“Facing the Storm of COVID-19”
Sunday's Service Message
From Rev. Andrew Song
The Wind Ran Out of Breath
35-38 Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”
39-40 Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
41 They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”
I must say that I had a good time leading the worship last Sunday at Doon, and thanks for your friendliness and warm welcome. However, on Monday I received an email from Mr. John Baxter who stated that due to the closure of the church worship from this Sunday on till who knows when, he wondered if I could send my sermon which I am scheduled to preach on this coming Sunday, so that it may be placed in the newsletter “The Grapevine” of Doon on Thursday. Frankly, I would rather be preaching my own sermon than printing it on newsletter. Under the very circumstances, I could surely understand and appreciate it. But I feel greatly honoured, indeed, to be requested to have my sermon printed on your newletter for you all to read. I took courage to say “yes” to John B, regardless of the fact that I am somewhat reluctant for I don’t feel too proud of my English writing.
The renowned theologian, Karl Barth once described the true preacher as a person with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. I firmly agree with Barth, therefore instead of sending my original sermon I would prefer to change it into “Facing the Storm of COVID-19”, so that I may keep my sermon up to date to deal with the pandemic that has currently swept the whole world today.
The CTV news on Wednesday, March 18 reported that there were
727 cases, 9 deaths in Canada. Nearly 170,000 cases have now been reported, across more than 100 nations. Thousands have died. The nation of Italy has been almost completely shut down, after being hit hardest after China. Many stores, business , schools, movie, theatres, restaurants, just to name a few are closed. Major universities have moved online. Disneyland has closed its gates. The NCAA has canceled its much-anticipated March Madness tournament. The NBA, NHL, and MLB all have suspended league play, to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. Canada and United States have banned travelers from most of Europe for thirty days.
Wow! With all these happenings in our world today, what would I preach as such a time as this? We are not sure how long will this virus last and what can we do to stop it or can we? This certainly reminds me of the storm that the disciples and Jesus experienced in the sea of Galilee Mark 4:35-41.
Therefore I would use this text for my message today and see what the Lord has to say to us with it in relation to the storm of COVID-19 we are facing today.
I have always liked the story because Jesus made the storm go away. The story made me happy, comfortable, and at ease. However, as I have grown older, I have come to the realization that the story is something to do with our faith and fear. Jesus calmed one storm in one place at one particular time; he did not forever extinguish storms on the Sea of Galilee.
Yet, so often we expect the Lord of the Storms to calm our seas once and for all. The reality is God calms the storms within and without one at a time, as each arises in turn. Such is the walk of faith: learning to trust day by day, one storm at a time. The storms may appear in physically and spiritually. There is not much we can do with the physical storms that appears without us. But the storms within us are the ones that come to each one of us in every phase of our life in different forms. Indeed, many of us are perhaps in need of the stilling of the storm that rages inside us. Our boats are filling with water and we shall surely perish, lost in our own fear and self-doubt and lack of self-esteem.
Victor Hugo, in his story "Ninety-Three," tells of a ship caught in a dangerous storm on the high seas. At the height of the storm, the frightened sailors heard a terrible crashing noise below the deck. They knew at once that this new noise came from a cannon, part of the ship's cargo, that had broken loose. It was moving back and forth with the swaying of the ship, crashing into the side of the ship with terrible impact. Knowing that it could cause the ship to sink, two brave sailors volunteered to make the dangerous attempt to retie the loose cannon. They knew the danger of a shipwreck from the cannon was greater than the fury of the storm.
That is like human life. Storms of life may blow about us, but it is
not these exterior storms that pose the gravest danger. It is the terrible corruption that can exist within us which can overwhelm us. The furious storm outside may be overwhelming but what is going on inside can pose the greater threat to our lives. Our only hope lies in conquering that wild enemy.
Unfortunately, sin is something we cannot cure by ourselves. It takes the power of God's love, as revealed in Jesus Christ. He is our only hope of stilling the tempest that can harm our souls and cripple our lives.
There is often a naïve attitude that because we are Christians no storms should ever arise. Often when they do they are put down to either we have sinned or we lack faith. But as one commentator I read reminds us that in Mark's Gospel Jesus is at the center of a storm of some kind or at almost every page. We are called to get into the boat and journey with him in ministry and mission, so we too should expect to face storms. "The storm doesn't blow around their boat just because Jesus is on board. It hits them full force. Nowhere does Jesus promise his followers anything different. Jesus Christ's promise is not to sail us around every storm but is to bring us through all storms". As I walk through one storm after another in life, one fact I discover is that the opposite of Faith is not Atheism.
The opposite of Faith is not unbelief.
The opposite of Faith is Fear.
Fear is caused by lack of faith. Faith also means confidence, when a piano student lack of confidence, he or she would feel tremble playing the piano in concert. When a foot ball player lack of confidence, they would appear frightened during the game. When a tight rob walker lack of confidence, he would appear fearful and better call it quit. Fear sometimes can paralyze us.
Let me tell you a true but tragic story: A woman was once walking along a riverbank with her child. Suddenly the child slipped into the river. The mother screamed in terror. She couldn’t swim, and besides, she was in the latter stages of pregnancy. Finally, somebody heard her screaming and rushed down to the riverbank. The utter tragedy was, when they stepped into those murky waters to retrieve that now dead child, they found that the water was only waist deep! That mother could have easily saved her child but didn’t because of a lack of knowledge. Her fear has blocked her knowledge.
Faith and fear, to me, are closely connected. Faith is the ability to move through our fear into an inner peace, which is not affected by surface activities. What is faith? Faith is something we need to practice. Faith never comes natural. It comes from a lot of practices. When the storm comes our faith tells us, "God will be with us". How do you know God is with us?
During one summer of 1982, I was sent to Brandon, Manitoba to work as a student minister for my field education during the first year at Knox College. I was staying with the minister’s family at the manse of First Church, Brandon. But I was doing my intern ministery at two points charge: St. Andrew’s and Southminster in Brandon.
Frankly, I had never preached even in my own language, Mandarin that is, let alone English. So as you can see that I was frightened to death. I arrived early of the week and worked very hard day and night 14-16 hours to prepare my very first sermon. Soon Saturday came, I began to feel tremendously overburdened, nervous and fearful what’s going to happen to me the next day. Ragardless of the fact that I had worked very hard and yet I could never be happy and satisfied with every word or thought I had written down on my sermon’s manuscript. There were just too many rooms for improvement but how could I do that at a time when computer, smart phone and Google were not even born yet? I just wrote it everything by hand and I literally forgot the time until I found it was already 3 O’clock A.M.
I told myself that I must go to bed for I definitely need some strength and good spirit for the biggest task in my life in a few more hours. So I hit the sack right away. After some tossing around I finally managed to put myself to sleep. What do you know? I had a night mare. I dreamed about myself standing behind the pulpit beginning to preach, but as I started to speak I was frozen with my mouth wide open not even being able to spill out the first word. I immediately awoke from that horrible nightmare. I told myself, “That’s it! I am a dead man walking.” I looked at my watch it was 4:00 am and I realized that I slept only about 40 some minutes. There was no way that I could go back to sleep. Quickly, I got up from the manse and went straight to the sanctuary next door to pray. I felt like in a big storm that I needed to scream for help from God. I was so frightened that I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle my first try of preaching. I wished I had a sudden illness big enough to rush me to the hospital so that I may get away with the service that day.
As I arrived at South Minster at a quarter before 9:00 for my first service a lady, apparently a church secretary, warmly welcomed me and led me in and looked around the sanctuary. I must have been looking pale , nervous and uneasy. “Don’t worry!” she told me, “ People are very nice and we all have been looking forward to seeing you.” “ Thanks but please pray for me!’ I replied sincerely. When it’s time to begin the service, I was so reluctant to go up to the pulpit from the minister office, the lady handed me a glass water to bring it with me. My hand was like an elderly man with arthritis shaking uncontrollably. “Calm down! You will do fine. I will pray for you.” I nodded my head with thanks and walked in toward the podium.
No sooner had I stood behind the pulpit and put down the glass on it than suddenly a strange warm feeling came upon from the top of my head, then down gradually to my neck, my arms, body , the legs and feet. It’s so real and clear feeling like a very comfortable and beautiful current passing through my whole body that I was so calm, so confident, so energetic and ready to take challenge of the day to lead the worship and preach.
I don’t know how good was my performance that day, but it can’t be a 5 stars, perhaps 1 star or 2 stars will be good enough for a first timer rookie preacher. But it doesn’t matter. What matter to me is for the first time I began to really believe, understand and appreciate what the Lord God said in Isaiah 41:10.
“Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed,
for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes,
I will help you, I will uphold you with my right hand.”
You see when you are facing a storm like me, not sure if you can manage or survive through it. All you can have is this assurance of God who promise you that in your time of difficulty, crisis, pain and agony.
“ Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God.”
Frankly, that’s all we can get from God. But it means a lot for those who believe in God. Our faith chase out fears inside us.
This is the words of comfort and cheer from God the Father that enable Jesus to hang tough on the cross in the last hour and finally said, “It’s finished” This is the same words of power and strength that gave David confident to defeat Goliah. This is the words of clam for Moses to boldly ask Pharoah saying, “Let my people go.” This is the words of courage for John the Baptist to speak words repent to the king and people of his days even under the threat of beheading. This is the reminding words of love for Peter before Jesus could give him the keys of the church.
Throughout the ages, all that God had promised to us from Adam and Eve, the prophets, the Israelietes and to the churches today really not much, but these words mean a lot to many biblical heros and believers for the words turn into hope, peace, love and joy for all those who believe in God and His words. comfort, promise and assurance had made many biblical heros and belivers of those words strength and peace to live through all kinds of stroms in life.
Who knows? Maybe God is trying to remind us these words through COVID-19 not to be afriad but believe that no matter what happen to us , to our nation or our world God is with us. So do not worry or dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my right hand.”
I pray that you may simply trust and obey these words of encouragement and comfort from God during this storm of COVID-19 to help you through this pandemic today. But remember Faith without act is futile. What I mean is you can pray all you want but if you don’t wash your hands as often as it requires today in dealing with the virus, I am afraid it won’t help you much. Amen.
Let us pray:
God of love and hope, you made the world and care for all creation. But the world feels strange right now. The news is full of stories about COVID-19. Many people are anxious because of it.
Many people are anxious that they might get ill.
Many people are anxious about their family and friends.
Be with them in their worries and help them to find some peace.
We pray for the doctors and nurses and scientists who are working to discover the right medicines to give hope to those who are ill.
Thank you that even in these strange and worrying times, you are with us. Help us to look for the signs of your goodness and love towards us.
Merciful God, we entrust to your unfailing and tender care,
those who are ill or in pain, knowing that whenever danger threatens
your everlasting arms are there to hold us safe.
Comfort and heal them, and restore them to health and strength;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.