35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
When I was in my twenties and living in Atlanta, Georgia, I had a great group of friends. We all were involved with a non-profit youth ministry and had similar passions. One of those passions was backpacking and hiking. Almost every other weekend, we would pile our gear into our trucks and SUV’s and head an hour or two north into the North Georgia mountains, usually right around the Appalachian trail.
One weekend, we were particularly looking forward to a hike we had not done and had a couple of new guys that wanted to go with us. A couple of days before the trip, we got the news that a hurricane would be coming into Georgia and we’d feel it in Atlanta. We figured that we would probably miss it by being in the mountains though.
So, we headed north that Friday. Well, it started to rain, and rain more. We got to the trailhead, and it was pounding. Being young, and having lots of experience in the woods with crazy weather, we weren’t going to be deterred. The new guys on the other hand. Well, one guy got had on khaki’s and a golf shirt. We thought he might change on the way, but he seemed to be dressed for a fraternity function, not a hiking trip. When we got out of the vehicles, this guy pulled out an umbrella.
After some joking around, he realized that we were serious about hiking and that the umbrella wasn’t going to work.
We started the hike, got to our campsite and set up. The rain let up just long enough for us to set up our tents and one guy, Jay, set up a hammock with a tarp over it. The rains came back though…with wind. We all eventually hunkered in a tent. We didn’t blow away, but the next morning we had some great stories, and we had a great time being together…even through a storm that we probably didn’t have any business being in.
The context of this morning’s gospel lesson has the disciples traveling together in a boat through a storm. Jesus has been teaching on faith and the Kingdom of God being near. We’ve been talking about this the past few weeks as well. God is with us, near us, closer than we could imagine. God’s kingdom is all around us and in us…moving us in new directions, shaping and reshaping us, bringing out things in our lives that we need to pay attention to, some things that are hard to bring up, things that we don’t want to confront, yet they are present with us and God is in the business of giving new life and redeeming even hard things.
This is the message that Jesus has been sharing and its recorded in the previous chapters of Mark. Crowds of people are curious and drawn to Jesus. The honesty, authenticity of Jesus was refreshing to a world worn out under a way of living that they’ve been used to. Jesus’ words offered hope and people clamored towards. Jesus’ words on faith that could move mountains were strong, appealing. Yet, moving mountains, especially the mountains of doubt, fear, scarcity, and anxiety can be exhausting at times.
The disciples and Jesus were tired. They had places to go and needed some time to unplug, be still, even while they moved on towards a different place. So, Jesus says, let’s get in this boat together, and go to the other side of this lake. Jesus falls asleep and a huge storm comes up and threatens to overcome the boat. At least four of the disciples are seasoned fisherman, they’ve been through storms, yet this one must have been overwhelming as they disciples thought that they were done. Yet, Jesus sleeps. They wake him, they are anxious and filled with fear. I can’t blame them! They even ask Jesus if he even cares if they die. Jesus doesn’t seem to be bothered much though…although, he does seem a bit annoyed.
He wakes up, and says “be still”…in the Greek there’s a repetitive command or imperative. Jesus commands the seas and wind to be still. And, they do. He then turns to his disciples, and says, where is your faith…actually calls them little faiths. It’s as if he’s saying where have you been? Remember the other miracles I’ve done? Have you not been listening? Don’t you trust me yet?
The disciples may or may not have had a “come to Jesus” moment and sobered up a bit. But, they were relieved, and they did ask in awe: Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” I think they knew the answer, or it was dawning on them. They were good Jews, steeped in an understanding that only God, the one true God, had power over the elements. Their friend, Jesus, was not only like them in their humanity, but also, very unlike them in his divinity. And, this Jesus is bridging the gap between humanity and divinity in himself.
In both, Jesus is present with them, in life, in the boat, through the storms.
Tertullian, the 2nd century theologian believed that the boat in this story and in the other gospel narratives is figurative for the church. The church does not save us, Jesus saves us. We can’t put our faith in the church, but in the God who is present in the boat, the church, with us. We may think that God is asleep, but whether asleep or awake, God is fully present with us.
That’s comforting to me. Just like my friends were with me in the hurricane fueled camping trip, we are together in the storms of life around us as the church and God is with us.
Sometimes we may have fear, anxiety, and doubts in the boat. With each other and with God. Those fears and doubts could lead us to turn on each other and even God. We may have storms happening within us and around us that sometimes we create or that are created by others. Either way, we feel like we’re going to drown at times. We wonder if God even cares.
Some of us get so frustrated and lonely that we think we may be better off jumping out of the boat. A friend of mine, Bart Campolo, shared with me once when I was struggling that the grand ship of Christendom had sunk, but that there were lots of lifeboats floating around. Some big, some small. Some folks were jumping from boat to boat, some were swimming or sinking on their own. Some folks were telling others to get out and some were helping others to get in. Some boats were filled with folks who all had their own thoughts on rowing so they could never get going in the same direction…they just went around in circles because they couldn’t listen or hear each other. It was interesting conversation with someone who doesn’t identify as a Christ follower anymore.
Either way, here we are, you and I, in this boat together called Fleming Road UCC. I believe that we have had lots of storms in our lives. How we continue to face them and grow in our faith will give us vision and identity. As we are in this boat, we look to Jesus and we will grow in our self-awareness and confidence of who we are in this boat and how we not only need each other but that we can get to some beautiful locations together as we work and grow with each other…and, along the way, bring others on to the boat.
The storms around us are real. We have them brewing within us and outside of us. One can look at several events this past week even and not see the storm inside of those inflicting violence on others, and the storms being created within us as we ache for the victims. We are one with them in the storm they are facing and we will continue to raise questions of justice and reconciliation in a world that needs the calmness that God brings.
Calmness. Stillness. Peace. We need that in the midst of the storms. We need to take deep breaths and remember the stories of God and how they intersect in our lives. Those stories are alive and breathing and being written in new ways within us here at Fleming Road UCC and in our neighborhoods and relationships.
Another story of being in a boat and a storm is Peter getting out and walking on the water. He left the safety of the boat, he walked towards Jesus and as long as he kept his eyes on him, he was good. But, you know the story, he let the waves define him and not Jesus. He started to sink. Yet, Jesus would not let go. Friends, Jesus has given us the boat, and he invites us to also get out of the boat and to know that we are not alone. Our fait can move mountains and God’s faith in us will empower us to be a part of an amazing new story here at Fleming Road UCC and in each of our lives as we live out our faith together.