by Elaine Maust
Mark 4: 35-41
June 21, 2009
A little fear is healthy. Right? Fear of accidents and injuries snaps on our seat belts. Fear of drowning motivates us wear life jackets in the water and drive kids to swimming lessons.
I acquired a little healthy fear the summer after third grade. That was the year I failed math and had to take third grade math again all summer long. I developed a helpful respect for mathematics that year and never failed math again, not even Algebra, though I suppose my parents and Algebra teacher thought that I was trying to fail.
But fear can also be dangerous, annoying and dreadful. Fear can keep us from doing the things we really want to do, like showing love, or saying what needs to be said or making an appointment to get our ( ) checked.
Seems that we have more than our share of things to be afraid of these days. There’s the economy. And there are changes on the local and national and world political scene. There’s violence in our neighborhoods and in the world. It’s hurricane season – again. Did I mention the economy?
I wonder… what would it be like to never be afraid? Can you even imagine? Now I’m not talking about being brave and courageous in the face of fear. I’m talking about being completely unafraid. What would that be like?
Turn with me to Mark 4:35-41 for a story about Jesus and his friends that is also, well, a story about God and us.
One evening after a full day of preaching, Jesus said to his friends (aka the disciples), “Let’s go over to the other side.” They may have already been in a fishing boat, because verse 36 says they just took off with Jesus in the boat “just as he was.” Other boats were with him. Maybe people following because Jesus always attracted a crowd.
Well, no sooner had they struck out than a terrible storm stirred up the water. I read that it was a “sea quake,” you know, like an earthquake, only in the water. The sea of Galilee, because of it’s elevation and the surrounding geography is still visited by storms that are surprisingly fierce. These waves were so big they were going over the side of the boat and filling the boat with water.
Now, remember, what had some of these very disciples done before they started following Jesus all over the country? Some of them were fishermen, right? Now if I was out in the middle of, let’s say, the Ross Barnett Reservoir, in a terrible storm, I’d like to have a couple of our shrimping friends along! They would know what to do, right?
Well, the disciples did everything they knew to do and it wasn’t working. This was before the days of life vests and inflatable rafts. It was a storm big enough to make even a seasoned shrimper think about going down. I imagine they were bailing water frantically. That the waves were so high the water was splashing their faces. In a minute they would be gulping water on the outside of the boat. The disciples looked up to the stern of the boat for Jesus.
Where was Jesus, anyway? What was he doing? Jesus was in the back end of the boat, on a cushion, asleep. What? That’s right, check out verse 38. Asleep. The disciples woke him up and hollered out over the sound of the wind, “Don’t you care if we drown?”
“Don’t you care?” That is a form of prayer. I have read the Psalms. But it is also an accusation. We have asked this question; we have prayed this prayer, haven’t we? “God, help, we’re going down over here! Didn’t you notice? Don’t you care? Don’t I mean anything to you?”
What did they hope Jesus would do? Do you think they woke Jesus up hoping he would help them bail out water? I don’t suppose they were asking for sailing advice of a carpenter turned preacher. I suppose that would be a little like our friend, George Harold Reno, from south Louisiana, asking Duane for navigational advice in a storm. Maybe they didn’t want Jesus to do anything, but they were just hoping for a little sympathy before they went down.
“Don’t you care if we drown?” What is Jesus doing sleeping, anyway? How could he possibly sleep through a life threatening situation? Okay, this has been blowing my mind for weeks. Are you ready? Jesus was asleep because God is not scared of anything. Ever.
Like the disciples, when we are afraid, when we are in crisis, we want God to be too. At least we want to make sure God registers how dreadful some particular situation is. We pray desperate prayers. We assume God is, or at least should be, as anxious as we are. But God is not. And really! Do we want a God who panics because we do?
But back to the story…
Jesus doesn’t say anything to the disciples. But he talks, (“rebuked” is the word) the wind. Jesus stands up in that boat that is bucking about in the water. He stands there, soaking wet, and tells the waves to “Hush!,” like your neighbor who leans out of the back door to holler at the dogs to tell them to be quiet. I read that Jesus used that kind of language on the storm, the words for muzzling a barking biting dog. “Be still.”
And the most amazing thing happened, the wind stopped blowing and the waves stopped crashing over the sides of the boat. And listen to this, the water (verse 39) was completely calm, as smooth as Pine Lake early in the morning before polar bear swimming. The Message says, “the wind ran out of breath.”
Then, after everything had calmed down, Jesus turned to the soaked disciples who sat there flabbergasted in a boat. Now the boat was as still as a basket of napkins on top of a table. And this is what he said, (v40), “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
First Jesus calms the storm, and then he attempts to calm the disciples. Calming the storm was the easy part. I imagine Jesus talking to God about the whole experience later. He says to God, “The whole wind and waves thing was no big deal. But I’ll tell you what. I’d like to see a real miracle. I’d like to see my friends trust us for a change.”
I’ve been wondering. What is the opposite of fear? Sometimes we think courage or bravery, right? But Jesus words to the disciples have me rethinking this. The opposite of fear is trust. Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not trust me? After everything I’ve done for you. After everything you have seen me do for others. After all that, you’re still not sure if I’ll be there for you this time?”
But we can’t be too hard on our friends, the disciples, because we know about the cross and the resurrection and still we sometimes question God’s methods and motives. Still we have no faith.
According to verse 41, after the storm stopped the disciples didn’t get less scared, they got terrified! I imagine them holding onto the side of the boat saying, “Who is this guy? Did you see that? What happened to the storm? Who is this?” First they were scared of the storm. Now they are scared of Jesus.
Who is He? I’ll tell you who He is. He is Jesus and He is God and He’s not scared of anything! Not a hurricane, not a housing crisis, not even of Algebra! He is God.
So what storm are you in the middle of these days? Jesus is in that boat with you and He is not afraid. Jesus can calm any storm you are experiencing, but Jesus can do an even more wonderful thing, Jesus can give you peace. Interpreters Commentary says, “Instead of rushing to communicate our panic to Him, we should allow Him to communicate his calm to us.”
Peace in life’s storms is not something we get as a reward for graduate level Christian work. It doesn’t come by bailing with more determination. Peace is included in the gift bag of grace.
I wish I could promise that at moment you ask for help, the storm would be over. That you would be safely on the other side of whatever it is that is frightening you. But the other stories in the Bible and the experience of Jesus on the cross and the lives of the saints (and this immobilizer) remind me that I would be preaching a lie. What I can promise is that the storm and peace are not mutually exclusive. What I mean is this, you can have peace when you are still bouncing around in the boat and when things don’t look all that good.
And even when it may seem that he’s not paying attention, remembering that Jesus is there in the storm with you is a good place to start. So, ask for help. Even if your prayer comes out a little bit like, “Hey, what about me, did you forget I’m in trouble here? Don’t you care?” It may be desperate and a little faithless, but it is prayer.
Jesus is there. Jesus isn’t afraid. Jesus will put a hand on your shoulder, and speak to the wild wind in your heart and say, “Hush. Peace. Be still.” And though the hurricane season, the housing crisis and 9th grade algebra are unlikely to instantly vanish, the Holy Spirit will give you peace. On the inside, no matter what is raging around you, you’ll be as quiet as a pond in MS in June at sunset. Completely at peace.
And when that happens, we won’t be as astonished as that bunch of dripping disciples, will we? We won’t be surprised because, we’ve seen God come through predictably giving us more than we deserve. We won’t be astonished because we know that the Holy Spirit is with us, as present as the flip flops on our feet. We won’t say, “Who is this?” because we know that Jesus went all the way into death and came out again alive. And we know that no matter what happens, God is completely, totally, and entirely unafraid.