March 21, 2021: In Search of the Kingdom of God – Finding Calm in the Storms that Surround Us
Finding Calm in the Storms that Surround Us
Scripture: Matthew 5:10; Matthew 8:23-27
- Prelude – “Sun of My Soul,” by Peter Ritter,-Arr. By Gayden Sikes; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 2236 – “Gather Us In,” by Marty Haugen; Stacey Fradkin, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Prayer Time – Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” by Mrs. C F Alexander and Charles Gounod; Stacey Fradkin, vocal; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Scripture – Matthew 5:10; Matthew 8-23-27; Dave Herr
- Sermon – “In Search of the Kingdom of God: Finding Calm in the Storms that Surround Us,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 143, “On Eagle’s Wings,” by Michael Joncas, arr. by Jack Schrader; Stacey Fradkin, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “On Eagles Wings,” by Michael Joncas, arr. By Douglas Wagner; Pauline Olsen, organ
One of my favorite stories in scripture is Jesus asleep in the back of the boat as a storm rages all around him. He and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. As the storm builds in intensity, the disciples finally wake and confront Jesus. “How can you be asleep as we face death? Nobody sleeps in a storm!” He gets up, looks at each of them, looks out at the stormy sea, and says, “Peace, be still.” Now, we don’t know if he was talking to the disciples or the storm, but the storm abates as do the nerves of the disciples. I can see Jesus with a bit of a sly smile, and winking as he goes back to the bench and falls asleep again. This Beatitude relates a great deal to that story.
I’m reading a remarkable book right now, recommended by my therapist. Yes, I have a therapist. I need a therapist, and I have to admit that God found me the perfect person. A couple of weeks ago, I hit an emotional wall. There was just too much going on, too many conflicts, too many needs, and my soul basically said, “Enough already.” So, the book talks about looking back at our lives, doing the hard work of working through things in a different way. In so doing, we change the way the brain functions. Like any other organ in the body, the brain needs the right things to function well. It needs training and direction in order to do what it can to help us. It means we have to be intentional about how we feed it.
I had significant amounts of childhood trauma, that moved into teenage trauma, and then found its way into my early adult life. Overall, the trauma caused tremendous stress in me. Three years ago, I found that most of my life I’ve had massive amounts of trauma-producing cortisol coursing through my veins. It was constant. Cortisol is the kind of adrenaline that creates fight or flight reactions. My levels finally became overwhelming, first seven years ago when I had an attack of what’s called vasovagal nerve disorder with syncope. It was scary. But, I didn’t change my habits, so my body took it to the next level. In December of 2018, I had a whole different level of response.
It was an attack of acute idiopathic pancreatitis. Friends, both were physical responses to stress, and as scary as the first was, it was the second that put me in ICU for five days.
I can’t even begin to describe the pain. It was beyond overwhelming. It was totally debilitating. And, the attack almost killed me. The first wake-up call didn’t cause the needed changes. The second, well it was real, it was painful, and, honestly, it was terrifying. I promised my family that I would never put them through that again. Stress can kill you, literally, unless you change your habits, retrain your brain and learn to deal with life in a different way; a healthy way.
That brings me to this next Beatitude. Over the past two weeks, you heard the story of how practicing these Beatitudes can change lives, even change a community. Today I want to take a step back and look again at how they can change us individually. And yes, it involves brain science, neurological pathways, nerve synapsis, and chemical reactions within the body. These can combine with the power of God working in each of us. “But no, pastor, you can’t combine science and spirituality. They can’t go together.” But friends, they do, and they go hand in hand.
Remember, we are creations of a God who loves us. Remember, we follow a Lord who made sure he took the time to refresh, replenish and renew so that he could do what needed to be done. Remember that in God’s creation, particularly with God’s initial chosen, there was a requirement that involved taking a Sabbath. And remember that the scriptures are full of identifying factors about what a Sabbath will do in us and for us. Jesus gives us the simplest model within these nine elements we call the Beatitudes. And when implemented, along with other things that involve physiology and other elements of science, our lives can become something more. That something more is what God intended all along. So let’s look at it again, as today we deal with confronting the stresses that surround us, of retraining our brains and our spirits to be more like God intended. And I’m not sure there is a more important time to do this work than right now.
It begins with recognizing our need for God. The need is inherent in all of us. We recognize that we are not whole, and that there are actions needed on our part, like understanding and naming our own spiritual poverty. We need God; we need time with God, to be defined by God, to be filled with God, and directed by God, particularly as we study and implement the teachings of Jesus. The greatest commandment is the really short version. We love God first. Nothing else works if that is not our first priority. From there we can mourn; mourn where we have failed God, and mourn where we have failed each other; even mourn where and when we’ve failed ourselves. God promises that as we mourn, we will be comforted, even healed. That is grace. The gift of that comfort allows us to be more open to a God who will direct us. It is about God taking our full and true selves and moving them toward God’s greater good. It is what meek means. Not weak, but being who God meant us to be and then allowing God to guide us. Then, as we hunger and thirst, we become filled by God’s defining Spirit. Once filled, it’s then that we can turn to those who have caused us harm; it’s then we can offer mercy, forgiveness, and the same kind of grace we’ve received from God.
To offer mercy allows us to also receive mercy. It is God’s miracle of reciprocation, of becoming whole and allowing others to do the same.
This is a process to be utilized over and over again; over and over again so that we can be pure and our truest, best selves. We create workouts for our brains that tie all aspects of ourselves more closely to our hearts and souls (prayer, study, worship, etc.). In so doing, we realize how deeply loved we are by our Creator, and find ourselves being God’s children.
From there we can turn and share it with others, how deeply we can then love one another. And it’s out of that shift in thinking that we can bring peace to places like Sunnyside, or Bellevue, or Port Angeles, or Sequim.
As we practice these elements, our brains shift toward peace, constant peace, and out of that, we become peace-bringers. From there we can literally face anything knowing that Jesus says the same to us; to the storms that often surround us: “Peace, be still.” That’s how all of this works. The purpose is to change and become children of a loving God. And finally, it’s from that place that the next two Beatitudes come into play.
Now, we’re not being persecuted, certainly not like they were in the early church. We are, however, under stress, and the stresses we deal with are powerful, often life-altering, and without intentionality and care, can cause much deeper problems. So, let me rephrase this a bit. Blessed – remember it is us kneeling before God and God kneeling before us offering us this incredible gift of peace; a peace that changes us, and a peace we can then share.
So, how about, “Blessed are you who are under intense stress particularly as you seek to live life in a godly way. What you’ll be given are the keys to peace. In that gift, you will receive the realization that you are loved beyond measure, and that in receiving that love, the world will look different to you. You will see God in all that is around you…and find peace.”
It doesn’t mean we won’t face stress. Remember the old saying, God doesn’t promise that we’ll be free of storms. God does promise safe harbors in the midst of those storms.
Friends, we need to keep this in mind as we now begin to look ahead to Holy Week. We need to keep this in mind throughout this time of transition from Covid toward reopening. To close, let me share the way I focus so that I can find peace, no matter the stresses. It goes back to scripture, and one you know well. “Be still and know that I am God.” And this is how I use it…walk through it with me… Say out loud knowing that God is saying this to you:
“Be still and know that I am God.” Sit quietly.
Now say: “Be still and know that I Am.” Sit quietly.
Now say: “Be still and know” Sit quietly.
Now say: “Be still.” Sit quietly.
Now say: “Be” and sit quietly.
Now repeat as many times as needed. It’s what I do.