Job 38:1-11; Mark 4:35-41
4th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 24.06.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
I wonder if you have ever been caught up in a storm. The ominous darkening of the sky; and then the torrential deluge, the ground beneath your feet turned into a river; barely able to see through the pounding rain; almost blown off your feet by the gusts of wind; the sky lit up by flashes of lightening. It can be a scary experience.
At sea, it can be even worse. I remember crossing the channel one time when a storm struck. Even though we were in a huge car ferry, we still found ourselves thrown from one side of the boat to the other, seemingly at the mercy of the enormous waves crashing against the side of the boat.
Well imagine what it must have been like for the disciples when a violent storm whipped up on Lake Galilee. Initially they would not have been too worried. Some of them, let’s not forget, were professional fishermen, who had grown up on or beside the lake. They knew what to do.
But this storm is far greater than anything they have perhaps experienced before. Amidst the howling wind, the waves begin to crash over the sides of the boat, filling the boat faster than they in their desperation can bail it out. Tugging at the sails, desperately trying to stay afloat, bursting every sinew, gasping with every breath.
And then there comes that terrible moment when the realisation dawns – “this is beyond us; we can’t cope; we’re going to drown.”
Mark’s readers would have been able to identify with that. For Mark was writing at a time when the church, only thirty or so years old, was going through major storms itself, tossed about by the persecution of Nero. Christians were being burnt alive, tortured and harried and harassed throughout the empire. When Mark describes the scene in the boat, they would have felt like they were in the boat with them.
And maybe, in different ways, we can identify with them too. Maybe you are living through a storm at the moment, or finding the waters are beginning to feel distinctly choppy.
Maybe it’s the sudden deterioration in health of a loved one; or one’s own physical pain and suffering; maybe it’s the collapse of a major initiative at work you were involved in, or the sudden threat of redundancy; maybe it’s the arrival of a fuel bill you weren’t expecting or the loans that are now being called in; maybe it’s the breakdown in relationships at home or work or church.
Like with the disciples, storms can arise even in those areas of our lives where we feel competent and skilled, in our comfort zone, in those places where we feel comfortable and familiar. They can come out of nowhere, leaving us reeling from the shock. Rationally we may have known storms were possible, but in practice we are caught unawares.
Well, if you find yourself in such a situation today, call out for help. Don’t just keep bailing out the water, knowing that your efforts alone just won’t be enough. Call for help.
Who do the disciples call for help? The answer is obvious to us, but didn’t seem obvious to them. It takes quite some time before they think to call upon Jesus. Maybe up to now they have been so busy trying to keep the boat afloat they had totally forgotten him. After all, Jesus is a carpenter, not a sailor – what help would he be able to give anyway!
But in sheer panic and desperation they wake him. Is he their last resort, their last fling of the dice, or in their despair do they just want to make sure he suffers with them. We don’t know. But importantly, they ask for help.
Jesus, who has remarkably been asleep all this time, simply stands up, says two or three words, and the storm is stilled as easily as if you or I had just switched off a light. No shouting, no histrionics, no dramatic sacrifices to appease the gods of the sea. Just a simple “Be quiet” (or more accurately, “Shut up”) to the waves and the sea, and the storm subsides.
And then he turns to the disciples and asks: “Where’s your faith?”
It was only in desperation and panic, when all other avenues had been exhausted, that the disciples turned to him. Not so much out of faith, but out of despair. And hence the question.
Jesus does not hold it against them – he does still the storm – but he wants them to realise that so much of the angst, the agony, could have perhaps been averted if they had only turned to him earlier.
I wonder whether for us, continuing the sea-faring metaphor, Jesus is our last resort or the first port of call? Do we come to him, seek his help, out of desperation or out of a real sense of trust.
A while ago one of my children gave themselves a bad head wound and was bleeding profusely. I was faced with two options. The first option was to race upstairs to get some bandages, and do a poor attempt at a dressing; when that failed to stem the flow, I could then call round to the neighbours and ask for them to come and help, maybe applying cold compresses and the like; and failing that, I could then call out an ambulance, by which stage things would not have been looking good. Or, the second option, which is the one I chose, was to call out from the living room to the kitchen, where Sarah, my wife, GP and trained surgeon, was sitting and ask her to come and sort things out with her normal calm assurance and authority.
Of course it was a “no-brainer”, it was obvious, what to do. But what would it have said about my relationship with Sarah, my levels of trust in her, my sense of her ability to care for our children, if I had gone the other route?
In the storms we face, Jesus is in the boat with us. He is willing for us to ignore him, but he longs to be woken, to share in what we are going through, to keep us from drowning. Have we asked him?
Having asked for help and received it so powerfully, the disciples, in fear and amazement, ask each other: “Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him”. They are shell-shocked, staggered, at the power and authority of the one in the boat with them. No wonder they weren’t sure who he was.
Throughout the Scriptures, only God has the power to control the elements, to tame nature. And so when Jesus calms the storm, this is more than a miracle. It is a statement as to who he is.
The one who was in the boat with the disciples, the one who is in the boat with us in our storms, is none other than Jesus, God, the creator of the world, the liberator of his people, the conqueror of evil, the transformer of the universe.
No storm is greater than God. No matter the storms you are going through, and I appreciate that for some of you, those storms are very big ones, God is greater. Turn to him and he will not let you get overwhelmed. He will hold you. He will give you life. Whatever you are facing today, call out to God and place your trust in him.