Have you ever taken a vacation to LAX?
There is so much to see, so many interesting fashion choices and visual displays.
It has restaurants, shops, bars, and accessible bathrooms.
You can look out the windows at the airplanes or inside at so many fascinating people, or
you can step away from the crowds and enjoy an expensive massage.
You can find places to stretch out and sleep when you get tired, and of course there are so many different terminals to explore.
Or have you bypassed all this to settle for boarding a plane and going somewhere else?
Church consultant Reggie McNeal is fond of reminding church leaders that the church campus is an airport.
It is not the destination, so please stop using the phrase "go to church."
Why would people do that?
Church is a movement helping people get to the real destination, which is life.
Our facility should have good services and clean bathrooms, but we should not expect
people to organize their experience around it.
We are at our best when people stay for an hour, make the right connection, get replenished with whatever they need for their journey, and make progress getting where they are supposed to go.
It's amazing how quickly church members can forget this and get offended that we're not more important to people, like an airport manager complaining that no one ever sticks around to enjoy the art.
We've wasted so much breath debating whether or not to open campuses while travel is unsafe, as if shuttered sanctuary doors mean life is canceled and God is closed.
Since you can't be here in terminal one to see for yourself this morning, I'll remind you that our building, like so many others in God's church across the centuries, is designed to look
like a boat.
From the earliest days, the church has fancied itself Noah's ark or the boat in which the disciples set sail with Jesus.
It is a vehicle, not a destination—even if we do have a tendency to build houseboats and yachts and luxury liners, because bigger feels better.
Church is meant to move, not remain anchored in one spot.
One of the gifts of this pandemic is to force us to step out of our perpetually docked boat because at this point in the story, Jesus has left the building and is out in the storm.
Disciples are supposed to follow Jesus.
It's a message that Matthew constantly repeats in multiple ways, including storm stories.
This is the second time the disciples and Jesus are caught in a squall on the sea.
The first time, Jesus was in the boat, asleep, when the earthquake hit.
Yes, earthquake: the first of three in Matthew's gospel.
The other two happened on Good Friday and Easter morning, meaning that the first storm
on the lake was a foreshadowing of the storm that Jesus would go through in Jerusalem
while his disciples fell asleep on him.
This second storm, then, is a story foreshadowing what those who follow Jesus will go through in the days to come—and it's not the cruise industry church councils imagine or expect.
They will be in the boat without him.
They will be battered by the waves and far from where they want to be.
The wind will be against them.
They will not recognize Jesus when he does come to them from the other side of death, like a ghost.
Their impetuous leader, the man Jesus named Rock, swims like one.
The church's leadership will be one step faith, one step hesitation as it takes its eyes off
Jesus and pays more attention to the noisy winds that have more urgency but less power.
What kind of music should we sing?
Should we worship in person or on line?
What are the bigger boats doing?
Which way is the political wind blowing?
If we focus instead on Jesus, we'll end up having to row against it as we move toward dangerous places—the mountain where the demons dwell, the dark sea where chaos and death swirl, the side of the lake where Herod beheaded John, the terrritory of the people who are not like us, the scary reality of the poor and needy and otherwise blessed.
Following Jesus often means walking into what some white people would call "the wrong
neighborhoods" – more people would choose a vacation at the airport than walking the
way of the cross.
So the real terror in this gospel text is not Jesus' absence, it's his presence.
He abandons us into the storm and then haunts us in the middle of the night.
He casually walks over powers far stronger than we are and then says terrifying things to us:
step out of the boat.
Go to the other side.
Love your enemies.
How you treat the desperate is how you treat me.
Take up your cross and follow me.
Go, make disciples of all nations.
Take heart, it is I; I am with you, even to the end of the age; do not be afraid.
There is so much fear in our boat.
Church attendance was shriveling even before the pandemic.
Who will pay our bills?
Who will captain our ship a generation from now?
Will we ever return to normal?
Will this storm ever relent?
Where did Jesus go, and where does he want us to end up, and how will we possibly get there?
There is so much working against us.
The old boat is battered and starting to fall apart.
The world is dark and the wind is against us.
Our doubtful leadership can't focus or swim and keeps sinking, trying to go it alone.
We can't identify Jesus in the storm.
There's no way on earth this boat is going to make it where we think it's supposed to go.
And we will never find or catch Jesus; he finds and catches us.
You of little faith, why do you doubt?
Take heart, says the voice who overrules and outlasts this and every storm; it is I.
Do not be afraid.
This storm will cease.
This love will not.