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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Calming the Storms of our Lives

What’s the first thing you do when the crap hits the fan? If I’m really honest, turning to God is often not my first reaction. And unfortunately, much like Job’s friends who suggest he turn away from this God who seemed to have condemned him for no good reason, or our disciples in this morning’s Gospel reading, that’s when the figurative sea of our lives can become awfully choppy. 

It’s not that most of us don’t turn to God. Usually we do. The problem is that it’s often only when things have really gone off the rails that we do so. And we’re in good company for that. Our Bible study group is reading through the Book of Judges right now. In the Book, God appoints or calls judges to rule over Israel to help guide and direct them to God. One of these Judges - a rather famous Judge named Samson - serves as a real turning point for Israel. 

Samson’s birth is miraculous, following the pattern of Abraham and Sarah who, like Samson’s parents, received an angelic messenger before a miraculous conception. The angel foretold Samson’s birth to his mother: “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.” Unfortunately, this miraculous gift of grace doesn’t last long as Samson succumbs to temptation by attempting to marry a Philistine woman, breaking one of God’s laws to keep people focused on him: “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods”. Samson’s words to his parents are telling: “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes” (14:3). This phrase captures more than Samson’s attraction; it reveals the condition of his heart. Several verses later, the phrase is again repeated: “He went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes” (14:7). 

Samson’s story has a rather brutal ending. Another woman whom Samson goes after again betraying God’s laws is a prostitute named Delilah. Off the bat she attempts to trick him and is eventually successful in getting him to reveal the secret of his strength. He’s enslaved by the Philistines who gouge out his eyes and essentially offer him up as a sacrificial capture in worship to their god, dagon. It is only at this point when everything has fallen apart, when God let him reap the consequences of his own turning away, that Samson finally prays to God for strength. And with this strength he overcomes his enemies, but loses his own life in the process. Not only does he not secure the freedom of his people, the Israelites, he also condemns the Philistines and so too himself: for he, along with the Israelites and gentiles, did what was right in their own eyes. 

Although less violent, I have my own Samson-like story where I tried to follow my own desire, ironically, in getting into a PhD program to study God. The fallout might have been less violent, but the years of mental torment were no less brutal, much like being caught out on the sea in a storm: and he did what was right in his own eyes. 

Why do we continually have this repeated theme of turning first to our own ways? From Adam and Eve, through the people we encounter so often in both the Old and New Testaments (even the disciples like Peter, or new prophets like Paul at first). I would suggest that turning to our own ways is a defense against the things that we both consciously and unconsciously fear. That’s what Jesus is really driving at in our Gospel lesson: how fear makes us stray from enduring and persevering in following him.

Sometimes we’re well aware of the things we fear: death, being alone, not having a purpose, losing those we love, losing things that are familiar and comfortable and meaningful to us. Sometimes we aren’t aware of it though: fear of being humiliated, rejected, unloved, or judged by others. And often we turn to our own ways so that we don’t feel weak, vulnerable or afraid. Have you ever contemplated the ways in which your fears, or those whisperings that say, ‘no I will do it my way, I don’t care what God says here or there’ prevent you from hearing or seeing God? Maybe it’s even something about God that unnerves you. Have you spoken to God about that? 

What I learned from my own experience of going through this, and what we ultimately see in the Book for Job read today, God’s love sent and come to us in Jesus Christ, provides for me in ways that are so superior to anything that I was going after in the first place, that the logical choice is always to turn first to God for my direction. To seek, to trust and to follow, even when I experience the figurative rough seas of life. “Peace, be still.” Wait on the Lord for he will make your paths straight. AMEN 

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