Jesus Stills the StormMatthew 8:23-27 (NRSV)
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
Hey, thanks for taking the time to watch this week’s Oldtown Short. I wonder… when you were a kid, do you remember making shadow animals with a flashlight against a wall? It was fun trying to figure out how to move your fingers to cast a shadow on the wall that looked like something else, wasn’t it? You could make a rabbit or a dog, and you could use your imagination to create all kinds of pictures.
Though our shadow animals were fun, many times, shadows carry with them negative connotations. I guess maybe it’s because of the darkness they cast and the unsettling sense of the unknown. When we made shadow animals, we used our imaginations, looking through the eyes of creativity and excitement and the innocence of childhood to see rabbits and dogs and other fun shapes. But when we look at shadows through the eyes of fear or doubt or uncertainty, our imaginations make us start to wonder about what danger might be lurking in the darkness. Then, shadows can look a lot more daunting.
This week, we celebrate one of my favorite holidays. Now you won’t find this holiday on a church calendar, though sometimes I think it should be added because it’s a holiday that points out what happens when we allow fear to sneak into our lives. Every year around this time, we sit on the edges of our seats watching and waiting. We watch and wait for a fat furry groundhog to peek out of his home and to see whether or not he sees his shadow. As folklore dictates, if he sees his shadow, he goes back into his burrow and winter lasts for six more weeks. If he doesn’t see his shadow, he emerges, and spring is sure to come quickly.
I have to tell you, back in my seminary days, I never would have expected to be standing here and talking about Groundhog Day. After all, that is a secular celebration and a silly one at that. But every year, as I await the report from Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania to see if Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow or not, I think about Punxsutawney Phil’s reaction to his shadow. Does running away from his shadow help him in any way? Not really, does it?
Now we know that his shadow won’t hurt him, but Phil doesn’t know that. He doesn’t understand what his shadow is. And because he doesn’t understand it, he assumes that it is bad, that it is scary, and that it is something that he should stay away from.
I wonder, do you ever face situations like that in your life? Times when you get nervous or afraid because you are facing something new, or because something has changed that you are not used to, or because something sounds bad and fills your heart with fear? My friends, it happens to all of us all the time! And the truth is, we can always try to make the safe choice and be conservative in our decision making. We can weigh all of the options and research all of the possible outcomes. But life is full of the unknown, as we have learned a lot about in the last year. And no matter how careful we are, we still find ourselves facing shadows.
Shadows of fear and doubt. Shadows of anxiety and worry. Shadows of hopelessness and sorrow. We get a bad report from a doctor, or we lose our job or the comfort of a relationship. And we live in fear because of a pandemic. These are all things that stop us in our tracks and fill us with fear, anxiety, and worry. Just like the shadow that stops the groundhog.
But no matter what struggles or shadows we face, we have the opportunity to look at them through the lens of our childhood selves. We see them with creativity and excitement. Viewing it this way allows us to see the teams of doctors and nurses and modern medicine that is going to help us. We see the possibilities of new beginnings that give us a fresh start. And we see that working from home gives us more opportunities to spend time with loved ones.
When we optimistically look at life that way, we see it through God’s eyes. The shadows in our lives seem a little bit brighter, and we find that we are filled with a little more courage to face each day, rather than letting our imaginations look through the eyes of fear and struggle. We start to learn to look through the eyes of creativity and grace, and eventually we learn that even the things that seem impossible become possible.