The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: August 7, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
This summer, we have witnessed our world ravaged by violence, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression. Trapped in the trauma and tragedy of today’s tumultuous tides, we eventually come to the stark realization that our former beliefs are no longer adequate to give meaning to what is happening. Our old convictions erode away threatening to dissolve into nothingness. In these dark times, we find ourselves clinging desperately to our beliefs like a lone piece of driftwood lost amidst a stormy sea. Clinging desperately to our need to be right, our need to feel secure, our need to be in control.
But the more we cling to the wreckage in our lives, the more our faith is measured in terms of tangible products and achievable outcomes. The more our words become colored in rhetorical tones of black and white—the more our thoughts become deeper and darker shades of red or blue. The more we become increasingly divided—raging against one another like waves in a tempest.
Yet, in these dark times, when all hope seems lost, Jesus says, “do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid to let go and surrender to the depths, for there we may encounter the greater depths of God’s love for us. For there true faith is born and we discover we are no longer alone.
One of the most profound expressions of faith born from the depths comes from a wealthy New York lawyer.
It was the 1870’s. The nation had just begun to heal from its wounds wrought by the Civil War. Horatio Spafford, a successful lawyer left New York for Chicago to invest in real estate. As business boomed and the city’s population tripled, Spafford became an immediate financial success. A faithful Christian blessed with a large family, beautiful home, and prosperity beyond measure, Spafford embodied the ideal of the American dream.
But, Spafford was not left untouched by life’s woes and tragedies. Three months following the death of his four-year-old son, Spafford’s entire fortune literally went up in flames as Chicago burned to the ground. At the end of the day, 300 were left dead; 98,000 were homeless. Yet in the midst of his personal loss and grief, Spafford refused to cling to his losses; instead he reached out to help the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken throughout the city.
After two years of humanitarian service, Spafford planned a family vacation to England for rest and renewal. Delayed by some last minute business, Spafford remained in Chicago sending his four daughters and wife ahead. A few days later, Spafford received word that the ship carrying his family had crashed into an iron tanker in the middle of the night. The ship sank within twelve minutes dragging 226 people to their deaths. All four of Spafford’s daughters drowned; his wife alone was saved.
Embarking on his voyage to England, Spafford was overcome with grief as he passed over the spot where his daughters lay beneath the waves. Gazing into the fathoms of sorrow below, such depths of tragedy opened Horatio Spafford to encounter the unfathomable grace and love of God more fully than ever before. In this moment, he writes:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Horatio Spafford reveals the hope and healing that are possible when we have the courage to gaze into the unfathomable depths—when we surrender our selves, our souls, and bodies to God that we too may experience the Love that transforms sorrow into hope; that bathes the world’s deepest darkness in wave after wave of eternal, healing light.
Today’s service specially invites us all on a journey to the depths of healing surrender in God. Come you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been here long, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. Come all who love God and all who want to love him more. Come bringing any and all needs for yourself, someone you love, or the world. Enter into this sacred space of healing—a space which we all belong; where we all are held in God, framed by God—a place where we find God present to each of us. Amen.