When the storms of life are raging Stand by Me. When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea. Thou who rules wind and water, stand by me.
In the midst of tribulation, Stand by me. When the hosts of hell assail,
and my strength begins to fail,Thou who never lost. battle, stand by me.
In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me. When I do the best I can,
and my friends misunderstand, Thou who knowest all about me, stand by me
How often does it feel like you are in a storm and Jesus is asleep? Are there storms tossing your life around or lurking at your door? We live in constant threat of chaos from life, nature, and sometimes o ur own decisions. There was an Allstate Insurance campaign:
“Mayhem is Coming. Are you in good hands?”
About the unexpected, disastrous, the unthinkable – testing the kind of insurance you carry.
After a long day spent preaching to the crowd, Jesus is sleeping on a cushion in a boat, as his disciples sail to the other side. The wind picks up, the waves crash. Though experienced fishermen, the storm overpowers them.
The sea is a place of contrast – when calm, the sea is a source of food, a means of transportation, a place of renewal and recreation, a symbol of exploration and adventure. But when the wind and storms rise up, the sea becomes wild and untamed, it can be dangerous and overwhelming. Throughout the Bible – From the creation story in Genesis, to the crossing of the Reed Sea in Exodus -The Sea is a place of mythological chaos, against the creative order of God. Ancient peoples prayed to their gods or to the God of Moses & Abraham to keep the sea within its boundaries. Psalm 107: “They cried to God in their trouble.” And the disciples, Filled with panic, desperation & accusation they wake Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are drowning?” This feels like a legitimate question.
Jesus rebukes the wind, and calms the sea. Facing his bewildered disciples. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” It feels like such an unfair question. People really do die in storms at sea. Fear is a reasonable response to a frightening world. It alerts us to pay attention and take measures to protect ourselves. Surrounded by chaos, our attempts to bring order to chaos and injustice are legitimate, if precarious. “Mayhem is lurking around the corner or already here”. Cancers decide they’ve had enough of remission. People in power abuse it and create destruction. We all have places in our lives that don’t feel under our control. This sea, with devils filled, threatens to undo them.
The non-anxious presence Jesus exhibits is in stark contrast to the fear and anxiety of the others. There are times when I am worked up in the midst of chaos that I want other people to be as anxious or concerned and bothered as I am. Because there are legitimate reasons to be fearful and anxious. The sky is falling… and even though Storms can be deadly, the prevailing wisdom is trusting that the source who brought forth life from the watery chaos is with us whenever chaos threatens to undo us.
O Savior, whose almighty word The wind and waves submissive heard,
Who walked upon the foaming deep, And calm amid its rage did sleep:
O hear us when we cry to Thee For those in peril on the sea.
Having faith doesn’t mean that something bad can’t happen, that God protects us from all harm. Human experience tells us that just isn’t true. There are times we are in peril, with good reason to be afraid. Jesus could sleep through the storm because he knew in the depth of his being that God was present, no matter what happened. It is difficult for us to maintain that kind of calm in the face of real danger. Somewhere beneath our fear is the assurance that God is holding us.
Mark surrounds this story with a perplexing set of contrasts. In the chapters preceding it, Jesus describes the kingdom of God as small, secretive, and quiet. The kingdom is like a mustard seed, so tiny it’s almost invisible. The kingdom of God is like a sower scattering seeds — seeds so vulnerable, they’re often snatched by birds or choked by weeds. The kingdom of God is like a farmer whose seeds defy manipulation — they grow when they please.
In the chapters which follow, Jesus manifests a kingdom of dramatic, supernatural power. He casts out demons, raises a little girl from the dead, heals a hemorrhaging woman, feeds 5000 people with bread and fish, and walks on water. To have faith is to hold these two pictures of the kingdom in tension. To allow God to reveal Godself in both. Yes, sometimes Jesus demonstrates his power in miraculous ways; we’re not wrong to hope for such demonstrations. At other times, though, he wants us to trust that his Incarnation — his quiet, abiding presence in our lives — is enough. Sometimes, Jesus’ power is paradoxical; it comes to us in seeming weakness, in quiet whispers and tiny gestures.
The hiddenness of God. Hiddenness, not absence.
We live in the midst of a chaotic and turbulent world, where it is easy to live with what could be called spiritual insomnia. We find ourselves unable to let go and fall asleep. Our minds racing with all the issues of the day calling out to us, creating fear. But, if we can rest in God’s presence and tap into the power of the one who calms the storms, perhaps our own witness of God’s presence can offer a calming word and presence to others. The Good News is that the voice of Jesus who spoke up in the midst of the storm inspires us to raise our own prophetic voice. Jesus’ voice is not calling for us to run and hide, or lie about the truth, or to be cynical and jaded about this world. The voice of Jesus, calls us into relationship and accountability with each other, with God’s Creation, with our community. When those around us are living in fear, perhaps we can be a presence that helps relieve that fear so that faith can take hold in their lives. We are not called to be fearless. We are called to face our fears by knowing that someone greater than our fears is present. We can be afraid but we are not alone. Distressed, but not without a foundation underneath us. Shaken, but not stirred from the faith that holds us fast.
Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV)
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But 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?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Almighty God, you are powerful, and you never sleep nor do you slumber. You are here with us, and you give us power to do great things. Help us to use the power that you give to work with you to bring hope and peace and joy and love to this broken world where demons still run amok. Help us to cast them out and proclaim the kingdom of God that is even now at hand. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.