June 24, 2018
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
“Why are you so afraid?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Not everyone is aware that Minnesota gets it fair share of tornadoes. If the sky gets a distinct green color and the sirens go off, you’d better know what your safety options are. I read about one tornado that came in so fast, it whisked away part of the house, leaving just the foundation and first floor.
The woman was sitting in the bathtub, dazed, the only remaining part of the house left above the first floor. The rescue squad came flying in to her aid and found her unhurt. She was just sitting there in the tub, talking to herself. “It was the most amazing thing … it was the most amazing thing.”
“What was the most amazing thing, Ma’am?” asked one of the rescuers. “I was visiting my daughter here, taking a bath, and all I did was pull the plug and don’tcha know, the whole house drained away, just like that!”
Before we get to the scripture passage, and before you wonder just where they are, the scene takes place at the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake of Galilee as it is sometimes known. Actually, it’s also called the Sea of Tiberias, the Lake of Gennesaret, and Kinnereth, among it’s multitudinous names. Being so far away, we don’t really appreciate the topography of the area.
The Sea of Galilee is at the north end of the Jordan Valley, which basically ends with the Dead Sea. The lake is about four times the size of Crystal Lake, in a bowl, 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by mountains and rivers that “fall” into it. All this topography combines into a setting for potentially fast and furious storms.
Prior to our passage in Mark’s version, Jesus had been doing a lot of teaching with parables: the mustard seed, the growing seed, a lamp on a stand, and the sower, after a “conversation,” with his family and teachers of the law and appointing the twelve disciples. It was a long day, and Jesus was undoubtedly tired.
Mark 4:35-41 (NIV) Jesus Calms the Storm
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Thank you, Ann. In the second verse, it says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along.” I love that they were - apparently - aware that Jesus was exhausted, so they didn’t ask him if he wanted to go, or where he wanted to go - they just took him - to take care of him. And Jesus didn’t fight them - claiming other work to do or not wanting to inconvenience the guys - or requiring a change in his mental agenda. Sometimes the best things we can do is to take care of our friends, and the second best thing we can do is allow friends to take care of us.
We’ve all been there, when we were more tired than tired, not even hearing the storm and thunder waging outside. So in a way, there’s nothing really odd about this story - in the first two verses. But like any good movie, the plot builds with the storm squalls, and the disciples get rattled.
Remember, some of the guys in the boat that day were veteran fishermen. They were accustomed to all kinds of weather - on that particular lake. Because most of us don’t speak ancient Greek, we miss the fact that this was no ordinary storm, but a mega storm. That’s the word in the original Greek: mega. But the storm was not the only thing described as “mega” in this passage. There was the mega fear - or great fear - of the disciples and the mega calm or complete calm that came about when Jesus spoke to the elements.
The missing or absent language of this passage would have been helpful. We don’t know how Jesus spoke to the wind and waves. I can’t remember who said it, but I recently heard someone talk about the powerful quiet behind a mother reigning in a child in church. “You stop that right now!” Or maybe Jesus used his teacher-outside voice. “Knock it off!” The passage uses punctuation and other descriptive words like rebuked, but a little volume indicator would have been nice.
According to Mark’s version, the only time when the disciples are described as “terrified” is not when the storm was swamping the boats, but after Jesus rebuked both the winds and the waves.
We’re not told that the disciples were filled with wonder or that they asked the question of his identity with trembling joy or anticipation. We’re merely told they were “terrified,” perhaps that we can put ourselves more easily into the passage.
It’s interesting, too, that the disciples, who had spent a fair bit of time with Jesus, still didn’t feel “good” after this little / big miracle. They had seen him heal people, seen him eat with people of questionable repute and even performed an exorcism, and it wasn’t until this event that his actions began to get to them.
Saint Peter had a terrible cold and fever and didn't think he would last the day minding the Pearly Gates of Heaven. So he phoned Jesus to ask for the day off. "Why, Peter, you know your health is my first concern. Take as much time as you need."
As Jesus pondered who he might use to replace Peter, he decided to handle the job himself. It was a very slow day and no one approached the Gates until late in the afternoon, when in the distance, Jesus saw a bent, white-haired old man slowly making his way up the path with the aid of a gnarled cane.
As the man neared, Jesus said, "Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?”
"Well," replied the man, "I was hoping to enter the Gates of Heaven.”
"We would certainly love to have you," said Jesus, "but we do have certain requirements. Tell me, what have you done to deserve such an honor?"
"Actually, I have done nothing so wonderful myself," said the man. "I lived in a small town and led a simple life as a carpenter. But my son," he continued, "now HE was special!"
With pride in his voice he said, "I raised him to be a carpenter like myself and did my best to teach him right from wrong. And when he grew older, an amazing transformation overcame him and to this day he's known throughout the world and loved by all alike."
As Jesus listened to the story, a sense of recognition came to him. With a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, he threw open his arms and cried, “Father!" Emotional at this outburst, the old man threw open his arms and yelled, "Pinocchio?"
Although there are several questions in our passage today, there is one that seemed to pop out more than the others, and it’s Jesus’ question. “Why are you so afraid?” It’s Jesus’ question to those in the boat with him, and in our present day, that’s us.
If I were a trained counselor, I would probably be able to say this more eloquently, but I think a lot of why we act and react the way we do in life, has a lot to do with fear. We hold strangers at arms’ lengths, not caring about reaching out others, because we fear losing them one day. We invest ourselves, our hearts and if we’ve already had our fair share of death, then why sign-up for more heartache? Or we fear that which is different, people who we somehow think may have more power than we do.
Or maybe we fear death, so we cling to the things that make us feel alive - from material objects to radio or gossip. Perhaps we fear being alone, so addictions have fertile ground. We can so fear fear, that we even go so far as to say we don’t have any fear, attempting to convince ourselves that we are “above” such weakness. I would even venture to say that there are some folks that so fear being vulnerable, that they will say hurtful things about others, in the mis-guided hope that their own hearts will be protected.
Good, ol’ Stephen Garnaas-Holmes threw out a huge thought. He said, “You know, don’t you, that Jesus suggests that they go over to the other side of the lake, he never simply means the far side of the lake? He went on to list “other sides,” like the other side of life, the other side of the yourself, the other side of our heart, beyond the familiar, the safe, the manageable, the unseen.
But we have this account to remind us that no matter how ugly our circumstances or the environment, Jesus is in our boat. We will all encounter storms, and in their seeming chaos, our safety and even our sanity may feel threatened. It may seem as if God is asleep, inattentive, uncaring and no amount of crying out seems to be heard. And yet, if our boat sinks, we sink with Christ. He is in our boat of worry, and he’s at peace. If the guy who commanded the natural elements to obey him, did just that, then what is our real fear about?
If there were any perfect people - aside from myself - then I would suggest that no one would need to search their hearts for fear. But since there none, we best set to prayin’.
God of Comfort and Healing, there is much in our world that can give us cause for fear, even things we don’t recognize as driving us in that fear. So help us, each of us, think about that which fears us this week. Then help us to hear the words you would have us say to those fears. Help us embrace your words of peace and healing to our own hearts, that we find assurance rather than fear, fulfillment rather than stunted love, freedom rather than imprisonment of spirit.
Thank you, God, for loving us, despite our imperfections and mistakes. Help us to put the world to right, that we might all find security and safety in your Spirit. Lead us into futures of freedom and wholeness that reflect your holiness and commitment to human well-being. For the gift of your forgiveness, your insight and leading, all your people say, Amen.