Meditation on Mark 4:35-41
June 20, 2021
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
On Friday, we had the pleasure of a small gathering in our home. We shared a simple meal with one of our families from last year’s confirmation class. You remember that class, the one that started in person in January 2020, moved to Zoom by early April, and was back with masks and social distancing in the parlor in July.
It was a confirmation class like none we’ve ever had!
Because we didn’t get to have a final celebration, we are planning a reunion picnic/potluck at the home of the Swigerts on July 15. I hope all the students and families will be able to come so we can catch up on all that’s happened with them since then.
Hanging out with Ashley and her mom on Friday night, we mentioned the struggles of last year—just how hot it was for the students to be wearing masks in school all day without air conditioning. And how weird everything was for all of us. But we didn’t stay in the past. We talked about taking more high school classes, her pets, and Ashley’s 4-H project of showing a dog—and her love of cats—something we have in common!
The evening ended all too soon. But my heart was filled with joy and gratitude that these small gatherings are happening, again! Gatherings such as the ones we may be having today on Father’s Day.
We often talk about our Christianity as a journey—a walk of faith. We are always moving forward, pressing on, without looking back.
We have peace in the present and hope in the future—for all the generations.
Because we have Christ Jesus in the midst of our storms.
Christ’s original followers struggle to believe in him, at first. They are human, like us! They didn’t really know who he was! They have Jesus with them in the flesh—and I think that sometimes his humanity gets in the way of their understanding of his true nature as the Son of God, the Savior of the world! Maybe it’s because Christ can only reveal his true self to them, bit by bit, so that he doesn’t overwhelm them. Or maybe it’s all about God’s timing. It’s not time, yet, for them to know.
But look at what he has done so far in Mark’s gospel! He has cast out demons in the synagogue in Capernaum, healed many people at Simon Peter’s house, including Simon’s mother-in-law, in bed with a fever. He has cleansed a leper and healed a man who is paralyzed, saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Stirring up a controversy because who has the authority to forgive sins? Why, God alone!
Still, the disciples don’t know who Jesus is. “In Jesus’s day, there were many miracle workers,” says William Greenway, an Austin Seminary professor. “Special power did not settle the question of identity. Jesus’ opponents do not question his power but its source, calling him an agent of Beelzebub.”
In chapter 4, he begins teaching beside the sea in parables, ending with the Mustard Seed.
When evening comes, he says, “Let us go across to the other side.”
That must really stir up doubts in his disciples. They are going to travel.. at night… to the other side of the Sea? This would mean taking Christ’s ministry to the Gentiles, foreshadowing the work of the apostles in Acts!
On the other side, to the east, is the “country of the Gerasenes” or “Gadarenes” where Jesus will meet a demon-possessed man who lives in the tombs. He will cast out the unclean spirits into a herd of pigs (further evidence that they are Gentiles). The swine rush down a steep bank and drown in the sea. The terrified people ask Jesus to leave.
But here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, everybody knows that traveling in a little boat across the waters at night is risky business. Set in the hills of Northern Israel, the “Sea” is actually 700 feet below sea level and more than 8 miles wide and 12 miles long. Around the sea are rocky hills, some that reach more than 2,500 feet in what is called the Golan Heights today or the Decapolis in Jesus’ time.
“The sea’s location makes it subject to sudden and violent storms as the wind comes over the eastern mountains and drops suddenly onto the sea. Storms are especially likely when an east wind blows cool air over the warm air that covers the sea. …. This sudden change can produce surprisingly furious storms in a short time, as it did in Jesus’ day.”—Ray Vander Laan, “That the World May Know.”
The disciples go along with their quick exit by boat because they are trying to get away from the crowd that won’t leave Jesus alone! But other boats come along with them. No sooner do they take off, that a great windstorm arises. The waves beat into the boat—until the boat is swamped with water. And where is Jesus while all this is happening??? Asleep!
To me, this is a sign of both his humanity and divinity. First, his humanity, because he is exhausted from ministry that goes on day and night and invades his home and family. But sleeping in a violent storm also speaks of his strong bond with His Heavenly Father and possessing a peace that goes beyond anything the world can give. This sleeping on a boat in a terrible storm conjures images of Jonah—taking a boat in the opposite direction when God calls him to preach to Ninevah. We know what happens after that, right?
As we read this passage in Mark about the storm, we recall Genesis. When, in the beginning, God created order out of chaos, spoke the world into being out of a formless void, when darkness covered the face of the deep. God is in the wind that sweeps over the face of the waters. The Hebrew word ruach is the Holy Spirit or God’s own breath, gathering the waters under the sky into one place, so that the dry land would appear.
Our passage in Mark emphasizes the weakness of human beings, even the first chosen followers of our Lord. That should encourage us! Because we are weak, too. What do they do before they wake up Jesus? With all their expertise and experience as sailors and fishermen, they try to fight the storm all by themselves. Only when they fail and are frustrated and terrified do they wake up him up.
Notice in Mark that they don’t cry out, “Lord, save us!” They say, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Do you hear the hurt? “Don’t you care about us???” When trials come and we feel afraid, sometimes we want to blame God and other people for our problems, rather than just asking the Lord for His help, trusting in his love.
So, Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still.”
There is dead calm. And Jesus says to his followers, “Why are you afraid?” Not because there isn’t anything to be afraid of. Oh, there’s plenty of things to be afraid of in this world! But we don’t have to be afraid! The Lord our God is with us, just as he was in the boat with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.
“Have you still no faith?” he asks, hinting at the faith that they will have. Someday. When the Spirit comes.
But not today—even though he saves them from a violent storm.
They are filled with awe and wonder. The miracle leads not to belief, but questions about Christ’s identity.
“Who then is this” they ask each other, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
“Mark’s audience lives in the shadow and light of the cross,” says Professor Greenway from Austin Seminary. The answer to the disciples’ question won’t come until the “one who can calm angry seas” will end up on dying on a Roman cross. “A Roman centurion, of all people, becomes the first human to say what demons have said from the beginning: ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ ”
We are moving past one of the greatest storms we have weathered in our life together as a congregation. A worldwide pandemic. It’s fitting to remember and give thanks to the God who has been our strength when we have been weak. The Lord who has been our rock, our refuge, when we are afraid. The one who has been our comfort all along. The Lord who has welcomed cries of dismay and questions, such as, “Lord, don’t you care about what is happening to us?”
It’s in that honest prayer that we encounter God’s love, grace, and power over everything in this world that threatens and frightens us—and not just violent storms.
I ask you now, have you, faith, yet? James assures us that trials lead to spiritual growth: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3)
I ask you now, do you have the peace of Christ in every storm of your life? If not, ask for more!
Stop trying to do everything yourself! You can’t fix every problem in this world. And you can’t fix other people! We can only seek to help others and show love. We all want to be autonomous, do everything on our own, never needing or receiving help. Independent. That’s the American way! But it’s not Christian. We are a community of faith. Our shared mission in Christ—our calling and His yoke—are easy. Serve. Trust. Obey His Word.
Be still and you will know… the God of wind and sea.
Let us pray.
O God of all Creation, Thank you for your gift of peace with you through belief on your Son. Thank you for urging us not to be afraid, though the storms of life are raging all around us. Help us to remember what your Son did that day when he and the disciples crossed to the other side of the Sea—to bring hope and healing to the Gentiles, people like us. Remind us that we have the Spirit living inside of us, granting us the power and authority to speak to the chaos in our world, “Peace! Be still.” Teach us to boldly speak up for justice for the oppressed, as well and risk our own safety and comfort to help others. Thank you for all that you have done for us through the cross. Slow us down, Lord. May we learn to be still and listen to your voice and know you, the God of wind and sea, more and more. In Christ we pray. Amen.