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  • Rev. Dan Gates

Facing the Storm

Mark 4:35-41

A stormy sea with the words 'Facing the Storm' imposed upon them

I’d like you to think about something that is really challenging for you in your life. It might be a decision you have to make, a situation you have to face, a change you know needs to happen and yet somehow you can’t quite face it. As we ponder our reading from Mark’s Gospel, let me invite you to keep that thing in your mind. Or if your life is settled and calm, let me invite you to ponder a sudden change you don’t have any control over. It might be a change in your job, the arrival of an unexpected health issue, or something else; hold the reality of unexpected changes in your mind. Because all those things come into our lives at some point on our journey. And so often they appear to us unannounced, and we’re left disoriented, trying to find our feet again. It’s kind of like a storm that comes from out of nowhere when you’re crossing a lake to the other side. Just another ordinary day with Jesus; wanting to get away from the crowds for a while he takes his friends to another region of the area, perhaps hoping for some time to recharge. On the way an unplanned event arose: a huge storm appeared that threatened to drown them all. Even these men who knew a thing or two about sailing were afraid when nature took over. Unknown, unexpected, and uncontrollable, this storm has come into their lives and they don’t quite know how they are going to make it through this time.  

An image from under water
Photo by Jong Marshes on Unsplash

The waters have always had a complicated meaning in the biblical imagination. Water is life, springs of refreshing, restoring the soul. But the waters also have a more sinister side; in Genesis it is the chaotic deep that God tamed to bring creation into being. The waters could flood, bringing destruction, and humans had no control over it whatsoever. So when we hear of Jesus taking to the sea, we should hear some of that fear being evoked. What is going to happen? Who knows! Maybe it’ll all be fine, but maybe it won’t. And as it happens, it wasn’t all fine. A storm appeared; the worst scenario was unfolding, and the disciples weren’t sure what to do.

A boat with a comfortable cushion resting on it

But the thought suddenly comes to them: Jesus is here! You can almost feel a moment of relief in that thought; Jesus will know what to do! But that relief is short lived; they look for Jesus and find him fast asleep. In this most feared of moments, Jesus is found sleeping, seemingly unconcerned. He’s propped up on a soft cushion having a nap. They rush to him, shake him awake, and rebuke him: ‘Don’t you care that we’re perishing?’ How can you be asleep at a time like this. And at this point I wonder if you too know what the disciples were going through. Have you been there? We might want to ask this question: why does the storm appear anyway? After all, with Jesus on the boat you’d expect it to be smooth sailing. Having the Son of God with you should be the best insurance policy ever! But no, Jesus is there with them, and yet the storm still comes. And maybe the storm came to you too. Even with Jesus on board, that unexpected and unwanted thing came into your life. How did you respond? Did you, like the disciples, ask him if he cared? Would you have the courage to speak so honestly? They don't hesitate to wake him up in their time of need. He does indeed wake up, and now he has some rebuking of his own to take care of.

Calm water with the words 'Peace, be still' written on it

He gets up and at first doesn’t say anything to the disciples. His words are for the wind and the sea: Peace! Be still! He addresses these natural elements as if they were naughty children. Using similar language to when he exorcises demons, Jesus speaks into the chaos a word of calm, a word of stillness. And everything goes quiet. The storm that suddenly appeared suddenly goes away. The fear of the sea is now transferred to a kind of awesome fear of Jesus. The disciples look at this now-awake Jesus and wonder ‘who is this man?’ His voice just commanded the uncontrollable storm, and the uncontrollable storm was controlled. What is going on?! Maybe they should have left Jesus asleep after all! Who is this man? And I wonder for us, too, if we might need to remember that we don’t really understand him. We know about Jesus, but to think we understand is a step too far. We are invited into a mystery when we follow Jesus, and that mystery isn’t solved by hard thinking. No, we are like the disciples, looking on and wondering ‘who is he?’ And I think that is good for us. Sometimes I need to remember that Jesus is more than I can imagine. Jesus is the voice that speaks creation into being, one who ends storms and rebukes the waves. I need to remember that this Jesus is much more than my little mind can comprehend. Put simply, I need to be in awe of him once again, to know that I can never control him or bend him to my will.

And then there’s that question Jesus asked his friends, a question that could sound quite harsh to our ears: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? Do you think he is really suggesting that their response was over the top? It was just a little storm, why are you getting so upset! No, I think this is an invitation to go deeper. To ask the hard questions about where our fear comes from. What are we really afraid of? Is it the storm, or what the storm represents? Are we afraid of the random things life throws at us, or are we really more afraid of what that tells us? Is our fear maybe more about being alone, feeling unsafe in the world, a fear of facing the hardest moments by ourselves? Are we afraid of our end, of dying? Is our fear about being abandoned by God, left to fight an unfightable storm? Who knows! But the next part of Jesus’ question is helpful too: have you still no faith? Don’t you yet trust in God as the faithful Father who will always hold your life in his hands? Don’t you yet know that whatever comes, God is for you, on your side, bringing all things together for your good? If you don’t, go a bit deeper! Maybe the storm, then, is a strange opportunity for us to exercise our faith, to live convictions about who God is. There is a place we can come to where our bodies can be at peace even in the storms of life. The unexpected arrives and yet our faith anchors us to the unchanging, always-loving God. We can face the storm because we find one with us who is the rock on which we stand.

A scene from Galilee

They land safe on the other side eventually. But another storm is already raging, but that story is perhaps for another time. For now, maybe we might consider how we go about facing the storm. When the thing you dread really does arrive, or when something unexpected knocks you off your feet, what do you do? Some tentative suggestions for you. Go and wake Jesus up. Be bold and tell him the fears that are filling your heart and mind. Then, trust that his voice still calms the storms, and no storm can refuse him. Have confidence in the mystery, look beyond the immediate situation and ask big questions about what God can do. Maybe too you might ask yourself what you are really afraid of, and in the company of Jesus allow those fears to be relieved. Finally, above all, decide to trust in the God whose loving hands hold your life with tender care. Every storm feels like it could end us; in the moment we might lose our hearts and our heads. But the Rock doesn’t move, the everlasting arms are strong, and the Shepherd is Good. Trust Jesus, look for him, hold onto him, and you can face your storm in his company, and arrive to the other side ready to continue the journey. Amen.

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