The Gospel lesson we just read is a familiar story. I have preached several sermons based on this text. But, when I read this story again last Monday, my heart became heavy because I knew it would be difficult for me to prepare for a sermon such a time as this. The images of children being separated from their parents have burned into my psyche and a message of “Peace! Be Still” seemed to be irrelevant to these families and to all of us who live such a time as this.
These heart breaking images reminded me of my own terrifying experience of being separated from my father which is my first “darkness” or even “death” experience in my life. When I was around three or four, my father bought me a bicycle with two small supporting wheels on the sides. Even though (I assume) it was the smallest size, I couldn’t pedal it, because it was still too big for me. But that didn’t matter at all, because my father put me on the bicycle and pushed me.
Probably on a Saturday afternoon, while he and I had fun with the bike, we came to a busy street. Since I had not been there before, everything was unfamiliar to me. But it didn’t matter, because I knew my father was always behind me. I could even enjoy the strangeness of the street and new faces on the street. So, I asked my father “Can you help push the bike again, tomorrow, dad?,” hoping to hear “absolutely, my son.” But there was no answer. So I turned around to ask him again.
“O my Gosh!” He was not there. My “almighty” father was not there. My “superman” who takes me home was not there. I was so scared. Losing my personal god, whatever that means, I was so scared. I felt like I was already dead. (So) I began to cry looking around desperately for my father. Fortunately, in a short while, in my wet eyes, my father, my superman, my god was caught. He was talking with someone I didn’t know.
When I think back on it, it was the first DEATH-EXPERIENCE in my life. It was a very brief moment, but it became an ever-lasting memory in my childhood. My first death-experience was a matter of seconds, but it was a horrifying, everlasting experience for me.
I can’t imagine what these separated families are going through. My heart is broken for these poor children who had to go through these awful experiences such a young age. Thank God, the Zero Tolerance Policy is now lifted. But, it doesn’t solve all the problems we have. The suffering will continue and we are all in this boat together. We may ask: “Lord, don’t you care that we are drowning?” “Do you NOT care that we are perishing?”
About 10 years ago, a church member asked me to visit one of her relatives who was struggling with the raging storm of cancer. I don’t remember his name, but I clearly remember what he said. He said something like this: “I want to believe in a God who cares…because I may meet him sooner than I had expected. I think I am at the point where I can accept the existence of God…but I can’t yet believe God cares about me.” I wonder how many are struggling (today) with this question: Does God care? When we consider the personal tragedies that people face every day and the global crises that plague our world, we may wonder if Jesus is asleep in this boat…, in this critical moment.
The sound theology declares that there is God and this God is almighty and cares for each one of us. The Scripture even says God knows us by name and loves us.
But, that’s theology that we understand with our head. In reality, it doesn’t always feel as though God cares, does it?
Friends, I don’t have a clear answer to this. I wish I had one. I think the only thing I can share with you is my experience, because theology alone is not enough. We need confession/affirmation. In theology, we have learned that Jesus put off deity and put on humanity. In other words, God has come to us in our suffering and pain, in our struggle to be human, in our fear and anxiety, and in our doubt and uncertainty. Jesus became one of us – one with us – one for us. So that even when it seems like we are in a living hell, even there, God is with us. This is what the theology says.
Yes, we are all in this boat and Jesus is there with us in the same boat. We might think that having Jesus in our boat would guarantee some smoother sailing. But, no, with Christ in our boat we still meet the same scary wind and waves as everybody else. Yes, thanks to sound theology, we know he cares, but it does not mean we will not go through times of danger, suffering, or even death.
Ok, I think it’s enough for talking about theology. Now, here is my personal faith affirmation. This is based on both theology that I learned and my personal experience.
Several years ago my family and I found ourselves on a very difficult stretch of road. In October, 2013, Rachel was diagnosed as a brain cancer. Since then, it has been a terribly painful time for us. Waterfalls of anxiety were just cascading down on me every second. Slowly, Rachel began to lose physical ability. Her right arm was paralyzed. She couldn’t walk without help. She couldn’t speak at all. Eventually, she couldn’t swallow anything, even a drop of water. Sadly, there’s nothing I could do. And there was no way out. All I could do was just hung in there with Rachel day by day.
So, this boat on a stormy night was my boat. This story was my story! The waves were crashing, the wind was howling. My boat was going down. And somehow in this boat I cried out this desperate question: “Lord, don’t you care? We are dying here. My family’s in peril! O Lord, have mercy!”
During this darkest period of my life, I always had a lack of sleep, because I had to take care of Rachel during the night. She had to go to restroom at least 3 times during the night because of the medicines she took. And it was a big challenge for both of us. Sometimes, she even had a seizer. So, I would take every chance to sleep… even just for 10 minutes. And every time I closed my eyes for sleep, I began praying, “O Lord, have mercy!”
I am not sure if it was in my dream or in my imagination that suddenly, I was whisked away, far from the bed on which I was laying, far from the boat I was on, far from that storm. I found myself hovering over a very familiar scene, a scene I’ve carried inside of me over 50 years, of a little toddler crying beside his big bicycle, desperately looking for his daddy. And, (you know what), at first, it was NOT so painful to watch this scene, probably because I know this story too well. His daddy will soon come and guide him home.
But, this time, I couldn’t see my dad in this story of my life. This tiny boy kept looking… and looking desperately for his dad. Now, it had become painful for me to watch, because this child began to cry again. And all of sudden, I see my Lord Jesus standing beside this little boy with the kindest and warmest look in his eyes and the gentlest smile on his face. And he wipes away boy’s tears, gives him a big hug and he calms him down, saying in Korean, “가엾어라 우리 아기. 울지 마라 우리 아기.”
I think, “Peace… Be still” might be a good translation. Not literal translation, but a good translation. Then, he taps on his back and continues, “You are a good boy. Let’s go, now! Let’s go together.” And he begins to walk, holding his hand.
Friends, this was another brief moment of my life that I will never forget. I don’t know what to say about that experience except that I think I found some healing that day. Come to think of it, I just kept holding on Jesus’ hand and let him walk with me all the way to here and to this moment. And now, whenever I’m anxious about something, whenever I’m worn out and need help, I think of the One who’s holding me up and walking me forward toward home, because every time when I revisit this scene and see myself carrying my own big bicycle, along with Jesus, I know I’m not alone, and I’m not so afraid.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is my affirmation. I live with the assurance that God will be with us no matter what will happen to us! And this assurance is so much stronger than the storms of this world and the storms of our hearts. May we live in faith that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen.