June 24, 2108

Pentecost 5   June 24, 2108 Psalm 9, 1 Samuel 16:14-23, 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2, Mark 4:35-41      Stormy weather

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There’s a strangely dreamlike quality in our readings…

As we see King Saul – who never asked to be king – and who actually tries to run and hide and not be king – but now, soon as he’s made king (in God’s response to the people’s demanding a king) – he starts acting like the king God warned us about. Here’s once upon a time humble King Saul acting like a character straight out of Shakespeare – King Lear or Macbeth – with royal dark stormy moods. His advisors counsel him to search and find yourself a good musician. Music has charms to soothe the savage beast… (It can work pretty well also for kings – and for me too…)

And since the hand of God is directing our story – the young musician hired to play for Saul turns out to be none other than David – the shepherd lad we saw anointed to be future king last week (in a semi-private ceremony conducted by Samuel the prophet). Now David’s hired on to serve as chief musical therapist and one-man-band in the royal household – strumming guitar, singing his first early psalms. Calming raging storms in the troubled soul of King Saul…

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Storms in the bible not accidental… For the most part they come from God. In the beginning of creation, in the bible’s first chapter, darkness is over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God (also translated as the Wind of God) is hovering over the waters, calming and transforming primal chaos… (In the folk-lore of the ancient Mid-east the world begins in storms, with wild winds and raging seas of chaos subdued only in prolonged stormy battle by the gods of nature. The bible subtly comments on neighbor’s mythologies – allowing perhaps the world emerges in storms of wind and water – while setting the record straight – as to there being just the One God Almighty – who creates all things…)

And now in today’s scene from the drama of new creation in Christ, we see Jesus and disciples out on the sea of Galilee in a small boat in the dark of night – when a violent storm strikes suddenly – and immediately the boat is taking on water, threatening to sink.

Terrified disciples wake Jesus – who has been napping calmly in the stern. Jesus  awakes – rebukes the wind and commands the waves – saying, literally Be quiet! Shut up! (Our NRSV translation makes the command sound more polite than it is.)

The sea is suddenly completely calm. And Jesus – whether in the same tone of voice – or perhaps more gently – depending (perhaps again) on how we’re hearing him –  rebukes disciples, saying – “Why are you still afraid? Haven’t you got any faith yet?”

Now the disciples’ terror as the boat is about to sink gives way to a different kind of fear and awe… As disciples see the power of God at work in Jesus… And begin… Just begin… to consider… the possibilities… Asking – “Who is this? Who commands wind and sea – and they obey?”

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The disciples have seen Jesus casting out demons – using exactly the same words he employs now to rebuke and command wind and sea. They’ve seen him healing the sick, making the lame to walk, proclaiming the kingdom of God by word and deed. Yet disciples still default into fearful anxiety as the storm threatens to sink their boat. The first disciples, in other words, are entirely human. Like us.

The storm is strong; the danger’s real. Four of the first twelve disciples are commercial fishermen. They know which storms are life-threatening and which are not. The reality of the danger’s not an issue here. Believing in the power of God, theoretically, is not an issue either.

The disciples doubtless know the words of Psalm 107, where seafarers cry out to God in the storm – and the psalmist tells us God (quote) “made the storm be still, and the waves of the seas were hushed.” The disciples believe the word of God… So how come these disciples are still so afraid?

Well – I know some of the words of the hymn Be Still My Soul – but – I also remember once, fishing, three-quarters of a mile from shore on Lake Champlain – as the weather turned in a flash, from flat-water-calm to two-foot-high-cresting-waves… I remember my friend John and I paddling like crazy to get back to shore, barely making it, as waves started splashing into the canoe and lightning flashed. Sudden storms have a way of over-riding our normal patterns of thinking – making it hard to remember… how the song goes… when it says – Be still my soul –  The waves and winds still know – the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below…

The gospel writer has a finely-tuned sense of biblical irony – as he shows us the disciples, storm-tossed and terrified, crying out to Jesus “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” (Like – hey! at least wake up and say good-bye to us before we sink!)

Sounding a bit like me, when I’m crying to Jesus, as if I’m going down with the ship – even while he’s right here, with me, all the while – taking his nap – letting my faith have a little work-out… And the disciples probably know by now – Jesus is at least the greatest of all prophets. Pretty soon Peter will identify him as Messiah-King and Chief-Prophet-in-Charge – yet still they’re having a hard time recognizing Jesus… for Who He is. (And well –)

On the one hand, a leap of faith beyond all previous expectations really is involved – and who can blame disciples if they don’t get it at first? On the other hand, the whole theme of Mark’s gospel is recognizing Jesus for who he is. And they have been with him for awhile now… And this is an open-book exercise. We’re encouraged to keep reading…Noticing how demons recognize Jesus for who he is all along – while disciples still don’t quite get it… (Did we remember to say –  St Mark is big on biblical irony?)

Though once again, it is also good to remember – it is harder to get our theology right – when our boat’s shipping water and about to sink, and the storms of life are raging…all around us… and..

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There is a dreamlike aspect to this storm – happening (not by accident) in the dark of night… Dreamlike for disciples who have been sitting with Jesus in that same boat all day while he preaches and teaches crowds along the lake shore…

Dreamlike maybe even for Jesus – who may be dreaming as he naps of crowds of fickle followers who love him when he’s serving spiritual comfort food – but lose interest rather quickly… when he’s talking about the cost of discipleship…  and stormy times ahead…

Maybe the dreams Jesus dreams as he naps in the stern of the boat… somehow stir wind and water around him in sympathy till they become a storm…

Or (more likely–) maybe Jesus calls down the storm before he naps… as a teachable moment… For disciples having a hard time understanding his plain speech and his parables alike…  Maybe this storm is yet another way God teaches us to look to Jesus – listen for his word – and hear it as the very word of God.

The word of God Jesus preaches, teaches and embodies – is all about the kingdom of God and Jesus our only true king. The apostles trained by Jesus freely use different words and phrases to describe this same reality of the kingdom-come in Christ. New creation is the apostle Paul’s way of telling us how very different kingdom reality is. Everything old’s gone – all things are made new. And notice a parable here with the first creation – as new creation also takes more than a day…

New creation reminds us of the first creation…with God’s mighty

Spirit-Wind blowing over the waters… In Christ’s new creation we have the true light that enlightens all people, and all things are made new. Now his life, his works, his teachings, his presence – challenge everything about the way the world works (and doesn’t work). So storms inevitably follow Jesus (and us, since we’re with him) as he challenges all the world’s powers-that-be…

But Jesus challenges the world (notice) – not with worldly power, like the world’s kings – but with deep abiding grace – unperturbed under pressure. Taking his nap while wind and waves rage and roar around him. Waking to still the storm with a word. Rebuking, first, wind and water – then we his followers for our lack of faith. Challenging us to be awake – aware of his presence and power, wherever, whenever. Which is a challenge indeed.

Yet – the most challenging part of the gospel for me isn’t believing in Jesus’ divinity – or his humanity – or his miracles – or even his challenging of the world’s ways – but the way Jesus keeps insisting – on sharing his divine power – with us.

Maybe this is why his first disciples are still afraid – even after Jesus stills the storm. I still get a little afraid sometimes, too… Like Saul, I too, need a lot of support to sustain me on this journey of faith. I need your help with living the gospel. I need you singing the gospel song with me… when storms of life are raging (Sing with me –)   When the storms of life are raging stand by me. When the storms of life are raging stand by me. When the world is tossing me like a ship out on the sea, thou who rulest wind and water stand by me.

When we sing the song together the good news gets even better… God is reconciling the whole world to himself – entrusting this message of reconciliation to us. Staggering News. Yet – the more we know who Jesus is – the more we also know – even if this gospel project can seem like a dream at times (it is so staggeringly huge)…  Still, the word of God will be fulfilled – because it is God’s word.  So… we’re not dreaming.

Now really is the acceptable time, the day of salvation. Now is the time to be reconciled to God and neighbor. Now is the time to know our need of God. And – good news! Knowing God loves us and knowing our need for God is what we need to know most… to come through every storm with Jesus… and…

The more we know the power of the storm… the more we know our need for God… The more we know God is able… The more we appreciate – how very good the good news is – God is in Jesus Christ – not counting sins against us, not leaving us adrift in the storms of life. But giving us power, together, to embody God’s reconciling love for all.

And best of all –

Jesus is with us. Still here, in the same boat with us.

So let’s keep calling on him always… Let’s sing the song – Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me         Thanks be to God. Amen