If you were here in worship last week, you found out that I spent last Sunday morning preaching at the 116th Annual Daughters of Scotia Convention in downtown Hartford. I knew it was going to be a good worship service when Chuck Murdoch played the bagpipes and led the worship processional. And it was truly wonderful to laugh and sing and gather to praise God with a group of nearly three hundred Scottish women and their spouses.
I confess that I did have to listen carefully at the end of the service when I was standing in the doorway and people greeted me with pronounced Scottish accents. Although there is a town of Abernethy in Scotland, making me a fitting choice as the morning preacher, I’ve never actually been to Scotland. And I don’t have much practice hearing and deciphering a thick Scottish brogue.
In addition to the Daughters of Scotia offering money which was designated for Simply Smiles, last Sunday morning gave me a couple of unexpected blessings. As I prepared for last week’s worship service and even during the worship service itself, I was able to reflect on my own heritage. Coupled with the fact that I attended a family reunion about seven weeks ago where I learned more than I ever knew about Abernethy generations past. And the fact that Scotland has been very much in the news recently as it voted this week about whether to declare its independence. Over the past couple of months I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about who I am in terms of the land where I trace a good portion of my ancestry.
The other blessing of last week’s worship service came in the form of memories. Beyond my immediate family, the Abernethy’s I knew best in my childhood were my grandparents. Bradford Abernethy, or “Grandpa Brad” as his grandchildren called him, is the one in whose honor I received my middle name. And Jean Abernethy, or “Grandma Jean” as her grandchildren called her, is one who instilled in me at a young age a love of nature and the outdoors…
When I was a child, our family used to spend time every summer at my grandparents cottage up in Deering, New Hampshire. My two sisters, my brother, and I loved that cottage, which is known as “Deepwood.” We loved boating and swimming and fishing and cooking out and making homemade ice cream with my Abernethy grandparents.
During the summer, one of the best parts of Deepwood was being able to sleep at night out on the screened in porch. As I fell asleep I could hear the sound of the wind rustling through the tall pine trees that shadowed Deepwood. And I could hear the sound of the water in the Deering Reservoir as it lapped against the shore and against the dock about fifty yards down the hill from the screen porch.
The combination of dark nights, peaceful sounds, and a consistently cool breeze made for wonderful sleeping on the porch most summer nights. But every so often, a thunderstorm would move through southern New Hampshire right around bedtime. My parents and grandparents would roll the protective canvas down from one end of the porch to the other in order to prevent rain from coming in through the screens and pooling on the porch floor. Meanwhile, the calm, peaceful, relaxing night of sleep the porch typically promised, quickly faded as the storm picked up intensity.
When the lightning flashed and the thunder clapped, the Deepwood porch suddenly seemed frightening. The porch was exposed and bad weather left my siblings and me feeling vulnerable and anxious. Thank God we had my grandmother around on those loud, rainy, stormy nights.
Grandma Jean would finish unrolling the canvas and then she would spend a few moments saying goodnight to each of the four of us. Finally, before she left, she would stand in the middle of the porch and sing “The Skye Boat Song” to us. If you are Scottish yourself, you may well recognize the song by its title or its tune.
In any case, my grandmother knew the melody to the Skye Boat Song but I’m not sure how many of the words she ever knew. Or maybe she simply forgot the words as she grew older. Eventually, she sang only the first and last stanzas of the chorus. “Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing…over the sea to Skye.”
Yet whatever words my grandmother happened to remember on any given stormy night were merely a bonus. The best part of the song was when she hummed the bars she couldn’t remember with passionate emphasis and various humming sounds.
“Rum pa pum pum. “La la la la. Deedle de dee de dee.” Swaying back and forth with the lilt of the melody, my Grandma Jean actually turned the song into a performance. So much so that in my younger years I eagerly awaited the moment when my grandmother lost track of the words and created her own brand new script…
Looking back, the Skye Boat Song was my grandmother’s best lullaby. Every time she finished the Skye Boat Song it made me smile. And I always felt better about falling asleep out on the porch in the middle of the storm…
Once upon a time there was a storm that spread across the Sea of Galilee. Thunder, lighting, rain…according to Mark’s Gospel it was a great windstorm. As they sat in their boat, furiously paddling against the gusting gales and the rising tide, the disciples were exposed. The storm was fierce and the disciples felt vulnerable and anxious and afraid.
Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep in back of the boat. The lightning flashed. The thunder roared. Whitecaps formed on top of the water. But somehow Jesus managed to nod off.
I have no doubt Jesus was tired. When I think of Jesus I don’t often picture him sleeping. But after a long day of teaching and healing and large crowds of people, he was undoubtedly exhausted…as any of us would be.
Unfortunately, Jesus could not have been asleep long. If it was just the storm, I assume Jesus would have kept on dozing. But the disciples started to panic and they would not, could not leave Jesus alone. So the disciples woke Jesus up frantically. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
No such thing as a leisurely wake up call, Jesus made two rapid choices. First, he decided to heed the request and calm the storm. Then he decided to teach the disciples a lesson.
“Peace! Be still!” Instantly the wind ceased and the boat stopped rocking and the surface of the water grew tame. For Jesus, calming the storm was the easy part. On the other hand, as soon as the storm stopped, Jesus refused to let his disciples off the hook. “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
At the end of that long day of listening to Jesus out among throngs of people, you would think the disciples would have had some shred of confidence they would be safe…even in a big storm. As he traveled the Galilean countryside with his twelve friends, Jesus told countless stories about the abundant love of God and the peace of the Holy Spirit and having enough faith to overcome fear. All the disciples had to do was remember. And trust. And maybe even repeat one or two of their master’s stories to each other as the storm was building.
In the end, however, those disciples weren’t so different from any of us. You and I have witnessed signs of Jesus Christ in our lives. We’ve heard the stories Jesus told long ago. Many of us have experienced the kind of peace that Jesus grants…the peace that passes all understanding.
But too often our faith is not all it could be. When the storms of life suddenly arise and start to rage around us, we cry out to God with the same words and the same tone of voice, “why don’t you care?” Like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, we wonder why Jesus won’t do something to make the storms go away…
The truth is the storm will eventually pass. There will come a time when the wind stops whistling and the waves cease and the thunder and lightning fade into the distance. Coming and going…it’s what storms do.
In the meantime, you and I simply have to be reminded. Just like Jesus questioned the disciples out in the boat, we need to be assured again that in the presence of Jesus Christ, all will be well. Even when the storms are loud and terrifying and we feel anxious and vulnerable, Jesus is with us.
Peace. Be still. Don’t be afraid. When Jesus spoke those words out in the boat on the Sea of Galilee it was his best version of a lullaby. Letting each one us know that when we’re frightened and we don’t have as much faith as we need…with Jesus beside us, we can face any storm. Amen.