The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Storms teach us we are not always in control of life. It sounds like this may be another active hurricane season. When warnings of an impending super storm flash across the TV screen, folks are headed to the supermarkets to purchase provisions like bottles of water, batteries, flashlights or lanterns, bread, milk, paper towels and, of course, toilet paper. All this in anticipation of losing power and being sequestered for days, creating a huge disruption of people’s lives and routines.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we lose control of things in a storm? Before such a storm arrives and after it has long passed and the lights are back on, we feel as if we are in control and that gives us a sense of security. All it takes is one good, powerful, nor’easter or hurricane or tornado to show us how short-lived and transient our usual safe haven can be.
Up until this point in their life with Jesus, the disciples have had fairly smooth sailing. Little demand had been placed on them and they, no doubt, felt pretty much in control of their lives and of their boat. All of this was about to change. When Jesus and the disciples set out on the Sea of Galilee, which is not exactly a “sea” but a fresh-water lake thirteen miles long and eight miles wide, the weather was probably quite fair. That evening, crowds had gathered to hear him teach and receive healing.
Life seemed good by days end, and all was well. I’m sure they wanted to get away from the crowds and have some down time and rest, so they escape to their boat and the water. Exhausted from the work of his ministry, Jesus falls asleep. All at once, holy hell breaks loose, and the force of waves slams against them. We have here in this gospel story, a graphic description of that fierce storm and the disciples’ terror in the face of it. “Do you not care that we are perishing,” they cry out. Storms teach us we are not in control of the elements.
I think the storm and the havoc it wreaked for the disciples is really a metaphor for the other forces of chaos and fear in the world and in our lives. What are those forces with which any one of us may be dealing right now? What are the waters around you that have begun to get a bit too choppy for your sense of security? What may be brewing on the sidelines of your life that you fear may be about to rock your boat—maybe even your world? Or what are the storms that have passed and that you have survived and through which your trust in God’s care for you has been strengthened—maybe even given you a renewed feeling of faith?
I think Mark includes this great story to tell us an important truth: God is here. God is involved in our lives but—we need to give up our sense of control and move from that precarious, unreliable place to a place of trust—for the only real way to be in control of our life is to trust the only One who can control it and reorder it.
You and I have been and will continue to be overwhelmed by the storms and disruptions in life that confront us. We hear this story in Mark’s Gospel today and we may think it is unbelievable, implausible. But is it—really? With God in the picture—or in the boat? Haven’t we seen the result of God’s redemptive action in the face of our fear?
Some things in life can be changed by sheer will. We can change a tire. We can switch a reservation. We can change jobs, or schedules or vacation days. But sometimes when we struggle to alter the details of our life, nothing happens. Sadder yet, things might even get worse. And the unchangeability of the “storm” beats down on us, shredding our sails, tearing down our masts, and it forces us, by God’s grace, to do what the disciples did, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And that is a prayer, albeit one of desperation.
Author Bruce Larson offers this advice: “We have found ourselves in hopeless situations and the more we do, the worse it gets…We can make matters worse by our frantic efforts to save ourselves when God is trying to tell us: ‘Stand still.’”
Knowing when to keep striving—and when to let go and let God is the wisdom we need if we are to cross that thin membrane into miracle.
Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.