The rector with whom I am blessed to be serving often reminds the people that the two most important days in one’s life are not their birthday and the day they die – as most will reply when asked – but the day they were born and the day they knew their purpose for being born – knew who they were called to be. He encourages everyone to think about that day believing we each have one ordained by the Lord, God, suggesting that once discerned, ones’s life gets going – the second half of life no matter the age.
He cites by way of example, many of the everyday saints we commemorate in Holy Women, Holy Men. Just this week it was Emily Malbone Morgan who after making considerable pastoral visits to home-bound friends realized that “her “greatest desire had (sic) always been to make tired people rested and happy.” This lead her to establish houses throughout the northeastern United States where working class women (textile workers, primarily) and their children could vacation. Retreat centers throughout the northeast bear the mark of Emily Morgan to this day.
Emily Morgan heard her call and identified her purpose and her second half of life began.
A far cry from Jonah. Jonah -as in the belly of the fish Jonah? Yes. It is what came to mind at today’s gospel. Jonah was called by the Lord mid way through life – given his purpose as God purposed him. But Jonah had different ideas – a different career path in mind. A better plan. Than God’s. Yes he did – thought he knew better who he was to be.
At one point in his fleeing the call, he finds himself on a boat – like Jesus today, in a boat. But Jonah is the wrong boat – not the one the Lord had purposed him to board. He was headed to Tarshish and not Nineveh where the Lord had called him to minister.
Pursing his own call – his own agenda, climbing ladders to this this or that of his own choosing. Playing by the rules of the first half of life. Just pursuing the wrong thing. But God…
But God….One pastor I know says these are the best words in scripture for showing who is in control in all of salvation history. Aways something providential follows those two words that changes the course for any in the story.
And so, here. But God intervenes to mix things up for Jonah and his grand escape plans.
There is a storm. And Jonah’s traveling companions come to him – wake him up – blame him for the storm. Jonah’s response? Hey just throw me over – throw me off the boat and the sea will calm,
Jonah 1:11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.
Quite different than the response Jesus gave when caught in a similar boat – the one in today’s gospel.
His traveling companions wake him with the same level of concern and anxiety as Jonah’s shipmates. But they don’t blame Jesus for the storm and Jesus doesn’t assume anything close to blame. No, the friends just want Jesus to make it stop. They ask him to calm the storm.
38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
To get things going in our life, as my colleague says, a person has to accept and respond to the call put upon them – live into it. Don’t run from it. Don’t deny. Don’t beat up on yourself and when storms come, don’t look at them as an excuse to fall into the unworthy pattern of ‘woe is me’ and jump ship. Stay the course.
Chaos and storms and uncertainty and disorientation and unsettledness are sure to be part of the mix when you land on your purpose. Can’t be avoided – shouldn’t be avoided – or trigger some panic attack that causes you to retreat into the familiar for familiar’s sake. This isn’t the way to locating your purpose. You can’t move forward to your second half of life (again no matter your age) if you jump ship. You just take the storm with you, as Jonah did. It may have calmed things down for his traveling companions, but the storm still brewed in Jonah.
Jesus in any storm will not be made anxious, doesn’t panic. He takes us through the storms. Too, Jesus shows us how to navigate them ourselves when the time comes.
I think that quiet confidence he shows us in calming the storm is how we are to be. What Jesus speaks to the storm – ‘Peace! Be still!’ is just what I believe we must fight to do when we realize we are fighting a call, a purpose, a new direction for the second half of our lives.
Be still. Pause. Breathe. Don’t jump ship. Don’t retreat into your own insecurities. Don’t go back. This is the moment to embrace your anxiety and face it with Him. Why has God put you in this storm? For what purpose? What are you to be in this season of your life?
Be still. Hear what the Spirit is saying. Don’t miss this. God has a plan for you.
Be still, loved one.
Friday Daily Lectionary Readings: