BREAKING NEWS! Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist The following Sundays in July: 1st, 8th, 15th; 29th. Layleader Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer July 22nd. Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.
5 PENTECOST, PROPER VII - B - 18 MARK 4. 35-41
“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “let us go across to the other side,” the other side being the East side of the Sea of Galilee. To go there would take them away from Galilee and the crowds. The region in that part of the country was less populous creating an opportunity to rest and recoup from the demands of the people.
As we heard in the preceding week’s gospel, the crowds had been following Jesus from the beginning. The word was out that he was a great healer and a great teacher. The crowds sought to bring him their sick, their lame, their blind and those possessed with demons, and to hear his kingdom message.
The scribes and even some of those who knew him thought he was crazy. The authorities had to find some way to discredit him, to try to get the crowds to stop following and believing in him. His own mother and members of his family thought there was something wrong with him as well.
Now would be a good time to escape from all of that and have some quiet time - just Jesus and his disciples. So Jesus gets into the boat with them and says let us shove off and get away from the crowds for a while. He is literally exhausted from preaching, teaching, and healing. Not to mention the unending questions from the religious leaders in Jerusalem who want to know whom he really is and what he thinks he is up to.
The Sea of Galilee is relatively calm the majority of time. However, a sudden storm bringing high winds that easily produce whitecaps can seem to come out of nowhere. Obviously, there was no storm when the disciples set out for the other side. Jesus being physically tired, a sign of his humanity fell asleep in the stern of the boat.
However, a storm did arise white capping the lake and threatening to swamp the boat. The disciples feared they might drown. They woke Jesus up and rebuked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That is the real question in today’s story is it not. The question whether God cares?
Jesus began his ministry exercising his power over the supernatural forces that threatened humankind. He exorcised a demon from a man with an unclean spirit. He went on to demonstrate his authority to preach and teach of the coming kingdom of God, a teaching that baffled the powers to be in Jerusalem who deemed him a threat to their authority.
He healed various diseases and infirmities demonstrating his power to physically heal and make whole. In today’s gospel he stills the wind and calms the sea removing the threat that caused fear to rise in the hearts of his disciples. Their fear assuaged, they ask themselves ‘who is this?”
Wouldn’t you think by now they would have an inkling of Jesus identity? Jesus’ authority over creation is another sign that he is the Messiah and is divine. On the other hand, their following him up to this point had brought no test of their faith in him.
Why would they think that he does not care if they perish? Was it not his compassionate caring that moved him to exorcise demons, heal the sick, restore, and make whole human lives? Was he not in the same boat?
How quickly they forget, as do we. Like the parable of the good seed falling on various kinds of soil their faith had not yet taken root. “Have you still no faith, “he asks them. Fear overrides faith every time.
We all know that the world can be a scary place. In addition, there are moments when our fear can immobilize us. Think of a moment or an occasion in your past when you were afraid, afraid perhaps that you were going to perish.
I can vividly recall such a day when I worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It was a day I came very close to drowning. My partner and I were working duck hunters in a large open bean field flooded by the rising waters of the White River, which had more than exceeded its banks. The water in the field was several feet deep.
It wasn’t storming when we crossed from the river into the field. However, by the time we decided to return to the river a storm arose bringing high winds, rain, thundering, and lightening at work against us. We were in a 14 foot jon boat with a 25 horse Johnson and were being beaten by the wind and swamped by the waves. The bean field was white capping. It was difficult to make any headway and the boat was filling with water faster than I could bail it out.
When all seemed lost, I noticed the tops of a row of willow trees less than a hundred yards from where we were struggling to stay afloat. By the grace of God, we were able to make it to that row of trees. Their tops were standing several feet above the water. We hung on for dear life as the boat continued to take on water from the surging waves until the storm finally passed.
When the calm came we bailed out the boat and made it safely back to the river and eventually to the landing. I can understand the disciple’s fear. They were not thinking of their “faith,” or of what they had seen Jesus do or say. At that moment, all they could think of was how to survive and not perish.
The same was true for my partner and me on that day in the flooded bean field. It was only when the calm came did I Thank God for having rescued us by stilling the storm. True, Jesus demonstrated his power and authority over the forces of nature in today’s passage, but the disciple’s question is one we have all raised at one time or another.
Where is God in moments like this? There are times when it appears that God is absent, doesn’t really care, or is asleep in the back of the boat, the car, or the plane. The point of the gospel story we have heard today is that God never abandons us, no matter how much we feel God’s absence.
I am not suggesting that we should never be afraid, that it is wrong to be seized with terror in times of danger. It is precisely at these times that we must hold to our conviction that God is with us that God is for us. The love of God impels us to put our fears and terrors into perspective and to hear that same voice that the disciples heard when there was dead calm, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
The image of Christ and his disciples in a boat is traditionally used to illustrate the church. God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see his loving kindness and protection more clearly. As Christ has the power to still the wind and the waves, so He has the power to still the storms within each of our lives thus renewing our faith while giving us His Peace. AMEN+