Mark 4: 35-41
Our Gospel reading today is that well-known episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples of a time when they are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has just finished teaching and preaching. And quite frankly, I can tell you, that that can be an exhausting task.
So Jesus is tired. He falls asleep in the boat, when suddenly a storm arises. The disciples are doing everything they know how to do to keep the boat from sinking. But when it looks like they are in danger of losing everything – they wake Jesus up. “Teacher! We’re sinking. Wake up and give us a hand with this thing!” Now I am not sure what they expected Jesus to do to help them. Maybe they needed one more man to help bail or help with the rigging on the sail. I don’t know. But what Jesus does is totally unexpected. In three words, “Peace. Be still!” he calms the sea.
I want to talk to you today about the storms that come into your life – and who – or what – it is that you turn to after you’ve done all that you know how to do – and still the storm rages on. How do you give voice to your fears when the storms rage? And yes, into everyone’s life storms will come. We cannot avoid them. But when storms occur, I want you to know that there is someone who is with us – and to whom we can turn – when life is at its worst.
Let me share with you a story. “Thomas loved music. At a very early age, long before his music education at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging, he was playing piano in a Vaudeville act. After college, he frequented the jazz clubs, gaining quite a reputation as the very talented ‘Georgia Tom’.
“In 1921, at the age of 22, Thomas gave his life to Jesus. Almost immediately he left the jazz clubs and began writing Gospel music. He took great effort to circulate his musical scores, but it was three long years before anyone started to notice. Little by little his reputation grew, not only as a songwriter but as a church music director.
Eventually, Georgia Tom became known as Reverand Tom. “One day in 1932 while Tom was leading a church service, a man came on to the platform to hand him a telegram – his wife had just died in childbirth. Within 24 hours his newborn baby died also. Thomas quickly spiraled downward into the depths of despair, doubting the goodness of God and determining never to write another hymn.
“A week after that horrible, life changing day, Thomas was deep into his grief, sitting alone at a piano, in a friend's music room. Into the room came a heavy peace such as he had never known before. As that peace enveloped him, Thomas felt the urge to play the piano.”[i] Later on he would describe this experience in these words:
“Something happened to me then I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before, and the words into my head – they just seemed to fall into place:
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand!
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,
Through the storm, through the night lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.
And then he goes on to say, “The Lord gave these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.”[ii]
And that’s how Thomas Dorsey came to write the words and the music to Precious Lord. And up until this past week – until I researched the background of this song for this sermon – I had believed that it was the Tommy Dorsey of the big band era who had written this hymn. But my research tells me – and I was kind of disappointed when I learned this – that the big band leader and the writer of this hymn were two different men.
But still – that in no way changes the power of the message of this hymn – nor does it diminish in any way the storm that Thomas Dorsey the hymn writer was going through when he wrote it.
Let me share with you another story – another story of a storm – or rather a series of storms – that entered into the lives of Horatio and Anna Spafford.
“Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son. He was also a devout Christian and faithful student of the Scriptures. His circle of friends included the evangelist, Dwight L. Moody.
“At the very height of his financial and professional success, in 1871, Horatio and Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had.[iii]
In 1873, “… when Moody announced his intention of holding evangelistic meetings in Britain, Mr. Spafford offered to go along to help. He proposed to take his wife and four daughters as well. It seemed a good opportunity to get them out of the devastated city for awhile. But as things turned out, the lawyer was detained on urgent business. So he sent his wife and daughters on ahead, saying he would join them later.
“It was not to be. Their ship collided with another in mid-Atlantic, sinking in only twelve minutes. Spafford’s four daughters, were among the 226 who drowned. Only his wife was rescued. From Cardiff, Wales, she wired her husband, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
“Setting out to join his grieving wife, Spafford stood hour after hour on the rolling deck of the ship, thinking of the precious family God had given them, and then taken again. Many would have spurned such a God. But like Job, long ago, the sorrowing father had learned that God Himself is enough. He is the believer’s present hope and future joy.”[iv] While sailing near the place of his daughters’ deaths, he wrote the words to the following hymn:
When peace, like a river, attends my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Now, I want you to know that in a few moments – during communion – we are going to be singing both of those songs. Both of them. All the way through. One is in the green book – the other is in the blue book. And I know you don’t all like to sing – especially during communion – but let me invite you to sing anyway. Bring the hymnal with you as you come forward for communion. And if you don’t like to sing – follow along with the words anyway. They are powerful expressions of faith in the midst of a storm.
Thanks to Thomas Dorsey and Horatio Spafford who gave voice to their grief in the words of these songs. Perhaps you and I – we might use their words to express our feelings and fears as well. And even though you and I might never become known for writing songs or hymns when we are hit by the tragedies and the storms of life – still we can give voice to our fears. And I can guarantee you – the storms will come. Indeed, for many of us – we have already had storms – sometimes overwhelming storms – that seemed to suck the life right out of us.
So how do you give voice to your feelings and your fears? It’s hard, because sometimes it feels like you can’t go on. And it’s not easy. And it’s not fair. But let me repeat to you what you already know. And kids – I want you to pay close attention. Life isn’t always easy. And life isn’t always fair.
So when life isn’t easy – and life isn’t fair – when storms come into your life – as they surely will – when things are the darkest – I want you to know that it’s OK to cry out and wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” But I also want you to remember that He is there. Even when it seems He is silent – He isn’t. He is there.
Earlier I asked, “To whom – or to what – it is that you turn to after you’ve done all that you know how to do – and still the storm rages on? How do you give voice to your fears?”
In the middle of your storm – there is someone to whom you can turn. Even and especially in the middle of whatever storm you’ve ever been through or maybe you’re going through right now. His name is Jesus. And as disciples of Jesus Christ we need to remember that we were never promised that storms would never come to those who follow Christ. We were never promised that. But the promise we do have is this. Jesus tells us, “I am with you always.”
Christ is the One we can turn to. To walk with us – walking – guiding – talking to us every step of the way. And as you hear me say so often – the Lord is there – the Lord is near – to help you – not just to get you through the storm – but to help you to rise above it.
May I suggest to you that He is the One we can turn to voice our fears – and to trust in His promises. What does the Lord say? “I will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)And “I love you – and you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
[ii] Snopes.com Precious Lord