Called Into the Storm
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
What a storm we’re in. Unprecedented. Unrelenting. Thick clouds gathered upon thick clouds, pelting rain and howling wind, thunder and lightning.
First, the onslaught of a pandemic, an illness we still know so little about. It ravages some, leaves others relatively untouched, and kills others, especially the more vulnerable among us. The pandemic also brings economic crisis, so many jobs lost, and those who haven’t lost their jobs now face a stark choice: return to an unsafe workplace, risking themselves and their loved ones, or choose to stay safe, not go back to work, and forfeit their paycheck, unable to pay for rent or feed their families.
What a storm we’re in.
In the midst of that storm comes another surge, a reckoning. A Black brother of ours, killed ruthlessly by a police officer, sparking yet another wave of a movement that keeps calling for our attention. Protests spring up everywhere, and amidst the uncertainty and fear of the pandemic, we are confronted with ourselves and our country’s legacy of slavery, driven underground after abolition to manifest next as Jim Crow and legal segregation, driven even further underground after the Civil Rights Movement to manifest today in disproportionate policing and brutality, in disproportionate imprisonment of our Black siblings, in disproportionate poverty in Black communities.
What a storm we’re in. And not just a storm, a mega-storm. The storm of a lifetime.
I have to admit that sometimes I feel hopeless. I feel hopeless when I hear about people who refuse to do a very simple thing that will keep so many people safe. I feel hopeless when I read about how the net worth of the average Black family is $17,000 compared to $170,000 for the average white families. I want to cower in my boat, let the waves drench me as I grip the sides with white knuckles. Ride it out. Hope it goes away.
But then I let myself peek over the side of the boat, and I see Jesus. I see Jesus in the grieving mother whom George Floyd called out for with his last breaths. I see Jesus in every single person in an ICU bed, fighting for breath, fighting for their lives. I see Jesus in each of you who asks this community to hold your prayers, every Sunday in this space. I see Jesus in your need, in your suffering.
Through each of them, through each of you, through every neighbor who suffers, Jesus calls to me. He calls to all of us like he called to Peter. “Come.” he says. It’s time to step into the storm.
And at first stepping off the boat and into the storm is exhilarating! We’re walking on water with Jesus! We sew masks, post things to Facebook and Instagram, read anti-racism books, and stay home for the most part but wear our masks whenever we do go out. We do our part, and it feels good.
Until we notice that the storm is not dying down. Nothing we do seems to be helping. In fact, it feels like it’s getting worse, more uncertain. Cases are going up again. So are deaths. Disproportionately in Black and brown communities. No one needs our homemade masks anymore. And the country feels more divided than ever.
We just want things to go back to normal. We just want the vaccine. We just want people to stop talking about racism already. But the winds are blowing harder, and the rain is coming down. We notice that we’re starting to sink into the sea, and the boat is now beyond our reach.
It is in that moment that I realize I can’t do all this on my own. It is in that moment that I realize that hopelessness comes from thinking I can. And it is in that moment that, like Peter, I cry out to Jesus for help.
And Jesus reaches out and grabs me. He grabs us. And he says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I think we often read Jesus’ words in an angry tone, a punitive tone, “What’s wrong with you? Why did you doubt?” But that’s not how I hear him. The Jesus I hear is kind, concerned, loving. “I’ve got you,” I hear him say. “I’m always there for you. Why would you doubt that?”
Managing this pandemic is not up to you or me alone. Transforming the racism so deeply embedded in our society is not up to you or me alone. But that doesn’t mean we stay in the boat, hoping the storm passes. “Come,” Jesus says, and our faith compels us to step out of the boat and into the storm. And when we get afraid, when it feels like we’re sinking, Jesus says to us, “I’ll give you what you need, I promise. I’ll lead you where you need to go. But I need you to keep stepping out of the boat and onto the water. I’m with you, and we have work to do. Together. Don’t worry. I’ve got you. We’re going to walk on this water and through this storm. Together.”
In our Morning and Evening Prayers on the labyrinth, we’ve been praying these words:
“Nearer are you than breathing, closer than hands and feet. Ours are the eyes with which you, in the mystery, look out with compassion on the world. We bless you for this place, for your directing of us, your redeeming of us, and your indwelling. Take us outside, O Christ.”
Maya Angelou gives us some advice for how to do this in her poem "Continue":
To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness
In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter
To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined
We are not alone. It is Jesus who calls us into the storm, and it will be Jesus, through us, who calms the storm.