Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
June 24, 2018
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?”
The disciples feared for their lives. Jesus was asleep. I am not sure why they woke Him. It wasn’t because they wanted Him to still the storm. It’s obvious by their astonishment after Jesus stills the sea. Their response? They were filled “with a great awe” and they wondered who Jesus might be, indeed, what He might be. They wouldn’t be so awed if Jesus had done what they already thought He could do. So maybe all they wanted from Jesus was another set of hands to help right the vessel. It is hard to watch your partner sleep while you are working in the kitchen. I can imagine it was hard to see Jesus taking His rest as your life was about to slip under the waves. Or maybe they just wanted something more than indifference to their plight. Jesus is asleep. His is going to sleep through their extinction and what’s more, He is going to go to His death without the fear that possessed them. Maybe what they wanted was some sense that Jesus was with them at the time of their death. Perhaps they wanted both His hands and His heart, but the text is clear that stilling the storm was not the reason Jesus’ slumber was shattered by their fear.
What had brought them to this point of panic, of having them shout over the wind to he heard, of waves breaking over the gunnels? In the great economy of the Bible we are told that they are crossing “to the other side.” In Culpepper’s commentary he informs the reader that “crossing to the other side” of the Sea of Galilee is to go from a region dominated by Gentiles to one occupied by Jews. It is not merely water that is crossed but two different worldviews. Jesus is going from one set of people who see themselves as God’s chosen to another group who are seen as unclean. From the ghettoes of America to the affluence of the suburbs. From a group that doesn’t perceive itself as privileged to one that sees the police as a threat. From those seeking refugee from violence to those who are blind to the fear of children. Jesus and the disciples cross to the other side and a storm erupts, chaos descends and fear cripples their vision.
The church is like a ship on the Sea of Galilee. We are to be in the “between space” where the determination of a person’s worth is in the hands of God and not the banks, where people who speak a foreign tongue are not to be feared but welcomed into the family of God, where those who seek a sanctuary of peace find a home, where our final allegiance is not given to a nation’s flag but to the cross of Christ. The between space. And if you think you can cross to the other side without conflict and trial, you have not read the New Testament. Here is a challenge I put to you all. Find a place in the Bible where there is no conflict. Conflict is woven into the human experience. So when a church wants to avoid conflict, it is seeking to avoid life. There will always be a choice to be made between truth and a lie, between fear and faith, between light and darkness. The church does not exist above these realities. The church comes closer to the Kingdom of God when it embraces Jesus and dares to seek the light. We must be that community that resides in the space between the other side.
Their ship was tossed. All seemed lost and in the midst of the fear and confusion, there was Jesus taking His rest. So note that the storm was not avoided because Jesus was aboard. The storm came. The peril was real.
So it is for us. Times will come for the church when it must stand against the rulers of this world and the perversion of law. Such a time was before us when children were taken from their parents. The law had been broken. Consequences await, but a nation that would allow such trauma to be inflicted on children fleeing violence, perpetrates violence of a different kind. So voices within the church were raised. Roman Catholic Bishops went to the border to protest this evil. Evangelical leaders spoke against it. The Rev. Dr. Lynn Bujnak, Executive Minister of the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ encouraged us all to take action. It has ended because people of compassion would not allow it to stand. There are moments in history, in our lives, in our homes and at work when we need to heed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said:
The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.
The cross of Christ becomes real for us when the way of humanity is crossed by the way of God. At that intersection between God’s intention and our willful way is the conflict the church must address. Conflict, my friends, does not mean that Jesus has left us. Like long ago, He is with us in the storm tossed boat as we cross to the other side. Louis Aragon reminds us:
Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.
Jesus does not call us to avoid this clash between good and evil but to engage it. And when we do, we will find the cross we were meant to carry.
What saved the disciples must not be lost upon us. It was Jesus. He was there when they set out. Jesus was aboard when the storm descended. All along, Jesus sailed with them.
He is with the church. He is with you. Storms may come. Our ships may be tossed, but Jesus is there.
What finally saved them, what will finally save us, is not simply the presence of Jesus. Jesus as a passenger on our ships of life must be awakened. The disciples had the good sense to awaken Jesus. How long had they struggled against the wind? How long had the waves threatened to swamp them? We, like them, use all of our cunning and skill to right our lives, discern the right path, quell the storm. I don’t know why this is. Maybe we want to think of ourselves as fully capable – strong enough, smart enough. Maybe we want credit for having brought the ship safely home. For whatever reason we allow great storms to batter us about and torment our peace. The disciples awakened Jesus, so, too, must we.
The sea is stilled with but a word from Christ. Yet note a truth. They have yet to arrive at the other side. I don’t think clearly when anger fills my heart. I have difficulty discerning options when fear has hold of me. They must be tamed before I can reach the other side. It is this that Jesus gives us.
Asleep in the stern. How can Jesus sleep while the waves rage? Whether the ship stays afloat or succumbs to the angry waves, God will triumph. The survival of the church my personal triumph, I believe they are what God desires. But the waves come. The wind howls. In the din we cannot hear the voice of Jesus, in the darkness, we cannot see. Yet Jesus is with us and if we but stir Him, He can be awakened in our hearts and the darkness gives way to light and the sea is calmed. Our poor little boats float on out to sea. Into a storm tossed, conflict between truth and falsehood. Oh, the sea will rage, but we travel with a slumbering giant. Awaken the Christ within and the sea will be calmed. Let us pray…
i Mark 4:35-41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”