Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
June 24, 2012
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It seems such a simple little story--and such a miraculous one. Jesus and his friends get in a boat and set off across the Sea of Galilee, headed for the distant, opposite shore. As they sail across this large lake a great storm comes up. Even a large lake can get dangerously rough when the wind blows hard enough. The boat is being swamped, and Jesus and his friends are in mortal danger. Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and the storm subsides. Then his Disciples wonder: "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" Iím sure Mark meant the question to be rhetorical. The only possible answer is: God, or at least someone endowed with the power of God. Itís such a simple little story, a miracle story about who Jesus is; or so it seems at first glance. So is that all there is to it? Should I sit down now and be quiet? You can probably guess that I donít think thatís all there is to it and that Iím not about to sit down and be quiet just yet. So bear with me as we explore just what more there might be to this little miracle story about Jesus calming the sea.
Like all great Bible stories, this story comes to life and gains the power to change our lives when we see that it isnít just about something that happened a long time ago to other people in a place far away. The story comes to life and gains the power to change our lives when we see that it is also about us, right here, right now. When we look at the story that way, as being about us, we see that it is a story not just a story about a boat trip across a far away lake 2,000 years ago. It is a metaphorical story of our lifeís journey, and it is the story of the role that Jesus Christ can play in that journey. So follow me as I take you through the story one more time to see how it gets to be a story about our life's journey and Jesus' role in it.
To begin at the beginning, Jesus initiates the journey. He says to the Disciples "letís go." Letís leave the place where we are and move across an open expanse to another place on the distant shore.Ē Thatís how it is with our life journeys too. Our life journeys begin with God. God starts us and sends us out across the open expanse of our lives, headed toward the far shore of return to God.
So the Disciples started out. Jesus initiated the journey, and the Disciples agreed to go with him. So youíd think the story would say that Jesus took them with him. It doesnít. It says: "They took him with them.Ē And thatís how it is with us too. God sets us out on our lifeís journey; but if we want Jesus to go with us, we need to bring him along. Itís also true that God comes with us whether we knowingly bring God along or not; but if we want Jesus to come along, that is, if we want to†know†that God comes with us, we need to do something to make that happen. We need to bring Godís presence with us to our consciousness. We need to think about Godís presence, to turn to God, to invite God to join us. We do that mostly by praying and worshiping. That, I think, is why the story says: "They took him with them," not he took them with him. Godís grace is unconditional, but we can either be aware that we live in that grace or not. We can invite God to be our conscious companion, or not.
Once Jesus and the Disciples are out in the open water, they run into big trouble. Mark tells the story with his characteristic sparseness of detail: "A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped." Probably like me, many of you have been in a small boat out on Puget Sound or some other body of water roughly comparable to the Sea of Galilee when the weather turned nasty. It can be pretty frightening. Yet in Jesusí day it must have been even more frightening than it is for us. In those days people didnít have all of the safety devices we have today, life vests for example. They didnít have gasoline or diesel engines either. They only had sails and oars. They were much more at the mercy of the waves and the wind than most boaters are today. When that great windstorm came up Jesus and his friends were in big trouble. Their lives were definitely in immediate danger.
Thatís how it is with our souls on our life journeys too, isnít it? Life is easy when all is well, when metaphorically speaking the sea is calm and the winds are gentile. Like a sailboat ride on Puget Sound on a peaceful, sunny day, life can be very pleasant. We can relax, do what we want to do, and go where we want to go. We may be aware of the potential for trouble. We may know at some level that there are always threats to our lovely tranquility lurking somewhere, but we donít think about them much. When things are good in our lives and with our souls, we just enjoy the peace and quiet. In these times we donít feel like we need Jesus much. .
Problem is, those threats to our peaceful lives donít stay lurking in the background forever. We all get hit with great windstorms at times. Weíve all experienced them. Maybe theyíre things that happen to us in our lives. We lose a job or lose a loved one. We become seriously ill, or a loved one does. We suffer financial reversals and discover we can no longer keep on living as we like. Or maybe the storm is inside our psyches, inside our souls. We lose hope. We feel powerless and meaningless. We get depressed or suffer anxiety attacks. We lose our faith and our ability to see the good in a world full of so much evil. Storms like these, and so many others, can and do make us feel like our boats are being swamped. We feel despair and just want to give up trying. .
Yet when the boat he was in with his friends got into big trouble Jesus was asleep. Asleep! He seemed quite unconcerned about the storm. He was sleeping through it, and his friends were pretty mad at him for doing it. I think Mark understates their reaction when he only has them say: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" My reaction would have been quite a bit more vociferous. I might even have used language that it wouldnít be appropriate for me to use up here in this pulpit, if you catch my drift. There they were, trying to keep the boat as head up into the wind as possible and bailing for all their might, fearing for their lives. And there Jesus was, calming sleeping through it all, offering no help at all.
So his friends woke him up. When they did, the miracle occurred. He "rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ĎPeace! Be still!í" And the storm subsided: "Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm." Thatís how it is with us too. Jesus may be coming along for the ride on our lifeís journey, but if we want to get the help he has to offer us, we have to wake him up. Heís not going to step in and calm the storm just because he can. Thatís not how it works. I donít know that I can tell you why thatís not how it works, but it isnít. Mark knew that too almost two thousand years ago. So in his metaphor for our livesí psychological and spiritual journeys, he has Jesus asleep until the Disciples wake him up, and only then does he give them the help that they need and that only he can provide.
It works that way for us too. When things are going well we're quite content to leave Jesus asleep in the back of the boat. When things get rough Jesus can help, but .We can receive the gift of peace that Jesus has to offer when we talk to him, when we wake him up in our souls and turn to him for help. The only difference is that the Disciples could talk to him directly as a living physical person in their midst. We do it by praying to him directly as a living spiritual person in our midst, and it works the same way.
There is, however, one point that we have to be clear about. In Markís story the cause of the Disciplesí distress, the windstorm and the waves, went away. This story is, however, as Iíve been suggesting throughout this sermon, much less about an actual historical event than it is a metaphor for our life journeys; and metaphors always have their limitations. One limitation of this metaphor is that, unlike in Markís story, in our lives Jesus doesnít necessarily make the storm that threatens us go away the way he did in this story. Maybe Jesus does that sometimes, but mostly he doesnít. Hereís what he does do. Hereís what the story is really about. Jesus calms the storms in our souls, not necessarily the storms in our lives. The water in Markís story is a symbol for our souls. When troubles come, when the wind blows hard in our lives, our souls become troubled just like the water of the Sea of Galilee. Our souls become agitated. We become fearful, and we can find no spiritual rest. When we wake up Jesus and turn to him in our distress, what we find is spiritual peace in the midst of whatever is happening in our lives. We find peace in the face of illness and death, our loved onesí or our own. We find hope. We find courage. We may even find joy. Thatís what Jesus calming the storm means. When we turn to him in our times of trouble, when we wake him up in our souls, we can find that inner peace that so often eludes us.
So when troubles strike remember to wake up Jesus. He wonít necessarily make all your problems go away, but he can calm the storm in your soul. With him you can find calm in the midst of the storm. You can find hope. You can find courage. You can find what you need to bring peace to your soul, and that is very good news indeed. Amen.