Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 7)

Text: Mark 4:39-40
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.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Why are you frightened? Do you still have no faith?"

How do we face adversity?

Most likely you have heard of Andrew Fisher, the 5th Prime Minister of Australia about a century ago, but have you heard of Andrew ĎFishtailí Fisher the V8 Ute and Supercar racing driver who recently had a podium finish in Darwin.  Along the way, Andrew has also had his fair share of smashes Ė one in his V8 Supercar at Mt Panorama, Bathurst. 

Why am I talking about a racing car driver?  This picture will give you a clue.  As you can see Andrew has Jesus painted boldly on the side of his car, across the front and on his V8 Supercar across the top as well.  You will see that he is also a promoter not only of things to do with car racing but also the Bible Society. 

How odd.  Is Andrew Fisher one of those religious fanatics?  Is he the kind of person that really gets up your nose talking about God all the time and all you want to do is get away?

Iíve never met him personally, though some of the kids at our school have had him visit their youth group, but when interviewed on TV he doesnít come across like this.  Heís a bloke who loves motor racing and loves Jesus and loves to share both passions at schools, youth groups, menís groups and so on.

One of the things he says quite strongly is that just because he has the name ĎJesusí written all over his car doesnít mean that he will not have his fair share of close calls, scary moments, crashes, and even life endangering pileups as he roars around the race track.  Being a Christian doesnít mean that adversity wonít come his way.  There are some people who have asked him, ďIf you believe in Jesus, why do these bad things happen?Ē  And so this provides Andrew an opportunity to point out that the Christian faith has something to say about how we deal with adversity and so an opening to talk about Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

But thatís fine to talk about adversity like this and say that Jesus gets us through the tough times but when the chips are down does it really happen like that?  Look at the disciples in the boat caught in a storm.  They knew Jesus better than anyone else.  They walked with him.  They talked with him.  They had heard him talk about God's love and care and why itís pointless to worry and be anxious. 

And yet even though they have Jesus right there in the boat with them, they panic.  They think that the sleeping Jesus doesnít care that they are in danger. 
Do they really believe that Jesus will let them drown? 
Has fear driven out any sign of faith and trust in Jesusí love for them?
Are they so filled with panic that they have come to believe that Jesus wouldnít come to their aid in the same way that he had helped so many others who faced adversity?
Are they questioning whether Jesus was even aware that they were in grave danger?

Without a doubt thatís just what they were doing when the storm was proving too great for them to have any chance of rowing their way out of it.  They bailed water, gathered in sails, tossed overboard everything that was unnecessary; they panicked, and now finally turn their anger and frustration toward the sleeping Jesus.  With a rough shake they stand over him and demand, ďDonít you care that we are about to die?Ē

Itís not that the disciples didnít have faith in Jesus at all.  And itís not that they hadnít committed themselves to following Jesus.  They had experienced his love and compassion as he dealt with the upsets and storms in other peopleís lives.  Itís just that in this moment of extreme adversity all of that seemed to vanish.  I donít think itís any different with any of us. 

The great 12th century Christian teacher, Bernard of Clairvaux described this wobbly kind of faith by saying that we are like drunken sailors, reeling and staggering out of control.  I see this happening in my own life and in the lives of others too.  Itís very human and very natural.  Itís a part of being a sinner and saint at the same time. We find ourselves in two minds Ė we want to love and trust the Lord but sometimes we find itís beyond us.

How do we handle adversity especially trouble that we consider to be unfair?

Let me go back to Andrew Fisher, the racing car driver.  Remember how he said that just because you have Christ in your life doesnít mean that adversity wonít come your way.  It happened to him and he had every reason to say that it was unfair.  His second child was born with a serious congenital heart defect.  The doctors said that the most humane thing to do for his daughter and for his family was to let nature take its course and let her die. He describes what it was like to hear that advice and then to make the decision to go against the doctorsí advice. 

Their child endured 23 operations, 3 open heart surgeries, 6 months in hospital, the family had to relocate from Sydney to Melbourne; then another round of surgery when she was 5 and all this with the knowledge that when she turns 16 or 17 her heart will fail. 

Now if thatís not adversity for a father and his family then nothing is.  How unfair can all that be especially for a family who have given so much to witnessing for Jesus in schools, churches, on TV, on the race track, to community groups and have also linked up with Compassion and taken his racing team to poorest of the poor around the world, and here at home raised money for those people to provide the basic essentials that we take for granted?

I donít know the story of Andrew Fisher well enough to know the innermost feelings of Andrew and his wife but I know that if I was in the same situation I reckon I might have felt like the disciples in the boat on the stormy sea. 
Like the disciples I would have felt that everything had gone crazy, out of control, so out control that no matter what I did it was all too hopeless. 
Like the disciples I would have lost heart and become despondent because the forces against me would have been too great.
Like the disciples I would have despaired at the overwhelming magnitude of the situation in front of me and wondered, ďWhy me of all people should I be placed in this unenviable position?Ē
Like the disciples I would have wanted to give God a good shake and a piece of my mind, ďDonít you care!  What has this little person done to deserve a raw deal like this?  Donít you care that you are putting our family through an emotional and financial ringer?Ē  I might even add this sideswipe, ďSo much for serving you all these years and look what I get in return!Ē

When things get out of our control in our lives itís easy for us to think things are also out of God's control.  Thatís not the case at all.  Thatís far from the truth as we see in the gospel story.  In all the rushing about on the boat, the disciples forgot one important thing Ė Jesus was on the boat being tossed about with them. He too was drenched with the waves as they washed over the side and showed complete trust in his Fatherís protection as he slept through the storm.  Jesus was right there with the disciples. 

They had witnessed Jesus call people who were in trouble to trust him; now it was their moment to trust Jesus.  Now it was their turn to face trouble and trust that Jesus would act for their benefit.  These tough, weathered fishermen were being tested, right in their own familiar environment, by the landlubber from Nazareth whose nostrils were more at home with the scent of wood shavings than with tangy sea breezes and the smell of fish. 

At the point when they believed that there was no hope and that they would soon sink into the watery deep, Jesus stood up in that rocking and heaving boat, demonstrating his clear presence among them and his mastery of the situation.  He called out to the wind and the waves and everything stopped. The disciples stood there with their mouths hanging wide open. 
How could they have so easily been overcome by adversity that they lost sight of the one who loved them so powerfully?
How had the trouble that had fallen on them caused them to lose confidence and trust and faith in the One who mattered the most?

Andrew Fisher is a V8 racing car driver but heís also a father who has faced adversity with Jesus by his side.  He sums up his own experience coping with trouble saying, ďSo when you live with that sense of adversity in your life it gives you perspective on many other things in your life in terms of whatís important and whatís not important; what you want to live for; what you want to fight for and what youíre prepared to walk away fromĒ.  Thereís more in those words than I have time to reflect on but let me just say that adversity has a way of making us more focussed, stronger; it enables us to grow in our faith and bring us closer to Jesus.

So then how do you face adversity?  When everything goes haywire and things get out of your control who do you go to when you are powerless in the storm of adversity?  Where do you find the strength to face trouble and survive the storm?

Simply Ė Jesus Christ. 
He may not remove you from the storm;
he may not stop the storm,
but with Jesus by your side in the middle of adversity all shall be well;
you have nothing to fear and nothing to be anxious about. 
His strength is your strength.
His peace calms your troubled soul.

When things begin to terrify you think of Jesus stepping into the eye of a storm that took his life on a Friday when the sky turned to thick darkness. He rose again to promise you his everlasting loving presence in whatever troubling circumstances you face along lifeís journey.

When faced with adversity remember your baptism and the promise that Jesus made to you when you were joined to him through water and the Word.  He invites you call out in faith to him because he is able to strengthen and calm the wave-tossed soul and will bring you through all of lifeís storms to the safe haven of your eternal home.

There is only one who can truly help when it comes to facing adversity;
there is only one whose love for us is undeniable and whose faithfulness can be trusted;
there is only one who is powerful enough to hold us up when the whole world is rocking and reeling
and that is Jesus.
Some times with strong stern words and other times in the quiet and gentle voice he says to us, ďBe at peace; be still!Ē  Even the wind and waves obey him.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th June 2012

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