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August 13, 2017

 “Peace. Be Still.”

Mark 4:35-41

Surprise! For those of you expecting us to continue in Matthew 5-7, I had to insert a different passage in for today’s sermon, and for a great reason. When I originally did my worship planning, I didn’t think the pastors who filled the pulpit while I was away would want to continue with the series, but both of them did, thanks be to God. So I had to move things around a bit to keep with our worship planning as is through the month of October. Hence this passage from Mark for this morning. And in light of what is going on in Charlottesville, Virginia, this is a timely piece of scripture.  We’ll be back to Matthew 5-7 next Sunday.

Today’s story from the Bible is pretty dramatic- Jesus and the disciples are crossing the sea of Galilee in a boat, when a violent storm suddenly arises-Jesus is asleep  on the oarsman’s seat, while the disciples begin to  panic for their lives as the waves begin to swamp and sink the boat.  Why were they out in the boat late at night? Was there some important mission for them on the other side of the lake? Why in the world was Jesus sleeping in the midst of the storm? And most importantly, what does this story tell us about Jesus and about our lives as modern day disciples?

To see why the disciples and Jesus were out on the Sea of Galilee at night in the first place, we need to look back at chapters 2 and 3 of Mark. Jesus went through a very busy stretch of ministry in Capernaum, a town on the northwest shore of the Sea, which was apparently a home base for him (see Mark 2:1). Crowds followed Jesus wherever he went, and scripture tells us that the crowds followed him home and surrounded his home asking for miracles, wanting him to teach them about the kingdom of God. He healed those in need, taught the crowds, collected and ordained his disciples, and challenged the teachings of the local synagogue. Each time he withdrew to his home in Capernaum to rest and re charge, huge crowds followed. Towards the end of chapter 3, as Jesus was trying to have a home cooked meal with his family, the crowds interfered, leaving Jesus, “beside himself” according to the crowds.(3:21), or as we might say today, “out of his mind.” After a difficult confrontation with his family at the end of this scene in chapter 3, the next morning Jesus went back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to teach the massive crowds with parables or stories about the kingdom of God. The crowds were so large that Jesus got into a fishing boat and preached to them out on the water, creating a natural amphitheater of sorts.  After two very full days of teaching and preaching and healing, Jesus was ready for a break. One of the things which is revealed about Jesus in this story is his humanity. We sometimes struggle with the idea that Jesus was both human and divine.  In this section of scripture, we can see his human side revealed. Even the Son of God got tired and needed rest.

So, when evening finally came, Jesus told the disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Where were they headed and why?  In the Gospels, the phrase, “The other side” is often associated with uncleanness, something foreign, alien, and remote. In this case, the other side of the Sea of Galilee was the location of the nine cities of the Decapolis, a federation of ten Hellenistic cities which were not on good terms with the Jewish people. This was going to be a difficult mission.

And so, they crossed the sea during the evening hours. How big is the Sea of Galilee? I spent last week working at Zephyr Point conference center on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and wondered the same thing when I began my research for this sermon. In comparison, the Sea of Galilee is a bit smaller, but still a massive, landlocked sea. The sea is approximately twelve miles long and eight miles wide. In comparison, Lake Tahoe is Twenty Two miles long and twelve miles wide. A more local reference might be Lake of the woods-2.75 miles long and.75 miles wide. So the Sea of Galilee is somewhere between the two.

It is still quite common for sudden, violent storms to arise with little warning upon the Sea of Galilee. Cool winds from the Golan Heights collide with warm air rising from the sea. When these two forces meet, there are sudden, unpredictable and powerful storms.

So, Jesus and the disciples, as they crossed the sea, got caught in one of these violent storms. Jesus, exhausted from his marathon of ministry, was asleep on the steersman’s bench, not a comfortable down pillow mind you, but a hard piece of wood. Jesus again demonstrated his humanity, being too tired to notice the storm. How could this happen? Clearly the waves were pounding the boat, and there must’ve been quite a commotion. Yet Jesus was sound asleep. I actually have a story which illustrates how this is indeed possible, especially if you account for Jesus’ human side.

Last week, while I was preaching and teaching and leading worship at the conference at Zephyr Point, I was reminded of an experience I had while speaking for another conference there a few years ago. Our daughter Abby was counseling for Zephyr’s day camp. This was a camp which had about 65 elementary aged kids, and she worked from 8:45-about 4:30 each day. She had a great time, but I could tell she was getting tired as the days went by. On Tuesday evening, after our anthem practice and worship, she went to bed while I went down the hall for a staff meeting. It was about 9:30. Now, unfortunately, we only had one key to the room we were sharing, which she had.

I figured it wouldn’t be a problem, however, as I could just knock on the door and have her let me in after the staff meeting was through. Well, the meeting went on until about 10:30. I left that room, came back down the hall, and knocked politely on the door. I didn’t want to wake other folks in their rooms. There was no response. I knocked a bit louder and whispered, “Abby, open the door please.” Still no response. I knocked a bit louder, and jiggled the handle. I tried speaking a bit louder through the crack of the door. I then tried shaking the door, and spoke louder, saying, “Abby! Wake up! Open the door please!”  After about 3 minutes of fruitless attempts to wake her up, I began to asses my situation, and wondered if sleeping out in the hall was a viable option. Finally, I wondered if the leader for the conference had a master key. So I went back down the hallway and asked. Thankfully, he did indeed have a master key, and he let me in. As I came into the room, there was Abby, out COLD, snoring away. I tried to shake her leg, to let her know I was a bit frustrated, and called her name. NO response. I gave up, put a cover over her, turned out the light and crawled into bed. She was just exhausted from two very full days of ministry.  Many thanks to my daughter for a perfect illustration of how tired Jesus must’ve been!

 

So, let’s go back to the scene of the disciples in the boat. Jesus was asleep by the stern, and the storm was so violent that the waves began to crash over the lip of the boat. Finally one of the twelve (I like to think it was Peter) woke him up. The disciples were afraid for their lives, and said, “Rabbi” (notice they did not say, “Lord”, for they did not yet know he was anything more than a great teacher.) “Do you not care if we perish?”

Jesus arose and rebuked the winds. This, according to the original Greek, was no ordinary wind. The word used for “windstorm” in the passage, “Lailaps” has overtones of demonic power. The same word was used in Job 38:1 and translated as an evil “whirlwind.” Jesus subdued this evil wind, demonstrating his power as the son of God over evil. He then, spoke out loud and said to the storm, “Peace! Be Still.” The storm ceased, and there was a great calm over the sea.

I think of the first line of the hymn, Fairest Lord Jesus-“Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature, O Thou of God to earth come down.” Here in this story, we can see BOTH Jesus’ humanity and his divinity fully demonstrated.

After the storm was stilled, Jesus looked around the boat, and said exasperatedly, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” By this time, Jesus expected the disciples to understand that he was more than just a wise teacher. They had seen him heal others, had heard his teachings about the kingdom of God, and Jesus figured by this time they would know he was Messiah. In reality, in the Gospel of Mark, they still didn’t understand who he was even after his resurrection!

So, how does this story apply to us modern day disciples? First, storms will come- personal struggles with your life, your family, your loved ones, your church will come and may cause you to fear. Jesus never once promised that following him would lead to a carefree existence. Instead he called us to lose our lives, pick up our crosses and follow. Storms will arise, difficulties will come. A wise person once wrote, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Faith in Christ can help us learn to dance in the midst of the storm.

This leads us to the question asked at the end of the passage by the disciples- “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”- Who do YOU believe Jesus is? Is he a nice wise philosopher who had some good things to say about love? Or is he your Savior, the Son of God, both human and divine who understands your struggles, can help you and calm those storms when you are afraid and overwhelmed by the waves?

A couple of nights ago I had a rather stressful sleep. I found myself awake at around 3 a.m., trying to solve all of our nation’s struggles, the world’s issues, our moving into a new home and the church’s problems. I was also worried about my mom after she had a fall at her assisted living apartment in Eureka. After about an hour of thinking praying and worrying, I thought about this passage and the song we will soon sing, “Peace. Be Still.” I began to sing it in my head as the storm raged, keeping me up. Initially, the song kept getting drowned out by the waves of worry. But I kept refocusing upon the words of the song- “Peace be still. Peace, be still. The storm rages. Peace, be still.”  After about 10-15 minutes, I found myself drifting into a dream.

Sisters and brothers, storms will come threatening to overwhelm us. Life gets hard. A whirlwind of problems can rise up and threaten to drown us. Trust in our Savior, Jesus, who is there with power and might from heaven to calm the storm. Do not be afraid. Call out, and he will answer. Think upon those times when Jesus has calmed storms in your past, when he has been faithful to help you in time of difficulty. Have faith and do not fear.

Finally, we must consider in this passage where this storm originated. As I mentioned, the term in Greek, “Lailaps” has its origins on the side of evil. That is where whirlwinds originate, where storms in life often come from. There is a whirlwind in Charlottesville happening this weekend. The alt right movement, many of whom claim allegiance to the white supremacy movement, have gathered to fight against a statue of Robert E Lee being removed. Those opposed to racism have gathered in response, and the result is a whirlwind of hate and violence. And the local clergy are responding to work for peace. This past Wednesday, a group of Lee Supporters were supposed to gather for an initial rally in front of the statue. In response, more than 100 people, including several clergy members, gathered in front of the Lee statue at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 31, an hour ahead of a support rally that never happened. “I don't think you can have peace when symbols that represent oppression for others remain,” said Reverend Dr. Susan Minasian with Sojourners United Church of Christ.

The protesters sang hymns and chanted "we are going to drown out hate," and "we shall not be moved." Organizers say Charlottesville's religious community is awakening to join the fight against hate and racism.

More than 1,000 clergy showed up over the weekend and gathered to stand against the violence and work for peace. Just up the street from a clash between alt right protesters bearing torches and students from the University of Virginia campus, fracas, a community prayer meeting was held in St Paul’s memorial church this past Friday evening, addressed by several preachers including prominent civil rights leader Dr. Cornel West. According to Metro News on Line,
“the alt right protestors then moved towards the church, They held torches in the air and chanted slogans such as ‘one people, one nation, end immigration’ amid violent scenes as they clashed with anti-fascism protesters.”


The end of the service overlapped with the torch parade and many people waited for long periods before leaving the service, worried for their safety. Theologian Diana Butler Bass was there and wrote on her twitter feed, “Contrast: the light of peace at St Paul's Memorial & the torches of fury in the streets -- Love is stronger than hate.” The clergy group also marched through the streets during the violent protests on Saturday. They are working for the bringer of peace, the Prince of peace to end this whirlwind, and we must keep them in our prayers, share their vision and speak out against hatred in any form. We must follow Jesus, who challenges us to look deep within our own hearts and recognize the sin, the racism that exists in us all. We are called to BE salt and light, to stand up against symbols and groups of oppression so that the peace of Christ can reign.

 

There is a Korean hymn in the pew hymnal written by Helen Kim called, “Lonely the Boat.” It isn’t easily sing able, but the text is wonderful. Kim ends her hymn by writing, “Storms in our lives, cruel and cold, will surely rise again, threatening lives, threatening us on life’s wild sea. Powerful and great, Christ’s hand is there, firmly in control. O Lord, calm peace comes from You. Peace comes to my lone soul.” Whatever difficulties you are facing in your life right now, in the midst of those dark nights of the soul we all face, in the midst of the racial turmoil which still divides us as a nation, we must call upon Jesus. We must trust and have faith that the Prince of Peace will prevail, will calm the storms and bring us peace. Alleluia. Amen.

Questions to discuss

  1. Why do you think God allows storms(difficulties) in our lives?
  2. Can you remember a storm you faced in your own life? How did you get through it? Did Jesus help you in some way?
  3. Who is Jesus to you?
  4.  Do you think peace is possible in this divided nation? What can we do? What can Jesus do?
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