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June 21, 2015 - Mark 4.35-41

“Jesus, Don’t You Care?”

Mark 4:35-41

June 21, 2015

 

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

I notice that we have had a few nice thunderstorms lately.  That’s typical of North Dakota in the summer.  Personally I love thunderstorms - as long as I am not outside, I enjoy them.  But lots of other people I know don’t.  And I have never met an animal that did.  I remember when we lived in Maryland and we were having a real gully washer of a storm, the cat that lived in our bushes (notice I did not say OUR cat) came into our breezeway and gave me this look.  As if to say, “OK, soooo…you gonna turn off this storm or what?”  The cat was scared, and as far as it knew, I was the great and powerful Oz that produced food from out of nowhere.  But I thought it odd that the cat got scared of the storm and then looked to me.

We were blessed to have a black Labrador retriever as a member of our family for 11 years named Dakota.  Whenever there was a storm she found me right as the first thunder hit.  She preferred to hide under my desk while I worked.  If I was not at my desk, she would find me and stare at me and try to talk. 

We all start out being scared of storms as children.  Now that I am middle aged, I am not often frightened of thunderstorms anymore.  But other kinds of storms still scare me.

There are storms in life and we are scared.  We wonder where Jesus is and why he is not doing anything.  There is suffering.  There is pain.  There is injustice.  And what is Jesus doing about it?  There are personal tragedies all around.  We have storms in our own lives, that no one else really knows, and we really want Jesus to show up and take care of it. 

Sometimes it is easy to sit here and think good thoughts about the world.  The rain falls but we sit in a church that is a safe haven against the storm.  In the winter, there is heat here, and in the summer…well, we have AC if we need it.  The world around us is beautiful.  Life can get dark quickly.  The storm clouds can come out of nowhere, just like of the Sea where Jesus and his disciples were.  Trauma can rip through a beautiful day and make it horrific. Car accidents.  Cancer.  Heart attacks.  Violence.

In today's gospel, Jesus and the disciples are in the same boat. It is night, a dangerous time for sea journeys. And yet, even though it is dark, Jesus invited them to go sailing. Sure enough, "a great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped." It's dark, it's dangerous, and they are alone in the boat with no one but Jesus to protect them.

The wind picks up, the waves began to break against the boat, and suddenly the disciples feel very small, very weak, and very vulnerable. The disciples cry out in great fear, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mk 4:38).

Jesus is asleep

They ask him, “Don’t you care?  Don’t you care that we are about to die?  How can you sleep at a time like this?”  Are there times when we ask Jesus those same questions?  Let’s be honest.   

I think it is normal for doubts about God emerge during a time of crisis. There is a song that I think express that:

“Captain” by Eli

Captain my captain, looks like we’re going down, We’ve been overcome by the waves

Captain my captain, we’re all gonna drown, It’s too much for us to be saved

For 10 long years I have served you well,

And now I’m begging you to make the water stand still

Captain my captain I’m going down,

Cause in my eyes I can see no way, It’s my final plea you must hear

The ocean’s turned ugly and we’ve gone astray, O my captain the worst I fear

Oh stand there then, and make no sound

why should you care if we’re all gonna drown…

And though you’ve always led me to solid ground,

On the way I still question if you’d let me drown

Captain, my captain[1]

 

My friend Boogieman is a DJ in Charlotte.  He calls himself a “former Christian” who is now an agnostic.  He says that is because he can’t understand why God allows so much suffering.  He and I often debate this topic, and I admit, I really do hope to help bring him back to his faith.  But the problem is that he had so many rough seas, and he expected it to be smoother sailing.

Perhaps we thought that we were supposed to have smooth sailing - that with Jesus in the boat, there is no way the water could get rough.  Read the Bible!  Every page of the gospels has Jesus smack in the middle of a storm!  If we dare to follow Christ, it must be into the midst of the raging storms of this world!  But if you have never had any problems in your life and don’t expect to have any then perhaps this sermon isn’t for you…(pause)

Yet.   Like George Carlin said, “We’re all precancerous.”  If you have not yet seen storms…wait.  They are coming.  To be alive is to have problems.

Like the disciples, we expect others to share our panic.  If our others aren’t panicking or angry or outraged, we accuse them of not caring. 

Jesus, don’t you care?  Journeying with Jesus as his disciples does not insulate us from the difficulties and storms of life.  Jesus never promised smooth sailing.  Yet, in God’s great mercy, God cares for us!  God is not only merciful, God is powerful in Jesus’ rebuke of the wind, and the waves, in his active compassion for our troubles.  He is Lord, even in the middle of the storm.[2]

We want to know if Jesus cares.  Is that what you are asking this morning?  If you want to know the answer to that question, then ask yourself: Where is Jesus?  He’s in the boat.  Does he care?  Yes, Jesus does care.  The whole Christ event – the Incarnation – is all about God putting his Son in our boat.  Of course he cares.

Have faith.  There will be storms.  It’s the sea of Galilee, folks, a sea famous for its storms.

Jesus chides the disciples for their fear and lack of faith.  However, such fear is expected in light of the circumstances.  After all, when you are about to drown, it is scary.  So why does Jesus rip into them for their fear?  In order to transcend, to overcome fear, the disciples must recognize that Jesus is not a human being with unusual abilities to preach, teach, heal, exorcize demons and control the weather.  They must fully acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God.  The same is true for us.  If we are ever going to transcend our fears then we must become fully aware of who Jesus is.

Do you find it curious, at the end of the storm, that the disciples still “fearing a great fear"? Jesus doesn't say, as you might expect, "Why were you afraid?" He asks, "Why are you afraid? I've stilled the storm, calmed the waves. Why are you, even yet, afraid?"

I think there are at least two kinds of fear: There's the fear of the death-dealing storm. You get a bad report after your yearly physical, you see the towers fall, the cloud, the great crash, a world ended, and the phone at the business just isn’t ringing, the water and the waves. We cry out, "Jesus, don't you care that we perish?" There's that Good Friday sort of fear.

And Jesus rises, rebukes the wind and the waves, and it is calm. And that brings the second kind of fear. Easter fear. The disciples' response to this wonder of the stilling of the storm is literally, "They feared a great fear" (4:41).

Who is this? This is Jesus, whom the disciples first address as "teacher." But by the end of the story this teacher has become the Lord of the storm, Lord of the creation, Lord of the church. Who are these disciples? They are those who long to be delivered from their fears, but, even as they are being delivered, feel fear at their recognition of the sort of Lord who delivers them.

Who is this?

He is the Son of God, and he is in your boat.

Jesus calms the storm with an authoritative “Peace!  Be still!”  Jesus brings us that peace, too.  Jesus can calm the storms of our lives, but more often than not Jesus calms us in the middle of the storms.  Jesus can do that.  Jesus gives us peace, not as the world gives. 

This is a big deal.  Do not take this for granted.

Confession: We preachers will tell you that the thing we fear the most is not being heard by you. We preach, struggle mightily to proclaim the gospel to you, and there you sit, zombie-like stares, utterly unmoved. That's what we fear.

But I'll tell you God's truth. If there's one thing scarier than not being heard in a sermon, it's really being heard.  When you really get it, that is scary.

Let’s say, I preach a nice, middle-of-the-road, Baptist sort of sermon, we sing a hymn, march out, you greet me at the door saying, "That was a great sermon! I get the gospel! I'm going to sell the pickup, quit my job, learn Spanish, and move to Quito, Equador as a missionary!"

And I say to you, "I was just preaching! We're Baptists! You don’t have to take this stuff literally!"  Hmmm…what if?

There's a reason why, as the gospels tell it, the predominate emotion on the first Easter wasn't joy. It was fear. Mark's gospel ends, about a dozen chapters after this one, saying that the women come out to the cemetery, the angel announces, "He is risen from the dead! Go, tell!" and the women "don't tell anyone because they were afraid."

Why are we anxious when the waves get high?  Why do we fear?  St. Augustine wrote: “Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him . . . A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let him remind you of these words: "Who can this be? Even the winds and the sea obey him."[3]

Jesus rises, rebukes those forces over which we have no control, and demands that we sail on with him. Will we have the guts to stay in the boat?

I read of a Methodist church, a declining inner city sort of church. They were just about to call it quits. "Lost their neighborhood," the bishop told the young pastor as he appointed her there.

She soon found that, though almost none of their members still lived nearby, they did actually have a lot of neighborhood poor families, a few street people, people like that. So at the pastor's urging, the church opened its doors to its neighborhood. Some of the members began a soup kitchen for the poor, serving nearly 50 meals every weekday at noon. A health care cooperative took up residence in some of the church's unused Sunday school rooms, turning them into a health clinic for the poor.  And lo and behold, the members actually began to invite their friends and co-workers to come to church with them.  They shared their faith!

Now, on Sundays, that once declining, mostly empty church is full of people. That congregation has been resurrected.  People from six, seven blocks away are coming to the church that does so much for the neighborhood.

As I read this story, it was one of the most inspiring pieces of good news I've heard lately. Then the pastor wrote, "Trouble is, many of our best, long-time members just couldn't take it. They were all prepared for out last days as a church and then, wonder of wonders, our church was raised, given a new mission, a reason for living. And it scared them to death." The Bible tells us 365 times “Do not be afraid.”

Fred Craddock tells the story about the time he was walking down the street.  As he was walking, he noticed a sparrow walking toward him on the sidewalk.  It was a BIG sparrow, about 3 feet tall and 60 pounds.  It was waddling down the sidewalk and whistling.

Fred stopped the bird to say hello. “Hello.  Excuse me, but aren’t you a sparrow?”

“Why yes I am.  You have good eye there sir,” said the bird.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you walking?” asked Fred.

“Well, because I have places to go and things to do.  Beautiful day for a walk isn’t it?” said the bird.

Fred replied, “Yes I suppose it is a great day.  But you are a sparrow.  Why don’t you…you know…fly?”

The bird’s beak dropped open.  “FLY?!?  Are you kidding me?  Flying is scary.  If my wings were to give out, I’d plummet to my death.  SPLAT.  Did you ever think about that?  I’m too scared to try and fly.”

“Oh well, I guess I didn’t think of that,” Said Fred.  “By the way, my name is Fred.”

“Nice to meet you Fred,” said the bird too afraid to fly. “My name is The Church.”[4]

What are we scared of?  We were made for purpose.  You were made for a purpose.

So we have a choice to make.  Do we prefer a man-made kind of peace, that’s easy to get and isn’t worth a dime when the storms hit us, or do we prefer the greater peace of Christ, that causes some pain for us in terms of our surrender to God, but really gives us the kind of peace that out souls long for?  We seek to be at peace with the world, the storms and our fellow humanity.  But we can never be at peace with any of them until we are at peace with God.  When a person is at peace with God, then the wounds of her own heart can be healed.

This kind of peace: You can’t get it.  You can only receive it.  This way; you can receive it now; this minute.  Jesus says, “Peace!  Be still!”

When the fear that is Good Friday is transformed into the fear that accompanies Easter, when Jesus who has been to us merely a good teacher reveals himself to be the powerful Lord of the wind and wave, will we have the guts to stay in the boat with Jesus?

 

[1] The song is “O Captain” by a CCM singer named Eli.  I lost the CD so I have no idea what the info is for this reference, and no one reads my footnotes anyway but me.

[2] Willimon, William; Pulpit Resource, 2003, p.53.

[3] (Augustine, Sermons, 63.1-3) 

[4] Fred Craddock has told this story about a hundred times.  I got it from his book Craddock Stories