
And it’s nothing new, it’s not absurd.
St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, tells us of his crying out to the Lord to remove a cause of suffering and temptation from him, and that he prays this way, three times.
In response, the Lord tells Paul, No…I will not remove your suffering, for my Power is made Perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)
Such is the life of faith.
For when we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)
Luther himself, shows us this Epiphany of God’s sleeping, in the life of the Church.
He shows us in the history of Christ’s followers, that it is not during those times of peace, ease or luxury that the Church grows and flourishes, but rather, almost mysteriously, it is during tribulation, persecution, and suffering that the Christian Church not only grows, but stands firm in the faith.
It is during these times that she remembers who she is and speaks that identity to the baptized with the words and the confessions that we have come to know so well.
The Lord seems to sleep, all for our good, all for His mercy, and all for the strengthening of our faith.
For what does suffering and tribulation do to us?
What does it do to the disciples in Matthew 8?
Here, the storm and wind, the waves and the panic bring them to their senses, their true senses.
The danger and fear reminds them of who is, and who is not actually in control.
We all have moments like this…we just tend to forget them.
Perhaps it might be that moment on the road, when you’re not watching the traffic ahead, and all of sudden find yourself hitting the brakes praying not to hit the car ahead of you.
In that moment, you’re probably not thinking, “This is going to hurt and I don’t want to get hurt”, instead, even if just for a moment, you’re dealing the real question, the heart of the matter, the reality of who you are and what you don’t control, it’s the panic and fear of death.
In that moment, perhaps we cry out, in that moment, perhaps we see things as they really are.
That despite our lavish display of confidence, and wonderful faith in our own security, we don’t actually control things.
But then the moment passes. You don’t hit the car, traffic begins to move, your heart rate slows down, and you forget all about it…you go back to your confidence, your security, your faith in self-control.
Maybe it’s not on the road, maybe it’s falling down the stairs, or being rushed to the hospital, maybe it’s waiting for the test results to come back, or even those moments of panic when facing down the neighborhood dog.
Whatever it is, those moments of tribulation are always given for the Christian’s good.
Though they tend to be uncomfortably, even terrifying, they nonetheless are given to lead us in true faith.
For here we see both what we are and what we are not, as well as who the Lord is, even if it appears as though He slumbers and sleeps.
The disciples cannot control the wind and waves, no matter what kind of fishermen they are, it is too much for them.
And so in their panic, they cry out to the Lord, not their financial security, not their retirement savings, not their words and works of bravado and confidence, but to the Lord Himself, the only one left, the only salvation in the boat, “Save us, for we are perishing”
What happens next, may seem to us a bit strange.
The disciples have turned to the Lord, and yet, they are rebuked by Jesus, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
Where Christ rebukes the doubt and panic of the disciples, He does not rebuke their cry for mercy, He answers it, for that is His work.
Even when you cry out with a doubt-filled, panic-stricken, faith, the Lord still hears you, He still answers.
And He may, still rebuke you.
But that is also His mercy.
For His rebuke comes not to strangers and foreigners, but to His children.
If you are a parent, this shouldn’t be too hard to understand.
If your child is trying to get help by screaming at the top of their lungs within earshot, or if they cry out for assistance by tearing down curtains…certainly you answer their prayer…certainly you come to their aid. But you also rebuke them, you teach them how to ask and cry out for help. How not to be panicked, How in fact they need not be afraid or worried, for you are their father, their mother, and it is your job and your joy to help and to answer them.
So even greater it is with our Father in Heaven.
As His children in Holy Baptism, you truly do have nothing to fear, even if the test results come back poor, or if your crash your car, or fall down the stairs, your Father in Heaven protects and calms you not just in these temporary things, not just in these momentary sufferings, but indeed He has already delivered you, He has calmed the storms of death and sin, the storms that really do matter, the ones that you don’t actually control, these He has calmed by the Word, the death, sleep and the rising of His Son.
You have nothing to fear, He commands the wind and waves, mercy and forgiveness, life and death, and He sees you through. Though cancer may take your dying breath, it is not the end, the last word is still the Lord’s, thanks be to God, Christ calmed the wrath of sin and death and yours is eternal life.
So through the Lord’s absence, through His slumbering, He reveals the depth of our faith, and often, as we know perhaps too well, the brokenness of our faith.
But His Epiphany does not end here, He wakes from sleep not simply to rebuke and scold you, but to calm your hearts, and to replace your doubt with true faith.
In a short while, you will sing unto the Lord the prayer of the disciples in the boat, you will sing the same words that they cried to Jesus with, but it will not be out of panic that you sing, you will sing not because of doubt or despair, but in what the Lord has given, true faith to call on Him as He has promised to come.
In a very short while, you will sing, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest.”
The word which means, Save us Lord.
For this is your peace, it is the faith given to you sometimes with rebuke, but given all the same through the calming Word of Christ.
And by this Word you cry out to the Lord not in panic, but in confidence.
That the Christ who seems to sleep, to slumber, to be absent in your midst, would rise from sleep and come to you through the calming food of His body and blood.
Here is rest in a troubled world.
Here is peace despite your present sufferings.
Here is the final word of victory, the rebuke of sin and death.
You are safe in His protection. He never slumbers. His watch is ever vigilant. Nothing now can harm you. No one can snatch you out of His hand. He is your God. Rage though it might, the storm cannot hurt you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.