Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2018 – Mark 4:35-41
I had the privilege of serving the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Tracy City, TN today. Here’s my sermon.
In today’s Gospel Jesus’ disciples are afraid. They are in the middle of the sea of Galilee in a crowded boat when a terrible squall gathers and jeopardizes their very lives. These men are not strangers to this lake. Before Jesus called them to fish for people they fished here often, no doubt risking the occasional storm for a good catch.
But today is different. Today the waves are so big that they spill into the boat which sinks lower and lower into the water. Today the situation is out of control. Today they are afraid. Jesus, however, is not. The same waves that terrify the disciples have rocked Jesus to sleep. He’s lying down on a cushion in the back of a boat, resting after a long day of telling parables.
The rain and the wind don’t phase him. This scares the disciples. When their fear turns to anger they lash out at him. “Wake up!” they yell. “We’re about to sink! Don’t you care what’s happening to us?! Don’t you care that we are at the very brink of death?”
Storms are fearsome things. You know that. I know that. Storms gather frequently atop this mountain. We’ve even had a few this week. Dogs run under beds to hide from the thunder, children hug their mothers for fear of the lightning.
We often use the metaphor of the storm to describe times of adversity in our lives. A stormy time in life is a time of sickness, divorce, or money troubles. I am reminded of a cartoon man in a television commercial. When depressing times come into his life, storm clouds gather over him, thunder rumbles, and rain falls on him. As life gets better the clouds part, the sun shines, and peace and contentment return.
We all recognize stormy times in life, but we don’t always recognize the different kinds of storms. There are two kinds of storms in our lives. There are external storms and internal storms.
External storms are storms that occur outside of us, storms that are inflicted upon us. These are political storms, economic storms, storms of immigration policy, natural disasters, car accidents, gas prices, and bitter partisan disagreements. These are the storms we face when we get fired from our job or lose a loved one. These storms result in intense arguments, lost money, or personal injury.
But there are also internal storms, storms that arise inside of us. These storms cause anguish and confusion. These are storms of mental illness, low self-esteem, or intense guilt. These are storms that lead to depression and lack of faith. These storms result in doubts and fears that we cannot always express.
When we face external storms it is easier to assign blame, pass the buck, or seek solutions from others. But inward storms leave us even more vulnerable. Often, no one knows they are brewing but us. Inward storms are hard to talk about, hard to understand, and hard to admit to.
The disciples are facing an outward storm, a struggle with a force of nature beyond their control. They get frustrated because Jesus is so calm. They lash out at him—“Don’t you care that we are perishing?!” When Jesus quiets the storm an eery, dead calm falls over the green water. The men in the boat are relieved. Their troubles are gone. (Or so they think.) The disciples think they are home free, but Jesus knows better. Jesus knows that their fear isn’t just about the tempest. This is about what’s going on inside of them.
Jesus scolds them, “Why were you afraid? Do you still not have any faith? After everything I’ve taught you??” Some translations put it this way— “Why are you such cowards? After all the parables I’ve told you, and the miracles I’ve performed, have you no faith? Did you really think I would let you die?”
Of course Jesus cared that the disciples were in danger. And he did something about it. Jesus always cares about the storms in our lives. And Jesus knows that just like the external storms that rage around us, we often face interior storms—we don’t feel whole, and we lack faith because we are not sure who in the world to listen to. We’re not sure who our friends are. We’re not sure who has our best interest at heart. And when we struggle with these things, we lose track of ourselves. And we lose track of God.
I know an old man whose wife died and he was left as a young single father. He did everything for his children. Woke them up, made their breakfast, sent them off to school. After work he sewed their clothes, bookmarked bedtime stories, and prepared dinner. When they went to college he sent them care packages, and made special preparations for holiday celebrations. But now they are grown, scattered across the country, and he rarely sees his grandchildren. Adding insult to injury, when Father’s Day rolls around, no one calls. No greeting cards come. He feels lost, utterly scorned. The storm clouds gathered. “Those ungrateful kids! Am I no longer a father?” he wonders. “How did it come to this?” His entire identity is wrapped up in the children. But now that’s in jeopardy. A part of him is missing.
This is familiar territory to many of us. Sometimes, like the disciples, like the old man, we don’t know who we are. The danger of not knowing who we are makes external storms difficult to face, and we make bad decisions.
The old man was afraid that he’d be alone forever, so he tried getting a cat for some company. But he hates cats, so that didn’t work. Finally he remembered his own father’s preferred bandage and reached for a bottle. Again and again he drank until he couldn’t stop.
The disciples are stunned, shocked, and surprised by their circumstance. The storm caught them off guard. There were literary knocked off their usual course. They were not sure what would happen or how they would cope facing this new disruption. All they could do was fear.
Jesus tells them not that he doesn’t care about the external storms in their lives, but that as long their internal storms rage, as long as they don’t know who they are—or whose they are—they will not prepared to deal with the challenges that come their way. We can become so consumed with our fear, our anger, and self loss, that we fail to recognize that Jesus claims us as his own and no one can change that. The external storms make us doubt our worth. We’d rather argue and complain and blame others (to make them look worse than us) than we would say a prayer or read a our favorite passage of scripture, a passage that reminds us just how much we are loved.
Through his death Jesus gave us the power to do much more than assign blame, point fingers, or panic. Through his death Jesus gave us the power to live BECAUSE we are loved as much as God loves anyone. In living we no longer have to fear death. Jesus rose so that we might know, remember, and trust the power of God.
That day on the lake the disciples knew Jesus was with them, but they forgot about his saving power and his calming presence. So he had to remind them.
So it is with us. Jesus is always with us. Jesus always loves us. Jesus is always there to remind us of his saving power and his calming presence. Jesus is always at hand with a grace that gives us the ability to know ourselves more surely, to calm us in adversity, and to know who we are, and whose we are.
Jesus has already done the hard part. Our job is to remember that.