July 30, 2023 ~ 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Beckie Sweet ~ Tending the New Creation
Here are a couple of riddles to get us started:
What is the strongest creature in the sea? A mussel!
Why do seagulls fly over the sea and not the bay?
Because then they would be called bagels!
What do fish take to stay healthy? Vitamin Sea!
Why did the shark spit out the clown? Because he tasted funny!
What did the ocean say to the shore? Nothing, it just waved.
What did the beach say as the tide came in? Long time, no sea.
Where does a killer whale go for braces? The orca-dontist
For most, the sea conjures up delightful images. Some enjoy the serenity of a quiet walk on the shore or a cruise to a tropical island. Modern images of the sea are typically tame and inviting, lulling us into associating the sea with a sense of tranquility. Many have apps on their phones that calm them to sleep with the crashing sounds of waves on the beach. The sea can be described in an endless number of ways. It is refreshing, beautiful, and humbling.
But not so for the gospel writer Mark. Mark’s sea is not a place for a Carnival Cruise on crystal blue waters. For Mark the sea is a metaphor for demonic and apocalyptic chaos that confronts Jesus, terrorizes the disciples, and thus threatens the future of the gospel. Mark’s sea is not about all you can eat buffets and fruity umbrella drinks, but where discipleship is challenged, boundaries are impassable, life hangs in the balance, and evil lurks.
Mark reminds us that storms happen – even to the best, the smartest and the most prepared among us. Storms terrify us, knocking us around, threatening to destroy our stability and security. They lead us to question whether we can withstand them, and we are uncertain of how long they will last. At least, that’s how a storm at sea for most of us would be.
And that’s how it was for the disciples. At the end of a long day of teaching, Jesus needed a break and initiated a trip across the Sea of Galilee. Although the water was usually calm, the wind coming over the surrounding mountains can suddenly raise a tumultuous storm. The wind howled – lightning flashed – rain poured – thunder boomed, and the boat was taking on water and seemed to be sinking. The disciples were terrified that they would perish ~ all while Jesus remained asleep – talk about a heavy sleeper! So, they cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
It is then that Jesus calmed the sea with the words, “Peace, be still.”
Most of us have never crossed the Sea of Galilee, but we’ve been in a similar boat. This story is not just a story about a boat trip and stormy weather. It’s a story about life – our life – our fear – our faith.
Times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger are often compared to stormy seas. And they come upon us whether we like it or not. Life is like that! We can avoid some storms by watching the weather forecast and using some common sense. We can avoid some disasters by being wise and following instructions. But sometimes, bad things just happen – even while we’re minding our own business, doing what’s right, living out our Baptismal Covenant to the best of our ability, with God’s help.
Sometimes, life places us in a boat and the storms begin to rage – the storms of pain and loss – the storms of rejection and failure – the storms of illness and death – the storms of pandemic – storms brought on by racial and political unrest. Whenever or however they arise, storms are about changing conditions. Life becomes overwhelming and out of control. The waves crash, the boat fills up, and we struggle to stay afloat.
The storm on the Sea of Galilee that night must have been extremely terrifying if seasoned fishermen doubted their own ability to keep the boat afloat. Jesus never said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” We often confuse the two phrases, but saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” is quite different from saying, “Do not be afraid.” The truth is that things that cause fear are very real.
Like the disciples in our text, we are also challenged to rediscover our faith in God’s word when we find ourselves in the midst of storms. The questions Jesus asked the disciples are the very same questions he continues to ask us: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The central question in life is not how many storms we must pass through. The question is whether we have faith for the storms. All of us will encounter storms. Sometimes it will seem as if God has forsaken us. It is at such times that our faith will be critical.
As we grow in faith, we must come to understand that the things that cause us despair do not have the last word. Yet, faith does not eliminate, change, or take us around the storms of our lives. Rather, faith takes us through the storms, reminding us that Jesus is there with us. We are reminded that the power of God is mightier than any wind that beats against us – that the love of God is deeper than any wave that threatens to drown us. Jesus invites us to stay with him in the boat saying, “Let us go across to the other side, I won’t leave your side, I’ll journey with you.”
A few years ago, a woman named Chastity Patterson lost her father. After his death, Chastity continued to send daily text messages to her father’s old phone number. She just wanted to feel like he was still there, still sharing the ups and downs of her daily life. It was her way of dealing with a storm of grief. For four years, she sent daily text updates to her father’s old phone number. And then one day, she got a reply.
Just before the fourth anniversary of Chastity’s father’s death, she received this text from his old number: “My name is Brad and I lost my daughter in a car wreck August 2014 and your messages have kept me alive. When you text me, I know it’s a message from God.” Brad texted that he was proud of how Chastity had managed the challenges in her life over the past four years. Chastity posted their text exchange to social media to show her friends and family “that there is a God and it might take 4 years, but God shows up right on time!”
That’s what the disciples learned from their struggles in the storm: God always shows up right on time!
Just as the disciples set off for the other shore with Jesus in the stern, we too, journey with our community, accompanied by the One who promises, “The winds and the waves shall obey my will, peace be still.”
Friends, when the storms of life toss us to and fro – and they will – may we be reminded that Jesus is present with us in every storm, and with Jesus in your boat you can weather any storm, no matter how severe. Peace, be still.
Thanks be to God! Amen!