July 31, 2022 ~ Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
“Discipleship by the Sea” ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
It was evening, after what had been a long day of ministry for Jesus and the disciples. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching ministry was peaking, so-much-so that he was attracting crowds, making waves among the religious establishment, training disciples, and charting a course for the ministry that lie ahead of him. Jesus was not only confronted by the Pharisees that day, but his mother and brothers as well were afraid for his safety in the midst of a highly contentious and violent culture, and had tried to pull him away from the attention of those who may have been offended by Jesus’ teachings. But, he kept teaching anyway, despite the risk.
By this time of the evening, everyone was tired, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Jesus gave no explanation for his desire to travel across the Sea of Galilee at that time of day. They would be going from the Jewish side of the Sea to the Gentile side, where they were not likely to have supporters waiting to extend hospitality to the travelers. We do not know why they embarked on this voyage in the evening, rather than the following morning. We only know that Jesus said, “Let’s go!” and they went! Without preparation or the packing of provisions, they set sail in the boat from which Jesus had been teaching, out into the Sea, with, Mark tells us, other boats journeying with them.
Now, the Sea of Galilee sits below sea level, and is surrounded on all sides by tall mountains, creating a unique climate. Simon, Andrew, James, and John must have been very familiar with this climate and its weather patterns, as they had spent most of their lives around the Sea and fishing its waters. Storms would blow up suddenly. So, when a great storm arose, the likes of which frightened these seasoned fishermen, we can surmise that it was a tremendous storm. The boat begins taking on water, so much so that almost EVERYONE aboard fears that they will perish in the storm. Nothing indicates that the disciples overreacted, as in their desperation they awakened Jesus, who amazingly is placidly asleep in the stern on a cushion.
“Hey, Jesus!” the words may vary, but the sense of panic is the same. “Hey, Jesus! Doesn’t it matter to you that we are going to drown? Don’t you care that we are about to perish? How can you sleep through our impending demise? Hey, Jesus!” As Jesus awakens to witness the panic of his companions, he handles first things first. He says to the wind and waves, “Peace! Be Still! Quiet! Be Calm! Shhhh!” Then after the disciples have had a moment to exhale and observe the sudden stillness at sea, Jesus questions their lack of faith that allowed fear to overcome them, even in his presence.
These disciples had witnessed Jesus taming and casting out unclean spirits. They had seen him heal persons with life-threatening illnesses and long-term disabilities. They had heard his witness to God’s power to tame the world with divine authority. Yet, they feared that they were soon to lose their lives, even with Jesus in the boat with them. They were terrified that they would drown that evening. And while Jesus’ questions, “Why were you so frightened? Have you no faith?” could be interpreted as a rebuke of their shortcomings, those questions also remind us that WE can relate to those who were closest to Jesus. We all have times of fear, panic, and insufficient faith to deal with the threatening circumstances of life, even when we are answering Jesus’ invitation, “Let’s go!” AND, we all need to be reminded that Jesus is with us in all circumstances of life, and has the authority to say in times of turmoil, “Peace! Be Still! Quiet! Be Calm! Shhh!”
A friend and mentor of mine, Rev. Dr. Bill Lawrence, writes of an experience he had a couple of decades ago. “…I was on a flight from Puerto Allegre in the far south of Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was sitting in the middle seat of the bulkhead row between a missionary buddy of mine and a woman who seemed to want nothing to do with a gringo and who sat as far away from me as she could.
After a while, the flight began to get rough, and the crew took away the beverages and discontinued the food service. The flight got rougher and rougher. Suddenly, out the windows we could see lightning, and we realized that this was not a matter of rough air pockets. We were flying through a thunderstorm!
We were flying the Brazilian national airline, who, at that time, used china and silverware in every class of service (remember those days!). The plane was bouncing wildly, and this meant that the china clashed and the silver crashed every time the plane bounced, adding frightening noise to the flashing lightning and the wild gyrations.
People began to scream and call out with each jolt. Fingers were flying as the rosary beads were put to intense use. The stewards were passing through the aisles seeking to calm the passengers. And the woman who wanted nothing to do with me was involuntarily grabbing my arm each time the plane dropped.
All told, from the time we entered the storm until we were completely out of it, we spent 15 minutes bouncing around, although the worst part probably lasted only about 8 minutes. We arrived safely in Buenos Aires pretty close to our scheduled time!”
Bill then states, “Isn’t it amazing how quickly we lose control in a storm. Whether it is a storm of our own making, or one wrought from unforeseen external circumstances, many human beings panic pretty quickly. Sometimes we end up in storms because we have obeyed Jesus’ invitation, as the disciples did that evening.”
Does Jesus lead us into storms? These disciples had followed Jesus’ bidding and done what Jesus told them to do. In their obedience, they faced one of the most terrifying experiences of their lives. They were there because of Jesus, and witnessed that no storm unnerves Jesus! Hear that again, no storm unnerves Jesus! All it takes is a word to settle the rough seas: PEACE….BE CALM….QUIET….BE STILL…..SHHH! And what was rough will become still.
You have heard the witness this day. Yes, Jesus will still call us to GO with him into the storms of life. Many are in such a storm right now. Do not be afraid! Have faith in our Savior! GO!