Does Any One Know?
Text: Philippians 4: 4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I think I may have mentioned before that I completed my undergraduate work at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry; many people think Marquette is a suburb of Chicago and the home of Marquette University. Not quite, right but sort of the same territory.
Marquette, the town, is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and right on the shores of Lake Superior. This makes it a beautiful spot, but also makes it cold in the winter. When the weather was decent, one of the favorite family activities was to go to any number of the beaches and lakeside parks for some fun or a picnic or on very rare occasions, a swim.
Quite often when we were on the shores of Lake Superior we would notice on the horizon an iron ore tanker heading toward Chicago or Cleveland or other points south. These ships were enormous; you could see them on the horizon, probably 8 or 10 miles out, and they still looked big. If you have ever seen a cruise ship up close, that is as good of a comparison as I can make. These iron ore tankers would load up with iron ore taken from the mines in Upper Michigan and Wisconsin and then deliver the ore to steel processing plants in the bigger cities.
In the late 1950’s there was an iron ore tanker built, which at the time, was the largest tanker ever created. It was called the Edmund Fitzgerald. In November of 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald took on a load of iron ore from a plant in Wisconsin. They loaded over 26,000 tons of iron ore onto this vessel; that is around 53 or 54 million pounds. No wonder they were big!
About 24 hours after leaving port the Edmund Fitzgerald hit a storm with gale force winds and 30 foot waves, perhaps even higher. Eventually the Edmund Fitzgerald lost its battle with the storm and it sank into the icy waters of Lake Superior and all 29 men on board perished.
The waters of Lake Superior are shared between the United States and Canada, so news of the Edmund Fitzgerald had an impact on both countries. In Canada, there was an upcoming singer and songwriter who was moved by the news of this event and his name is Gordon Lightfoot. In 1976 Gordon Lightfoot included a song he had written about the event on an album he released that year; the song was simply titled, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.
Hidden in the lyrics of this ballad is an extremely important question. I wanted to discuss this question today, but the story and the context in which this particular question is asked in this song, I think, makes it even more pointed. So we are going to take a few minutes and listen to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. I want you to read along with the lyrics as they are projected and watch carefully for the question I have mentioned.
Before I play the song, there may be a couple of things that would be good to mention. The song opens with the lyric: “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down”. The first time I heard the song, I didn’t know what that meant. The Chippewa are a Native American tribe that have roots in the area and they have legends about Lake Superior which they have handed down through many generations. It is also worth noting the Chippewa call Lake Superior “Gitche Gumee” which means huge water. So you can watch for that as well.
Watch it here, from YouTube
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
At seven pm a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Lake Huron rolls, superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘gitche gumee’
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
Who noticed the question? There is more than one in the song, but the question I wanted to pay attention to today is this one: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn minutes to hours?”
I wanted you to experience this question in the context of the sorrow and grief of this tragedy, because it is such a valid question. I’m also certain we have all experienced moments in our lives that are similar to what this song describes. When the waves of life sweep over us and the anxiety rises up within us and our experience can be like the minutes have turned into hours.
Of course there is one major difference between us and the men in this song. We survived our times of peril, and these men did not. But the emotions, the anxiety, the fear and the test of our faith, I believe, can be every bit as real in the moment, even if you do survive.
Even Jesus, at one point, became so focused on his pain that he felt like the love of God had vanished. In his words from scripture Jesus actually asks a similar question; “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I think theologians have wrestled with this question for centuries, no, actually millennia and have not ever really produced what I consider to be an adequate answer. Where does the love of God go when we hit bottom? It seems like, if you have ever experienced this kind of despair, that you are in some kind of a well, all alone, with no way out and the presence of God that you may have felt at one point in your life is no longer there. Even the love of God has left you alone. These are dark times in our lives and sometimes hard to explain; but they seem to happen at one point or another to almost all of us.
So where does God go?
The easy answer to this incredibly difficult question is that God never leaves. God is there with us. But that just seems like lip service when the pain and anguish and the fear begin to take over. If God is there, why can’t I feel that presence, why does it seem like God has vanished?
Maybe it has taken thousands of years for theologians and Bible gurus to answer this question because it requires a 21st century metaphor in order for us to understand what actually happens. At least for me, this is a way of possibly understanding the actual mechanics of this almost impossibly difficult question.
Before I give you the metaphorical answer to this question, I want to take you back to the text I read at the beginning of this message. In Philippians 4:6 we can find a basic instruction; 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Did you notice the two little words that are sort of slipped in with the rest of this text that say we are to ask “with thanksgiving?”
I think that means all the time. In every situation. Even the lowest of the low points in our lives, we are to pray with thanksgiving.
A couple of years ago there was a book on the New York Times best seller list. It is called “One Thousand Gifts” and the authors name is Ann Voskamp. This is a remarkable book that is the product of actual experience. It is based in real life, real situations, most of which have been experienced by the author. When Ann Voskamp was out of ideas and out of options she decided to try gratitude; she became thankful for everything and everybody. Good and bad. The results and depth of understanding she comes to is remarkable. If you have not read this book, I can highly recommend it. The story is inspiring and the author learned what the text in Philippians is trying to tells us; we are to ask in prayer with thanksgiving.
It sounds so simple and yet it is so hard. It is hard because as the anxiety grows within us, we simply forget to be thankful. We become so focused on what’s wrong, we can no longer see what is right. In the midst of your darkest day did you continue to breathe? Of course you did, or you wouldn’t be here. Did you remember to give thanks for that breath in the midst of your chaos? Probably not.
I mentioned a 21st century metaphor that might help us understand more deeply what it is I’m trying to say. This may not make any sense to you, but it helps me think about my relationship with God and it helps me remember to put into practice what this text in Philippians may be trying to say.
I often speak of God as a spirit or an energy that flows through all things, is in all things and can be found among all things. I also believe that spirit of God is within each of us as well. This spirit is invisible to our sight; we have no way of knowing it is there except that on occasion we can somehow connect with that spirit and we can feel that spiritual connection in our bodies. The connection carries emotion with it and we have a spiritual experience.
Now I want you to visualize being at home or at Starbucks or maybe McDonalds, but I want you to visualize yourself someplace that has wi-fi. The wi-fi signal is invisible to us, until we make a connection, right? But in order to make that connection, we need two things; we need a device capable of connecting and we need an ISP or internet service provider.
If we think about God as a wi-fi signal, it seems to fit that the signal is invisible and available to everyone if they can connect to it. We all have the devices required to connect to the wi-fi signal of God; that device is our human being, it is our minds, it is our emotions, it is our essence. But we still need the internet service provider, we need a way to log on.
I think gratitude is that internet service provider, gratitude is the password if you want to think about it in that way. When we become anxious, when we become focused on everything that is wrong, when despair is so deep we see no way out, we forgot to log on. We forget the gratitude password in the midst of our chaos and it seems like the love of God has vanished.
It has not. We just forgot the password.
Philippians 4:6 tells us the password is gratitude.
Go in peace and go with thanksgiving in your hearts.