Epiphany 4 Sermon, 2019
Jonah 1; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 8:23-27
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church.
“Crisis” can be defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger,” and, right away, you can tell I have some ‘splaining to do.
If you look at a chart of the use of the word “crisis” before 1860, you would see that it was used infrequently.
Around 1860, usage of the word “crisis” jumped. Why? The American Civil War.
And if you look again from between 1900 to 1950, usage of the word “crisis” increases again and sharply. Why? War, the Great Depression, and war, again.
And then, from 1950 to the early 2000’s, you might be surprised to learn, usage of the word “crisis” increased again, this time dramatically.
From 2008 to 20016 there seems to be a drop in usage of the word, but in 2016—it skyrockets.
Now, I’m not saying that we manufacture crises that don’t actually exist.
And we haven’t changed the definition.
But it does seem that the threshold for what constitutes “intense difficulty, trouble, or danger” has been somewhat lowered if not completely abolished.
In the 19th century, it took families fighting each other to the death for the word “crisis” to be employed.
And in the 20th century, we can’t be surprised that two world wars, the Great Depression, and the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons caused an uptick in usage of the word “crisis.”
But is it really a crisis when Johnny and Suzie aren’t talking to each other? I mean, they still text and send snaps, so is it really a crisis that they’re not speaking?
The real crisis today is when people actually try to talk to each other.
“Honey, we need to talk.”
“Son, put down your phone, I need to say something.”
“It’s not mine. I mean, what’d you find? I mean, what’s wrong?”
It’s not a crisis if the plot to Avengers: Endgame is ruined for you, or if the conclusion to Game of Thrones is ruined for you, or that Fuller House will conclude after its fifth season.
Now, I know that I’m picking soft examples of this.
But the word “crisis” should be reserved for times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger, and Christians should remember that there’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church.
And that’s not because the Time of the Church is a time of complete and perfect ease.
I’m not saying that’s the way it is—I’m saying that’s the way it will be—and, scowl fierce as he will, there’s nothing the devil can do about it.
The readings today provide us the opportunity to observe, remember, and confess the gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
The Gospel in Jonah isn’t that the storm quieted down, because your storm, the storm of your life may not quiet down.
The storm of your life, in whatever form it takes, may rage against you all your days. It may swamp the boat, take you hostage, and claim your life, but that doesn’t stop the Gospel from saving you.
Not at all.
This is the Gospel in Jonah: that one man would be lifted up and cast into the deep, into death, that the many, who looked to him and lifted him up, would be preserved in the midst of the storm.
This is the Gospel, foreshadowed in Jonah: that Jesus the Christ was lifted up into the sinner’s place and cast into death that all those whose sin caused Him to be lifted up would look on Him and be saved, whatever the storm.
See—this Gospel doesn’t mean that there’s never a time of difficulty, trouble, or danger. But it does mean that there’s no time when whatever difficulty, trouble, or danger is too much for you—and the God who fights for you.
The Gospel in Romans chapter eight adds this nuance:
In the midst of the storm, we are all groaning, calling out to God for an end to suffering and evil—and with us, creation groans as well: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves” (Romans 8:19-23).
That this is true, we can’t and don’t deny.
What this looks like, is a great question.
I’m not saying that corn and tomatoes cry out to God, but it is only with great toil, much sweat, and burdensome labor that plants yield up their fruit, and that’s not how it should be.
That’s not the “very good” of God’s creation.
In its own way, Creation lets us know that all is not well. It is waiting for the same thing we are.
St. Paul adds this as well: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…[for we ourselves] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18, 23).
We await the redemption of our bodies.
There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church, not because life is easy but because it will be forever.
There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church, not because our bodies remain healthy and strong all our days, but because our bodies will be redeemed and raised to perfect, blessed, and everlasting life.
Which brings us, finally, to the Gospel in today’s Gospel lesson.
“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves” (Matthew 8:23-24).
But Jesus was asleep, because He came to seek and save the lost, to die for the sins of the world, to be lifted up in the sinner’s place and cast into death that we who look upon Him would be saved.
A storm, fierce though it may be, won’t change that.
But “[the disciples] went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matthew 8:25-27).
And now we know the answer.
What sort of man is He?
Jesus, truly man, truly God, is the sort to save us from the word “crisis.”
There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church, because no difficulty, trouble, or danger separated Jesus from the cross.
So no difficulty, trouble, or danger can possibly separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The next time a crisis creeps up on you, the next time you hear the word used, take heart, be of good cheer, do not be afraid.
You need the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
Nothing can separate you from that.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!