Lectionary Year B
June 22, 2003
Mark 4:35-41

Step VI: Contemporary Address

Note: There are two sermons offered for this date. The first by DH completes the exegetical steps.



It is a typical hot Texas spring day and it feels like summer is here already. The flies are buzzing around in their regular annoying fashion, sweat is flowing down shirts, running down faces and dripping into eyebrows. Joe and his work crew have been out in the fields all day, mending fences, working with cows and horses, and their arms and legs are heavy. They are tired. And as the sun is finally about to go down, they call it a day. Pete is driving and Joe and a few of his men stretch out on the flat bed of the pick-up. They are headed down to Jarrell to have a beer, a cold, smooth beer, before they go home to their wives and children. Joe draws his hat over his face and after a few minutes he is sound asleep. Never mind the bumps in the road.

Joe is still fast asleep as the pressure drops all of a sudden. The wind is picking up, one can see it in the treetops where the leaves rustle and the branches are wildly waving back and forth. The skies are an uncanny greyish-green. The birds have stopped singing and the calm is almost eerie. Suddenly, a black cloud appears on the horizon. Having grown up in Texas and lived here all his live, Pete knows that this can only be bad news. So he steps on the accelerator and flies down the road toward Jarrell. The guys in the back are holding on for dear life and one of the men is trying to wake up Joe who is still snoozing calmly under his hat. They are yelling at him and shaking him frantically. Finally, he stirs, pushes back his hat and looks up and knows right away that they are in trouble.

The tornado is heading straight down South I35 for Georgetown. And suddenly, just as if it changed its capricious mind, it jumps over I35 and begins heading directly for Jarrell instead. Like a freight train, this monster rolls and twists and twirls its way forward with more than a hundred times the power of the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Rotating around its own axis at about 500 mph and thrusting forward at about 60 mph, it demolishes everything in its path. And nothing, nothing in this world will be able to stop it. Nothing.

You all know how the story ended. You heard it on the radio, read it in the paper and saw the horrible images on TV. What used to be Jarrell is no more. The people lost everything: houses, homes, and, most tragically of all, beloved family members. Perhaps you have friends or family down there yourself--I know John Alsup does. He told me that when he heard about it, he just threw his chainsaw and a few tools into the back of his truck and went straight to Jarrell to help. If you do not have any ties there, I am sure you were just as shocked and horrified as I was--Renita and I were in Virginia when they reported about it on NPR radio--about the mayhem and destruction this grade five spring twister wreaked upon our next door neighbors.

The disciples in today's story were facing a similar situation as the people of Jarrell. They, too, were looking at a whirlwind that was headed straight for them. They did not expect such a storm, which was actually quite common for that time of year at the sea of Galilee, just as common as tornadoes are in a Texas spring. But there it was, a great storm with squalling winds that beat and pounded the waves against the disciples' boat so that it was filling with water. This was the same water that flows from the sea of Galilee and feeds the river Jordan, with whose water our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized earlier, at the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark. The water of salvation and healing all of a sudden is transformed into the water of destruction and death. This storm was serious business. The disciples, those whom Jesus had just elected to be His own, were about to go down to the bottom of the sea. And all they had wanted to do was cross over the water after a hard days work and take a well-deserved break.

Well, we know how the story ends in Mark. The disciples wake the sleeping Jesus who does not seem to be bothered by the raging waters and howling winds. He gets up, simply commands the waters to "Be calm!" and the wind to "Be still!" and everything is suddenly just fine and dandy. The great storm is tamed by Jesus. The boat did not sink and the disciples take a really deep breather. Man, that was close. But this miracle, tremendous as it is, does not truly surprise us, does it? The disciples could not calm this storm--of course not, they were merely human. But Jesus, well, if He is God, if all things were created by Him and for Him as we read in Colossians 1:15 and16, then the calming of such a whirlwind is no big deal. And if He is truly God, then He had better be able to whip up a few of those miracles on the spot.

No, I believe that the miracle of the calming of the storm is less than surprising. Several other things, however, are. First of all, the dramatic part of the story in today's passage is suspended between a great storm and a great calm. And between the two stand only two words in Greek (actually four in English) spoken by Jesus: "Be calm! Be still!" Second, the narrative, in its decisive moments, is driven by questions, not by answers. "Teacher, don't you care that we are about to die?" The disciples must have really been frightened. Why else would they address their master so disrespectfully? Jesus' words of reply are just as harsh as the disciples' words of urgent inquiry. "Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith yet?" Third, and most surprising of all, the disciples ask themselves this question: "Who in the world is this guy that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

All of the questions raised in this passage seem to boil down to one decisive question which is the key of the entire passage: Who, then, is this man? We would think that the disciples already knew the answer to this question. After all, Jesus just "ordained" them into the service of the kingdom of God. He just explained to them the purpose of the parables and initiated them into the mystery of God's reign. Once ordained, they were "professionals," people who had knowledge about certain things that others did not. Furthermore, quite a few of them were fishermen, "professionals" who should have known how dangerous it was to cross the sea at this time. So why did they even try? Perhaps they became too arrogant. After all, they were "double professionals." And yet, they were neither able to handle their situation in the boat nor did they seem to know who this Jesus of Nazareth truly was. Not much professionalism there.

When I look at the disciples and their double-arrogance prior to the appearance of the storm, I am reminded of the church and about each and every one of us. Crossing the sea of our lives, we have nothing but a small boat in which we are sailing on a vast ocean. Yet we are very good at convincing ourselves that we can control the course of this boat with the rudder of our professionalism. There is the church who thinks that it can conquer its problems with trained professionals and elaborate programs, rules and regulations. There we are who think that a good, solid education, hard work and a professional attitude will enable us to stir clear of the shallow waters and raging storms of our lives. And then the whirlwinds stir. Sometimes we see them coming, other times we do not. Some such storms are called ordination of homosexuals, installation of lay preachers, cancer, divorce, unemployment, etc. And all of a sudden we lose this arrogance of professionalism. Just as little children who are afraid of the thunderstorm, we cower and huddle together in this boat called the "church" or "life." Perhaps now we can understand the disciples a whole lot better. This boat that looked so manageable a moment ago is going to sink and we all with it.

The tornadoes and twisters on the horizon have neared, twisting our lives and arrogance around. Now we are the ones crying for help. "Teacher, do you not care at all that we are about to die?" The disciples, stripped of their attitude, turn to the only true source of help that they have available in their abysmal situation. But this source of help, Jesus, is taking a nap. A pretty good one on top of it, because they have to yell at him to arouse him. What about the tornadoes in our lives, in the church's life? What about the twister that ripped the town of Jarrell to shreds? What on earth does it take to wake Jesus up? The good news, however, following this unsettling set of questions, is that Jesus finally does wake up and does calm the storm. The disciples could count on him and so can we. But the euphoria about the calmed storm does not last very long.

"You cowards! Don't you have any faith yet?" Jesus' assessment of his disciples must have hurt them deeply. How could he call them cowards? They were about to die. Yet, this is what he called them. "You cowards!" Jesus' words must hurt the church, must hurt us, because we are sitting in the same boat with the disciples. Is this really what we deserve to be called? Perhaps we do, just as well as the disciples did. But perhaps Jesus' strong words were not meant to denigrate them, but to wake them from their professional-arrogant slumber, to wake us from the same delusion. Wake up and smell the coffee, we would say today, or in the words of 1 Timothy 1:7: "... God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather [a spirit] of power and of love and of self-discipline." Without this spirit, we would truly be cowards, but with God's spirit we are empowered, first and foremost to listen to the voice of the One who says: "Be calm! Be still!" We are also empowered to reach out and minister in love to those who are in the midst of one of their lives' twisters, as the board of this congregation did by sending financial aid to the Jarrell relief fund just a few weeks back. And finally, we are empowered to discipline ourselves in our professional arrogance to let God calm our storms for us.

The chaos that rages in the center of this passage reminds me also of the chaos that raged in Genesis, the very first book of Holy Scripture. There it was God's Spirit, a Holy Wind, that swept over the waters and over the void of this earth. There it was also a spoken word that calmed the chaos as God said: "Let there be light! And there was light! And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness." The Creator calms the chaos, thus providing for the future of God's creation. In today's passage, it is a spoken word that calms the raging storm on the sea of Galilee: "Be calm! Be still!" The Son of the Father, who is one with the Father, continues God's providential work for a fallen and broken world in which disasters of all kind are still bound to happen and to harm, but are not able to utterly destroy.

The very waters of the river Jordan, the waters of the storm in the sea of Galilee, are the baptismal waters of our Lord Jesus Christ, who through His baptism has made this water safe for us. And the baptism with His Holy Spirit is His downpayment and guarantee that God has claimed us as God's own; thus, never letting us go and always holding us fast. Jesus already conquered the battles against the whirlwinds of our lives, and ultimately against the greatest of all twisters, death itself. In Christ there are no twisters, no whirlwinds, no ultimate chaos. He has overcome them all. This is the platform upon which we stand, the rock upon which we can build our lives. To build on this rock means to be safe from the winds and the storms. However, this is a very small platform to stand on. For it is only Christ Jesus who stands as the dividing wall between the great storm and the great calm of our lives, of life itself. This dividing wall has the shape of a cross. It is a cross that will never be shaken by the raging winds because Jesus has promised: "I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Lord Jesus Christ, you are our stronghold when the tornadoes are coming, when our very existence is threatened. You are our one and true stronghold in our times of trouble. And as those who know your name, we put our trust in you, for you, O Lord, will not forsake those who truly seek you. Instill in us, O Lord that same fear that the disciples felt that night on the sea of Galilee to remind us that we are only human, that we cannot save ourselves, that only you can. You indeed have saved us from the raging storm. For this we give you thanks and praise. AMEN.


Year B: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 17:32-49; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
PH494: Out of Deep, Unordered Water
PH562: Eternal Father, Strong to Save (Navy Hymn)

Called to the Sea

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
Now that's a question, a vital question for each of us to hear and to answer ourselves. Water bears, both symbolically and quite literally, the presence of both life and death, of fear and hope. Our lives can be drowned in it so quickly -- a death threatening our frightened disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee -- yet we are ourselves in fact mostly water. By water we are born, through water we are sustained, and without water our bodies dry and blow away as dust in the wind. The font of our Baptism is filled with the waters of life and death. And our lives are lead in that chaotic tension between calm and storm, doubt and certainty, fear and hope. We are haunted by waters. But out of the deep unordered water, through the sea there runs a river of life.

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
I personally have a deep-seated fear of bodies of water, yet by providence my life also seems to have been drawn to the shores. I have been told that I took my first steps on a beach of Lake Michigan. And in another right of passage, I returned to the shore of that same great lake for my formative undergraduate years. There was a section of campus, a park, that extended out into the lake as a peninsula. I was fond of taking evening walks along its path -- especially on windy nights. Like the Sea of Galilee it could be a frightening place when the wind was up. But in the safety of the shoreline I could walk along its rock sheltered path and comfortably look out into the blackness and roar of a wind swept sea. When contemplating life's great questions -- as undergraduates like to do - I would go there where my fear was present but tamed, and standing there on the edge of an abyss I would find myself drawn into thoughts of a mighty transcendent other, the one whose sprit sweeps across the face of the waters. But on that ancient night on the sea of Galilee, our disciples were in a primitive craft, exposed in the utter darkness of a lightness sea, in the midst of a terrible storm. Perhaps we should forgive them their moment of panic. Of more concern to me is their quandary after the storm has passed:

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
It is a question with a marvelous but obvious answer, an answer that resonates from the opening pages of the Bible through to the very end. In the beginning darkness was over the face of deep, and God's spirit, the breath of God, hovered over the face the waters. From this chaos, God would claim the order of creation. But as our story goes, this same God found in the generations from Adam to Noah only a progression of violence and wickedness. God lamented that God had made us. The God who commands the waters of life and death, the God who commands the wind and sea, this God opened the springs of the deep from below and the floodgates in the vault of the heavens above, and cleansed the earth in the great primordial storm of judgment. It is a violent image, one that haunts us still.

But God remembered Noah, and in that famous rainbow we have the sign of a promise to never again restore the world to order by washing away all life along with its evil. Shame, arrogance, and violence would continue, and God would find another way. Against this primordial backdrop history begins, and the Bible is a witness to God's faithfulness to another path, a path of reconciliation. It is a promise working through the most unlikely of people, people such as our young boy standing before Goliath with a rock and slingshot, one whose lineage would lead to that of a poor carpenter from Nazareth. And at the end of time, as the last chapter of Revelation describes, a river of the waters of life will flow as clear as crystal from the throne of God. Somewhere between the beginning and the end, in the midst of the waters of fear and hope, we sail a stormy Sea at night, with a gospel and a question which seems to have an obvious answer:

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
The Gospel of Mark in many ways is an unsettling document. It is short, curt, and worse yet the gospel asks a lot of questions and doesn't deliver many direct answers. The church has been at various points in our history uncomfortable with ambiguity and unanswered questions. Mark's final position in the NT, safely nestled between the two great pillars of Matthew and Luke reflects the early church's unease. It is easy to see why. The earliest manuscripts leave the reader standing at an empty tomb, trembling and bewildered. Perhaps most uncomfortable of all is the portrayal of Jesus and the disciples. Disciples who are eyewitnesses, Jesus' own companions, students who never seem to understand him. And we have a teacher who intentionally confuses crowds with parables, a miracle worker who tells recipients of healing not to spread the news. The point in this gospel seems to lie somewhere else. In fact, if we examine today's lesson carefully, we will find that this scripture is more ambiguous than we might expect.

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
It is important, even essential, to note that our storm shaken disciples were not entirely relieved by Christ's action. The NRSV remarks that they spoke to one another "filled with great awe." But the translation here is a bit misleading. The root of the expression in Greek is a word more commonly known to us as phobia ... fear. Indeed the disciples spoke to one another in awe, but it is the awe of the greatly frightened. After their storm was silenced, fear remained ... the fear of him. But after all, who would not fear the close proximity of the one greater than the power of the wind and waves, one who could casually sleep through such a storm, the one who could wash away all life along with its evil.

"Who then is this that even the wind and seas obey?"
Our text is certainly an account of an event known as an epiphany, a moment in history when the veil which separates the physical world from the unfathomable otherness of God is lifted. Particularly for our modern rational minds, these moments are clouded in mystery. But for one moment on an ancient Sea, the disciples recognized in their companion the presence of the one to whom even the wind and the sea obey. The challenge is the fact that the disciple's fear and questions remain. This is an important clue to us.

We do not yet have before us a complete answer to our question. The answer is not to be found in demonstrations of power, or in a faith which promises to be a quite voyage through a now calmed sea. In these first ten chapters, all of us are challenged, as will be Peter and the disciples, with the question "Whom do you say that I am." This gospel's witness is that we do not know the nature of the God of the wind and waves, we cannot answer our question fully, until we witness God revealed in a humble servant who gave his own life for the sake of us all. The disciples of chapter 4, had not yet been to Jerusalem, Golgotha, or an empty tomb.

"Who then is this that even the wind and seas obey?"
Perhaps like all of us who share a Biblical memory of an ancient flood -- my unconscious fears know a moment in my childhood when I was nearly lost in the waters. During the summers when I was small, we occasionally vacationed with several other families from our church on the Lake of the Ozarks, one the largest and most popular recreational lakes in Missouri. A friend was carrying me out onto a dock toward the boat. Along the way I fell into the water. I don't remember much of this, it happened quickly, but I do remember, instant, terrifying fear. It was a fear known to the disciples in the midst of their storm. I remember crying out. I remember green suffocating water. But in another instant, through the waters of death, I saw the bright colors of my mothers clothes coming toward me, and in another instant, I knew the safety of her embrace. She is gone now but my memory of her saving love persists, an embrace which was but a tiny reflection of the fathomless grace of the God we know in the one who plunged into the waters of violence and death for the sake of us all.

I am fortunate to have been touched by this moment of human love through which I can reflect on the divine, and I know that for many in this world this has not been the case. But the point of the gospel is this: in our lowest and loneliest moments, even when abandoned by our fellow humanity, all of us awash and drowning in the chaotic waters of life and death, each and every one of us, is loved by God. It is an embrace which has surpassed death. And to recognize such a one we have but to turn and commit our own lives to the one whose ministry, death, and resurrection, are an epiphany, an unveiling, God's own answer, God's answer, to the question:

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
That in Christ we know God is love, has always been good a reply. But perhaps you find this to be too simple and pleasant an answer to be true, or perhaps you find that it flies in the face of the facts. Life is so difficult for so many. It seems to be that our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord does not carry with it the results of Christ's rebuke to the wind and the waves "peace, be still."

One of the daily challenges to life and faith is that we live in the midst of such troubled waters with so many unanswered questions. The pure crystal waters of eternal life which flow from the throne of God remain in this age clouded in uncertainty. But the lesson in this passage is finally, that the faith to which God calls us is not a faith which sails in the safety of quite waters. The disciples set to sea that night because they were called to follow Christ. We are in fact sent into the turmoil for the sake of our neighbors who travel with us in peril on the Sea. We are ambassadors of God's embrace in Christ, and like our Lord we are called into a life not of judgment, but of rescue.

Indeed, Our lives are lead in the chaotic tension between doubt and certainty, calm and storm, fear and hope. The font of our Baptism is filled with both the waters of life and death. But there is one certain path and through sea, it is journey within a river of life which flows from the embrace of God's eternal love, it is a love which has triumphed over death. For it is our true and certain comfort that in body and soul, in life and death, we belong to our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?"
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home ... it is God ... who is faithful still. Now to the one who Created, Redeemed, and Sustains us. To the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forevermore. Amen.

| Return to Gospel text listings | Return to Epistle text listings |
| Return to Old Testament listings | Return to Psalm listings |
| User response form |