Readings: Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Job 38:1-11; Mark 4:35-41
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church on June 24 2018
Many of my childhood holidays when I was growing up were spent on the Bonnie, Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond in Scotland. My late father's parents were from Alexandria, near Glasgow, and my dad had spent a lot of time in his childhood exploring the area, an experience he wanted to share with his family.
One of the joys of the “Bread and Breakfast” we used to stay in, was that the lodging included access to a small motorized boat that enabled us to pack up for the day, sail out on the Loch and picnic on one of the many islands that the Loch contains. Dad even had friends that lived on one of the islands, Inchtavannach, and we would often be invited for a sumptuous dinner.
Scottish weather is unpredictable. Raincoats were never optional but considered essential supplies. One of the things you had to take note of, when out sailing on the Loch, was how suddenly and unexpectedly, the weather could change. One moment, a blue sky with a few clouds, the next a storm would roll in from the mountains, and it was much safer to be on the land, then out at sea. Thankfully, Dad knew the climate and knew the Loch, so we were never caught out.
However, unpredictable weather, is... well... unpredictable. And even the most professional of sailors can be caught out by unexpected storms. That seems to be what is happening to the seasoned fishermen, out on the Galilean Lake with Jesus, that is pictured in our Bible reading from Marks gospel. We read that “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.”
It's not just boat trips that can be unpredictable. Life itself is full of unexpected and unwelcome twists and turns. One moment we are going along smoothly, the next, out of nowhere can come occurrences that shake us to our core and change everything. Illness. Accident. Disaster. Loss. Most of the time we sail along quite happily, but there are those other times that leave us afraid, confused and wondering what we are going to do next.
This morning I want to think about a number of things.
- Firstly, I want to say that fear is normal. It is a natural reaction to our losing control.
- Secondly, I want to say that one of our greatest fears, is that of abandonment, in particular as people of faith, the fear that God doesn't care.
- Finally, I want us to see how, in this passage, the action of Jesus brings peace into the situation, and creates a great sense of awe at God's ability to effect change in our lives and our world.
Fear is Normal
Our Old Testament passage came from near the end of the book of Job. The story of Job is all about a man who, through no fault of his own, loses everything he held dear in a series of cataclysmic events. Though people seek to understand why all this is happening to him,and he himself is exasperated and fearful, by the end of the book we discover that no reasons for his plight are going to be given. Instead he is reminded that our lives, for better for worse, are in the hands of a God whose actions defy our understanding.
God's word to Job is “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-- surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5) People will ask us, “Why is this happening to me?” Often we have to say, in all honesty, “God only knows” and we are not in on the secret. We acknowledge that even if we had an explanation, it would not help. When the boat is sinking, you don't care why it is sinking, you just want to know where the life boat is.
We have heard verses like 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” and feel that, somehow, expressing our loss of control, expressing our deepest fears is unfaithful and not honoring to God. That an admission of fear is evidence of unfaithfulness.
Job had no such problem. He gets angry at God for the predicament in which he had been placed. The disciples had no such reservations. As the storm envelops their lives, in verse 38 they cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Fear is normal. When everything spirals out of control it is the right emotion to experience. It's a natural part of our defense mechanism. Of course we also have those irrational fears that nobody can explain, but that's just part of what reminds we are all unique... and we all a little bit crazy, we are all beautiful human individuals, but in each of us the image of God is tarnished by our sin.
Because of our imperfection, we are needy people. We need each other. We need God. And one of our deepest fears is of being alone. Which brings us to a second thing we see in this passage.
Fear of Abandonment.
Jesus is asleep in the boat. The disciples are terrified. Jesus sleeps. The boat is filling with water. Jesus sleeps on. They shake Him awake. They yell at Him. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
We are His disciples, right? Isn't God supposed to take care of us? Isn't God being neglectful of God's duties when things don't work out for us? No.. wait a minute, what if God isn't really that interested in what we are going though? What if God doesn't really care? What if God has gone AWOL? What if God is sleeping in today and has missed this tragedy that we are living in the middle of?
How often have we been there? Yes, we know, we believe, that God is real. We believe that God is with us. Or at least, at times we have believed that. But now? Now this has happened? Now the unthinkable just became the reality? What's the deal God? Sleeping on the job? “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Teacher, do You not care how hard life is right now? Teacher, Do you not care about what is happening to my family? Teacher do you not care about that illness that is attacking that person? Teacher do you not care about the violence and the school shootings and the climate of mistrust that is evident in this nation? Teacher, do You not care that Your church is struggling to make sense of the world it deals with day by day? Teacher, wake up! Help us, wake up!
We read in verse 9 “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.” It reads all so matter of fact. We don't read that He shook Himself, and cried out “Oh my goodness. I can't believe I was sleeping through this! Why didn't you wake me earlier?” We don't read, “And Jesus said, “Get out the life jackets, swim for the shore, there's nothing we can do, every man for himself!” We read “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.” As the Word of God is spoken, faith is restored.
Yes, the storm is rebuked and peace is restored. Dead calm. But something else happens. The disciples take on a different kind of fear. An experience of awe and incredulity comes upon them. While Jesus is comforting and challenging them, saying “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” They are saying “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
It is as though our faith is not just about recognizing that the Word of God can make a difference, but that we also need to get out of the mindset that limits what God can and is able to do, in our lives, in our churches and in our world. This story takes us from a position of life crippling fear for survival and invites us to embrace visions of incredible possibility. It invites us to trust God, not just for the immediate crisis we are facing, but to open up to God's love in a new way that causes us to rethink the way we see the world.
It is this sense of overwhelming awe, this sense of, “Wow! Not only was God not sleeping, but God is control of … well... everything,” that brings peace flowing into the situation. It is here that this story once again intersects with the Old Testament story of Job. Job is put in a position where he sees that, even though he cannot change or explain the events that have befallen him, God is more in control than he could ever be. Job and the disciples reach a position where they understand that God cares about them more deeply than they could ever dare imagine.
It is as though life is cast into a totally different framework. We see everything in a linear fashion. Life goes smooth. A crisis comes along. We panic. God gets us through. We get back to normal. Then another crisis comes along and we hit the “repeat” button.
This passage places our lives into an eternal frame. Good things will happen to bad people and bad things will happen to good people, but at the end of all things... God has it all under control. God is not sleeping on the job. Storms of life will come and go, but the Word of the Lord will endure for ever.
A church I used to attend sang a chorus that said “Peace is flowing like a river.” That was always a mixed image in my mind. When you witness the power that a river in full flood can create, that's both a challenging and a comforting image. Challenging because it reminds us that we are not in control. Comforting, because when we accept that God is in control, that's when the peace floods in.
That is also the sentiment behind the chorus I shared during Children's time. It is a recognition that we are all at sea. And we all sometimes become afraid. While probably the last thing that occurs to us in the middle of the storms of life is “Smile”, if we can embrace the hope that God is not asleep, embrace the hope that God has placed an eternal framework around our lives, embrace the hope that God is able to deal with our lives in a way that is more abundant, more precious and more expansive than we could ever dream is possible, then the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will come flowing into the situation.
“With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm,
Smile at the storm, smile at the storm
With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm,
As we go sailing home.
Sailing, sailing home. Sailing, sailing home.
With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm,
As we go sailing home.”
To God be all glory.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.