A sermon delivered at Hominy Friends meeting, 24 June 2012. Special thanks to Robert Jay (my grandfather), and Charity Sandstrom who both offered advice on how I should apply this passage.
Reading: Mark 4:35-41
When I hear this passage, I picture myself as a child, with several other children listening to one of many stories. We heard the stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, seeing one miracle after another, yet grumbling against God because they did not have enough food, or drink, or there were enemies around. The story teller reminds us that unlike the Israelites, we should have faith — how could they doubt when they had seen.
When I heard the stories of the disciples, it was the same. Jesus said “oh ye of little faith” when the disciples were worried about how to feed the crowds. He said that in the Sermon on the Mount to all that worry that God feeds and clothes nature. Again, I hear the storyteller from my youth pointing out that even though the disciples saw everything, they did not believe. I remember being determined to have more faith then they.
Over time, I’ve been able to reflect on this — more faith then the apostles? In my childishness I did not consider what this meant. In scripture we hear the how the disciples followed Jesus. They know little about Him, but they had enough faith to walk away from their lively-hoods and learn. If I were established in a position and living a stable life, would I give it up as each of the disciples did?
We speak of Doubting Thomas — but, we forget, what happens when our friends and family see someone who recently died. Most people simply dismiss it as a dream, or a trick of a grieving mind. Let’s say I was in Thomas’s sandals. Jesus appears before me, repeats my words and shows me his wounds — would I say with him: “my Lord and my God?” Before Thomas, no one called Jesus God. He doubted the resurrection without proof, yet he made this leap of faith first.
No — if the disciples deserve Christ’s identification of having but a little faith, we all deserve the same — they were very human. All the stories which I heard from my childhood about giants of faith included periods of fear and doubt. Our stories are the stories of great people — but, they remain people.
Now lets go back to the boat. Jesus had spent a day with people, after which he and the disciples are sailing and Jesus sleeps as the accomplished sailors among them guide the boat. Now a great storm hits — big enough to strike fear into the hearts of those who know boats and the sea. There is no doubt that they had been afraid before. With a lifetime of earning a living from the sea, this would not be the first storm which might lead to death. Jesus continues to sleep though, while the professional fishermen are running on adrenaline. Matthew and others are terrified, but have no idea how or where to run. Through all this, Jesus sleeps. Through motion, wind, noise, and even when the boat took on water Jesus sleeps. I cannot imagine being so tired, or so trusting that I sleep through such a storm.
They (the disciples) wake Jesus. I imagine that Peter, Andrew, James and John are not among those who wake Jesus. They have lived their life on boats, surely they are working as fast as they can to keep the boat above water. There was no shortage of fear, but it was the determined fear of a professional in crisis. Those without experience on the other hand panic without direction. A passenger can do little other than get in the way. So, afraid for their lives they wake Jesus who says “peace be still”.
The odd thing is that they didn’t expect waking Jesus to do anything more than be with them as they worried. When Jesus tells the wind and the waves to be quiet, the storm suddenly stops — but this amazes the disciples! They did not expect a miracle — and you might observe that if they did not expect it, they did not hope enough to ask for one. The disciples who woke Jesus had already surrendered to the storm, they were waiting to die! They were not looking for salvation so much as they were fretting, and annoyed that Jesus was not worrying with them. They woke him because he was not panicking.
Then Jesus gives them what they need instead of what they want. The disciples were panicking, knowing that they might die — they wanted to share their anxiety with Jesus. Instead of sharing the panic, Jesus simply said: “Be Quiet.” to the storm. Imagine the disciple’s anger at Jesus, because he was relaxed while they were panicking. This anger turned into embarrassment as there was no longer any reason to panic. Sometimes when we call out to God, salvation never occurs to us, we just don’t want to be alone.
Fortunately, part of what Jesus gave those who followed him was His presence. While he commented that their faith is small (Humanity’s faith indeed is small — we lack divine vision). Jesus was there to hear the disciples complaints. Because of the resurrection Jesus still hears our complaints. We believe that we can cry out to a sympathetic God who knows what it means to suffer.
My grandfather recently reminded me though, even though we cry out and complain, like the disciples hoping that God will be sympathetic to us while we are anxious, God’s power still calms storms. On the first day of this month, I was at my grandmother’s funeral. The day my grandfather told me that Jesus still calms storms, he received my grandmother’s death certificate — which means this week, his life is filled with paperwork and intense pain. My grandmother was 89 when she died, She married my grandfather at 19. They stayed together for 70 years, and now everything my grandfather knew in life is passed. Surely my grandfather was speaking out of his own storm when he reminded me that God calms storms today.
The biggest storms are often the ones that we create with our own anxiety and our own sorrow. The disciples likely could have weathered the storm which brought them to wake Jesus. Those who sailed to catch fish had taken on water before, and they would take on water in the future. All the experience in the world does not calm the storms of worry, or of grief. In many ways, the storms just become more intense with experience — because our experience not only teaches us how to do things right, but it demonstrates what goes wrong. Our most profound experiences are those where we suffer loss. The memory of these experiences just adds more wind to the storm within our souls.
The disciples were right when the woke Jesus. God has come to Earth to be sympathetic. Our Lord is patient when we complain — and our Lord understand what it means to suffer. Even now, we complain to God and bring our worries into our prayers (as scripture teaches us to do.) God is patient and understanding as we struggle through life’s storms. Yet when we are taking on water, God still can give us what we need. Our Lord still says to the wind and the waves: “Peace be still”. We will all face times when we wish to cry out to God, asking like the disciples “do you not care that I am perishing?” For our own sake — we should remember that God still says: “Peace be still.”