5TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 6-24-2018
Pentecost 5B 2018
Texts: 1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, Psalm 133, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
“Peace! Be still!” Mark 4:39
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
My oldest son, Christopher, has a rather odd email name. He chose it because it describes both him and his first love perfectly. His name is weather nerd. When he was little we would go to Dayton to visit my twin sister. We didn’t have cable, but Donna did. Christopher would spend all day, and I mean ALL DAY watching the weather channel. He could not be pried from the TV. When he was two years old he told me that his best friend was Bob Richards who was our local TV weather man.
One night when he was about three years old, a few hours after putting him to bed, I walked past the nursery. He was kneeling in the bay window. I walked into the nursery and he looked at me and said, “Shhhhhh! Thunder coming, Mommy!” And when Christopher was around 16 or 17, as I drove into our cul-de-sac one afternoon, I found him on the pitch of the roof. He told me he was watching cloud formations. Whereas that wouldn’t normally bother me a great deal, this time was an exception. And it was an exception because the sky was green and black, the tornado sirens were screaming, and we needed to be going into the basement not up to the roof. I told my budding Ben Franklin to get himself into the house that very minute and into the basement. Christopher’s love of storms hasn’t abated. He is still fascinated and in awe of nature’s power. That particular tornado hit about a mile away touching down right after it came over his elementary and middle schools. It traveled one road over from our house and completely destroyed the house of someone we knew. All of a sudden, the power and fury that was so fascinating became very real and very scary.
In today’s gospel we have a storm of tremendous proportions, a life threatening storm that develops very quickly and at night. Jesus had been teaching by the sea all day. He had been telling the crowds parables about the kingdom of God and what faith looks like. In the evening he tells the disciples that it is time to “go across to the other side.” It was in this in-between place, this place between two shores, between firm ground, that the storm hits.
The waves were beating at the boat. They were so high that they were crashing over the sides of the boat filling it with water. Many of the disciples were seasoned fisherman and they knew that body of water like the back of their hand. That they were scared they might die tells us how bad this storm really is. In the Greek the way it is translated is that the disciples, “were fearful with a very great fear.” They weren’t just scared, they were terrified! And yet, in the middle of all this fear, in the middle of all this terror, Jesus is asleep. The disciples wake him up. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
There is an old saying, “If you can keep your head about you when everyone around you is losing theirs, it is just possible that you are not grasping the gravity of the situation.” I think this is where the disciples are coming from. They want Jesus to react to their anxiety. They want Jesus to take control. “Don’t you care Jesus? If you cared you would save us! If you cared you would change the situation! Don’t you care Jesus?”
The anxiety of the disciples, the panic that has set in among them, has separated them from Jesus. Does Jesus care? How could Jesus not care? Jesus is in the boat with them!
Jesus doesn’t react to their anxiety with his own anxiety. Jesus doesn’t buy into their panic. Jesus doesn’t react to their anxiety, but he does respond to their concern, and there in lays all the difference. The words he says are as much to the disciples as they are to the wind and the sea. “Peace! Be still!”
As suddenly as the storm comes up, it ceases. The great storm was transformed into a great calm. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Time and time and time again, throughout all of scripture we are told to not be afraid. In fact, some form of “Do not be afraid” or “fear not” appears 365 times in scripture. 365 times! There is no other message in scripture that repeats itself as often.
It is tempting to think, “That’s easy for you to say, Jesus! You are God and I am not! You have nothing to fear, but I’ve just received a devastating diagnosis! My husband has just been laid off. My child is very sick! I don’t know that I can claw my way out of this depression, this anger over being betrayed, this addiction that has taken over my life. I don’t know how to get through this shame, this humiliation. How do I get through this situation, Lord? How do I navigate through the storms of my life that threaten to completely undo me?”
Jesus doesn’t react to our anxiety, but he does respond to it.
“Peace! Be still!”
Whereas we may hear Jesus’ words individually, we cannot lose sight of the fact that they are spoken to the disciples collectively. These are words directed to all of them, to the situation they are facing together. In other words, they hear Jesus’ words not just with their individual ears; they also hear Jesus’ response to their anxiety and concerns with communal ears.
From the very earliest of New Testament times a boat has symbolized the Church. We sail between the shore of unbelief or new belief to the other shore of full belief in Jesus Christ. And in-between those shores, storms may rage and threaten to swamp the little faith we do have. The winds of tragedy and illness, economic downturns and civil unrest; the waves of cultural upheaval and change all feed into the anxiety and fear we collectively experience.
The problem with this, however, is that anxiety and fear lead us to turn inward on ourselves. It means that we are making decisions based on the anxiety we are experiencing and not on the promise God has given to us as God’s Church. Fear narrows our focus; it concentrates our vision on what we can’t do in a situation rather than what we can do through the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke’s, we are between two shores: the shore of our time with Stephen Applegate and the other side-the shore of our future with your new rector. In this in-between place storms may arise, and some may arise very quickly and feel intense. We may find ourselves buffeted about, anxious about what the future may hold. It is during those times that we would do well to remember Jesus’ words that stilled the storm-“Peace! Be Still!”
We do not have to react to the collective anxiety we might be feeling. We can decide to respond to the anxiety and fear around us by reminding ourselves and others of Jesus’ words. “Peace! Be still!”
We can decide to believe in a different collective experience-a collective experience of peace and stillness rooted in faith and in the knowledge that God has promised us a future full of hope.
We can decide to believe that God can take our fear and turn it into courage to face the challenges ahead. Because after all, courage is just fear that has said its prayers.
And we should never forget that it is Jesus himself that is telling us, “Let us go to the other side.” We do not make this trip by ourselves; we make it with a savior that does indeed care. A savior that stays in the boat with us until we safely make it to shore.