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In the Midst of the Storm

St. John’s Lutheran Church
23 June 2024 + Lectionary 12b
Mark 4:35-41
Rev. Josh Evans

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A mysterious new alarm appears on the console. “It’s probably not important,” they say, dismissively.

Such is where we leave the intrepid crew of personified emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – safely in “Headquarters,” having navigated now 12-year-old Riley, in whose head they live, through a tumultuous and emotional year, following her family’s cross-country move from Minnesota to San Francisco.

A year later, Inside Out 2 picks up where its predecessor film left off – and that “probably not important” new alarm on the emotion console … turns out to be the “Puberty Alarm” – as Riley grows up, standing on the cusp of high school and all the changes and feelings it brings with it.

(Fair warning: This sermon contains some minor spoilers – but it’s a Pixar movie – how much can I really spoil that’s not already predictable?)

Suddenly, the core emotions of Riley’s personality are joined by a quartet of new, more nuanced emotions that accompany the teenage years. Enter Envy, Embarrassment, Ennui … and of course, Anxiety.

Predictably, the two sets of personified emotions begin to clash almost immediately, with Joy and Anxiety taking the lead for their respective groups.

When Riley heads to a summer hockey camp with her two best friends, shortly after finding out they would soon be parting ways to go to two different high schools, Joy initially takes control, insisting that Riley’s main goal should be to have fun.

But Anxiety has a different plan – hijacking control of Headquarters and ejecting Joy’s very carefully curated “Sense of Self” – the part of Riley’s mind that holds the memories that make up her core personality – into the back of Riley’s mind … along with all the old emotions. Unencumbered by Joy or her compatriots, Anxiety’s plan is to start from scratch. Abandon Riley’s past and focus on her future.

While Joy and company struggle to find their way back to Headquarters to restore Riley’s old Sense of Self, Anxiety, with the best of intentions, feverishly tries to cobbles together a new Sense of Self – by forging alliances with the older high school kids at camp … at the expense of leaving behind Riley’s old friends.

Tensions between the competing groups of emotions come to a head during the last scrimmage of camp, with Anxiety in Headquarters swarming the console to maintain control – and Riley in very real time beginning to experience a panic attack – while Joy, now at the center of the storm with Anxiety, tries to reason with her fellow emotion: “You don’t get to choose who Riley is!” she pleads.

In the midst of Riley’s panic attack… at the center of the storm … out of control and seemingly helpless …


“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

The story is a familiar one: It opens on Jesus with his disciples in a boat, when suddenly a great storm picks up, the waves crashing into the boat, the disciples doing everything they know as seasoned fishermen, desperately splashing water back out of the boat, surely thinking they would drown … and their teacher … asleep on the job.

Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Then Jesus wakes up, calms the storm, and the miracle story concludes happily ever after. That’s the Sunday School version … but still there’s that lingering question in the midst of it:

Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Of course he cares. Jesus cares very much. This is the core of our faith – that God cares so much that God became one of us, to enter into our human reality, in all its messiness. God cares so much that God is in the boat – in the midst of the storm – with the disciples.

But still the question.

The way I hear it, their question isn’t so much a question of doubt, but a prayer of lament – deeply embedded in the biblical tradition of the psalmist who in one breath cries out:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And in another declares:

“In the midst of the assembly I will praise you … for God did not hide God’s face from me but heard when I cried to God.”

Lament – as the biblical tradition reminds us – is not the absence of faith but a testimony to God’s abiding presence, despite all evidence to the contrary.

A prayer of lament presupposes its own answer. The disciples cry out because it’s all they can muster – but they also cry out because they know, in the end, they’re not alone. They cry out because they know their teacher is with them, and they know what he can do.

“Do you not care?” Of course I do.

The lesson the disciples learn is that being in a relationship with Jesus doesn’t mean the bad stuff goes away, or that they don’t have to deal with it anymore.

Being in a relationship with Jesus means that the bad stuff doesn’t have the final word.

The bad stuff doesn’t have the final word.

This is the struggle of what it means when we confess that we are simultaneously both sinner and saint. It’s the struggle of the baptized life, as Luther so aptly names in his Small Catechism:

“[Baptism] signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Daily dying and rising – dying to the old self in order for a new self to be born … a sort of hybrid self that doesn’t exempt us from struggle but that also gives us the power to be freed from its clutches.

“Sin has power no more,” as the hymn proclaims.


Back in Headquarters, as Joy and Anxiety each vie for control of Riley’s Sense of Self, at the epicenter of the storm of Riley’s panic attack, Joy pleads: “You don’t get to choose who Riley is.”

“You’re right,” Anxiety responds. “We don’t get to choose who Riley is.”

In their mutual epiphany, both Joy and Anxiety realize that neither of them gets to control who is Riley is becoming, but rather that an entirely new Sense of Self is being born – one that holds both Riley’s good and bad memories – that enables Riley to overcome her panic attack and ultimately enables her to reconcile with her old friends while forging relationships with new friends.

dying and a rising. Baptismal grace through Pixar. Who would’ve imagined?

When Riley’s new Sense of Self emerges, all the memories that make her who she is are intact – all the experiences and all the people who surround her, support her, challenge her, and uplift her – a part of who she is.

This too is the promise of baptism … as we are surrounded by a beloved community that supports and challenges and uplifts and encourages us daily.

It’s the promise in the boat, in the midst of the storm, together not just with their teacher who has the power to save them, but with one another.

It is a promise that is for each of us: surrounded daily by the ever-present love of God – a love that cannot be severed and must always be shared … poured out in abundance at this font, around this table, in this community.

Thanks be to God.

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