Mark 4:35-41 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea,"Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" ***************************************************
I love the Gospel of Mark for so many reasons. I love the immediacy and the brevity of the story- I love that we get to see Jesus at his most human, sometimes even irritable self, and I love that throughout the Gospel of mark, the disciples, whenever they need to learn something or be taught something, return to the boat, which is a metaphor for church. A little bit of trivia here, this is why may of the interiors of our churches look like the hull of a ship- cool right?
Up to this point in Mark, Jesus has spent his entire ministry in Jewish territory. In the passage before, Jesus was teaching near the Sea of Galilee. When he is finished, Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to cross over "to the other side."
What's on the other side of the lake? Gentile, or, non-Jewish, territory. And actually, the words "to the other side" in Greek, can be translated "to go beyond"... so this little ministry is about to begin preaching and teaching "beyond" anything they have done before.. they will go "beyond" the Jewish community to bring the good news to people who would have been excluded, people they would not normally associate with- and I'll let you imagine from your own experience who those people might be, even for progressive, social justice oriented, inclusive christians. And it's ok- we all have them- non of us are Jesus, after all.
And, so the disciples take Jesus, the text says, "just as he was" and they all pile into the boat and head out on to the lake- to the other side. I don't know about you, but this is enough to make me a little bit nervous already- not just about going outside my comfort zone, but of taking Jesus, just as he is! Because if I'm honest, most of the time the Jesus I take onto my boat, looks a lot like the Jesus of my desires- the Jesus I can control- who thinks and acts, well, very much like me.
Now the other thing we often miss about this passage, is that Jesus, just as he was, had other boats with him. That from the very beginning, there is more than one "boat" more than just one group of believers out there. How cool is it to know that as we cross to the other side, we don't travel alone? But more about that later...
So, as they begin the voyage across the sea, Jesus, tired from his full day, goes down near the stern and pulls up a pillow to rest his head. He watches the beautiful sunset, the sea gulls dipping and rising... he feels the gentle rhythm of the boat... and eventually he falls asleep. Now, on the Sea of Galilee, the storms can whip up quickly, and before you know it, wind funneling down from the cliffs bring pelting rain and with it monstrous waves that toss the ship around like a toy in a bathtub. There's water coming over the sides, thunder and lightning like there is no tomorrow and everyone on board is getting thrown around like rag dolls... not sure if the boat would even hold together...
The disciples rush around the boat trying to secure whatever they can, shouting to each other over the wind and rain. Andrew yells out... 'Peter, go get that extra rope near the stern.’ But as Peter makes his way to the other side of the boat, he can’t get to the rope, because Jesus’ soaking wet robe is blocking him from reaching under the seat! “Jesus! Move! Mooove…come on, move out of the way…” But then Peter looks closer and sees that Jesus is sound asleep! He even has a little smile on his face… as if he’s dreaming of eating a bowl of ice cream or getting a new puppy or something. Are you kidding me? He’s sleeping?!!!
And again, this makes me uneasy... When I'm in the midst of a storm- or when my church is in the midst of a storm, this is not the Jesus I want. When it's raining sideways in my life- I want Jesus at the stern, yeah, but I want George Orwell's 1984 "Big Brother" Jesus... wire tapping your phone, looking at your internet sites, infringing on your privacy, homeland security, always watching and quick to intervene, type Jesus! In fact, not for nothing... if "sentinel Jesus" had been watching out for me... protecting me... Keeping me from trouble... How could he have let this happen? “Hey Jesus!" Peter kicks- "Wake UP! Don’t you know we're going through a huge storm here? Don’t you care? We might die! How can you/how DARE you sleep?”
Let's stop here a second. Another little bit of trivia for you- 'Sleeping,' in Jewish culture, was a metaphor for trust. Jesus sleeps, yes of course... Jesus trusts in God. Of all of the people running around the decks of our churches lately screaming "the sky is falling" or "we are dying" or "we're not sure if we're going to hold together" you know who isn't running around with them? Jesus... because no matter how it looks to us, Jesus trusts that God has a plan, bigger than any storm, bigger than anything that can come against the church and threaten to overtake it. My friends, we NEED Jesus sleeping on our boats, Amen?
And this is usually the point in the story, where we traditionally look at the disciples as mere cowards... or as not having enough faith because they didn't let Jesus sleep... that they perhaps didn't have enough "trust"... like Jesus did... "Tsk tsk tsk disciples, still don't get it do you..." "they should have been more spiritual."
But I'll tell you what- as much as they may have been in a panic- and as much as they may have been disturbed to find Jesus quietly trusting and sleeping- the disciples simple and demanding "Wake up Jesus!" is exactly the type of bold prayer we could ever hope to pray.
So many times we approach God as pleading, whining children- worried about our future and the future of our churches, and even of Christianity... The winds of change rushing down off the cliffs bring a pelting rain of fear- monstrous waves of worry tossing us around like rag dolls, we beg, God, please help us! The storms God, they threaten to overtake us, and though we don't deserve it, please, please save us- save our church, we need money, we need more people, we need life and children, and young people, and money (I know I said money twice- but that's usually a big one), please, we don't know if we'll hold together!"
But this isn't the disciples approach. When the storms come, Peter all but kicks Jesus awak and says, wake up! And don't hear arrogance there. I hear confidence. I hear boldness. I hear a surety in God's promise- a prayer which stands on the promise of God as a partner that is found throughout scripture: "Wake up God! You promised to be with us, you told us you had a plan, and right now I'm not feeling it!"
Now this kind of praying (at least in my mind) does 2 things (at least) First, it focuses our attention from the storm to the only one who can save us from that storm. And second- it reminds us of and affirms the plan and promise God has for healing and reconciling the world...
But lets go back to the story...
Jesus picks his head up off the pillow and still dazed gives a yawn and a stretch- moves a strand of wet hair out of his eyes... and in this story he does what we all hope in our heart of hearts that he will do for us-He stands up and stops the madness--- he rebukes… he scolds the wind, and he says to the sea… “Peace! Be Still!” In the Greek, “be Muzzled!” "Restrain yourself! Knock it off!” And the storm stops...dead calm.
And the disciples stare open mouthed at Jesus… and no one says… a word.
“Why are you afraid?” says Jesus… “Do you still have no faith?”
It’s interesting to me that Jesus doesn’t say to them, why were you afraid... He said why ARE you afraid. Even after the storm had passed… even after they knew they were not in danger… even after the sea was a smooth as glass… the disciples are still scared to death! In fact, the last verse is “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" If we translate that literally from the Greek, it really says, not that they were filled with great awe, but that ‘they feared great fear…’
Why is it that no matter how many times we've seen God get us through something, we still worry about when the next storm will come, and if we will make it?
I also wonder about the other boats on the water that day, who also experienced the storm through their eyes. I mean Jesus didn't just calm the storm for the disciples, but for all the boats on the water... we get into a mindset every now and then that focuses on us, on our church, on our survival. We forget that Jesus brings other boats with him- I wonder, if they had tried to weather the storm together, even tried to connect during the storm... what would have happened? Wait a minute- are you saying that we're responsible for all the boats on the water for all churches? No- God is responsible for God's church- not us- but what we are responsible for is realizing that we are not the only church out here- that Jesus intended for us to be connected, to be yolked- we don't all have to have the same mission, or the same interpretation of scripture, but we do have the same purpose- to help in God's reconciling plan for the world... and that means that any way we can help each other, partner with one another, even encourage one another, we're helping to fulfill God's plan.
The worst realization for a boat in trouble on the water is that they are the only boat out there. Its why I'm so glad today is happening- so glad that we are beginning this connection of our churches. Because this is how we are intended to be. No matter what we think in our proud to be baptist, no one can tell us what to do, autonomous church selves- we are not intended to do ministry on our own- no one church can save the world- we need each other... we need each other.
You know on a boat there are a number of ropes, for a number of different functions, and depending on what type of boat you have, that determined the number of ropes, however, there is one rope that is standard to every boat, whether its a kayak or a cruise ship- and that's a single line, a throw line, it's called- with a great big knot on the end known, because of its shape, a monkey fist. The purpose of a throw line is to help the boat connect- either to a dock when its coming into port, or to another boat on the water to keep together, or, if a boat is in trouble, to be towed to safety. I think about that with respect to our churches- how many times has it been scary, or threatening, or how many times have we felt plain tired and there was no one to reach out to? Listen today, next time that happens- throw out a line. We’re here to help each other. And Jesus, just as he is, is on board with us… and we’re going to the other side… together.