Sunday, June 24, 2018

Storms of life

June 17, 2018
Job 38:1-11; Mark 4:35-41

In 2010, my husband Mike and I were in the Holy Lands with a group tour. Most such tours include a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee – which is now called Lake Gennesaret. Our trip was a wet, rocky ride, with a wild storm, waves about 4 feet tall, and wind that took us back where we had been. The pilot had to tack back and forth to make any headway. The ride took us close to an hour and a half instead of 30 to 40 minutes to travel the 13 miles from north to south.

So, we can imagine how scary it was for the disciples to be in an open fishing boat on this lake. Let’s put ourselves there with Jesus. They all lived in the area of Capernaum, on the north shore of the Lake.

I am sure that Jesus lived there for a while, working as a carpenter or stone worker while getting to know the people in town. He talked with them, sharing a different image of God and the way to honor and worship God from the image they were used to. I believe they made short one-day or two-day trips out of town all around Galilee, rather than wandering sort of homeless for months at a time. Of course, the trips to Jerusalem were longer, because it is a three-day walk just to get there.

The Gospel story for today occurs early in Mark, so early in Jesus’ ministry. The disciples have heard Jesus teach; they have seen him heal people; they have seen him cast out demons. But they assume he is just one more of the occasional faith healers that have occurred throughout history. They still have no idea who he really is.

On this day, Jesus has been healing and teaching, with the disciples managing the crowd. They are all tired, yet Jesus says, let’s go across the lake to the southeast. The trip was probably just 3 or 4 miles , and not too far from the shore. Today, that region is Jordan. Back then, it was the land of the Gerasenes, Non-Jewish territory.

As they crossed the lake, a storm arose, probably similar to the one we experienced. In an open boat, the waves were crashing across it, the boat was filling with water, and the boat was riding the waves and crashing down into the troughs. It must have been terrifying.  And what is Jesus doing? He is sleeping through the whole thing!

The disciples are understandably upset. They are about to drown, and Jesus is sleeping! They wake him up. “How can you be sleeping through this storm? We’re all gonna die! Don’t you care?!” And Jesus response is so surprising. “Why are you afraid? Why do you have so little faith?” After that, he says, “Peace! Be still!” and the storm is over.

The disciples are astounded, nearly speechless. They look at each other. “Did that just happen? Who is this guy, anyway?!”

We forget, because we know who Jesus is, that there was a time when people didn’t know who he was or what he could do. The disciples are there at the beginning, and they are just beginning to wonder if Jesus is more than he appears to be. Even at the cross, even at the resurrection, they will still wonder, just who this Jesus is and what it means for them. Especially the way Mark tells the story.

… What kinds of things cause us to be afraid, really afraid? Some people are afraid of creatures like snakes and spiders. Some people are afraid of public speaking. Some of us are afraid to fly. Some – most – people are afraid of serious illness, like cancer or lung disease. Some of us are afraid of storms, or roller coasters, or dogs, or something many of us are not afraid of. Most of us are afraid we or our loved ones will be seriously hurt in some way, in an accident, for example.  Today, we are often afraid of a person with a gun, shooting innocent people in a school, or a mall, or at a concert.

When we are afraid, it is often a challenge to do anything except be afraid. The disciples didn’t think that Jesus could calm the storm. Such a thing never occurred to them. Only God can change the weather.

When Hermine and Matthew and Irma and Maria were making their ways toward us, we prayed. We know that God can still storms, or at least change the path of storms, but do we really believe God will change anything? No, we actually pray that we and our loved ones will be safe in the storm.

I want to tell the story again, but rearrange it a little bit. Here’s how I think it went: The disciples tried to hang on while Jesus slept, but finally, they must have grown desperate. They were panicking, and with good reason. They were helpless against the storm that was all around them. They needed all hands on deck to bail the water that was filling the boat.

Jesus wakes up and is dismayed that the disciples are panicking. “What’s wrong with you,” he says. “Why are you so afraid?” He stills the storm by speaking to it. “Peace. Be still.” Is he also speaking to the disciples here? “Peace, be still, don’t worry so much.”  

But, I am astounded that Jesus seems to have expected the disciples to know he could control the weather. How would they know that, since he has never done that before? But, maybe, Mark, the Gospel writer, is not really describing the disciples. Maybe he is really speaking to us.

When storms arise in our lives, do we look to Jesus and expect him to still the storm? Usually, we have so little faith that we pray for safety, and bail as fast as we can.

Two years ago, I had a DVT – a blood clot – in my leg, and a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in an artery in my lungs. I spent most of a week in the hospital while doctors and techs and nurses took care of me and removed the clot from my lungs. Some of my caregivers were afraid a sneeze could kill me and made sure I didn’t leave the bed until the clots were removed. I trusted that I was in God’s hands, and watched a lot of TV between naps. I wasn’t afraid.

But the night before I went to the hospital was pretty bad. I had a hard time breathing, and was afraid to go to sleep, for fear that I wouldn’t wake up. I found myself saying, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. I was scared. It was only when I put myself in God’s hands that I was able to sleep a little, and then I had Mike take me to the hospital early in the morning. … We should have gone in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t ready. I still wonder why I resisted going to the hospital. What was I afraid of?  
What are you afraid of? When you are afraid, how do you respond to your fear? Do you panic? Or do you try to find a way to give your fear to God and let Jesus still your storms?

Please pray with me. Jesus, some days all is well. And some days are like violent storms. Help us trust you always, and especially help us trust you to still our storms. Help us to hear you say, “Peace. Be still.” Amen