Gospel reading: Mark 4:31-35
Homiletically, this is a straightforward Sunday. The disciples are in a boat. Seasoned fishermen, they are used to storms at sea. But there is something different about this storm. It is a huge storm, and the disciples’ boat is in peril. Water and waves beat at the boat, into it, and the disciples are afraid for their lives. And there is Jesus, sleeping in the stern of the boat. Sleeping, while those around him are in fear for their lives! The disciples wake Jesus. Jesus gets up and calms both the wind and the sea. When the sea is still, Jesus rebukes the disciples – “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Our message, we think, is that when we call to Jesus, Jesus saves us. Jesus is with us through every storm in our lives. We can count on Jesus when we hear bad news at the doctor, at work, and at home. We know the storms in our lives. We are fearful of them, not knowing how to handle the chaos and destruction that they bring. Jesus brings calm, peace, to our worries.
Homiletically, (in sermon words) we have done good work. We have also missed the point, or at least some of it. We have missed the depth of Mark’s writing if we stop here in our reading and comprehension. We are called to dive more deeply into Scripture, to find “the rest of the story,” to pray and wrestle our way ever further. Our Gospel reading does not stop with the disciples being calm and at rest. Instead, the disciples are “filled with great awe,” thunderstruck. Far from being at peace, they are still afraid, still in wonder and amazement at the place in which they find themselves. Who IS this man who can calm the seas? Who IS this? “If you find the storm frightening,” writes Dr. Lance Stone, “just wait until you meet Jesus.” (textweek.com, “More frightening than the storm?”)
Just wait until we meet Jesus. This is the same Jesus who turns lives upside down, in ways as literal as the overturning of the tables at the temple. This is the Jesus who challenges us to take up our crosses and follow him, who promises us NOT a smooth path but his presence with us. Jesus, as Dr. Stone writes, “is not particularly into storm-management.” The Jesus who rebukes this storm does so in the word of exorcism. Remember the Gerasene demonic, who says that his name is Legion, many, for demons are many. “Silence, be still!” demands Jesus. Jesus uses the same words today in calming this storm at sea.
This Jesus is the Jesus who confronts evil in all of its forms and sends it away. Evil in all its forms is what Jesus silences. No wonder this Jesus is scary. Who can confront and confound evil? We who can do nothing to thwart such storms in our lives, such evil in our presence, tremble in awe in the presence of Jesus. We tremble in awe at our Lord who does not manage the storm, as we have been trying to do, but who takes it away entirely.
Take some prayer time, thinking time, and consider the storms that we have in our lives. There is a literal storm, a tropical depression, creating 20 foot waves in the waters of the gulf right now (or over the past few days). Other storms are not as easy to track. A child is raced to the emergency room once again; a long ride in darkness. Certainly Jesus, if he is present, is asleep. We have fears that we cannot see, cancers that grow unseen within us, losses that we dare not name. Our fears, we think, like waves on a chaotic sea, might overcome us.
Where is Jesus? In the back of the boat, sleeping, on a cushion, no less. We, the disciples are battling storms, evil, while our Lord sleeps in comfort. We are seeing Jesus with us, defining his presence only in a physical way. He is with us, we think, ignoring us, unaware of our battles while he sleeps peacefully in the presence of His father. We are not being ignored. We are not forgotten. And we are not alone.
Sometimes while we see Jesus with us, and we miss Jesus within us. Might there be a sleeping Jesus within each of us? St. Augustine and Frederick Buechner describe the sleeping Jesus within us. Buechner writes:
Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and whatever we do in whatever time we have left, wherever we go, may we in whatever way we can call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace…we may find Christ.
Just wait until we awaken that sleeping Jesus. Imagine how the waves will calm, to storm will settle, the peace of the Lord that we will find. Imagine what will happen when we recognize Jesus with us, in us, in each other, …
And carry that story into the world. Imagine what will happen when we awaken Jesus. Amen.