1 Samuel 17:1, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
4:35 “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
Let us pray: God our protector, you stood by David in the time of trial. Stand with us through all life’s storms, giving us courage to risk the danger it may take to protect those who are oppressed and poor, that they may know you as their stronghold and hope. Amen.
As a pastor preparing sermons is a process and the best laid plans can sometimes be derailed. This was one of those weeks where my sermon was headed in one direction until the events of Wednesday evening when a cowardly young man decided to visit a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and do unspeakable violence to innocent Christian people just because of the color of their skin. It seems to me that we have taken a monumental step backward as a society with guns, violence, hate, race, and understanding.
I know that this was an isolated attack by a confused and angry young white male who is afraid that his way of life and worldview are being challenged but it is painful to watch, hear, listen and live with this sort of reprehensible act becoming all too common place.
I find great solace and comfort in the faithful response of the families of the nine victims of Wednesday evening’s murders as the preliminary hearing was going on. Each of them one by one told of their great loss and sorrow but then in what I can only characterize as a true act of faith they said they forgave the murderer. Friends that is more faith and courage than I will ever have.
Which gets me back to the Gospel reading from Mark. Jesus and his disciples are caught in a storm at sea. Which can be scary in and of itself. Storms, Fear and Faith these three words seem to capture this text.
There is a whole lot going on in this story. The disciples are afraid. They are traveling toward unfamiliar territory. They are afraid because they know what can happen in a storm. Their boat can capsize. They can be overwhelmed by the wind and the waves. They can drown. There’s something dangerous about a storm especially one at sea that we ought to fear.
So we understand the disciples fear as they face this storm at sea and we often we spiritualize their fear of the storm. We apply this story to all the things we fear in our world. We look at the fear in this story, and we relate that fear to the fear we have of the storms of life that surround us. The storm of racial violence and murder. The storms of evil. Also, the personal storms we live through and batten down our own hatches against.
And we deal with that fear of those storms by recalling the words of Jesus from this text. “Have you still no faith?” We take that rebuke of Jesus, and off we go beating ourselves and each other up for not having more faith. In spite of the fact that Jesus Christ is with us in the midst of the storm, and it seems he always wakes up in time to calm the storm.
So, we tell ourselves that if we had enough faith, we could overcome our fears. After all, in our culture, fear is a flaw, it is something we’re supposed to overcome. Fear is something we get professional help with. There are people out there who can help us with our fears, they can help us overcome the fear of flying, the fear of spiders and snakes, the fear of heights, the fear of crowds, and the fear of storms. We should just overcome this fear, we tell ourselves, and we can do that by just having more faith! Because, after all, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
But, what if the storm is not what the disciples were afraid of? What if the disciples were more afraid of Jesus than the storm? Mark says that the disciples were still afraid even after Jesus stills the seas and wind with his voice. Mark points out that the disciples experience another kind of fear altogether: the fear of being in the presence of the one powerful enough to calm the storm, they realize that they are in the presence of the living God.
It’s His power that they’re afraid of. “Who is this,” they say, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They sense that there’s something about this power that is dangerous. If Jesus can do what he did with that storm, then what might he do to us? No wonder those disciples were afraid. In the presence of that kind of God, who wouldn’t be? For what can be safe, in such a presence? Anything? Anyone? No.
Sometimes this fear is described as a reverential awe, and it’s important to distinguish that kind of emotion from a terror of some known or unknown threat. I think that the disciples fear was somewhere in between awe and terror and that is often the reaction that comes from an experience of God.
Why should they be scared of Jesus? Because he challenged everything they knew about life, faith and even the storms at sea. He was bringing about change and change no matter what kind is scary. Just because he stilled a storm does not mean that he did not create more chaos than calm. If even the wind and the rain listened to him, what else might he do?
-well, he might say that life is more than money and a job
-he might say that to follow Jesus is to deny yourself
-he might say that compassion and service are far more important than power and control
-he might say that death is not really the enemy
-he might even say that forgiveness is more important than vengeance
You see, Jesus might just tell these disciples that life is about more than them, faith is about than getting even, following Christ is about more than being successful. It is hard stuff. When we think that following Jesus is always peaceful and happy, then we miss the point. Following Jesus is counter cultural, counter intuitive, because it causes us to look at the world and ourselves differently.
Yes, the disciples survived the storm but now what? They couldn’t go back to the way it was, they knew too much. They had just witnessed Jesus doing the impossible, a miracle, calming mother-nature something beyond human ability and comprehension. They can’t control the world. They can’t control Jesus. They were filled with fear and awe, they were changed forever.
Ultimately what acknowledging the awesomeness of God does is that it makes us realize that we are not in control of the world and that that is Good News. We can’t calm the winds and the rain and we can’t make ourselves forgive in the face of evil. Only God can do that. Only God can step into the storm, step into our heart and say “fear not.” It is going to be ok. Now take a deep breath and let go, let me take over and give you the strength that surpasses any human understanding.
So all this has had me thinking, if a basic part of the Christian faith is to remind each other that while God may be so much bigger than we’d thought, and that while the life of faith may be at times be much harder than we’d bargained for, God will not abandon us. Not to the violent storms of life, or the hurricane like winds of our personal fears or even to the senseless acts of violence and murder. God will come, stilling wind and wave, calming the fear-ridden heart, telling us again that we are His own beloved children.
And when we remind ourselves that we are beloved children of God. We are offering words of comfort to each other with the news of God’s steadfast love. We are part of the greatest messages throughout Scripture, Fear not, do not be afraid!
So, I invite you today not only to admit the power we sometimes give over to our fears, but to take a moment right now and turn to your neighbor in the pew – and say to one another: “You are God’s beloved child; do not be afraid.”
Let us pray: Dear Lord, it is scary when we don’t understand. It is unsettling when we feel out of control, or actually are out of control. We don’t want to hurt. We don’t want our family or friends to hurt. We know you care—but we don’t understand and we are afraid. Calm the winds of our fears and the waves of their distress. Please. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.