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?" ***************************************************
Note: This sermon began with a slide show including pitures of a First Century fishing boat and pictures of the Sea of Galilee. Relevant to what follows, we discussed that the Sea is the lowest freshwater lake on earth. 693 feet below sea level. When a storm crops up, rushing wind funnels down the surrounding cliffs on to the water. So the sea can go from looking like its made of glass, to a scene from The Perfect Storm within 30 minutes. Waves can go up to 12 feet high and toss fishing boats around like toys in a bathtub!
Up to this point, Jesus has spent his entire ministry in Jewish territory. When last we saw him, Jesus was teaching near the Sea of Galilee. And 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 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.
Gentiles, by the way, are anyone who are not Jews- those who would not be considered, insiders.
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.
*Thought question: I wonder, if before we pile into our boat every Sunday morning, if we take Jesus, just as he is... and not how we would like him to be... hmmmm...
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. I expect all of the disciples were going to take turns sleeping as well, but, as we talked about, on the Sea of Galilee, the storms can whip up quickly, and before you know it, it's pouring; and the boat is rocking up and down on the monstrous waves, water coming over the sides, thunder and lightning like there is no tomorrow and everyone on board is getting tossed around like rag dolls... not sure if the boat would hold together and fearing for their very lives.
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?!!!
Now I don't know about you- but that makes me uneasy... When I'm 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 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? That's the way it shoud be! Now the storms of life are out of hand and I can't see straight! “Hey Jesus! Wake UP! Don’t you know we're going through a huge storm here? Don’t you care? We might die! How can you sleep? How DARE you sleep?”
Now, there’s more here than meets the eye. Sleeping, in Jewish culture, was a metaphor for trust. Jesus sleeps, because he trusts in God…oh no wonder! So we trust, like Jesus... Beautiful!
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 for!
So many times we approach God as pleading children- begging for mercy for our undeserving, unrepentant selves- Our prayers often sound like this: "My God I know I deserve nothing 'cause I am a total failure at everything I do... but... but... if you could see fit to just grant me this one wish... please get me out of trouble even though I know I'm not worth thinking about in your vast scheme of things... throw me a crumb... please... I'm scared... please..."
And while we are surely dependent on God for our very breath- and we are surely very small in the vast scheme of God's creation... it's sometimes easy to forget that God put us here intentionally... and has put us here with a plan for our lives... and has put us here with a promise... that despite how it may look or how we feel, God's promise is sure; God will never leave us alone- not for one second.
And so when storms come we can pray to God, not arrogantly... but confidently, and with boldness, and with surety in God's promise as did so many before us in scripture... "Wake up God! You promised to be with me 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 the plan and promise God has for our lives. It affirms to us that we are not worthless creatures in God's eyes, but a valuable part of God's creation.
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…’
So I ask you... when the storms of life come… and we wake up the sleeping Christ within us … and Christ does what he is supposed to do and what we WANT him to do… why are we still afraid?” After the wind and rain and tossing about has ended… why is fear a lingering emotion?
Maybe because up to that moment, we had considered ourselves in control of our own destiny. It’s easier for us to pretend that we have complete charge of ourselves… and as long as things are going fine, we can continue doing just that. But when things start to take a turn, and the wind kicks up… we recognize that we aren’t really in control after all- And after God moves in such a big way, we are often left with the same fear as the disciples…
But here’s what they were missing, even with their bold confident prayer... maybe what we all end up missing at the most frightening of times in our lives… Beforethose disciples ever left shore… what were the words Jesus had told them? “We’re going to the other side"… "We’re GOING to the other side.” Not… we’re going to try to get to the other side… not… if you're strong enough, or good enough, or have faith enough or give enough we’ll go to the other side… simply…. "We’re GOING to the other side!"
The promise! The plan! They forgot that Jesus had already told them they were going to make it. We often forget that when Jesus calls us to something… there is no question on whether or not we will make it... because Jesus has called us to it! And while storms might happen along the way that scare the hell out of us…(and by the way, Jesus didn't tell us there would be no storms- he only promised to be with us through the storms)... but when they do, we need to remember that our destination hasn’t changed… and we don’t have to be afraid… we’re going to the other side...beyond where we have been before!
The only thing we need to do is this- before we get in the boat, our little individual boats or our the boat that’s big enough to fit our whole congregation- (because we’ve been called together) is this: before we set out to sea… we only need to make sure of one thing… that Christ is on the boat with us... and that we've taken him on, just as He is... cause I sure don't want to be caught in a storm without him.
So as for me... I’m climbin in the boat, and grabbin a pillow and heading for the stern with Jesus for the journey. It could just be The Perfect Storm...