Mark 4: 25-41
Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
Fort Collins, CO
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
35 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?" NRSV
35Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, "Let's cross over to the other side of the lake."36They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along. 37Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, "Teacher, don't you care that we're drowning?" 39He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, "Silence! Be still!" The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40Jesus asked them, "Why are you frightened? Don't you have faith yet?" 41Overcome with awe, they said to each other, "Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!" Bible, Common English with Apocrypha - eBook [ePub] (Kindle Locations 39334-39340). Kindle Edition.
I knew when I read this story again that I had preached on it before. So I looked back at my sermons. Yep! Twice before in the six and a half years I have been at Plymouth. Most likely before that at one or two of the other churches I have served. And I distinctly remember an intergenerational Biblical storytelling event I led many years ago when a wonderfully, feisty and well-spoken, tiny and very blonde four year old – Helena – played Jesus in the storm-tossed boat. She stilled the waves with no fear and no uncertain command!
In 2015, this was my text here at Plymouth just days after the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC where nine African-American members were shot by a young white man interrupting a Bible study. In June 2018 when we read and considered this text together, there was a volcano in Hawaii erupting and destroying homes, huge floods in Vietnam killing people, a large, fatal mining accident in China, a terrorist bomb in Ethiopia that killed over 150, conflict in Syria and at the border of Gaza, the worst e coli outbreak in many years in the US and political turmoil due to our government’s administration. Now today, we hear the story of Jesus stilling the storm again as we prepare to re-open our church building for worship after a pandemic shut-down we could not have even imagined 3-6 years ago. Not to mention the political and societal events of the last 16 months.
So many “storms.” It seems, there are always “storms” in to ride out in life. No wonder this story shows up not only in 3 out of four canonical gospels. The older I get the more I realize that there is not as much smooth sailing in life as I imagined there would be when I was younger. It seems that more often than not, we are all just holding on for the ride! Like the disciples in that storm-tossed boat on that large, large lake called the Sea of Galilee.
Do you think they argued about waking up Jesus? “Let him sleep! He’s been teaching and preaching all day standing in this rocking boat! So many crowds. Everyone wanting healing! He is so tired. We can handle this storm!” “I don’t know, its getting really bad … we are starting to take on water – fast! I think we need help!” “Nah, we just have to steer carefully….besides what can he do? He’s not a fisherman.” “He can help bail!” The tension grows and the storm worsens until even the most seasoned of the fishermen are afraid and they all cry out, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are drowning?” And Jesus is suddenly awake.
I think we tell this story time and again because time and again we need to hear Jesus words. We need to hear him shout out to the storm, “Silence! Be still!” or more literally from the Greek, “Be Silent! Be Muzzled!” “Hush!” And the story tells us there was a great calm, a dead calm. Whew…..let’s just take a deep breath….then let it all out….Can we stay here for a moment in the calm?
Personally, I would like to stay for much more than a moment….how about staying in this calm, breathing deeply, out of danger, protected in the presence of Jesus’ powerful stilling of the storm for a really long time? I need to catch my breath big time! How about you?
That is the beauty of story and why stories like this one bear repeating time after time. We can always come back to this healing moment. We can read or tell ourselves this story every day and come back to this moment of Jesus’ stilling, calming presence in the storms of our lives and catch our breath. We live in the middle of many exterior storms in life, the storms of politics and pandemics, the storms of racism and poverty and gun violence, the storms of conflict in our families and in our workplaces, on the playground, in school. However, I will venture to say that the storms we carry around inside our minds and hearts are even more frightening and exhausting – the storms of fear and anxiety, of worry, of being overly competitive, of greed, of insecurity, of seeking to control things that we really have no control over. The inside storms interact with the exterior storms and cause us even more pain and suffering. How often do you feel that you are living in a whirlwind?
So come back to this moment when Jesus says, “Silence! Be Still! Enough already!” Breathe deep and let your hands unclench from the sides of the boat or the oar you are holding to help row the boat or the rudder to steer the direction or the rope for the sail that guides the power momentum of the wind. You don’t have to let go of those things completely, just relax the white-knuckled grip…for just a moment and catch your breath in the calm of Jesus’ powerful presence. And listen. To the quiet. To the gentle lapping of water against the boat. To the breathing of those around you, you are not alone. To your own beating heart. Just listen and breathe for a time.
We have been through such tumultuous times together in this little boat we call the church. We have weathered extreme changes, tacking right and left abruptly, to stay on course. Bailing water so as not to sink. Adapting to all the changes and confronting the conflicts of the last 16 months. We have done well…. And let’s not forget why…Jesus, God- With-Us, is in our boat. At times like these it is tempting to push ahead with the adrenaline panic of the storm we have just come through. But we do not need to do that! Because God-With-Us is present and brings us calm. We are still in the boat together out in the middle of the lake. We still have to reach the other side safely. This is true. There is so much planning to do as we re-open our building, as we learn to be church in person again, as we incorporate all we have learned by being forced to do church, to be church in new ways. So much planning as we hire and call new staff, prepare for them to come. Planning as we incorporate online worship with live worship, welcoming new friends who have joined us through the internet. Planning to do as we implement the goals and tasks of our new strategic plan that calls us to outreach and mission on unknown shores. I am tempted to be completely overwhelmed.
But Jesus is in the boat! Calming the waves and the wind. And in the quiet I hear him say to me, to us, “Why are you frightened? Don't you have faith yet? You have come through the storms and I was with you the whole time. Can you rest in, take heart in, trust in God’s presence?” This is an image I will literally take with me into my work as we move ahead as church. I need this image to calm the interior storms in my heart and mind and soul knowing I have little to no control over the exterior storms of life.
We are headed to new shores of mission as a faith community just as the disciples in the boat were headed with Jesus to the country of the Gentiles where he would proclaim God’s good news of love and forgiveness and demonstrate God’s healing power. God has work for us to do, but we cannot do it all on our own power. We need God’s powerful calming presence to help us steer the boat, to remind us to breath and not to bicker with one another, to have each other’s backs as we engage the work of God in new ways. We need to hear the message, “Do not be afraid. Have faith. Trust in my presence.”
There is a beautifully, poetic song titled, “The Wood Song” written by Emily Saliers, one of the Indie rock duo, “The Indigo Girls.” I think it is a song about faith communities and I know that Emily was steeped in such communities growing up as the daughter of two faithful people who I had the privilege to know when I lived in Atlanta, GA. One was a librarian who led wonderful reading hours for children and one a seminary professor who taught worship and liturgy. The imagery in “The Wood Song” is about being in a boat together during stormy times and the refrain goes like this:
“But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we'll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we'll have missed the point
That's where I need to go.”[i]
“That where I need to go” to that place of faith and trust where I can hear the voice of Jesus, God-With-Us, say “Silence! Peace! Be Still. Have faith.” I think you and I know that the weather will not hold – at least for long. Yet there is calm in the midst of the storm and we will make it to the other side, just holding on the ride, since we have God-With-Us in the boat. Are you with me?
©The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, 2021 and beyond. May be reprinted with permission only.
Associate Minister Jane Anne Ferguson is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. Learn more about Jane Anne here.