Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 7

Text: Mark 4:35-41

Suddenly a strong wind blew up, and the waves began to spill over into the boat, so that it was about to fill with water. Jesus was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The disciples woke him up and said, "Teacher, donít you care that we are about to die?


Calm in a storm

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

The problems began when Chippieís owner decided to clean Chippieís cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.

The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum cleaner, and opened the bag. There was Chippie - still alive, but stunned.

Since the bird was covered with dust, hair and all the stuff you find in a dust bag, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

A few days after the trauma, a friend who had heard about Chippieís troubles contacted his owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore - he just sits and stares."

Who can blame him? Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.

Things happen in our lives that come along unexpectedly and we end up feeling a bit like Chippie - sucked in, washed up, and blown over Ė the song stolen from the stoutest of hearts.

I reckon there are very few here this morning who couldnít stand up and give testimony to some aspect of their lives where they feel a bit like the disciples in that boat -  afraid, vulnerable, a decidedly sinking feeling! You know what itís like to feel as though you are in the middle of a storm, tossed this way and that, and you wonder how youíre ever going to get to calmer waters.

The panic stricken disciples shouted to Jesus above the roar of the wind the sound of the waves crashing over the sides of their boat. "Lord, donít you care that we are about to drown?"

A storm at sea. There is very little that is more terrifying to most people than a storm at sea. Storms at any time are scary enough. When you add the dimension of deep water beneath you and water lashed by howling winds and rising to incredible heights around and above you, the terror is magnified many times.

A twelve-year-old lad was out fishing with his father. He tells this story. "We were about ten miles out into the bay, when a sudden thunderstorm came upon us. It was a moderate storm, probably even a small storm by Sea of Galilee standards. None of this mattered to a twelve-year old boy out in a sixteen-foot fishing boat. A pleasant day of fun with Dad turned into horror. As the clouds began to get heavy, the day grew dark. We both became uncomfortable and started back toward the shore. The wind began to rise and the waves got higher. I became afraid, what would happen if they got even higher? I began to doubt Dad's seamanship. Sure, he had been in the Navy; but that was eighteen years earlier. I began to doubt in his ability to get us to shore in the storm. As the waves began to come over the bow of the boat, I was terrified! I knew the boat was going to be swamped and probably sink. All I had was a life jacket.

Then suddenly we reached a small bay. The wind was screened from us and the waves subsided. The calm after the storm.

The boy had doubted his father's ability but that didn't mean his father couldn't save them.

The disciples found themselves in a storm like this.

Many of the disciples were professional fishermen. They knew how easily even a good boat could capsize or be swamped by the waves. They knew what happened to others who had been caught in a storm like this. There would be no way to swim out of the situation, in the dark, in the waves, in the storm. You get swamped in a storm, you drown.

What was Jesus doing? In the middle of the storm with the wind and the waves roaring and the disciples panicking, Jesus was calmly sleeping on a cushion. For a moment Mark focuses his attention on the sleeping Jesus.

Jesus - asleep during such a violent storm! That is amazing in itself. Itís not that he doesnít care. When his head hits that pillow, he rests totally, unconditionally, in the loving arms of his Father. Itís too easy to say that he has the power of God so of course nothing is going to frighten him! Think of him first of all as one of us. A man. A human being. Not immune to pain and suffering and inner turmoil. But he sleeps. Jesus sleeps because he knows that whatever happens in his life, God is in control. Heís the Lord of Creation, thereís never a time when things are so out of control that God no longer knows what to do. Wouldnít it be great if we could relax like that when weíre most under attack?

Mark makes a point of contrasting the terror and panic of the disciples and the peacefulness and serenity of Jesus. Jesus is often placed at the edge of chaos in the gospel story but there is a peacefulness about him. (E.g. his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Jesus stands up. Without answering their question about whether Jesus cared for them in their time of deep trouble. Rather he demonstrates how much he cares and speaks a word to the wind and the sea: "Be quiet! Be still!" It's calm. Jesus brings peace and calm to the terrified and panic-stricken disciples. In ancient literature storms were often thought of as the power of chaos breaking out, as the raging of all that is evil. Jesus has power over all that is evil and chaotic. His peace gives calmness, a sense of safety and security.

Now 20 centuries later, when we read this story, we are bound to think of ourselves and the brand of chaos that we have in our lives. Everyday we simple landlubbers run into times of distress which absorb our last ounce of energy.

We know what that is like. He hasnít let us down.
We may have been pretty angry with him.
We may have wanted to abuse him like weíve never abused anyone before.
We may have wanted to abandon him,
but itís clear that he has never abandoned us not even for one minute.

He gives you a peace - something inside which says, "Itís OK. You can manage. Itíll be all right. Iím here for you. Weíll get through this together. And like that boat which was on the brink of being smashed to pieces, you now gently rock to and fro and you are at peace.

The Old Testament tells of the chaos that broke into Jobís calm and serene life. Marauders take away Job's flock; lightning devours his cattle; a desert twister sweeps away his sons and daughters, and he is left in ruins. As if that were not enough, the sharp teeth of physical pain bite into his flesh. There's no place on his body without pain. He becomes a physical wreck, social outcast, an economic has been and worst of all a religious outcast and heretic.

What is God doing? Here is a man who is totally dedicated to God, who lives a good and decent life, and he is treated so unjustly. How unfair can you get! And God doesnít seem to be doing anything to help him. He could have easily cried out as the disciples did, "Lord, donít you care that I am about to die!"

We read, "Out of the storm the Lord spoke to Job: ĎI marked a boundary for the sea and kept it behind bolted doors. I told it, ĎSo far and no further! Here your powerful waves must stop!í" (Job 38:1-11). God is in control of what appears uncontrollable. God is more powerful that the worst kinds of chaos and trouble.

Storm clouds have gathered over our community. Just think of things that upset that smooth sailing of our community at the moment. It may seem from our newspapers that chaos has certainly broken loose and we like the disciples are fearful of what is going to happen. Will we all go down with the ship? Will the power of the destructive storm that has broken out in our world finally swamp us? We are tempted to ask what has happened to the straight sailing of the past. To be truthful there has never been straight sailing since sin came into the world in the Garden of Eden.

And letís not forget the church. Itís not exempt from storms and chaos either. When one Christian hurts another,
when the church is struggling because of uncommitted members,
when Christians are distracted from worship, reading Godís Word and prayer by all kinds of trivial things,
when Christians prefer holding grudges than seeking reconciliation,
when the followers of Jesus are burdened with guilt, uncertainty and doubt,
these are the storms that the church faces in our secular society.

Often the church is described as a boat and all the believers are sailing in this boat sometimes in calm waters but more often than not sailing through a storm.

God isn't responsible for the chaos in our lives but he is there to help us overcome the chaos Satan wreaks 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).
God is not out there somewhere but right here in the boat with us as the chaos rages around us. He is in the midst of our difficulties and the scary moments of our lives, but not subject to them.

Jesus wasn't joking when he said that he would be with us always to the very end of time - it's a sacred promise. Our baptism declares God's love for us and his continued presence throughout our life. Our baptism is Jesus' promise to ride with us through the storms bringing his peace and calm to our lives. He may not always stop the chaos around but he supports us and gives us his strength and gives us the peace that only he can give. Even if death should take us from this life, he is there waiting to welcome us to our heavenly home.

When we are "sucked in, washed up, and blown over and the song in our hearts is silenced" we are assured that Christ is in our boat, sharing our storms. He says to our stormy chaos, "Quiet! Be still!"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th June, 2006

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