Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 4
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Of all the lessons on the boat, few are as important as close the windows.

Save one hand for the boat, watch the boom (the most appropriately named part of a sailboat), beware of hypothermia and hyperthermia (overheating)—all these lessons pale in comparison to close the windows.

You see, when we are heeled over, sometimes beyond a 45 degree angle, there is little danger to boat are crew. As skipper reminds us, there is the equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle hanging beneath the boat, saving us from ending up in the drink—even if we are heeled over to an unnerving degree.

Unless you forget to close the windows. Because if you forget to close the windows, the water that was supposed to lap against the windows of the well-heeled boat will enter the boat and cause it to sink to the bottom. And sinking the boat is both rude to your guests and inconvenient to your insurance provider.

But they learn to manage. Guests swim to shore, I press the ‘distress’ button on my little radio (and choose the menu item ‘some idiot forgot to close the windows’) and in a couple of days the insurance company will dispatch some nice people who will retrieve your boat, dry it out, and give it back to you as quickly as they can.

Except, of course, for that ghost boat. Some years ago, somewhere in Humber Bay, some idiot forgot to close the windows and their boat sank. In this case, it sank so quickly that the sails were still trimmed and the most unusual thing happened: when the salvage people returned to the spot a day or two later, the boat was gone. She sailed away—under water—on the strong currents in Humber Bay and was never seen again. She is still out there if you want a free boat, but you have to catch her.

I’m sure that back in the day, on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples passed the time doing exactly what we do out on Humber Bay: telling stories. Maybe the story of a Galilean ghost boat because Simon or one of the sons of Zebedee forgot to close the windows. Or the puzzle of the 153 fish, because Jesus said ‘try fishing from the other side.’ Or the narrow misses, weather-wise, on a lake with a reputation for sudden storms and violent waves.

And after a long day of fishing or tending Jesus’ terrestrial flock, after the last story was retold one more time, and after the gentle rocking took it’s toll on a sleepy Lord and Saviour, Jesus slept. If you’ve never tried it, I recommend it. Bunched up sails, the ones that skipper says ought to be promptly folded, make a fine bed. The lapping of the waves have a hypnotic quality, and assuming you don’t get sea-sick, the motion of the waves are a fine sedative.

Of course sailors are the most wind-conscious ones among us. Driving to the club, look for the movement of the trees, or flags, or that solitary windmill that someone though might be a good addition to the CNE grounds. Once on the boat, the study intensifies. You consult the club’s anemometer, or the one on the boat, or a handheld one if you want to know if the wind up there matches the wind down here. Then you study the wind lines in the water. Or the effect the wind is having on the boats at a distance. All these things add up to your wind-consciousness, and may have some bearing on the outcome of the race.

The disciples felt it first: a sudden wind arose. Round lakes like Galilee and Simcoe are more prone to sudden storms, something you will find noted somewhere on the chart. Mark notes that other boats were with them, so there was likely a commotion on the water, shouting caution to each other, as the storm hit each boat in turn. This one was stronger than most, with again Mark taking care to note that the boat was nearly swamped. Even closed windows wouldn’t help in this storm.

Yet Jesus slept. There in the stern, Mark says, resting on a cushion, Mark says, Jesus slept. They couldn’t stand it any longer. “Teacher,” they said, “do you not care that we are perishing?” It seems he did. For he immediately rebuked the wind and stilled the storm. “Peace, be still” were his exact words, and the sea was dead calm.

I’m trying to imagine what what would be more frightening. These sailors, these veterans of a round and violent little lake, would have a healthy fear of wind and weather, but the stillness? What could be more frightening than the stillness? The wind and the waves obey him, and becalm on his command—begging the question ‘what else can he do?’

So frightened, with fear painted on their faces and on the faces of the men in nearby boats, we get the second rebuke: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Okay, Jesus, you’re being a little unfair. I know I risk my own weather event, right here in the pulpit, but you have to agree that Jesus is being a little unfair. Actually, you should reserve judgement, lest a weather event appear for all. For what could be more frightening than an answer to prayer?

You pray for strength and courage, and suddenly you face down your fears.
You pray for a sense of wholeness, and things fall in place.
You pray for healing, and hurts disappear.
You prayer a prayer of thanks, and even more is added.
You pray for the words that comfort or confront and suddenly they come.
You pray for forgiveness and then you remember that ‘anyone in Christ is a new creation.’

Frightening only begins to describe this phenomenon. The world says we are alone with no where to turn, and we struggle to remember ‘we are not alone, we live in God’s world.‘ Even with a keen sense of the healing and forgiving presence of the Most High, it is still disconcerting when God breaks in and says ‘Peace, be still.’

Now Jesus, ever the teacher, will simply repeat the question until he gets the answer he’s looking for: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

In other words, they had no words. They are stunned into silence, and can only whisper to each other saying, “who, then, is this?” Between Jesus demanding the storm be silent and the silence of the disciples, we may see a pattern forming. Let’s look back:

Jesus heals the man with the unclean spirit: But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (1.21ff) Jesus heals a leper, and demands more silence: “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest." (1.44) Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, and his critics were stunned into silence. (3.4) Jesus cured many by the seaside: diseases, unclean spirits. Then he sternly ordered them not to make him known. (3.12)

The sick and their demons can’t keep quiet, but the critics are silent. Jesus manages the wind and the waves, and the disciples are speechless. The pattern seems to be an unending need for healing and calm, and an ongoing failure to understand. Or a noisy reception to the work of God in their midst, except among those who should be able to calmly describe what is happening here.

Maybe they are caught in the conundrum that continues to challenge us, down to today: the storm-stiller is present to us but the storms persist. Maybe the silence of the religious ones and the disciples is based on the problem that will bedevil them until the end of time: the storm-stiller is present to us but the storms persist.

They (and we) are learning that a relationship with God in Jesus does not mean storms will cease, or trouble will not find you, or life will become suddenly straight-forward. Quite the opposite: storms arise, trouble comes, life is complex. What’s different, and what’s generally met with the silence and awe, is the knowledge that God is ever-present, at sea with us, always in the same boat.

May we witness to the presence of God in Jesus, and may our silent awe turn to songs of praise, Amen.


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