Got enough water yet? It’s a particularly wet June here in Indiana, for those few readers who aren’t from these parts. Wet, humid, damp, soggy, water-logged, flooded basements, dogs who won’t go out even when they have to; it’s just messy. And it drains you. Ha. Ironic, don’t you think? All that water and we’re drained. Swirling around the plumbing, spilling out into the water table, swept away in the flood, adrift on the tides of time and daily living and all the million choices that come to us each day. And we are afraid. Afraid we’ve chosen wrong. Afraid we’re on the wrong path. Afraid we’re misunderstood or worse, not even known, not even seen, just invisible, overlooked, not even real any more, just a figment of our own imagination.
See? The rain carries us away. The storms sweep us out to the sea of our fearful imagination. Oh, I know we don’t live there. Most of us anyway. Most of the time when someone asks “how are you?” and we say “fine” we really mean it. It isn’t a lie, or a way of hiding. We really are fine. We’ve got stuff to do, our desks are piled up, the bills keep coming, our kids are making decisions we don’t quite understand, but we’re fine. Really. We’ve got that coworker who seems to have it in for us, that teacher that seems unreasonably harsh, the boss that can’t quite see our potential, and Donald Trump is seriously running for president, but we’re fine. Really. Aren’t we? Yes, certainly. We’re fine.
Until the storms come. The ominous signs as the car you hoped to keep another few thousand miles before trading in suddenly sounds thunder on the horizon. The lightning flash of a bill you weren’t expecting from that last little trip to the doctor that you kept insisting was nothing serious crackles across a bank account already stressed by college and mortgage and too many other things to consider. A cloudburst in South Carolina that somehow drenches us all no matter how much we try to say that it is them and not us. And we’re afraid. In the midst of the storms we are afraid. And it has been an exceptionally stormy June, or 2015, or life. Exceptionally. And like the disciples, our deepest fear is that no one cares.
Mark 4:35-41 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?"
Leaving the crowd behind. Not every problem solved, not every need met. But Jesus needed a break, needed a change. He decided to head off in a different direction. So, they got on a boat. “They took him, just as he was.” As he was? Unpacked? Unprepared for a sea voyage? Or exhausted, spent, used up? They took him just as he was. And who was that exactly?
See, that’s the secret to the Gospel of Mark. It’s all about identity. Who is this Jesus? I mean really, who is He? They thought they knew. They took the Jesus the knew and found the Son of God they hadn’t met yet. They took the healer and teacher, and found the Lord of the wind and waves. They took what they knew and didn’t know what they had.
A storm came up. Because they do. They will. Nowhere in the whole of the bible is there a promise that there will be no storms. Well, until the kingdom comes that is. Then the storms will cease and calm will prevail. But for now? A storm came up. Not just a storm. A “great windstorm” Mark says. Waves beating on the side of the boat, like the shark from Jaws. And the boat was taking on water. They were experienced fishermen, some of them anyway, they knew storms, they weathered a lot of them. But this one, well, this one was big, a perfect storm. More than they could handle. They tried, give them credit, they tried. For who knows how long, in the night, in the wind and the spray, they were soaked to the skin, they were sore and bleeding from holding the ropes that the storm tried to turn into lashes, into the tentacles of some leviathan from the deep. They tried, but it was beyond them. With wide eyes they looked around, finally their eyes landed on the figure in the back of the boat, asleep on a cushion. And their fear whispered in their ears, what kind of savior is that? How dare he sleep when you are about to die? You saw him do those miracles, didn’t you? And now, what? Nothing. Snoring louder than the roaring winds. He won’t even know when the boat takes on so much water that it won’t even float anymore. He won’t be there to help you bail in a fruitless attempt to save yourselves. In a moment or two, the next wave or the one after that and he’ll be sleeping with the fishes. With you.
They were angry, scared and angry, terrified and hopeless and angry. They rushed to the stern and shook him. Notice what their fear has done. They don’t ask for help. They don’t ask for hope. Don’t you care? They accuse him of abandoning them in their hour of need. Don’t you care that we are about to die!
Isn’t that the way? He isn’t doing what we want, he must not care. She doesn’t help the way I want to be helped she doesn’t care. We didn’t get what we wanted when we wanted it, no one cares about us. We accuse, we divide, we pull back, turn away. Because they didn’t care. Jesus didn’t care. If he did he wouldn’t be sleeping like, well like he didn’t care. Didn’t have a care. Like there was nothing to worry about.
“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:8-9) Paul wrote that. But then he was crazy. Didn’t he care? He seems to say there isn’t anything to fear. That there is One who cares for us no matter what. No matter what we face, no matter the pain we bear or the grief we suffer, he cares. Don’t you care? What kind of question was that?
A question from those who didn’t know him. Didn’t really know him. Him, the Lord of creation, the Son of God. Jesus doesn’t respond to their complaint, their whining, he turns and deals with the storm. “Peace! Be still!” A little kind and gentle translation. He shouts at the storm “Shut up!” Stop your blowing and raging and threatening! Just stop it. Go back to where you came from. Where you came from? Where do storms come from? Well, a meteorologist could answer that better than I could. For normal storms anyway. This one wasn’t normal.
Jesus’ words are the same words he said in the first chapter when telling the demon to shut up and get out. We usually translate them differently - be still and be silent, but it’s the same word. This was a demon storm. The kind that need rebuking. The kind that need rejected, need to be told to get out and never come back again. The storm of racism broke over us all again this week. And those winds need to be rebuked, to be cast out, named and denounced. We can’t simply say it was one man, maybe with mental issues who killed nine people far away. This storm raises our fears and we wonder if we will go under the waves. Don’t you care, we shout to the one who should have fixed us by now. Don’t you care that there are threads of hatred that bind all of our hearts? Set us free! Keep us safe! Make us good all the time. Don’t you care that we have to work so hard, that we have to fight through the storm?
Have you still no faith? Still? How long, O Lord? We’re waiting to be made strong enough to stand and rebuke the winds with Him. He’s wondering why we don’t just claim the freedom and the gift we’ve already been given. We’re waiting for something big to happen, He says there isn’t anything bigger than life eternal, life abundant. What are you afraid of? A storm? That’s nothing. The winds? All it can do is take away stuff, all it can do is shake our confidence in our own power, all it can do is remove the feeble assumptions we try to live by - like we are in control of our destiny, like we are better or stronger than those who aren’t like us, like our strength is found in armies or governments, like our value is found in what we can do with our own hands. Have you still no faith?
Some wind needs rebuking, some storms need facing, not with fear but with hope. Hope that we, with Him, can stand for something greater than hatred and fear. Hope in the faith that says there is something more than safety and ease. Something like reconciliation, like community, like church. The church, that boat swept along in the waters of a changing world, seemingly too fragile to survive the storms around and within. But we’ll be OK. See, I looked in the back, at the one sleeping on a cushion. The Lord of creation is on board. It is well with our souls.