Grace and peace to you sisters and brothers in Christ,
We enter the Gospel of Mark after a chapter full of parables about the Kingdom of God and the life of faith. It describes a Jesus who has been constantly teaching the crowds, and then explaining things more privately to his disciples.
After such a grueling speaking schedule, it’s not a surprise that we would find Jesus asleep as he’s being transported to the next mission field.
It is, however, a bit of a surprise when we realize he’s sleeping through a storm, and even more so when we imagine the wind so strong that it’s sending waves crashing over the side of the boat, threatening to sink it and everyone on board.
While Jesus is sound asleep, the disciples are frantically doing all they can to keep the boat afloat. Remember, the disciples aren’t soft handed academics who are strangers to life on the sea. At least four of them are fishermen, they’ve been on boats since childhood, handling difficult storms and returning safely to home.
They have skills and knowledge. They should have been ok on their own, and certainly Jesus, a carpenter turned religious teacher wouldn’t have been as comfortable steering the boat as they were. But all their ability isn’t enough. The boat is sinking, and all on board are thinking this is the end.
All, that is, except Jesus. He’s asleep.
Finally, the frantic disciples wake him, desperately, angrily shouting, “do you not care that we are dying?”
Then Jesus rises from sleep and acts- the raging wind is no more.
After Jesus saves them, he wonders at them, at their fear and lack of faith, despite having learned alongside him and witnessed his power.
The disciples are awestruck, having seen the power of God revealed in Jesus.
When they set out, the disciples must have thought they had what they needed to take care of themselves, no matter what might happen on the journey. I’m especially thinking of those fishermen among them. They had experience, knowledge, skills passed down the generation. They knew the right way to do things. Their muscles were trained for handling a boat through all kinds of weather. They knew how to chart a course and get there all by themselves.
We’re much like them. On the whole, we are an independent people. We think we can make it through life alone. We may feel obligated to help those who don’t seem to be able to support themselves, but mostly, we buy into the idea that people should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get their lives in shape, make goals and see them through. We shouldn’t need anyone else.
The disciples on that boat were in for a dangerous surprise. This time, their skills weren’t enough. Left alone in their own power, they were surely going to die.
We don’t like to admit to times when we can’t do life on our own. It feels like weakness and failure. But the thing is, we weren’t created to be alone, or to care for ourselves alone. We were meant for connection, and sometimes, humility.
We need Jesus, and we need a community of faith, to support us through the difficult times in life, to locate our lives within a story greater than ourselves, and to give us purpose throughout life.
We cannot do life alone. So does that mean life will be safer when we’re connected with Jesus and with a faith community? What does it mean to face danger with Jesus in the boat?
If the creator of the universe, the one who told the waves how far they were allowed to go in the very beginning, was sitting in your boat, wouldn’t you imagine you’d be safe from any storm? If Jesus is on your side, doesn’t that mean nothing bad will ever happen?
We often think Jesus will protect us. We think if we have enough faith, bad things won’t happen, or if they do, we’ll learn what we have to, we’ll pray really hard, and God will turn our time of trial into something good.
Those disciples in the boat weren’t just pretending to fear for their lives. They did turn to Jesus, and Jesus did save them, but their experience was not without danger.
The raging storms have been strong this week for us. On top of any storms that may be going on in your lives, turning on the news we’ve heard of a local police officer shot nations building weapons stockpiles, the Pope acknowledging the damage we do to creation, and the waves of racism crashing even into a church with a death-dealing blow.
Shouldn’t the church be the safest place to be? How can it be, that a group of people can gather around the Bible and then one of them can pull out a gun and kill those around the table?
Maybe it’s the very question I posed that feeds into this threat: “If Jesus is on my side…” Maybe even us, who try to lead good lives, have a part in the guilt of this violence because we’ve built up an idea that we’re the ones with God on our side, and that wants an identification of those who are not on God’s side. We should wonder if we’re actively teaching our children -reminding ourselves- to picture the whole range of those who are the beloved children of God: so that our image of the kingdom of God includes Black people and Latino people, families with one parent or two fathers, single people without children, those with summer homes and those who live out of their cars…so that we all know and celebrate that this congregation is just a tiny fraction and not very representative of the diversity of the whole of God’s people. If the church isn’t actively fighting against the evil in the world that is racism, or any other structure that directs hate at a people, then we’re stuck on the shore ignoring Jesus calling us to be with him. In the gospel, Jesus is traveling with the disciples to the other side of the sea, where they will continue to be pushed out of their comfortable assumptions of who is welcomed in the kingdom of God.
Jesus isn’t some talisman to ward off danger. He’s not a good luck charm added as an afterthought to our hard work and skill building. Jesus is travelling with us to the other side. There may be times when Jesus seems frightfully powerless or indifferent to the danger we face. Jesus isn’t with us to make our life journey comfortable. Jesus is with us so that we are moved- moved from sin to holiness, from hatred to love, from violence to peace.
In the end, we will discover that not only do the waves and wind obey Jesus, but even death is under his power. Jesus will travel with us through death onto the other side, into life in the new creation, forever.
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