Jesus Calms the Storm
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Have any of you ever been in a storm? Maybe you have been where a tornado set down? Or, on a cruise ship being followed to port by a hurricane, like I was once? Most of you who are over the age of 30 and have lived in North Carolina for more than 25 years can tell where you were or what you were doing on September 21 & 22, 1989 as Hurricane Hugo moved across western North Carolina. We have all heard those stories. Or about how schools closed across the state as forecasters predicted Hurricane Floyd would hit our coast in 1999. Storms. They can be destructive and scary.
But I am going confess to all of you this morning that I love storms. I love watching them from the development to the dark skies, crazy winds and thrashing rain. I especially love those summer thunderstorms that come out of nowhere. The ones where the trees are almost bending to the ground, the rain is coming sideways and there is thunder and distant lightning. I love the smell of the air during and after the storm. There have been times in my life where I have sat out on a covered porch on a swing and watched those storms. But as I tell you I love watching those storms, I do it as long as there is a place of safety close by. I either watch from a closed in porch or from inside my house with the curtains pulled back and maybe the sliding glass door open. I do not like them when I am out driving my car and I would especially not like it if I was in a boat. I want to know there is something, or someone, to give me support in the storm.
And that is exactly where the disciples find themselves in this morning’s scripture. They are out on the Sea of Galilee headed for some time of rest when literally out of the blue with shattering and terrifying suddenness a storm appears. It was not unusual for such a storm to occur. And the fishermen who were with Jesus would have known about these storms. But when it happened to them, they were afraid.
Let’s think about the boat they were on. About 30 years ago, just such a boat was found in the Sea of Galilee that dates back to the time of Jesus, although there is no evidence that it was a boat Jesus used. It is called the Jesus Boat and Nancy brought me a replica from her recent trip. The actual boat was about 25 feet long, 7 ½ feet wide and 4 feet high. And there were 12 men and Jesus in it. There were probably 4-6 rowers and a helmsman, as well, that we do not hear about in the scripture passage. As you might imagine, it was quite a tight fit. And in a storm, any of you who are boaters know, the sails would have been lowered. So, there they are, in the boat, sails down, being tossed from side to side and up and down as a storm rages all around them. And there was Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat.
The disciples were afraid, much like we would be in such a situation, so they call out to their leader, Jesus, to help them. Jesus awakens, says, “Peace! Be still!” and the storm stops. Most of us are familiar with this story. And for most of us, this is where it ends. It is referred to by many as one of the miracle stories. But there is so much more in the passage after Jesus quiets the storm.
Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” To me, that is the point of the passage, the lack of faith of the disciples when the storm is raging. Are we any better than the disciples when life’s storms are raging around us? Do we trust God’s presence? Or do we cry out asking where God is when we need him?
Of all the stories in the New Testament, perhaps this story is most symbolic of the Christian church. For you see, we are now the disciples in the boat. This very day you sit in what is called the nave of the church, and nave is the Latin word for ship. The Christian community has always used as the symbol of its life the ship on storm-tossed waves with the cross on top of the ship. Even Duke Divinity School uses a boat with a cross on it as their logo. You are now in the boat with Jesus Christ, and the storms are raging outside.
In today’s account, Jesus is asleep, the picture of quiet confidence in the power of the God who made both land and sea. Jesus sleeping reflects his confidence in divine providence. But the disciples are not quite there. The disciples have Jesus with them on the boat and yet the storm comes up. The disciples have not yet been transformed by the awareness that God is actively present in Jesus’ ministry. Their cowardice reflects their old world, which regards God as absent and uninvolved. Think about it. The disciples had enough faith to walk away from their old lives and follow Jesus. But they did not have enough faith to withstand the storm, even though Jesus was right there with them.
This story has always been important to the Christian faith because it is evidence that having Jesus with us in the boat is never a guarantee that there will not be storms in our lives. And even though Jesus is with us, many of us, like the disciples, lose hold of our faith. In their fear they expected Jesus to care about them and to save them from danger.
On the human level, we often act like the disciples. We expect others to share our panic or distress. If they seem detached from the situation, we accuse them of not caring about our suffering. Panic reactions can divide us from others who might help just as they can cause us to doubt God’s love for us. The disciples just wanted Jesus to care. They did not place any request on Jesus for action.
This lack of a request raises the question of whether the disciples believe that Jesus can rescue them from the storm and about their trust in Jesus. This causes Jesus to question, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The disciples are following Jesus yet they don’t really trust him. Faith primarily means trust; which the disciples lacked. In order to transcend fear, the disciples must recognize that Jesus is not a human being with unusual abilities to preach, heal and exorcise. They must acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God.
Yet, the disciples still question who Jesus is. And, they are still afraid. Do you find it curious, at the end of the storm, that the disciples are still afraid?
Will Willimon, one of our retired bishops, says there are two kinds of fear. There’s the fear of the death-dealing storm. It is that fear we have when we get a bad medical report. The fear we had after 9-11. We cry out, “Jesus, don’t you care that we perish?” It is a sort of Good Friday fear. Good Friday fear expects, predicts and even accommodates death.
How many of you know people who are persistently in a Good Friday state of mind? Nothing is ever good, everyone is against them, and life is just the pits. I know people like that. You try and help them find the good, point out accomplishments, but they never see it. Good Friday fear rules their lives.
But then, there is the second kind of fear. It is fear of good news, Easter fear. We often think of Easter as a joyous time but the emotion on that first Easter morning was anything but joy. It was fear. Later in Mark we hear of the women coming out to the garden where the angel announces, “He is risen from the dead! Go, tell!” The women didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid. Afraid of what you might ask? They were afraid that Easter might be true! Easter fear is the fear that Jesus is who he says he is and now we have to turn control over to God. Easter fear leads us not only to wake Jesus and ask if he cares but also to seek his help.
We all operate out of some kind of fear. We fear having to give up control of our lives when we turn them over to God. And really, how many of us actually do give up control? Oh, we like to say we want God to guide us but we are not very good at humbly submitting to God’s guidance. We are all like the disciples. We can talk a good game but when push comes to shove, we question God every time. When the disciples suddenly show a lack of trust in God’s power through Jesus and even accuse Jesus of not caring, we are all challenged to examine our faith. Doubts about God often emerge in times of crisis.
In times of tumult and grave danger, a natural human reaction is to wonder whether or not there is a God, and if so, whether God is even aware of my problem. We cry out to God in the midst of our storm, “Don’t you care?” We try to wake God up to take care of us. At such times this text speaks to our condition. It pictures Jesus in the boat with us and concerned for us even when we do not perceive his care.
When the disciples suddenly show a lack of trust in God’s power through Jesus and even accuse Jesus of not caring, it challenges us to examine our own faith. A suspicion that God does not really care what happens to us will corrode our religious life. It causes us to doubt and turn away. But, the weaknesses exhibited by Jesus’ disciples can be good news for us. It encourages us to persist despite doubts about God’s saving presence. It encourages us to trust God even in the storms.
When the disciples realized the presence of Jesus with them, the storm became calm. Once they knew he was there, fearless peace could enter their hearts. To voyage with Jesus was to voyage in peace, even in a storm. In the presence of Jesus, we can have peace even in the wildest storms of life. God does not abandon us to the storms that threaten to annihilate us. In Romans 8, we hear Paul testify that nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, that includes the storms of life.
I want us to think about being in that boat with the disciples. I have already told you it was not a very large boat. There were probably around 18 men actually in the boat so there was not much room for moving around. Suddenly this great storm, one that must have been so severe as to cause fear in the fishermen in the group, comes along. And your leader, the one who got you in the boat in the first place, is laid out in the back, sleeping. I cannot imagine the overwhelming feeling of fear, anger and disbelief they must have had.
But at the same time, these men had enough faith in Jesus that when he told them to drop everything, their jobs, their families, and follow him, they did it. Yes, they had some questions but basically they followed. Yet when faced with a storm, they question.
I am hoping that sets off some warning alarms for some of you. I know it does for me. I have faith in Jesus. I trust him and believe in him and know that he is there. I sat aside the plans I had for my life to answer God’s call to full-time ministry. But when those storms of life start raging, I struggle to remember that.
We all have storms in our lives, those things that batter and throw us down and often bring us to our knees. Death, divorce, loss of a job, sickness, unexpected expenses, hurtful words exchanged with friends. They are all storms and their severity can differ. They batter us, they throw us around, and they can cause us to forget our faith. Just like the disciples, when those storms bring us to our knees, instead of taking time to talk to God, we try to get up by ourselves and we end up crying out, “Come on God, do you not care?” I am not sure what it is about our human condition that in those storms, instead of remembering everything we have learned about Jesus and proclaimed about God, we turn to worldly things. I know people who try to solve their problems by reading horoscopes or getting their palms or cards read. Others turn to people who they think will tell them what they want to hear or people who do not share their faith. We search for help in any number of ways instead of focusing on the one who is already there, God.
There are storms raging all around us. You know what the storms are around you. You know what the storms in your own life are. Today you might have them under control. Tomorrow you may not.
In the storms, we do not just lose or forget about our faith, we sometimes lose our minds. But friends remember this: Jesus does not promise us that if we follow him our lives will be smooth sailing. Jesus promises that he will be with us to the end. When I confessed to you that I love storms, I also told you as long as there is safety close by. Remember that Jesus is close by. We will endure storms. We will face difficulties in our lives. But we must remember that Jesus walks beside us. Just like the disciples, Jesus is in the boat with us. Jesus suffers through the storms with us. And Jesus gives us the assurance that God will always be present, even if the boat tips over, and that tomorrow will come. And in tomorrow will be the calm.
Jesus demonstrates the power to protect and care for his church—his disciples. There are no storms that by the power of Jesus Christ his people cannot endure. Jesus does care and is able to keep his people from sinking and falling into the full power and control of evil.
There is no doubt that the storms will rage. There is no doubt that we will face difficult times in our lives. What is in doubt is who we will turn to for help. Who will be with you in the storms? Amen.