19 Sunday A - Storms and Faith

Pregnant Indian woman's daring swim to avoid home birth

Yellavva (standing in the middle) Yellavva was helped by her father, brother and cousins in crossing the river

An Indian woman in her ninth month of pregnancy has swum a river swollen by monsoon rain to give birth in hospital.

Yellavva used dried pumpkins and gourds as bouyancy aids to swim nearly a kilometre from her river island village to safety in southern Karnataka state.
She said she was "scared" but wanted her baby born safely - there is no medical centre in her village and she did not want to give birth at home.

Villagers and doctors have described her swim as an amazing achievement.

Yellavva, 22, is a resident of Neelakantarayanagadde, a small island-village on the Krishna river in Yadgir district, some 400km (250 miles) north of Bangalore.

The only way to travel from there to the mainland is by a raft - which doesn't operate when the river is too choppy.

When Yellavva crossed the river last Wednesday, she says its swirling waters were rising 12 to 14 feet and even experienced swimmers would have hesitated to get into the water at the time.

"I was scared. But it was for my child that I got the determination to get over all my fear and cross the rising river waters," she told BBC Hindi.

Yellavva was helped by her father, brother and cousins who swam with her.

"My brother went in front. I was next. My brother and cousins had tied dried hollowed pumpkin and bottle gourds around me so I was afloat," she said.

Her brother Lakshman, who held on to the rope tied to the gourds and pumpkins, said: "My father was right behind her. Normally, the distance is a little more than half a kilometre. But, it took us about an hour to get her across. As we reached mid-point, the current was very very strong."

The heavy current pushed them far downstream, making the distance they swam nearly one kilometre.

Yellavva said the swim made her tired, but a doctor who examined her on arrival at the government medical centre in the nearby village of Kekkera said "she is fine and resting at a relative's home".

"Her baby, due in 20 to 25 days, is fine too," Dr Veena said.

Yellavva's daring swim has won her much praise.

"I have been here for seven years. A handful of people have crossed the river with some help. However, I have not seen any pregnant woman crossing the river when it is in this state and that too in the ninth month of pregnancy," Dr Veena said.

"She is an example of courage and determination. The first thing that struck me when I took her photograph was that she was so determined to cross the river in spate," said Venkatesh Dore, a reporter for a local newspaper who took Yellavva's photo.
Visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea on which Jesus walked. A certain tourist wanted such a ride and the boatman told him the fare was fifty dollars. “Fifty dollars!” exclaimed the tourist, “No wonder Jesus walked!” A proper understanding of the gospel story of Jesus walking on the sea has a lot to teach us about who Jesus is, but also about the church in its journey through the world, and about the life of faith of the individual believer.

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1: An old story about trustful faith: In the middle of a dark winter’s night in a small Midwest farming community, the two-story home of a young family caught fire. Quickly, parents and children followed their well-practiced emergency plan and made their way through the smoke-filled home out into the front yard. There the father quickly counted heads and realized that their 5 year-old son was not among them. Suddenly he heard a wail and looked up to see the boy at his bedroom window, crying and rubbing his eyes. Knowing the danger of re-entering the house to rescue his son, the father called, “Jump, Son! I’ll catch you!”  Between sobs, the boy responded to the voice he knew so well. “But, I can’t see you, Daddy!” The father answered with great assurance. “No, Son, you can’t see me, but I can see you! Jump!” At that, the boy jumped into the smoky darkness and found himself safely cradled in his father’s arms. Our scripture today is about trusting – about having faith – about being able to discern the fact that our God is with us.

 2: “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.” (A story about presumptuous faith). A man named Smith climbed upon the roof of his riverside house during a flood, confident that his God would save him miraculously.  When the flood waters had covered his feet a neighbor in his canoe paddled past and shouted, “Can I give you a lift to a higher ground?” “No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.” Soon the water had risen to Smith’s waist. At this point a motor boat pulled up and someone invited him to get into the boat and escape. But Mr. Smith adamantly refused the offer declaring his faith in the saving power of his God. Later when Smith was standing on the roof with water up to his neck somebody from a helicopter dropped a rope and the pilot yelled at him, “Grab the rope before the water currents push you down.” “No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.” But after a while Mr. Smith lost his grip on the roof, fought for his life for a time and finally drowned. As he arrived at the Pearly Gates he met his God and launched a complaint about this turn of events. “Tell me, Lord,” he said, “I had such faith in You to save me and You let me down. Why? It was not fair.” The Lord replied, “What did you expect Me to do? I sent two boats and a helicopter to save you.”
From the 
In the story of creation found in the Book of Genesis, we read where Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit, something which had been specifically denied them. Knowing that God is searching for them, they attempt to hide. It is a scene perhaps reminiscent of many of our childhoods when we had done something that we were not supposed to and we literally hid from our searching parents. Finally God finds them, as we know that He will, for, after all, where can we go to hide from God? God asks them why they are hiding. Do you remember the response that Adam gave: "Because, I was afraid?" 

I think this very poignant story reminds us that fear is so basic to whom we are as humans, it goes all the way back to the beginning of time. To be human is to experience fear.
 There seems to be no limit to our fears. In a peanuts cartoon strip Charlie Brown goes to Lucy for a nickels worth of psychiatric help. She proceeds to pinpoint his particular 'fear'. Perhaps, she says, you have hypengyophobia, which is the fear of responsibility. Charlie Brown says no. Well, perhaps you have ailurophobia, which is the fear of cats. No. Well, maybe you have climacophobia, which is the fear of staircases. No. Exasperated, Lucy says well, maybe you have pantophobia, which is the fear of everything. Yes, says Charles, that is the one! 

Sometimes we feel like we are afraid of everything. We are afraid of ourselves. We are afraid of people. We are afraid of the future. We are afraid of the past. We are afraid of life. We are afraid of death.  Every person, every Christian, must fight their own fears. Even Paul, the sturdy Christian warrior, had to do so...
Your most beloved things are not always your most perfect things.
And your most beloved relationships are not always your most perfect relationships.  

Remember your "blankie?" Come on now, you all had one. And it was in perfect shape, right? It was the rattiest, most stained, most beat up thing anyone has ever seen. But the condition it was in mattered not a wit at nap time, or bedtime, or cry time.  
Or what about that stuffed animal? Come on, now. You all had one. And it was in perfect shape, right? No matter how unstuffed your stuffed animal, or how smelly and gross it was, all that mattered was that your special, indispensable friend was within arms' length when you needed a comforter.  

Isaiah 40:1 offers the ultimate "comfort food" - at least for those of us who have outgrown blankies and stuffed animals but still need to have that comfort moment when we are in the midst of the world's unending maelstrom of misery. Here it is: "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God." Isaiah 40:1 makes it crystal clear that God is ultimately concerned with healing, not with hurting, humanity. Jesus saw himself in his first coming, not as a judge dispensing justice, but as a physician dispensing healing. (Matthew 9:9-13).
In this week's epistle text that message is once again extolled and embellished. Paul makes the point that he always makes: the point that righteousness through human attempts at good works, through the dutiful "actions" of keeping the law, will always result in failure. Humans just cannot be "good enough" do-gooders to get in good with God...

We All Need This Boat 
Our friend William Willimon, the Dean of the Chapel at Duke, tells of a visit he made one afternoon to the office of a lawyer in his congregation. It was just a drop-in. Will says he did not know the man that well - his wife seemed to bear the church interest for the family. Listen to the story in Will's own words:

"It was at the end of the day. I entered the outer office of his law firm. Everyone had left. All was dark, except for a light coming from the inner office. He called to me. Invited me to come back to his office.

"'Didn't expect to see you here, preacher,' he said in a voice that sounded tired. 'Come on in, I was just about to fix myself a drink. Can I interest you in one?'

"'Sure,' I said, 'if it's caffeine free, diet.'

"He poured out the drinks, offered me a seat, reared himself back in his chair, feet on the disordered desk before him.
"'What sort of day have you had?' I asked.
"'A typical day,' he said, again sounding tired. 'Misery.'
"'Oh, I'm sorry. What was miserable about it?' I asked.

"'My day began with my assisting a couple evict their aging father from his house so they could take everything he has while he's in the nursing home. All legal. Not particularly moral, but legal. Then, by lunchtime I was helping a client evade his workers' insurance payments. It's legal! This afternoon, I have been enabling a woman to ruin her husband's life forever with the sweetest divorce you ever saw. That's my day.'
 "What could I say?

"'Which,' he continued, 'helps explain why I'm in your church on a Sunday morning.'
 "'I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed,' I said, 'thinking what on earth I have to say in a sermon which might be helpful to you on a Sunday.'

"'It's not the sermon that I come for, preacher,' he said, fixing his gaze upon me. 'It's the music. I go a whole week sometimes with nothing beautiful, little good, until Sunday. Sometimes, when that choir sings, it is for me the difference between life and death.'"

 Why are YOU here? You don't have to answer. The fact that you ARE here is enough. You NEED this ship. We all do. Stay in the boat. Because it is here we hear, "Take heart. It is I; don't be afraid."

David E. Leininger, Stay in the Boat!
Humor: Missing the Rocks 

There is a joke concerning this text that has gone around for years about three ministers out fishing together in a small boat. One of them, suddenly realizing that he had left his tackle box in the cabin, stepped out of the boat, and walked on the water over to shore. Just then, the second one said he had forgotten his faithful fishing hat on the front seat of the car. He too stepped out of the boat and walked on the water over to shore. When they had both returned, the third minister who had watched this remarkable demonstration with mouth open and eyes wide, reasoned to himself "My faith is as strong as theirs. I can do that too."

So he stepped out of the boat and promptly sank to the bottom. His two companions dragged him out, but once they got him in the boat, he was determined not to be shown up. He stepped out once more, and immediately sank again. As his friends pulled him out, he sputtered, "My faith is as strong as yours. Why can't I walk on the water?"

The first two looked at each another and one finally said, "We'd better tell him where those rocks are before he drowns himself."

David E. Leininger, Mayday!
 Do Not Be Afraid

 "Do not be afraid." The scriptures make this announcement over and over again. These are usually the first words out of angel's mouths. Abraham, Moses, Mary, Joseph, shepherds tending their flocks, Paul sitting in a jail cell, the women looking for Christ's body at Easter and disciples rowing a boat in the strong wind all hear these words. In all, these words occur almost 100 times in the scriptures. Apparently, humans are very fearful creatures and we are in need of faith to function properly in the world.

Todd Weir, Do Not Be Afraid
 Hanging by an Inch 

There is a character in the classic work Don Quixote named Pancho Sanchez. Pancho Sanchez hangs in fear from the ledge of a window all night long, too frightened to let go. When morning dawns he discovers his toes are only an inch off the ground. It's amusing to think of Simon Peter climbing out of the boat trying to imitate his Lord by walking on the water. Then, like a cartoon character, he makes the mistake of looking around. "What in the world am I doing?" he asked himself and suddenly he begins to sink. How often that happens in life. People are charting a successful course in their business, in their marriage, in their walk with Christ, and then they begin to listen to their fears. "What if I fail? What if the market fails? What if my faith is misplaced?" and they begin slowly to sink.

King Duncan, Barking Pigs and Determined Disciples
 Unbounded Faith

 This summer, I took part in a chaplaincy program at Crouse hospital, where one of my assigned units was the neonatal intensive care unit. There I watched babies born 1, 2, 3 months early, struggle for their lives, struggle to eat, to breathe, to gain even an ounce. The mothers there, whether they considered themselves religious or not, suddenly found themselves having to rely on faith, suddenly found themselves believing in, hoping for, depending on miracles. It was hard for an outsider, even a chaplain, to understand the kind of faith required in this special nursery. 

At first I would look at some of the tiniest babies, some of the 1 lb. babies, and try to be realistic. To prepare myself for the grief I might experience, I tried to expect the real possibility that the smallest babies might not make it. I hoped for the best, but I tried to balance my hopes with realism, with the reality confronting me, so that I wouldn't be disappointed if a miracle didn't happen, so that I wouldn't be hurt if I did have to confront sorrow and loss. But the mothers there would tell you that my attitude wasn't what was needed there - they would tell you that no matter what the odds, they had to hope for a miracle, with all their heart, with all the faith they could muster. There was nothing practical about their faith, no consideration for realism in what they dreamed of happening. Perhaps this was the kind of faith Jesus was asking of Peter out on the sea that day. Unbounded faith, unrestrained, unmeasured, uncalculated. Perhaps this is the kind of faith Jesus is asking, demanding, expecting of us.

 Beth Quick, What Did You/do We Expect?
 Now I Know Why Jesus Walked! 

This is a familiar story. Mark Twain refers to it in one of his books. He recalls a visit to the Holy Land and a stay in Capernaum. It was a moonlit night, so he decided to take his wife on a romantic boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Twain asked a man in a rowboat how much he would charge to take them out on the water. The man saw Twain's white suit, white shoes and white hat and supposed he was a rich Texan. So he said the cost would be twenty-five dollars. Twain walked away as he said, "Now I know why Jesus walked." 

 David Leininger, Stay in the Boat!,
 Motorcycle Churches

 Even churches can know what it is to walk on the water. Wes Seliger is an unconventional Episcopal clergyman who loves motorcycles. He tells about being in a motorcycle shop one day, drooling over a huge Honda 750 and wishing that he could buy it. A salesman came over and began to talk about his product. He talked about speed, acceleration, excitement, the attention-getting growl of the pipes, racing, risk. He talked about how the good-looking girls would be attracted to anyone riding on such a cycle.

Then he discovered that Wes was a minister. It always happens, doesn't it? Immediately the salesman changed his language and even the tone of his voice. He spoke quietly and talked about good mileage and visibility. It was indeed a "practical" vehicle.

Wes observed: "Lawnmower salespersons are not surprised to find clergypersons looking at their merchandise; motorcycle salespersons are. Why? Does this tell us something about clergypersons and about the church? Lawnmowers are slow, safe, sane, practical, and middle-class. Motorcycles are fast, dangerous, wild, thrilling." Then Wes asks a question: "Is being a Christian more like mowing a lawn or like riding a motorcycle? Is the Christian life safe and sound or dangerous and exciting?" He concludes, "The common image of the church is pure lawnmower--slow, deliberate, plodding. Our task is to take the church out on the open road, give it the gas, and see what the old baby will do!" 

Is our church a lawn mower church or a motorcycle church? Maybe it's time we took more risks for God.

 King Duncan, Don't Look Down,
 Augustine on Miracles

 "Miracles are not a contradiction of nature. They are only in contradiction to what we know of nature."

 St. Augustine
 Trust in the Father in the Midst of the Storm

 One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

 Traditional Story

 Staring at the Cross

 Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that only once during his long imprisonment in a labor camp in the Soviet Union did he become so discouraged that he thought about suicide. He was outdoors, on a work detail, and he had reached a point where he no longer cared whether he lived or died. When he had a break, he sat down, and a stranger sat beside him, someone he had never seen before and would never see again. For no apparent reason, this stranger took a stick and drew a cross on the ground. Solzhenitsyn sat and stared at that cross for a long while. He later wrote, "Staring at that cross, I realized that therein lies freedom." At that point - in the midst of a storm - he received new courage and the will to live. The storm didn’t end that day, but through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Solzhenitsyn found the strength to ride it out.

 I don’t know what storm of life will come your way this week, or what storm you may be enduring at this very moment. But I know this: even as the storm rages around you, if you will listen very carefully with your heart, you will hear a gentle voice calling to you, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”(Mark 6:50) And in time the storm will pass. And our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, will still be there.


Stories for Reflection: 

During World War II, in London there was a blitz bombing at night. The people stayed each night in underground protection. But one Christian lady just stayed at home and slept through all the bombing. When asked about it, she said, "Well, my God neither slumbers nor sleeps, and there's no need for both of us to stay awake!"


1) Storms reveal to us the true source of our strength. It is the presence of Jesus which gives us peace even in the wildest storms of life: storms of sorrow, storms of doubt, tension and uncertainty, storms of anxiety and worries, storms of anger and despair, storms of temptations. Storms reveal our inability to save ourselves and point us to the infinite ability of God to save us. When Jesus shows up in our life’s storms, we find that we gain strength to do the seemingly impossible. For example, when Jesus shows up he makes marriages out of mistakes, he invigorates, restores, and empowers us to reach the unreachable, to cross the un-crossable. Storms let us know that without him, we can do nothing, without him we are doomed to fail. Yet, when Jesus shows up, we gain the strength to join Paul, saying, “In Christ I can do all things.” But this demands a personal relationship with God, with Jesus, enhanced through prayer, meditative study of scripture and active sacramental life.

2) Don’t put limits to God’s presence: There are those who would limit God’s presence for their own comfort or security or to keep themselves in power. In years past there were those who would deny God’s presence in slaves. There have been those who would ignore God’s presence in their enemies. There are those who would refuse to believe that God is present in the murderer sitting on death row, in those who are marginalized by our society: the gay person, the addict, the person living with AIDS, the illegal alien, the handicapped. It is in situations like these that we have to get out of the boat, surprise the others and show them the reflection of God in such people. Let us always look for the ways to be surprised by our God and the opportunities to wake one another up to the beauty, the power and the nearness of our loving, providing and protecting God.

1) Ministers walking on water! There is the story about three clergymen: a Jewish Rabbi, a Protestant minister and a Catholic priest. They were fishing together. They rowed to the middle of a small lake and cast their lines. Soon they ran out of bait. The rabbi volunteered to go for more. Calmly he stepped off the boat and walked across the water to the shore. When he returned in the same manner, it was discovered that the trio’s canteens were empty. Immediately the minister collected them and, like the rabbi, walked across the water to the shore and filled them up and returned. Later, when the men grew hungry, they realized they had forgotten a lunch basket, whereupon the priest quickly rose, stepped off the boat and immediately plunged to the bottom of the lake. When he had surfaced, he heard the rabbi say to the minister, “I suppose we really should have told him where the stones are.”

When we reflect on our faith, we often under­stand it in terms of our belief in the teachings of Christ. We normally include in it also what­ever the Church teaches us in his name. But faith in Christ means certainly much more than these things. On the day of our Baptism, the Spirit gave us the light to understand Jesus' teachings, and added to that light, a trust in his power and goodness, and a convic­tion of his closeness to us. This trust and con­viction prompts us to abandon ourselves into Jesus' hands, come what may, in life. Faith means precisely this: an abandoning of ourselves into the hands of the Risen Lord; it means to put our trust in his power and in his goodness.           

This faith in Christ can be compared to a seed, which God plants in our heart. It sprouts at Baptism, and under the influence of the Spirit within us, grows into a tree. Our task in this world is to see to it that it keeps growing throughout life, yields fruits of love, and eventually, brings forth eternal life at our death. 

But our faith is threatened throughout our lives. The readings of today, particularly the Gospel, give us precious advice as to how to behave when our faith in Christ is endangered. Whenever we get upset for something, it will always be because we fail to recognize Jesus in the events or persons that upset us. Nothing ever happens in our life in which God does not have a hand, sin excepted.  

"Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!" What a tremendous power and encouragement these words of Jesus contain...! The trouble is that we do not stop to listen to them in the midst of our worries. And yet Jesus always "walks towards us" whenever we are in trouble; he is never far from us. 

(Balloons story; Sept 22, 2001 in Chicago emigration). Let us not misunderstand the Gospel; it is not that all trouble cease once Jesus is with us; what Jesus calms down first of all is the storm within our own heart, helping us to accept God's plans with joy. Then our progress towards heaven "the place we are making for" becomes a fast progress. We shall be there in 'no time' and that should give us further courage in the struggle, and in­crease our trust in Jesus."  

On my part when I am in trouble, during times of trial, do I become so engrossed in my wor­ries so as to forget Jesus, who has the power to save me from any situation? Whenever I face difficult situations, do I get too much preoccu­pied, anxiously looking around for human help, rather than making a fervent prayer, "Lord, save me!”
Trust in the Father in the Midst of the Storm One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."