Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 7)

Text: Mark 4:38-39
Jesus was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The disciples woke him up and said, "Teacher, don't you care that we are about to die?" Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, "Be quiet!" and he said to the waves, "Be still!" The wind died down, and there was a great calm.

"Be still!"

"God! Wake up! Are you going to sleep all day? Donít you care what happens to us" (Psalm 44:23 The Message). Talking to God like that seems a bit rude and pretentious. But these are words from the Bible where the writer of Psalm 44 was feeling confused, anxious, and even a bit annoyed with God. It seemed to him that God had gone to sleep on the job and was no longer responsive to the needs of his people.

We heard something similar from the disciples in the gospel reading. "Lord, don't you care? Donít you care that we are about to drown." They were feeling that Jesus didnít really care what happened to them as they battled a fierce storm in the middle of Lake Galilee.

There are times when we feel that the circumstances in life are swamping us. In the middle of a storm all we can feel is the violent rocking of the boat, hear the howling wind, see the waves washed over us, and it seems we are all alone because no one knows precisely the terror and confusion in our heart.  What makes things even worse is that God seems to be a million miles away.

Sitting with parents whose child was taken through an accident or illness,
a young mother whose husband took his own life,
a child whose grief is inconsolable after the loss of a parent,
a young man who is responsible for his brotherís death in a car accident,
a person who despairs because an illness or an accident has changed life forever -
feeling the pain of these itís very easy to be overwhelmed by the storm in these peopleís lives and join the song writer and say,
God! Wake up! Donít you care?"

The idea of a sleeping God is not new. In the last part of the 19th century philosophers spoke of the "death of God" and has been revived at various times ever since.

We have in our Gospel from Mark a story about the sleeping God, told with Mark's eye for detail. This is Mark's picture: Jesus has been teaching beside the Sea of Galilee. The crowds have been so eager that the teacher has moved into a small fishing boat, while the people sat on the edge of the water. From his boat the teacher instructed the crowd about the Kingdom of God using stories from everyday life. At the end of the day, Jesus tells his disciples to take him across the lake.

The disciples weigh anchor and head across the lake when suddenly a violent storm attacks the boat (I use the word Ďattackí deliberately. The storm is like a wild animal shaking and ripping into its prey). When Mark talks about this storm he uses a word that has demonic connections in the Old Testament. This is no ordinary storm Ė itís a storm that will test faith and trust in God.

The wind is howling.
The waves are mountainous.
The little boat is tossed about.
The men on board cry out, "Weíre taking on water! Weíre going to die!"
It's time to panic.

In the very centre of a cyclone there is the eye where everything is calm and still. The eye of this storm was in the stern of this little boat as it rocked and heaved back and forth. In one sentence Mark creates an image in our mind of the peacefulness of Jesus. There in the middle of the storm, out there in the middle of the waves and the wind and the panic of the men on the boat, there in the stern of the boat lay Jesus sleeping peacefully on a cushion.

Mark describes this whole scene with so few words and yet is able to give such a vivid picture of the ferocity of the storm and the panic of disciples on one hand, and the serenity and peacefulness of Jesus on the other.

Then comes the desperate appeal to the sleeping God. "Jesus! Don't you care?"

What's going on here? The rabbi-carpenter is a picture of calm in the midst of chaos. The Gospel writer, Mark loves to paint portraits of chaos with Jesus in the middle of it all and with Jesus in complete control of it. Jesus and his friends are, in fact, journeying toward another chaotic situation. When they arrive at Gerasa, they will meet a madman, so filled with demons that he has the entire village worked up. Once again, Jesus will master the situation, create peace, and the crowd will be filled with fear.

The first church that heard this Gospel from Mark was probably in Rome. It too was facing a chaotic situation. The emperor Nero was feeding good Christians to the lions. The Christians were blamed and persecuted for the fire that destroyed a large part of Rome. When the Roman Christians read this story of the demonic storm, the chaos on the lake and the sleeping God they saw it as a description of their own situation. Satan was using the storm of persecution to weaken their faith and in the chaos to doubt whether God really cared what happened to them. They were powerless to fight it and no doubt called out exactly as the disciples did in the boat, "Lord, don't you care that we are about too die?"

We have our own brand of chaos; our own storms that we have to deal with.

We know what it is like to have "storms" break in our homes, or at work, in our neighbourhood, amongst friends, in the church and in the community as a whole. By "storms" I mean anything that upsets the smooth sailing of our lives - a misunderstanding, an act of impatience, grief, the loss of something you valued - anything that destroys the calmness and peace in our lives.

Our first instinct in any chaotic situation is to try to sort through the situation ourselves. The disciples realised that even though they had done their best to keep the ship afloat the storm had them in its grip. There was nothing they could do. They were about to sink.

But as the crew ran from stem to stern, from port to starboard, giving commands, giving vent to their anger as the waves came crashing over the side, as each moment is packed with straining and decisions and physical activity, they overlooked one important thing. Jesus was there in the boat with them.

God isn't responsible for the chaos in our lives but he is there to help us overcome the chaos that the world around us and Satan wreak in our lives. God tells us again and again as if we need constant reminding that he is in the boat riding the storms with us, and that if we let him, he uses those storms to strengthen us and bless us. He reminds us, "Donít ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the Lord your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).

George Fock was a sailor in the First World War. Once he wrote home, "If you should hear that I have fallen in battle, do not cry. Remember that even the ocean in which my body sinks is only a pool in my Saviour's hand". George knew that Christians experience death or sorrow like any one else. Faith does not in any way make us immune from pain and anguish.

George Fock knew that it was frightening thing to go down in a ship and to be strangled by the cold dark water. But he knew something more. He believed that the threatening choking elements were only a pool in the hand of the Saviour. Therefore no matter where he fell and no matter where he sank, the hand of his Lord surrounded him and would in fact save him. And as long as he kept his eye on the owner of that hand it was immaterial if he went over the waves or was swallowed by them.

This Gospel story is relevant to all of us and especially to you today John, as you step into the boat to begin a new journey in ministry. As in all kinds of ministry where you are dealing with people there will be times of sunny skies that will fill you with exhilaration and joy and confidence but there will also be those dark stormy days when you will be tossed around and you will wonder what it was that made you step into the boat in the first place. There will be internal storms stirred up by Satan and the flaws in our human nature as you struggle with fear, doubt and more questions than there are answers. At times itís those internal storms that can be the most severe. You join Christians of all times and places in these kinds of storms.

Take it from someone who knows; itís easy to become so focussed on the storm that you forget who is in the boat with you. Not only all of your fellow disciples here at St Paulís and beyond who are keen to support and encourage and help but also the Master himself.

When the disciples believed that there was no hope and that they would soon sink into the watery deep, Jesus stood up (not an easy thing to do in a rocky and heaving boat) but in doing so demonstrated his clear presence among them and his mastery of the situation. He called out to the wind and the waves and everything went still. The disciples stood there with their mouths hanging wide open.
How could they have been so short on faith?
How could they have not seen the love that would never let anything overcome them?
How could they so easily be overcome by the situation that they lost sight of the one who loved them so powerfully?

Who knows what is in store for any of us in the future but one thing is for sure Ė Jesus is right here in the boat with us. God's eternal answer to the chaos we are experiencing is "Here I am right here with you, in the middle of your home, your church, your job, guiding you in whatever decisions you must make, supporting you when you have reached your limits".

With Christ in our boat, sharing in our storms, he says to us. "Quiet! Be still!" 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st June 2009
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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