Storms are on the Horizon
Jesus is on a mission, and on the move. Jesus signals a shift to his followers with a simple phrase, “Let us go across to the other side.” It is more than a change in venue. From this point on in Mark, Jesus is an itinerant preacher and healer, leaving the comfort and security of home to carry out his mission. And this is Jesus’ first foray in Mark into territory that might be considered inappropriate, even dangerous, the Gentile territory of the Gerasenes. All of this is probably not what the disciples had in mind. They had already stepped out of their comfort zone by leaving home and family and livelihood to follow Jesus. Surely the rest of discipleship will be holding hands in prayer circles and singing ‘kumbaya,’ passively listening to Jesus and taking in his words of peace and love. Sure, they might go to a poor village and build a church, or work the soup lines feeding the hungry, but these are activities are just checking the boxes. They have seen a few miracles, experienced Jesus’ power. They must assume Jesus will take care of his own. But when you journey with the divine, on the move and on a mission, anything can happen.
“Let us go to the other side.” This should have been a simple request. Some of the disciples are fishermen. They know their way around boats and water. They have certainly encountered the occasional storm. Now a storm is building and Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. What must they think? Is Jesus just tired, or lazy? Perhaps Jesus is leaving the work of sailing to those with the gifts of marine navigation? Perhaps this is a metaphor for the Church. Jesus gives us work to do, and leaves us to it, but never leaves us alone. Jesus’ nap does model one trait we should notice for our journey. Rest is the posture of trust in God. The storm comes, as storms will do, and the disciples panic. Perhaps this is the worst storm they have ever seen, but we have no report of them working to stabilize the boat. They panic. They wake Jesus pleading for help, in an almost accusatory way. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” How often do we cry out in the same way? When we experience the storms of life ... lost job, financial hardship, sick loved one, failing relationships, injustice, oppression, violence ... how often through tears do we plead, or even shake a fist at God, and cry out, “God, what are you going to do about this?” These storms seem to come so frequently, perhaps they are not storms at all, just the state of the world.
Job certainly felt this anguish, and throughout his ordeal continuously asks, “God, don’t you care that I am suffering?” God finally speaks to Job, but not through the contained power of the whirlwind through which God appeared to Elijah. God appears to Job in a tempest. Job thinks he is in the middle of a storm, but God shows him a storm of divine power. God shores up Job’s faith by reminding him that God is all powerful, and there is no storm God cannot control. God reminds us that it is faith that gets us through storms. Jesus will repeat the lesson.
Jesus wakes up from divine sleep, first rebukes the wind, “Peace! Be still!” And the storm retreats to a dead calm. He doesn’t stop to pray, check with God for instructions. Jesus wields the full power of God and acts immediately. The rebuking of the storm reminds us of how Jesus calls out to the demons of the ill and possessed, demonstrating power over all the forces of chaos. It recalls God’s dominion over chaos at creation with just a word. Jesus is king over the created order.
The subsequent dead calm, defeating the threat the disciples fear, is disquieting in its own way. Shouldn’t they be celebrating, or at least thankful? They find themselves as if in the eye of a hurricane, safe for the moment, but the threat of storms all around them. Perhaps they are more fearful of the destinations where following Jesus might lead. Are we more fearful of the chaos or more in awe of God’s power over the storms of our lives?
Jesus first rebukes the wind, then the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” There is a tension between fear and faith. Surely we cannot be expected to be without fear. We comfort each other with brave words ... “Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” But there is much to be afraid of! ... there are fearsome people and places and things and situations. We have all experienced this fear. We have all been through storms. We have all screamed from our soul, “God I am sinking. Don’t you care?” Fear is inevitable, but for the faithful, faith is greater than fear, and Jesus is the fulfillment of scripture and prophecy. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” -Ps 46
This is where we find peace, and the faith to be still. This is healing. We do not always receive answers we want to hear, but we are answered nonetheless, an answer of mercy and compassion and healing and grace and peace. God reveals and defines God’s power how God chooses. It would be easier for us to take God in scripture and stories, in small bites with happy endings. When God reveals God’s power in person, perhaps it is more than we bargained for. It is a power that moves mountains, or perhaps closer to home, moves and motivates humanity to approach God’s kingdom. God moves us to acts of compassion and kindness, to abandon self interests to care for others, to a radical kind of love that can only be from God.
“Who is this that the wind and sea obey him?” The disciples ask a question of Jesus’ greater identity. They are beginning to discover who Jesus is. Amidst storms are often the most intense moments of our lives, when we discover who Jesus is. We expend too much academic and spiritual energy wondering, “Who is this guy and how’d he do that?” The disciples never seem to pull themselves together. Perhaps that is not the goal. Perhaps we should strive to be on alert for God’s activity in the world, and remain in awe of God’s presence. The disciples might be afraid of the power wielded by this Jesus they follow. It is through faith we continue to journey, even into the greatest of storms, and are invited to continue our journey to the other side, a deeper and more profound faith.
In the midst of the chaos that was 9/11, St. Paul’s Chapel sat next to ground zero. St. Paul’s is an historic New York church where George Washington worshipped, and is a part of Trinity Wall Street. With buildings falling all around it, St. Paul’s came through the storm without a scratch, yet the place and the community was changed. After the literal dust settled, St. Paul’s became a site of round the clock relief efforts to rescue workers and all others that came to their door. The community responded to the storm with faith, and without fear. Knowing God was working right beside them, as if they heard the Divine voice rebuke humanity, “Peace! Be still!” And amid the storm all around them, “Let us go across to the other side.” The community and New York City and the country and the world made it through the storm of 9/11, yet came out changed, and the journey continues.
We will encounter storms. God is in the storms, so that we might make it through, and make it to the other side. What storms are we facing at St. Paul’s Macon? Are we seeking out storms, as they are easier distractions than giving in to the power of God? Are we trying to control chaos in our own self interest, or are we attending to our faith to guide our actions? Are we creating storms, while God is rebuking us, “Peace! Be still!”?
Whatever the source, the storms are all around us. We struggle to navigate politics and equality and justice, often giving in to the chaos of the storm, adding fuel to the fire. We often find our safety and security in the storm by joining with others to rebuke the storm, and blame others who we feel have caused it. We fight over how to navigate the storm until the storm becomes us, and we become the storm. What part of Jesus’ word of ‘peace’ do we not understand?
We are challenged to find God in storms, cling to our Life Preserver, and have faith. We are also called to cling to one another, the Body of Christ, recognizing the differences among humanity with compassion, and that we are all experiencing storms. Paul urges us to have faith together. “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.” Paul admonishes us not to put obstacles in anyone’s way of faith, for we all are enduring afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. Through faith, we endure these storms together by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God. Paul explains that Christian ministry is based on the pattern of God’s reconciling work. The crucified and raised Messiah is the paradigm for Christian ministry, which embodies the world in its paradoxical revelation of God’s power. Let us face the storms together, with faith and without fear. Let us discern the times to act, and the times to claim peace, and be still, and know God. And together, “Let us go across to the other side.” Amen.