(Also: Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2009; Mark 4:35-41)
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We know storms. Today’s readings are all full of storms.
In Job, God speaks to Job out of a storm (some translations call it a whirlwind). Up until this point in the book, Job has wanted to confront God for the trouble he’s having. You remember about Job, how he lost everything, his wealth, his family, and his health. His friends sit around him and tell him that all of things that are happening to him are some kind of punishment for sin, if not outright sin, than some hidden sin Job isn’t aware of. But Job insists that there’s nothing that he’s done, he doesn’t deserve the storm of trouble that’s happening to him. He complains that if he could just plead his case before God, he’d get answers. Our reading is the beginning of God’s response to Job “out of the whirlwind.” Finally, in the middle of Job’s stormy life, God speaks to Job. Only it’s not the response Job is expecting. It’s not an answer we’d be happy with either. “Who are you to question me?” God says, “Where you around when I created everything? I’m the one who made everything. Were you there when I created everything?”
God puts Job in his place. It’s just not the kind of answer we think we want from God. There’s not compassion or comfort there. It’s just as if he drives another nail in Job’s coffin. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions about why he is suffering. God doesn’t justify his actions or pacify. And Job bows in humility and fear, his storms are not calmed by God (yet!).
In the Gospel lesson, which is actually the text for our meditation, the storm is a little different.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41, ESV)
This storm is no less real than the storm faced by Job, and no less real than the storms that we face every spring, real storms, with real consequences. For the disciples they are afraid of drowning in the lake. If you’ve ever been out on a choppy lake during a storm you know the fear. As the waves grow and begin to splash over the sides of the boat you imagine the boat disappearing under the dark green foamy water. What will you do? Swim, how will you know which way to go, how will you keep afloat with the rain and wind. The fear is real. The disciples were afraid… for their lives. What a contrast to Jesus sleeping in the boat! Here he is sleeping soundly in a boat that’s filling with water and about to sink. And finally the disciples can’t bear the fear any more. And Jesus lying on the cushion sound asleep exasperated the whole experience. They were facing death and Jesus doesn’t seem to care! So they wake him up. “How could you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you care if we drown? There’s real danger here and you’re just sleeping your life away, and ours!” Jesus doesn’t answer their question but speaks directly to the water. “Quiet! Be still!” I imagine him looking also at the disciples as if to say “you too!” The wind and the waves react instantly. As soon as Jesus speaks the wind is silent and the waves calm. It’s a great contrast from complete storm to complete stillness, in an instant. Opposite of the great contrast that is seen in Jesus; great calm while sleeping to calming the storm. I wonder, do you see the connection to the reading from Job?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:8-11, ESV)
Jesus mastery of nature is striking in the way He commands the waves and they obey. Just look at the disciples surprising response. They don’t lose their fear its focus only changes. And they ask the important question. “Who is this? Who is this that sleeps one moment and controls the storm in the next?” It is a question of faith and fear. “Why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks them. After all the disciples had witnessed, it appeared that they still didn’t know who he was. And yet right there in that boat they had all they needed to see. Jesus was sleeping, clearly a human being who needed sleep. He ate and slept, and drank and walked, and talked with them every day. He is as human as they were. And also he controlled the waves as easily as they threw their fishing net into the water. He was the one who set the boundary for the waves. Jesus is God; God speaking from the midst of the storm just like he did for Job.
You see, this text isn’t about how Jesus calms the storms of our life. As much as we want it to be true, God never promises that faith in him means that we won’t suffer from bad things in our lives. Look at Job. He suffered a great deal, but never found out why he suffered. He never knew the purpose. Job was a man of great faith. We often think about his patience but really it’s all about his faith… that is letting God be God and never knowing why he suffered through the storm. This text is about God being God; it’s about Jesus Christ being truly God, and Jesus Christ being truly man. And how God reconciled the real cause of storms in the world by sending Jesus his son, in human flesh. The storms of this world, tornados and social problems, earthquakes and broken families are our own fault. Sin is at the root. Sin causes pain and separation. Sin causes death. To be in sin, which all of us are, is to have a stormy relationship with God, instead of a perfect one. And that stormy relationship means that we don’t deserve anything from God, especially his protection, and presence in the storms we create. But he came anyway, in Jesus Christ. Jesus calms the storm between God and man, by taking the punishment instead of us. He brings God to us by suffering and dying and rising again.
That is what our faith is all about. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, ESV) That’s the content of our faith. That’s the important thing about what we believe. Christianity is specifically about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. The fact that he came to earth God and Man to live a perfect life for you and me, suffer and die on the cross for human sin. To reconcile us to God by paying the punishment of sin, suffering hell on the cross for us. But when the storms of life gather around us we forget who Jesus is. Well maybe we don’t actually forget but we act as if it doesn’t matter who he is. And that’s what also places us there in the boat with the disciples, being afraid of the storm. Our storm may not be the spinning cloud that passes through town, but what about the turmoil in our family that seems to be tearing it apart? No matter how hard you try you can’t seem to put it back together. You’re afraid you’ll never again have a whole family. What about the disease that won’t let go of you, and threatens to take away everything you have. Or the heart problem, or stroke, or illness that strikes without warning. Or the storm of being so busy that you can’t stop even to breath for fear of missing something important. You see all those storms leave us afraid and we shout out, “God don’t you care what’s happening to me, I’m afraid, and you don’t seem to be doing anything!” Just like the disciples we’ve forgotten who God really is. We forget that he’s in the midst of the storm. We forget about Jesus and what he promises us.
But Jesus knows about our storms because he isn’t a God who stands back and hurls lightning bolts at us from heaven. He is a God who became a man and lived among us. Right here in the midst of our storms, in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our pain. Jesus Christ knows what it means to suffer through them. He suffered, just like we do and more. He knows the storm of separation caused by death. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He knows the storm caused by illness. He walked among the crowds that pressed in on him for healing. He had compassion on them, but he didn’t heal them all. No matter what’s troubling you Jesus Christ knows your storm. He can and does take care of us. He is God. He is the very same God who created everything. He is the God who set the boundaries for the sea and formed the mountains with his very words. He is in control of everything, from the smallest flapping of the butterfly’s wing, to the formation of clouds and the waves that lap against the seashore. That’s Jesus standing in the boat with the disciples calming the storm around them, speaking in the midst of the whirlwind.
But he doesn’t always calm the storm. Job had to suffer for a very long time. You and I have storms that never seem to end. What is Jesus doing about that? Well, he hasn’t left us alone to deal with the storms of life, even if he doesn’t just make them go away. Jesus Christ the God-Man who died, and rose again for us has provided us with special gifts to help us weather the storm. These are things that he gives us freely and abundantly. And he gives them to you right here.
Right here in this place he speaks his word to you. Storm or calm, week after week, month after month, year after year, His very words of comfort and strength are given to you. What does he say to you? He gives you promises. Promises that he will always be with you, you are not alone in the storm. You don’t have to leave your bed and crawl in with mom and dad, when the thunder rolls; Jesus is with you wherever you are. The disciples were in the boat with Jesus; the storm was nothing to worry about. Over and over again Jesus makes that promise to you. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV)
God doesn’t promise no storms or burdens but he promises that he’ll help you bear it. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV)
These are the kind of promises of God makes to you, given in his word. And don’t forget that those promises are true for you because he has claimed you to be his own. Look at the font here. Here God reaches out and grabs you in your storm. Here he makes you his child. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)
That promise to be with us is no more sure and certain for us than it is here at this altar. Here he comes to us in his very body and blood. In the midst of our storm we can take hold of Jesus Christ himself, as we hold out our hand and make for him “the very throne of God!” We handle him, touch him and see him… and he gives us strength in this food to stand in the storm, but not strength to stand on our own, strength to stand because he gives is promise and keeps his promises.
Will the storms all go away? Will Jesus always stand up and “rebuke” the demons that threaten us? Nope. Life is still full of stormy days. Look what that storm did for the disciples. They got a lesson about turning to Jesus. They needed to be reminded who he is. That’s what the storms do for us too. They remind us that we can’t go it alone. They remind us that God is in control of everything. They remind us that we need to depend on him more and more every day. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.