4th Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Rev. Tricia Dillon-Thomas
4th Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Rev. Tricia Dillon-Thomas
I know I’ve shared this story with some of you; but seeing as it was several years ago, our congregation has doubled, and you’ve probably forgotten anyway, I wanted to share it again.
Clay and I used to live in Sitka, an island in southeast Alaska. Our house was on Galankin Island, which meant we commuted a mile by boat every day to town and then a mile home at night.
When we initially told people we had decided to rent a house on Galankin, folks would ask what kind of boat we had… a 16 foot open aluminum skif—not exactly a rough seas kind of boat...and then usually followed with tantalizing tales of rough waters, flipped boats, how people who had frozen to death in the icy waters. I heard the word green a lot. We were very green.
Clay, never the one to do anything without lots of research, outfitted us with survival suits, which are these huge orange suits that extend your time in the water, should you fall in. Clay would also drill me. At any random moment while I was in the survival suit, he’d come up behind me and shake me, yelling for me to “light the flare,” “blow the whistle” and “call for help” on our waterproof radio. Yes, we Thomas’s know how to have fun!
About 6 months after living on the island we looked out the window and debated whether we should cross. There were mixed seas that day, which meant the ocean swells were coming in from one way, and wind was blowing from another. It often felt like you were at the whim of the sea on these days. I adamantly said we should not cross (I can be kind of a wimp), Clay reasoned we’d already missed work one day that week and convinced me we could make it. So we put on our survival suits and headed down to the dock. I remember my heart pounding. The boat was being violently blown around. After I got into the boat and untied the stern, I had to hold onto the dock with all my strength, so when clay untied the bow, he would have time to jump into the skiff before the winds blew the boat and me away.
We were almost across, trying to keep the boat at an angle, but were being pushed all around, when the boat got caught in a swell, and we were totally out of control. Clay was driving the boat and I was sitting facing him trying to block the spray from his eyes so he could navigate. The way he tells it, a swell lifted the boat up, and the wind somehow got underneath it. Just then another wave came along and slammed the boat back down into the water. The boat had been in the air and apparently so had I. Clay says he saw me floating and thought for sure I was going overboard. Let me tell you, when we safely reached the dock, there has never such a big “I told you so.”
I can’t listen to any story of a boat in a storm without thinking about that frightful day. Today’s lectionary passage comes from Mark 4: 35-41. Let us hear how the Spirit is speaking to her church.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The gospel of Mark is by far my favorite gospel. Because most scholars believe Mark is the first gospel to be written, and that Matthew and Luke both used it as a source for their books, this gospel feels bold to me. I love it’s to the point exactness. There isn’t unnecessary commentary in Mark’s gospel, he means every word he says, and like poetry, a reader can peal away layers of meaning with a small phrase or by the placement of a story.
Our lesson begins, “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Jesus and the disciples had spent all that day on the sea as Jesus told parable after parable about the kingdom of heaven. Folks had heard about Jesus’ mighty power and some had come from miles to see him, the miracle worker. I do wonder how disappointed some of them were. Here sat “the great teacher,” a man dressed like a commoner speaking as one with authority not from a throne or mighty terrace, but an old battered boat in the middle of a lake. Not exactly the stuff we expect “the Son of God” to be made of.
Those who came to perhaps see another mighty miracle, instead listened to confusing parables conveying that the most awesome reality in the universe, the kingdom of God, comes in whispers that were “no more outwardly impressive than a seed” and whose message was so vulnerable it “could be snatched away by birds.”
“36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”
“Just as he was.” Remember, Mark doesn’t waste time with fluff language, so this phrase is intriguing. Like the crowds gathered around him waiting and wanting to see miracles, accepting Jesus “just as he was” was perhaps a challenge for the disciples as well. The Jews had been waiting for lifetimes for a messiah who would be a mighty king. Jesus was about humility and self-sacrifice, he led a life of quiet service to the glory of God. The challenge for the disciples and those gathered on the shore was to look at THIS man and see God. Regardless of the healings Jesus had already done, regardless of his confusing stories, the disciples just couldn’t grasp that this man was the messiah.
37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?”
I don’t know if the disciples took swim lessons when they were youngsters, but regardless, there are no lifejackets in the boat and Mark doesn’t tell us what’s happened to the other boats that were once alongside them. But we are told it is dark. Waves are coming out of nowhere, crashing so hard into the boat that it is full of water and about to sink.
As Jesus lay peacefully sleeping with his head on a cushion—I mean the man is exhausted from preaching! Amen?!—the disciples fear for their lives knowing that any wrong move can lead to death. Finally, I’d love to know the conversation that took place here, they yell, “Jesus, is it not a worry to you that we are going down? That we are going to die?”
39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
We must remember that “water held unfathomable mystery for the ancients; it was forceful and unknowable and entirely unpredictable.” Think to the stories of Noah and the flood, to the Exodus when God held the waters back from the Israelites as they were being pursued by Pharaoh’s army, Jonah and the seas that force him overboard into the belly of the big fish…or any of our psalms including today’s call to worship that name God as mighty ruler of the seas. The only one who could control this symbol of chaos was the ruler of the cosmos, Lord over all. In the Gospel of Mark, while the identity of Jesus as Messiah is boldly pronounced to outsiders (like the man with the demonic spirit), it is always a whisper to the disciples. Remember, “just as he was”? They never quite get who Jesus is. So when they ask, “Who then is this, that even the cosmos listen to him,” they know they have somehow been in the presence of God. If God is the controller of chaos, then certainly Jesus controlling the waters here is a clear sign that he is the Messiah, God with us, and it is then that they are truly filled with awe and fear.
Another thing I love about this gospel is how Mark intentionally and mysteriously patterns and sandwiches his stories. It adds more of that layered meaning I mentioned earlier. Our story comes smack at the end of a string of parables (the parables of the sower, growing seed, and Mustard seed) and at the beginning of a series of miracles (the healing of the Gerasene Demoniac, the woman with the heavy flow, and the girl restored to life).
One scholar puts it this way: Mark 4 is surrounded by a remarkable set of contrasts. One the one hand, the kingdom of God, though powerful, looks weak to those who can only look at it with secular vision. On the other hand, Jesus no sooner says this than he performs miracles, which reveal his cosmic Lordship. This simple carpenter’s son somehow is able to tame creation, root out the demonic, conquer death, rout disease, feed the hungry.” 
And yet, they still shout to Jesus, fearful of perishing as He peacefully sleeps knowing and trusting in the Father. Why didn’t they get it? Why did they still not know who Jesus was?
Why don’t we?
Our own Richard Diebert has written a commentary on Mark, and remarks that the rebuking of the disciples from Jesus isn’t about their fear; it’s about their lack of confidence. He says, “Mark forces the question: Are you convinced yet, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, [nor principalities] nor height, nor depth, nor any other chaos threatening creation can separate you from God? Or have you still no faith?” 
After the disciples witness Jesus bring an instant calm to the storm, there can be no confusion. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is God with us, and God is with us in the storm.
Eugene Peterson in The Message translates verse 39 “(39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”) to :”he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, "Quiet! Settle down!" The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass.
The wind ran out of breath. It lost all its power.
The presence of Jesus in that boat is not merely about a God who shares our predicament amid the storms of life. This isn’t a strategy for coping—that’s just not enough. The presence of Jesus in that boat is about the power of Jesus, who can do something about the storms, who offers us a promise of salvation just “as he was.”
With Jesus, the wind runs out of breath.
This last week I was with our youth and advisors in Montreat as we discerned what it means to be “perfectly imperfect.” We are some broken people. We have suffered loss. We are fearful about our future, we aren’t sure in the world or in ourselves. We give the wind a mighty power.
But I’m reminded by something my mother-in-law says. She says everyone is walking wounded. Do you know one night at our devotion as we gathered I asked for them to raise their hand if they felt somehow broken. Do you know not a single hand stayed down? And I imagine that if I asked the same question here, most of you would also raise your hands.
I have a friend whose teenage daughter was in ICU and who needed to have a procedure done that could risk her life, but if wasn’t done was even more of a risk. My friend stalled going in and talking to her daughter because she didn’t know what to say, and she was scared what she did say would be the last words her daughter heard. When she finally went into the hospital room her words were this: I love you and God loves you.
She made the choice to trust in the Lord with all her heart and all her soul and all her might. She trusted in the resurrection and stood firm in the hope that no matter what the outcome nothing could separate her daughter from the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
She allowed Jesus to be in the boat with her and giving him the power to take the breath out of the wind.
Friends, so long as Jesus is in the boat, during calm and in the squalls we have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, [nor principalities] nor height, nor depth, nor any other chaos threatening creation can separate us from God.
Let us pray:
And so Jesus, please come now. We invite you right into our boat. Will you please give us your very own peace? It's so much stronger than the storms of this world and the storms of our hearts. Please come to every anxious mind and make us still. Through every scary experience, through every hard challenge, keep us with you till the night is over and the storms have passed and your morning comes again. In your name we ask it. Amen.
 Van Hern, Roger E (ed), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Eerdmans Publishing (Gran Rapids: 2001), 206-9.
 Ibid, 208-9.
 Deibert, Richard, Interpretation Bible Studies: Mark, Geneva Press (Louisville: 1999), 46.
 Ched Meyers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books (Maryknoll:1988) 194-7.
 Van Hern, Roger E (Ed), 207.
 Deibert, Richard, Interpretation Bible Studies: Mark, Geneva Press (Louisville: 1999) 45.
 Brueggemann, Cousar, Gaventa, Newsome, eds, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B, Westminster/John Knox Press (Louisville: 1993), 401.