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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 21, 2015

First I had a job and then I didn’t. Then I had another job and then I didn’t. Then it happened again. These times of unemployment were scary. I didn’t have a huge amount of savings and wondered how I would get through. So I started looking. I worked really hard and wasn’t getting anywhere. I certainly wondered where God was in all this. I asked for God’s presence and felt God’s absence. Then when I got a job I was so relieved. Then the next time rolled around and the same thing happened all over again. I felt like I had to trust myself and I wasn’t very trustworthy when it came to getting a job because so many people were out there looking. But every time I found one. And every time I did I changed. Jesus helped me get a job and my faith grew little by little. But when I look at the job market out there now, I am glad I have a job. I would have trouble trusting again when I know people who have been out of work for two years. Every time I take the job hunting journey, I am changed.

A journey with God always means change (David Lose). Jesus told the disciples they would go in a boat across the Sea of Galilee at night. They were making a crossing from the Jewish countryside to the Gentile world, quite a change. Jesus has just finished telling the parables we heard last week and instructing his disciples and teaching the people, probably from the same boat he went across the sea in. Jesus and his disciples knew that the Sea of Galilee was unpredictable and storms came in frequently, but Jesus knew at least four of his disciples were experienced fisherman. So he got in the boat, laid down on the back cushion and went straight to sleep because he was so tired. Jesus also trusted God to take care of him and didn’t feel any need to be in control. When was the last time you trusted God to take care of you and did not need to be in control? When was the last time you could choose control or no control and chose the latter option? Most of us don’t do that very well. We are afraid God will not keep us safe and somehow we have to do it ourselves, even though God is mightier than we are. Or we think God won’t give us what we want, so we try to control God instead of giving up and letting go. We don’t have much faith some of the time.

Then the storm comes along. Their boat is being battered by the wind and the waves. The disciples are trying hard to save the boat, but they are losing the battle. The strong winds and waves swamp the boat and they are in danger of sinking. Yet there is Jesus on the cushion, sleeping away, regardless of the rain falling on his clothes. Who knows what they want when they wake Jesus. Maybe they just want another pair of hands to row or to bail. Or maybe they have some inkling, given what he has done before, that he might be a source of help. Jesus has exorcised demons before, and the sea was thought to represent the forces of chaos, threatening to destroy the world. I have felt like I was fighting the forces of chaos alone sometimes. When I got a divorce, when I went through the selection process for the priesthood, when I moved, it seemed like chaos was all around, threatening to upend the world as I knew it. Has that ever happened to you? When you had so much to do and your feelings were just raw and you couldn’t stop it. That was the way the disciples felt. And that is the way we feel sometimes. Maybe we forget to pray or maybe we pray and don’t see an answer and we feel God’s absence in a time when we need God’s presence the most.

At any rate the disciples panic, and who wouldn’t? There is genuinely something to be afraid of. They were about to lose their lives. They are using all the resources they have and the only thing they can see left to try is to wake up Jesus and see what he can do. They are a little miffed that he continues to sleep as they get more and more unsafe. They feel abandoned by God and God’s Son, whom they’re not faithful enough to believe in yet. They wake him with an exasperated cry, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus, why don’t you do something? Jesus why are you sleeping? Jesus save us, all the while not being too terribly sure that Jesus can do this deed.

And there is good news. Despite the disciples’ uncertainty, despite their lack of faith, despite their denseness at not knowing who he is after seeing the many wonders he has performed, Jesus gets up and rebukes the wind (the same rebuke he would use to exorcise a demon) and the wind stops. Then he tells the sea to be still and it is. The power over the natural world was God’s and God’s alone. Jesus could do no more to show that he was God. This great miracle was a glowing signpost pointing to his identity. Yet still the disciples didn’t get it. They didn’t praise, they weren’t glad, they weren’t overcome with joy (Mark W. Edington). They instead were either overcome with awe or “feared with a great fear” as some translations have it. But once again they are afraid. Not for their physical lives but for what changes following this teacher might have for them. They know that God is the one who can calm the sea and stop the wind, but they are not yet ready to understand that Jesus is God. They do not yet understand in Mark that Jesus is the Messiah they are seeking.

Jesus does not tell the disciples that there is nothing to be afraid of because there is. They could have been killed. Jesus’ presence saves them from a threat and brings them safely across to the other side, where they have been changed because they made a journey with Jesus. They have more questions and fewer answers. Before now, they have seen Jesus save others, but now Jesus saves them and it feels different when it happens to you. They know, at least for a while, that Jesus is present with them no matter what is happening.

Jesus asks the disciples the same questions he asks us. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? We have all been afraid of legitimate things and not so legitimate things about which we have such anxiety. Those are the “what ifs” in our lives, the negative thinking that causes us to beat up on ourselves and mistrust God. It is really hard to imagine getting in the boat and sleeping on a cushion, of going about our business and letting God handle things, just like the farmer did in the parable last week. Instead we jump up and down from our seats, run to do one thing and another and generally find ourselves in the midst of chaos we created. Now we certainly have things to do in our fearful situations – row the boat in the stormy seas, get away from the bear – but our protection is the presence of God. Even when something we do not like happens, God is still our refuge and our shield. Much as we would like them to, wind and sea calming are not things that happen today. Very sick people are sometimes, though not often, cured, but they are always made more whole if they ask for it. We don’t like this, and we may think Jesus is asleep at the switch. But he is there, caring and loving and changing us into people who have faith, maybe just a little at a time, but we have it and it grows.

Most of us walk a fine line between fear and faith all the time. I have faith in God for some things and not others. I am growing in faith in some areas of my life, but I still have very limited faith in other areas, which I am working on through prayer and meditation and Scripture study. I recommend them highly, especially arrow prayers, which go to God throughout the day. What do you have faith God will do for you? What storms will Jesus be able to calm in your life and what storms will you have to endure before you ask Jesus for help or accept his answer?

God is there to help us, whether we have faith or fear. Each time God comes through, we hopefully learn something on the journey we have taken. Perhaps next time Jesus asks us these questions, we are not afraid and we are growing solidly in faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

Works cited:
David Lose, “In the Meantime”, blog post, June 15, 2015
Mark D. W. Edington, Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 3, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 168