Open Door Mennonite Church
July 1, 2018
Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV)
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?”
When I was a little boy, there was a swimming hole we all went to. It was just a small pond, really, but there was a big tree with a rope hanging from it, and when the weather was as hot as it is right now, we would take turns swinging from it and dropping into the pond.
Nothing ever felt as good as crashing into that cool water on a hot day like today.
I probably swam in that pond 50 times, at least. Everybody I knew did. It was a thing you did if you grew up where I did, when I did.
One day when I wasn’t there, a boy whose family was known to us went swimming, and this time when he let go of the rope and went crashing in the water, he landed in a nest of water moccasins. He got bit more than a dozen times, and he died before anybody could get him help.
Nobody went to the swimming hole after that.
It was still pretty to look at. The water was still cool to your skin, and the weather was still just as hot as it ever was. But the problem was, you couldn’t see what was under the surface. You didn’t know if the water was safe and refreshing, or full of water moccasins. It no longer felt safe, and you couldn’t tell if it was safe.
The safest thing was to just stay out of the water. To this day, I won’t swim in a pond of any sort.
We always have fears about the things we can’t see, and people in the ancient world were no different. The sea, the water, was a wild, unpredictable place, where sailors went off in boats and never came back. It was a place inhabited by strange creatures that lived hidden under the surface and would suddenly grab you and pull you under. The sea was calm and beautiful, but a storm could suddenly come up that would destroy your village, or crash your boat, or take your family from you.
The sea was a wild and dangerous place in the ancient world, and it was often used by ancient authors to represent chaos.
In the book of Genesis, when the author is trying to explain the chaos that existed before God created the world, they used the image of the sea:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
It was so chaotic before God put order to it, the author tells us, it was all water. All sea. All unpredictable. All scary. All unknown.
In the story today, Jesus and the disciples head out to cross the sea, and sure enough, a storm came up out of nowhere. It was a fierce storm, full of fury, and it threatened to sink the boat.
One of the things about this story that stands out to me isn’t that there is a storm – storms happened on the water. It’s that the disciples are so scared. I mean, these guys were fishermen, who made their living on the water. They had seen storms, had survived many storms. And this storm scared them. It must have been a serious storm to have scared such men as that.
Back in the late 90’s, I had a chance to go deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida with some people I knew. It was a beautiful day, and I had never been deep sea fishing before. But we hadn’t been out there but a few hours before the wind picked up and the waves started. First they were little waves, but they kept getting bigger and bigger until they were six feet tall or more, and the little boat was rocking hard, and we had to head back to the port.
But we were several hours out when the storm hit, and so it was a rough trip getting back. At first I was scared, seeing as I know nothing about boats, but the crew seemed calm, and that had a calming effect on me. After all, these were guys who did this sort of work every day, and they were not scared.
No, I wasn’t scared at all until the moment I saw the first mate throw down his pole, shout out a curse word and run to grab a hold of the mast to keep from being swept over the side. If he was scared, this must be serious!
But in the storm in the story, Jesus is calm – so calm, in fact, that he falls asleep. And when in desperation the disciples cry out to him, he rebukes the storm, and it stops.
How is it, they wonder, that this man can calm the storms with his commands?
Today in 2018, the world seems like a pretty chaotic place. Like the sea in the ancient world, dangers are everywhere. Young black men get killed at alarming rates by police officers. The opioid epidemic is, well, an epidemic. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you can’t say it is all calm there, either.
If you turn on the news, or talk to your friends, or even just open up Facebook, it seems like everything is going bad all at once.
It seems like chaos rules the day.
And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by the chaos, when the storms are raging all around us and it seems like we just are not capable of surviving this one, it can sometimes feel like Jesus is asleep and we are left to handle this all by ourselves. Sometimes, it feels like he is not even there at all.
You know, when you read the story of Jesus and the storm, it seems like the important thing is that Jesus can stop the storm and save you from it. But to me, that is not the most remarkable thing. To me, the thing that stands out is this: In the midst of the storm, Jesus is right there beside you, enduring the storm with you. And what’s more, he has been there the whole time. Even when you were losing it. Even when you were terrified. Even when you didn’t know what to do, or how to do it. In the midst of all of that, Jesus was there, right beside you.
Don’t be afraid, dear ones. Don’t be afraid. The storms are bad – bad enough to scare seasoned fishermen who have survived many storms. But don’t be afraid. God has not forsaken us, and even in the midst of the storm, we are not forgotten nor are we alone.
And we never were.
The one who can command the storms and have them obey him is in the boat with us, and we will ride through the storm, together, to the other side.