Green is the dominant color of this long after Pentecost season. It is the color of life and of growth. Here is where the focus switches from the story of Jesus to the story of the church. Not that we leave Jesus behind, of course, but Jesus is now working through the body of Christ, the church, to continue his ministry and invitation in the world. This is our story, who and what we are called to be. This is the story of disciple making day to day; this is our reason for being.
It is also a story of the real world. This task we are given is glorious, and it is a source of joy to the very core of our beings, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because we live in a messy world and we are messy people. And stuff happens. That’s the background of our texts for today. Stuff happens – difficult stuff, tragic stuff, stuff that knocks us down and threatens to overwhelm us. This might be natural stuff, like the storms in our Gospel text that seem to come from nowhere and are indiscriminate in destruction. Or it could be human stuff – the way we mistreat, abuse, oppress one another simply because we can, like the abuse Paul suffered that he recounts in 2 Corinthians 6. Stuff happens.
This worship experience is on the first level an acknowledgement of the messy world in which we live. People are struggling; people are hurting; our brothers and sisters of color are dealing with systemic racism and the economic effects of white privilege. The pandemic still has our economy reeling and many unemployed and underemployed, not to mention the long-term health effects on those who were stricken by the virus and the grief over the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives. The lasting impact of the assault on our democracy will ripple for decades as we seek to find ways to live up to the ideals we hold as a nation. Stuff happens. The storm rises and we are in danger of being swept away.
And yet. What an amazing phrase: “and yet.” Facing the reality of the world in which we live is not a recipe for despair. It is instead an acknowledgement of the power of the God we worship. We call upon God to still the storms that surround us, even as we pray for the strength to endure. And not just endure but to help create a shelter for those who are ravaged by the storms that blow unabated.
On the first level our proclamation is that we are not alone. The community is the sign of that presence, the acknowledgement that we face what we face in solidarity. We swim against the tide of individualism to recognize our need for one another. We offer to come alongside those who are suffering, even as we are suffering. This is a celebration of community, of relationship. At Discipleship Ministries, we claim that disciple making begins with relationship. We grow best when we grow together. Let this worship moment be one of gratitude for those who have been instrumental for us in our time of struggle.
Offer up prayers for mentors and supporters of our faith. Give thanks to the teachers and the examples of how to live life as a disciple of Jesus in daily life. Set up a prayer station where we can light a candle or post a note with names or moments when we have been blessed by the presence of another person of faith.
In addition to the power of presence, this worship experience could remind us of the longer-term view that we are called to take. We see beyond this present storm to the hope on the horizon. It may seem a long way off, and this won’t diminish the destructive effect of the mess we might be in at the moment. But it could possibly give us the strength to keep fighting, to keep moving forward. It can help us hold on to hope when there doesn’t seem to be much cause to do so. We lean into the promises of the kin-dom, partly because we believe the word that has been given and partly because we have seen glimpses of that hope at work.
Where are the signs of grace at work in our world? Yes, we are aware of the storms that rage, but we are also keeping our eyes open for the shafts of light that come piercing through. What celebrations can we find in the midst of the body? What answers to prayer and results of hard work can we lift up?
While our prayers continue for the end to the storms that rage, our efforts and our emphasis focus us on the strength and the courage to endure the storm.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.