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Questions and Responses

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ss=MsoNormal style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt'>You may have noticed that in life our questions can be very revealing            The questions we ask tell a lot about the person asking them

Certainly they can be misleading and misdirecting – but generally, questions reveal our hearts desire

            Today I want to explore - questions … and then by extension - responses

And I want to be clear, when I use the word response, I am not using the word answer – because answer carries with it the sense of correctness…

            Questions and responses

 Today in our Gospel story from Mark we have the account of Jesus quieting the storm

            In it, are some powerful questions

                        “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

                        “Why are you afraid?

                        “Have you still no faith?”

                        “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The first question is loaded indeed; it is an accusation “do you not care?”

Several of the disciples are well experienced fishermen, used to the sea that they are crossing - used to the way that storms would come up quickly, and used to dealing with it – they have spent their lives on this very sea and made a livelihood of it

            But the storm this night is different – the storm this night, they fear for their lives

And Jesus is asleep … with His head on cushion

            “Do you not care?” they ask

How often are we like those disciples – how often do we feel that God is asleep when we are facing peril

            When our concerns are reaching a breaking point – when we want to ask God – ‘do you not care?’

… But the question itself reveals that we know God is caring and loving – it is a plea for the good nature of God to be directly applied to our situation!

                                    We know that God loves us so much that he didn’t spare His one and only Son

We, who unlike the disciples, know the end of the story – know that God came as one of us – experienced all the troubles of the world as we do – and then stood in the gap

God became the sacrificial atonement for each and every one of us that chooses to believe, atoning for all the sin that separates us

            God, once offered, loved, cared so much that he died for us

The question also reveals that the disciples believe that Jesus could do something about it

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  - is a plea for help with the expectation that help could come

The response from Jesus is immediately a challenge – some, might go as a far and say that Jesus was grumpy

Whenever I hear or read this story, I think of how I would deal with being woken up only to find seemingly faithless frightened men and the chaos of the storm all around – grumpy seems the natural reaction

A few weeks ago, I had a bad night’s sleep, and so to remedy this I put ear plugs in and settled down for a quick nap

I was woken up with Matthew jumping on the bed, and in fact jumping on me stopped only by him yelling in my face that Jackson and Grace were fighting

            … my response wasn’t serein and peaceful

The words of questions carry a lot of weight – how different it would have been if the disciples awoke Jesus, instead of a condemning urgent plea …but with a faith-filled request

            Lord – the storm feels beyond us – can you help?

With a question like that, we would have been closer to the Baptismal proposition which we have today – the understanding that God is in control and we are not – where we ask for inclusion into God’s mercy

God responds and gives freely and sacrificially,

Leading us to now face life declaring a much better approach to life –

“I will with God’s help”

                         

The word for perishing, or being destroyed, does not occur often but consider what it tells us when it  occurs later in Mark 8:35: "Those who wish to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it."

The second monumental question of our reading from Mark is: “Why are you afraid?

            This is the response from Jesus after being woken up

                        It is one of the main concerns of life – what are we afraid of and why?

                                    Fear is a powerful motivator

                                                In the context of this reading it places fear in contrast to faith

This is not always the standard parity – but consider your own life and times when you have been afraid – if you were to inject faith – or the trust in God’s provisions in the scenario, would the fear be appeased

The question causes us to look deep into our hearts and face the issue of why are we afraid

In our hearts, we know if faith is an antidote to our fears

Trusting in the almighty power of God – that he got the whole world in His hands is deeply comforting knowledge

It allows us to move beyond the paralyzing fear and allows a community to ask God for help

It is rooted in the knowledge that the world is beyond our control… yet God calls us to partnership with Him

and our Baptismal response is “I will, with God’s Help!”

The third question of Mark’s gospel passage today, which many understand as the main question behind it all is: “Have you still no faith?”

Faith is a difficult one – last week we discussed the notion of faith in the context of the Mustard seed – a tiny seed that grows into a great plant.

Many years ago it was decided to put a suspension bridge across a wide gorge.

How could they build a bridge across such a wide space? In fact, how could they even start?

They shot an arrow from one side to the other. The arrow carried across the gulf a tiny thread, and thus the connection was established.

By and by the thread was used to draw a piece of twine across; the twine carried after it a small rope; the rope soon carried a cable across

And in good time came the iron chains the bridge was to hang from.

Although often weak in its beginning stage, a seemingly small faith can draw us to a stronger and stronger faith that will accomplish greater and greater things.[1]

But sometimes we are faced with situations that need chain-sized faith – when we think we only have thread-sized faith – consider the following story…

A man was walking along a narrow path, not paying much attention to where he was going. Suddenly he slipped over the edge of a cliff. As he fell, he grabbed a branch growing from the side of the cliff. Realizing that he couldn’t hang on for long, he called for help.

Man: Is anybody up there?

Voice: Yes, I’m here!

Man: Who’s that?

Voice: The Lord.

Man: Lord, help me!

Voice: Do you trust me?

Man: I trust you completely, Lord.

Voice: Good. Let go of the branch.

Man: What???

Voice: I said, “Let go of the branch.”

Man: [After a long pause] Is anybody else up there? [2]

Despite our modern appeal to believe that we are in control of the world, we exhibit faith all the time

Faith is central to all of life. For example, you go to a doctor whose name you cannot pronounce and whose degrees you have never verified.

He gives you a prescription you cannot read. You take it to a pharmacist you have never seen before.

He gives you a chemical compound you do not understand.

Then you go home and take the pill according to the instructions on the bottle.

All in trusting, sincere faith![3]

The story is told of an eleventh-century German king, King Henry III, who, having grown tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch, applied to a monastery to be accepted for a life of contemplation.

The religious superior of the monastery, Prior Richard, is reported to have said,

“Your Majesty, do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”

Henry replied, “I understand. The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”

“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has placed you.”

When King Henry III died, a statement was written: “The King learned to rule by being obedient.”

Like King Henry, we too often tire of our role and responsibility.

Like King Henry, we too need to be reminded that God has placed each of us in a particular place to be faithful there.

Be it as a plumber, accountant, mother, father, or whatever, God expects us to be faithful where he has placed us.[4]

The last a final question of today, is maybe the most important

            Beyond does God care?         What are we afraid of and why?        And have we faith?

                        Is the question “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The stilling of the storm is a key moment in Mark, beyond Jesus planning a night sail – more than crossing the lake or sea – it is the crossing of Jesus’ power – it is a big moment for the identity of Jesus

Jesus crosses many social and spiritual boundaries. – Jesus is identified as having powers that only God could possess

Last week we heard Mark write:

34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (Mark 4:34)

This was partially because there were just had several parables

But then we are left with very parables in Mark after that point

One consideration is to think of Jesus teaching in parables beyond words… teaching with His deeds – in His very identity

He eats with unsuitable people - breaks Sabbath laws - associates with the unclean and heals them at the wrong times - and communicates with unclean spirits.

He is the Good Shepherd… that knows His sheep

Crossing to the other side with Jesus may be a risky, unpredictable proposition, and in this passage, the wind and the sea create a visual manifestation of the dangers of being in the boat with him.

            But we can trust in the reality that we are crossing with the Lord God

If carrots, eggs, and tea bag are boiled in water, the effect on each item will be different.

The carrots will soften, the eggs will harden, and the tea will change the color of the water and spread a delicious aroma.

The boiling water symbolizes problems or pressures or storms in our life.

The carrots, eggs, and tea symbolize different human reactions to problems or pressures.

The soft carrots represent people who grumble, complain, and pity themselves when faced with problems.

The hardened eggs represent those who become stubborn, rebellious, and angry at God during tribulations.

But the tea represents people who obey and trust God, changing the atmosphere around them while spreading the fragrance of Christ.

God offers to each of us faith greater than any problem we face.

The magnitude of the problem is not as important as our reaction to the problem.

Our faith determines how we will respond as we meet the challenges of daily life

— As a mushy carrot, a hard-boiled egg, or a fragrant cup of tea.[5]

Leaving the crowd behind and following Jesus does not guarantee us, as individuals or as a church, a storm-free life,

And we, like the disciples, may sometimes find ourselves crying out, "Wake up!  Do you not care?"

Even when we make it through the storms, following Jesus may well take us straight into encounters with the worst pain and suffering of the world,

The places where Jesus' powerful touch is most needed.

Even for us, who know the end of the story, which the disciples in their storms do not, crossing to the other side at Jesus' command may try our faith,

But it also puts us in a position to experience the stilling of our storms, the restoration of the broken and the marginalized, and the transformation of death to life

Perhaps, knowing what we know as post-resurrection followers, we can recognize that even in the midst of the fiercest storms of life,

The one who is Lord of all nature and binder of Satan is present, brooding over us and the world, with peace and power and healing in His wings.[6]


----

[1]Green, Michael P.: Illustrations for Biblical Preaching : Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively. Revised edition of: The expositor's illustration file. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1989

[2]Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] The Upper Room daily devotional – Thursday June 21st

[6] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx

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