4th Sunday after Pentecost – Vicar Stoppenhagen
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 4:35-41
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
June 20, 2021
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
After my sermon last week, a little bird said to me, “You know, Vicar, when you preach a life-affirming message about the joy and peace of dwelling God’s kingdom, it reminds me just how outstanding your sermons about fear and trembling, suffering and death really are.” “No need to tell me twice,” I replied. “Ask and you shall receive.” So I was thrilled when I looked at our Gospel lesson for today and saw that we get what I like to call the “Apocalyptic Boat Ride from Hell.” No, I’m not talking about a new water ride at Disney. We’re just spending another Tuesday with Jesus.
But it wasn’t just any old Tuesday, the disciples quickly found out. They had been getting used to the stereotypical “prophet act” that Jesus was playing into. Provocative preaching with agrarian-inspired parables, heart-warming healings of paralytics and sick little kids, and intense exorcising of demons—these were all markers of the prophets of old like Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah. Granted, Jesus was a little more popular than those guys; he had built up a strong following already, greater than any travelling preacher the disciples had seen before. And they were certainly enjoying the recognition, the popularity, and the security of being part of Jesus’ inner ring. But this Tuesday with Jesus was about to take a terrifying turn that would throw all of that into question.
It had been a long day of teaching, eating, and journeying with Jesus, and even Jesus was ready for a break. “Let’s go across to the other side of the sea,” he told the disciples and off they went. Most of the disciples were master fishermen; they could man the little boat in their sleep, if they had to. There was nothing about the water that scared them. Peter took the helm, and Jesus conked out in the cabin. Andrew started re-telling the horror stories they heard growing up, about the Leviathan and other demonic sea creatures that stirred up the waves and worked up the wind into the intense storms that often swept across the Sea of Galilee. But Judas quickly reminded everyone that recent meteorological discoveries proved the storms were caused by the region’s odd geography, and not some demonic activity. “Ah, sweet progress,” they said, “always there to assuage our fears.”
They passed quietly over the calm water, and the sun began to set. But in a matter of minutes, a wall of dark clouds appeared on the horizon, and the waves began beating against the boat. The disciples knew what that meant. Peter readied himself to navigate the tempest. James and John smiled as the thunder rumbled. Everyone else braced themselves. And Jesus slept like a baby with a smile on his face.
Fast forward ten minutes: “Jesus! Don’t you care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and said, “I care that you woke me up…” And he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus asked groggily, “I’m going back to bed.” There was a great calm on the water, but there was not a great calm in the hearts of the disciples. Did they hear him right? Jesus didn’t pray that God would end the storm. Instead, he spoke directly to the wind and the sea—and they obeyed him! This meant only one of two terror-inducing things. Jesus was either a demon, in cahoots with the sea monsters, or he was God, Creator and Lord of all the earth. Earlier that day he had made it clear that Satan can’t cast out Satan, so that only left one choice…God was asleep on the cushion in the back of the boat.
And that is what makes this boat ride from hell apocalyptic. Jesus reveals to the disciples that he’s not just some prophet with a strong spiritual connection to God. He is God himself, the King of all Creation, who has entered his own creation to bring about his kingdom. He’s not just some powerful preacher. His Word actually has power—the power of God—to cast out the demons of this world and restore peace and order to his creation. That’s the way Mark tells the story—with exorcism language. Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves like he rebukes any other demon that he is about to cast out. He’s literally exorcising the hell out of the sea, so that the great calm of his reign can be established through all the earth.
But shouldn’t that make the disciples happy and not scared? True, it would certainly be terrifying to know that the very Son of God is in the boat with you. But he’s on your side! There’s no need to be scared, right? There is one thing this miracle reveals, and I think it’s what really disturbed the disciples. Yes, Jesus is God; but God clearly doesn’t care about our earthly well-being. Notice, Jesus never answered their question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Some people take his calming the storm as an un-spoken “yes,” but that’s not the case. He didn’t calm the storm to make them feel safe and comfortable. Instead, he rebukes the disciples for their timidity and lack of faith. He’s not at all concerned about their physical health; he’s worried about their spiritual well-being.
Now Jesus isn’t saying, “If you had believed hard enough and been more courageous, you could have made it through the storm.” Faith isn’t some talisman that makes us float above the fray of life. Instead, faith for Jesus looks suffering and death in the eyes and says, “Bring it on.” Because we know that death ain’t nothing but a thing. It might mean the end of our earthly life, the end of fame and fortune and glory. But for us who have faith, who believe that Jesus has died and risen again, death means eternal life in the glorious presence of God. Every storm of life, every trial and temptation, every moment that brings us closer to death all serves God’s redemptive purpose.
So if Jesus isn’t as worried about our death as he is about our lack of faith, that begs the question: What should we be worried about? What should we be scared of losing? Should we fear losing our life, or losing our faith? Jesus himself wasn’t concerned about losing his own life. Even as he turned his face to Jerusalem and to the cross, he wasn’t scared of death, and he boldly died the death we deserve.
We should fear losing our faith more than anything else. That’s why one of the best prayer’s we can pray is the prayer of the centurion—“Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” We all face challenges to our faith as we live the Christian life. We all grapple with sin and unbelief; we know the difficulty of remaining faithful to God. Let’s face it—most of the time, life feels like a hurricane, with the constant threat that we might be thrown overboard. And too often we would like to cling to anything but Christ in order to stay afloat.
But nonetheless, Christ remains faithful to us. In the midst of the storm, he has placed us and the rest of his disciples in the boat of his Church. Because it’s in the Church where Christ feeds and strengthens our faith and prepares us for death. And while it might feel like an apocalyptic boat ride from hell, there’s no safer place to be. For we who sail in this little ship of faith are sailing with the Lord. He voyages with us across this wave-tossed life. And even though most of the time it seems like Jesus is carelessly sleeping in the back of the boat, don’t worry. He sleeps with one eye open and a smile on his face.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.