June 20, 2021, The Wind and the Waves and the Fear of God, Mark 4:35-41 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
The Sea of Galilee is notorious for having sudden and terrible storms just like the one Mark describes. Peter and the other apostles were in a little fishing boat in a worse storm than most of us have ever seen. The waves kept rising higher and higher, washing over the sides of the boat. The wind was tossing the boat around like a bathtub toy. Seasoned fisherman though they were, physically strong, and with a lifetime of experience, they had done everything they could do to handle the boat in this fierce storm. Finally, in desperation, they did the only other thing they could think of: they ran down and shook Jesus awake, crying, “How can you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you even care that we’re all going to die?” And Jesus looked around at their terrified faces and said, “Don’t you trust me yet?”
One of the things that makes the Bible truly helpful to us is that the stories are not about Bible heroes who always do and say and feel the right things. The men and women that Jesus lived with and walked with and worked with were just as human and as full of fears and doubts and foolishness as we are ourselves. So when we read stories like this it’s easy to put ourselves in their place. And that’s important, because the Jesus that the apostles went to wake up in the stern of the boat that night is the same Jesus that we go running to when we are facing the storms in our own lives. And they asked the very things we so often think, even if we are afraid to actually say it out loud, “What are you doing, Jesus? Don’t you know what’s happening here? Don’t you care about us?”
Even the great King David felt like that sometimes. When his troubles seemed overwhelming he poured out his fears and frustrations. In Ps. 13 he cries out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” And in Ps. 22 he writes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” The Bible makes it abundantly clear that there isn’t anything wrong or strange about us when we feel those kinds of feelings. God’s people all through history have suffered with those same fears and doubts. Even Jesus felt those very human emotions, as he prayed in the garden, “Let this cup pass from me!” And as he cried out from the Cross, he used David’s words to express his deepest fears, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We all come to those dark hours, we all go through our own storms, and Jesus speaks to us just as he spoke to the apostles in the boat, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you trust me yet?” It is the first step of our faith, to believe that God cares; that not only does he see what is happening, but that it matters to him what happens to us. To have faith means to believe that God rejoices in our every joy and that he grieves with our every sorrow.
If there were no other meaning for the Incarnation, it is this – that God did not choose to know us like a scientist knows every detail of the creatures he studies. God doesn’t stand back coldly and impassively observing our movements like bugs under a microscope. If we understand the Incarnation, we know that God is nothing like that. He is more like a general who chooses to know his men by marching into battle at their sides, exposed to every danger that his men suffer, and enduring every hardship that they endure. He is like a parent whose heart breaks with every pain and sorrow his child suffers. The Incarnation, Jesus coming to dwell among us as a true human being, means first and foremost that God is in the boat with us.
Meanwhile, back in the little fishing boat, bouncing around on the Sea of Galilee, the apostles were so much like we are in another respect. It doesn’t seem to have even entered their minds to go to Jesus until they were absolutely desperate. I’m sure, before they went to wake Jesus up, they had already hauled in the sails and battened down the hatches and done all that stuff that experienced sailors do when they are out in a storm. This was their element; they were supposed to know what to do; they were supposed to be in control. Jesus was just a passenger. They did the sailing; he took a nap. They went to Jesus for solidarity, they woke him because they were terrified and they needed him to be with them. But they didn’t seem to expect him to do anything about it.
How often are we like that? I can only speak for myself, but I know I have been exactly like that before. There have been times in my life when I have gone along trying to maintain control, to battle the winds and the waves on my own, and it wasn’t until I felt ready to go under completely that I even thought to call out for help. Flailing around helplessly, or gritting my teeth and complaining, or making lists, doing whatever I could possibly think of to keep things in control, there came a time finally when I had exhausted every other resource. And then and only then I remembered that I had tucked God away in the “faith” corner of my resource room. Then and only then I remembered to cry out for help. And just like the disciples I cried, “Where have you been? Are you asleep? Don’t you care?” And Jesus, not just like Jesus, but the very same Jesus, spoke to me as he did to the disciples that night in the storm, saying, “Don’t you trust me yet?”
And that’s when things get interesting. I don’t have any way of knowing what Peter and John and the others expected when they woke Jesus up, but I do know that they were blown away by what really happened. Jesus looked out at the wind and the waves, and he said, “Be quiet! Settle down!” – something you might say to a screaming child or a barking dog. And instantly – instantly – the winds stopped blowing and the waves grew quiet and a great calm fell over the sea. And here’s what Mark doesn’t say: he doesn’t say that they all rejoiced or cheered or sighed with relief. He says that they were filled with terror, because suddenly they saw that Jesus was not the man they thought he was. He wasn’t just a good teacher and a faithful companion; he had power that they hadn’t even begun to understand. Jesus had power to help them in ways they hadn’t even dreamed of asking for.
They looked at this man they thought they knew so well, and they asked one another, “Who is this? Who can he be, that even the wind and the waves obey his voice?” They were filled with a kind of fear that is a mixture of awe and amazement and bewilderment, because they hadn’t even begun to understand who Jesus really was. And I’m pretty sure most of us have a long way to go in learning that as well. What does it mean for us to know God? What can he do, really, if we stop trying to maintain control over our problems that honestly are way above our pay grade, and really trust him?
If you think that is a little bit frightening – well, of course it is. It means letting go of the safety of our own control, and that in itself is terrifying. But it also means finding out what the power of God can do, and that might be even more terrifying. The disciples in the boat had pretty low expectations. They just wanted to know that Jesus cared whether they lived or died. And I think generally our expectations are low also. We want to know that God loves us and cares for us. But do we really expect him to do something when we bring our cancer, or our broken relationship, or our financial problems, or our disastrous mistakes, to him?
We are really no different than Jesus’s disciples: most of us haven’t even begun to understand all that Jesus can do when we cry out to him. That’s why this story is here: to encourage us to call out, over the winds and the waves of our lives, and to trust, with all the faith we have – even if it’s no bigger than a mustard seed – that not only does God care, but that he will answer us, in his own powerful way, however unpredictable and unexpected that way might be. Like the man whose son was tormented by a demon, sometimes the best we can do is to come to Jesus and say, “Lord, we believe – help our unbelief.”
It takes courage to come to Jesus with our desperate needs. But when you do, there is no telling what you will learn about who He is. There’s no telling what he is able to do when we stop trying to battle the waves on our own. When the wind stopped, when the waves grew still, the disciples looked at each other in bewilderment, and said, “Who is he?” Jesus was so powerful that even the winds and the waves had to obey his voice that night, but he cared so much that he gave himself for them, and for us, on the cross. He is the one who asks you, “Don’t you trust me yet?” The very last words Jesus spoke on earth were these: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus doesn’t promise to silence every storm. But what he does promise is this: that he will always be in the boat with us. And it’s in the boat that we begin to find out: who is he?