A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)—June 22, 2003
Text: Mark 4:35-41
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples were in some serious trouble, and they knew it.
Many of them were fishermen and they knew this lake well. They called it the “sea” of Galilee because of its size: thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. Most places it was at least eighty feet deep, but there were spots out in the middle, where only the brave or the foolish attempted to drop anchor, that were twice as deep…160 feet if they were an inch.
The lake had a reputation for sudden, violent windstorms—the kind that could easily swamp a little fishing boat like they were in. High up on the eastern shore of the lake rose the Golan Heights, looming over the lake atop mountains half a mile tall. All too frequently the cool winds would whip over the tops of these mountains and bluster their way down to the lake below, stirring up violent storms. It was just such a storm that caused the disciples to fear for their lives at this very moment.
To make matters worse, it was night. Things are always scarier at night, of course, but the disciples had far more practical reasons to worry than just a little fear of the dark. The darkness made it harder to fight for their boat, to keep it afloat on the water. The darkness made it difficult to judge the weather, to gauge how much longer this tempest might prevail. And the darkness made communication nearly impossible unless you were close enough to holler right into the other man’s ear. How could they save themselves if they couldn’t even see or hear each other over the darkness and the din?
A night storm at sea was just about the most terrifying thing in a fisherman’s ordinary experience, and it was all the scarier because of the deep symbolism of the wide waters. To the Jews, the sea represented the powers of evil and chaos, the spirits that worked to unmake everything that God had created. When God created dry land out of the sea, it was his victory over these evil powers. When he parted the Red Sea and his people walked through with dry feet, it was a sign of God’s power over both earthly foes like Pharaoh and spiritual ones like the waters. The scriptures proclaimed again and again that the God of Israel was King over wind and wave, but every storm that swelled up on the face of the lake still caused the disciples’ hearts to shrink in fear just the same.
All this they could have handled. They were brave men, after all, and this was not the first time they had weathered a storm at sea. They had prayed to God before, and hadn’t he looked out for them? Hadn’t he saved them from the evil powers of the deep?
But tonight was different. Tonight something struck fear into their hearts and caused them to howl like the wind in despair. Looking wildly toward the stern of the boat, hoping to turn to Jesus for help in this desperate moment, his disciples found him sound asleep.
This is no small thing. The disciples had come to trust that Jesus would always be there to lead them and protect them when things went bad, and here he was, sleeping in their hour of need. Jesus was asleep on the job.
There are times in our lives, too, when Jesus seems to be asleep on the job. What sort of winds and waves have crashed into you while Jesus has appeared to slumber away? How great a challenge have you stood down on your own, while Jesus seemed to be sawing lumber over on the mattress? How many times has your heart cried out, “Lord, don’t you care that I am dying over here?”
When you’re caught in the middle of some great storm and fear that it will overcome you, you’re in very good company. You’re in the same boat, if you’ll pardon the expression, as the disciples were that night. And that’s a good thing, because they were in the same boat as Jesus. No matter how tall the whitecaps and how small our boats, Jesus is on board with us.
It’s important to realize one thing about this story right away, and that’s that there was no way that boat was going down while Jesus was on board, sleeping or not. In fact, the very reason that Jesus could confidently fall asleep was his deep trust that his Father would look after them. That’s not to say that what was happening all around—and even in—the boat was not scary. It was. But the very fact that Jesus was with his disciples should have been their best source of comfort.
It’s the same for us. Jesus doesn’t leave us alone to take the trip through life by ourselves. Whether it’s sunny skies in our lives or ominous clouds, Jesus is along for the ride. He makes sure that we’re not alone to face the challenges that arise by ourselves.
But what about the times when we’re sure he’s got his eyes closed and isn’t paying any attention to us? What about the times when we’re sure that everything that’s beating us down is going to beat us to death in the end? What does this story about a boating trip gone bad tell us about such times in our own lives?
First of all, it reminds us that life with Jesus doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing. Jesus never promised his followers that there wouldn’t be difficulties to be overcome; he only promised that he would never, ever leave them. Just because you climb onboard the boat with Jesus doesn’t mean you’re in for a pleasure cruise. But it does mean you’re on the boat with Jesus, and that counts for a lot.
Second, this story should encourage us to shout at Jesus when we’re in desperate straits. Yes, you heard me right—I said “shout at” and not “shout to”. That’s what the disciples were doing here. Yes, they’re panicking and hollering to wake Jesus up, but their very words express the frustration and fear they’re feeling. They’re shouting at Jesus as much as they’re shouting to him, and that’s alright. It’s better if we can shout to him, but just opening our mouths and letting loose his name is a fine place to start. When you’re in any kind of trouble or hardship, you’re not doing Jesus a favor by keeping your real feelings bottled up, as if you could hide them from him. Speak candidly to him, tell him what’s eating you, and trust that he’s man enough and God enough to take the worst you can dish out. He already took the worst on the cross; you can’t top that.
Finally, this story shows us how willing to help us Jesus is. When his people shout to him or at him, he is sure to hear their voices and help them. You’ll remember how confident, how sure I said Jesus was that they would make their journey safely. So when his disciples are afraid, does he just tell them it’ll be alright and not to fear? No! He does what it takes to calm the sea and to calm his companions, so that they might learn to trust him better. He realizes the limits of their faith, and makes sure that they’re not pushed beyond them.
There will be storms of life that push your faith to the very limit. You’ll holler out to Jesus and ask him whether he even cares that you’re in such trouble. It may seem improper or sacrilegious to cry out to him in such a manner, but the very fact that you’re still calling to your savior shows that you haven’t been pushed past the limits of your faith yet. The fact that you can open your mouth and call “Jesus!” is a sign of his faithfulness in protecting you.
And friends, if you do find yourself wondering whether he cares, the answer is that he cares more than you can imagine. Jesus cares enough to come along for the ride to protect and comfort us. He cares enough to speak with the wind and the waves if it will reassure us. He cares enough to give us big signs and small ones to help strengthen our faith when we’re in the boat together.
I’d rather be in the boat with Jesus than anywhere else in this world. Wouldn’t you agree?
All aboard. Amen.