There are times when I feel totally unqualified to be up here behind this pulpit. And this morning is one of those times. I am not much of a boater. I’ve never been on a boat in the midst of a big storm, when I was afraid that I might not live to see dry ground. I’m pretty sure that many years ago I went to Islesboro for some sort of church related thing with a bunch of other ministers, and we were on something called a water taxi, and it got a little chopped up, and the waves were bashing about, but that was more fun than scary. And it was more fun than scary because the captain seemed to be enjoying himself; at least outwardly. So unlike maybe some of you, I have no real experience. I think I know of somebody, somewhere, sometime, who lost two whole days of their life because they were so sea sick. But other than this story about the fishermen turned into disciples, that’s about all I can tell you about my own experiences on the water. And so I’m going to generalize here about the disciples. Unlike me, these guys very likely knew their boats as well as they knew themselves.
Storms at sea are a regular, if not routine part of a seafarer’s life. So let us assume that the disciples have seen their fair share of storms. And so far, they have survived all of them. But this one seems to be different. This is a once in a life-time kind of storm. This is the big one. And we know this because when we look at the states of the minds of these fishermen, we can see that they are afraid; they are very afraid. They are so afraid that they have given up all hope. No longer are they struggling with the waves to bring their boat under control, they have instead, moved into the out of control realm of total panic. They know full well that they are not going to survive. They will never see dry ground again.
Now aboard this ship, though, is something of a modern day Jonah. Jonah was one of those admirable gentlemen who was in possession of the ability to seek sleep soundly in a sinking ship. (say that fast 10 times) And, as it turns out, our Lord seems to also be in possession of that same ability. Jesus was sacked out, sound asleep, on a cushion, in the stern of this boat, while it was being tossed mercilessly about on the waves, like a child’s toy boat in a blow up kiddie swimming pool with the garden hose pointed straight at it. I’ll not tell you how I know that, nor will I tell you that we put fire crackers inside of those tiny match box cars. I will not even tell you that the metal tops of those cars survived quite nicely, but the plastic bottoms blew right out of them.
Now in this boat, we have a terrible, terrible inequity that will just not do. On the one hand, we have fishermen in an absolute panic who have given up all hope of survival, and on the other hand, we have an itinerant preacher, snoozing away, completely unaware of this dire situation. It appears that Jesus knows how to rest.
It is time to wake up the passenger. But for what purpose? The disciples have already given up all hope. Is it that they think that one more person hauling on an oar is going to set this boat to rights? Or is it that these fishermen have decided that if they are going to die wide awake and in a panic, then the passenger is going to join them in that horrific situation as well. There will be none of this dying peacefully in one’s sleep stuff.
There is, though, the possibility that the disciples have come to Jesus for help. But if they are coming to Jesus for help, they aren’t very good about asking for it. Now in this particular situation, we might not expect complete civility from fishermen, but we might expect something like, Help us Lord, we are in danger of perishing! But what we get instead, is a bit of an accusation: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
I wonder sometimes, though, if we don’t feel the same way. I’m going to admit this morning that I see my downeast, stubborn, sometimes belligerent, independent, self-sufficiency dumping out all over the place here. I can rough and tough it out on my own. There’s something about the downeast beast in us that next to absolutely refuses to allow us to admit that we’ve gotten ourselves into a mess, or that we’ve managed to get ourselves tangled up into a situation that we can’t seem to get ourselves out of. We have mastered the technique of silent suffering. And we’ve done that because suffering silently with something is exercising the last, tiny shred of control that we can have over a situation that is completely out of control. We may be scared to death, but we still have one tiny shred of power. We can keep silent about it. No one needs to know that we desperately need some help.
Sometimes, we’re not even willing to wake Jesus up. Oh, we may pray, and we may plead our cause, but really, what is it that can God do for us? Not a whole lot, right? So I’ll just struggle on my own, try a little harder, and eventually I’ll get out of this mess by myself.
That kind of thinking, while very popular, is nothing less than the gospel of hell. It boldly proclaims an impotent and uncaring God, but mostly it fosters our belief that God can do nothing for us, and worse, much worse, it means that God does not care to do anything for us. God will never take a bad situation and create something good out of it.
But of course, that is exactly what God does, all day, every day. One of the most profound characteristics of our Lord is his ability to create and to recreate. In the book of Genesis we read that God created goodness out of nothing. Think about that: goodne4ss, our of nothing! And then more than 20 Centuries ago, on a dusty hillside in Palestine, God took a bloodied cross, the ultimate first century symbol of death and destruction, and created life and salvation out of it. Is it possible that God could create something good in our lives, even in the midst of chaos?
When all is calm, Jesus simply says to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The easy answer for the fishermen was that life was a mess and that the fear was justified. But Jesus is asking a deeper question than that. Jesus is asking, why are you afraid to have faith? What is it that you are afraid of losing if you have faith?
In this passage, the lesson is that we will lose control over a situation over which we had no control to begin with. We can all see this truth in the story, but can we see it in our own lives? Will we keep on rowing, even though we know that our efforts will never bring us to shore, or will we have faith?
Even if we come to Jesus at the absolute last minute, there is hope. It is clear from this story that the fishermen waited until they were almost dead. And while this can hardly be called commendable behavior, at least they came to Jesus, even if they saw him as their absolute last resort. But look what they discovered! The chaos went away. The winds stopped. And I love this, Mark says that there was a dead calm, pun fully intended.
Who is this? Who is this man, really? Mark says that they were filled with great awe. There is a fine line between fear and awe, and even now, even though their very lives have been preserved, they are not sure that they are at all comfortable with their new surroundings. This calm, this peacefulness, doesn’t seem quite right. They are thinking, the winds and the waves, we understand, but this calm is too new, too mysterious, too wonderful.
In time, the disciples would learn to appreciate the awesome power of God. And over time, they would fear it less and less. And in the process they found faith. That faith eventually became something that they boldly proclaimed until the days of their deaths.
If we cannot let go of our own control of things, and if we are afraid of letting the power of God into our lives, then we are in good company. We join together with millions around the world. But if we let go of our pathetic control, and if we have faith, and if we allow the power of God into our lives, we will have peace. At first, that peace will be very frightening, because it will be very, very different from what we have come to accept as normal. We might even be overcome and undone with awe. And we might find ourselves asking, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And that is a very, very good place to begin.