1 Corinthians 1:21-31
Growing up in western Kansas, I’ve survived my fair share of tornado warnings. I doubt that a summer went by without at least one trip to the downstairs bathroom to hang out—along with the dog and the cat—one of which was none too happy about the arrangement. I remember having a nightmare once that I was across the street at the elementary school and watched a tornado take my house away. My cousin, whose family lived in a trailer house on my grandparents’ farm, would run across the yard at the slightest notion of wind in order to find refuge in the basement—or at the very least, take refuge in the arms of grandma.
Storms are frightening. Even with advanced warning, there is no control over them. You can’t manage them with vigilance; you can’t minimize them with better preparation; you can’t move them with great power. You can only take precautions to minimize the damage. You seek shelter and wait it out. Of course, not every storm is a tornado. When flash floods or forest fires come roaring through, all you can do is get out of the way and watch everything get destroyed.
Of course, life is filled with storms, as well. And those often cannot be managed either. You can seek shelter—from an abusive relationship, from financial debt, from hunger—finding solace and sanctuary in the arms of trusted friends or family. Sometimes, you stand at a distance as you watch the storms of cancer and addiction and broken relationships tear your world apart. And like the storms of nature, these storms leave us feeling powerless, vulnerable, and frightened.
Throughout the evolution of civilization, it has always been clear that the powerful, the healthy, the adaptable, and the strong will have an advantage in survival. The signs of power and status have changed over the centuries—from the size of a man’s household to the size of a person’s bank account. But the truth has remained—power, status, and strength ensure survival. At least, that is, until Jesus came along. In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul redefines what power and wisdom look like.
The church in Corinth had some serious community issues going on. There was a lot of arguing about who was more important, who was more faithful, who was more powerful, and who was more sanctified. The community was dividing over who gave more financially and who came more prepared for the Lord’s Table. So, Paul begins his letter by knocking down all of those barriers at one time and then addressing each issue individually after that.
He suggests that we cannot know God through wisdom or understanding—that our previous ideas of power and might do not describe the God who calls us children. Instead, we only need to look to the cross to see what true power, wisdom, and compassion look like.
Paul says that power, wisdom, and compassion can only be found in the weak, the foolish, and the despised. You see, power, wisdom, and compassion are not characteristics of the storm but of the one beside us in the boat—the one who holds us close in the midst of the winds.
There’s a song by Scott Kripprayne called “Sometimes He Calms the Storm.” The refrain goes:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child
I mentioned that there are two responses to storms, depending on the storm. One is to hunker down in a safe place and wait it out. The other is to evacuate and watch it destroy everything in its path. But there is a third response: to lean into the wind. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should all become storm chasers, tracking tornados, or that it’s a good idea to stand on your back porch, cell phone in hand, to get the coolest pictures. I’m not suggesting that you literally stand before the wall of water and expect it to go around you.
But in the life of faith, I think that we are often called to lean into the wind when we’d rather hunker down or run. I think those moments are defining moments in our spiritual lives, our family lives, and our communal lives. I think that, at least as a church, we are facing that kind of moment right now. As we approach 500 years of reformation history, we can look back and see that Martin Luther also faced a defining moment. He could have hunkered down in his monastery cell in fear of God’s judgment. He could have run from the spiritual life altogether and looked for a completely different vocation. But he chose to lean into the wind.
He chose to face what he feared most—excommunication and death—in order to speak the truth of love, forgiveness, grace, and hope. He spoke a gospel of grace that had been systematically covered by a message of fear, judgment, and condemnation. He leaned in…and discovered that the wind held him up. The wind—the ‘ruah’, the ‘pneuma’, the breath of God sustained him.
Five hundred years later, the Church is once again in turmoil. Theology, like politics, has become a black-and-white matter—either-or, no room for both. Theology, like politics, has created camps of conservative and liberal. An ever-changing world of technology has left us far behind in efforts to communicate information while robbing us of the basic skills needed to be in actual relationship—to converse without insisting on conversion, to disagree without being disagreeable, to engage conflict without being combative.
The Church is also entering the waters of what it means to seek justice and peace, to advocate for the marginalized and oppressed, to support systems that work and call for change in the systems that don’t. The message of grace is finally becoming almost as offensive as it had been in the days Jesus, himself, welcomed sinners and ate with them. This storm we are in angers some and frightens others. And truth be told, it sometimes feels like a tornado—everything whirring around, and we’re seeking solid foundation with reliable walls to hide within.
And as with any storm, we end up responding naturally. Some are hunkering down, waiting for it to blow over so that we can get back to doing what we’ve always done. Others are evacuating, sad to leave but seeing no other option—no safety for their viewpoints or their voices. But what if this is the time when we choose to lean in? What if we face together the things that frighten us—changes, diversity, theological differences—and open ourselves to where they may take us? What if, instead of a great storm of destruction, we are facing the moving and living Spirit of God?
Dear friends of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, this is a moment in history we will never get to repeat. This is, perhaps, the most challenging era in the life of the institution we call Church. And we have the opportunity to put our faith in the One who continues to sit with us in the boat. And whether Jesus calms the storm or calms us, on the other side of this, we will all be changed. We will be different. We will not experience Church the same. Some will be disillusioned, but many others will be newly opened to a God they may have never experienced before—a God of humility, not pride; a God of weakness, not power; a God of mercy, not judgment; a God of welcome, not exclusion; a God of the messy good news revealed in Jesus Christ.
People of God, let’s lean in. Let’s lean into the wind that breathed life into Adam; into the wind that hovered over the beginning of creation; the wind that blew through the upper room and kick-started the ministry of the Church. Let’s lean in to the Spirit’s movement among us as if our very lives depended upon it. Because, truth be told, the life of the Church does depend on the storm that surrounds us. Without it, we will boast in our own wisdom, our own strength, our own power. But with it, we are utterly and completely out of control—as it should be.
By the grace of God alone, let’s lean in.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church