Sunday Service – 6/16/2024

YouTube Link

Genesis 1:1-5 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Mark 4:35-41 35 On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And 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.  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, “Hush!  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?”  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?”

Jesus Calms the Storm

I have always loved storms.  When I was little my mother would sometimes get us up at night to watch thunder and lightning storms, she made a game out of it so we wouldn’t be afraid.  When I was a teenager, my family stayed for a week at a cottage on Culver’s Lake in northern New Jersey.  One night a storm came up and I sat out on the dock to watch the lightning.  Boom!  Crash!  It was all around me.  I loved it.  Then there was a blinding flash of light, a deafening crack and the sharp smell of ozone in the air.  The lightning had hit the lake not ten feet in front of me.  I hightailed it back to the house after that.  Storms are exciting but they are also dangerous.  How many of you have ever watched the show, Storm Chasers, a documentary program in where they chased tornados in an effort to learn more about them and improve early warning systems.  Storms inspire awe.  In our modern world when we think we can control everything but the weather still brings us up short.  I have some statistics on storms for you this morning. The deadliest hurricane in our country was the one in Galveston, Texas with somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 dead. I’m sure we all remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when New Orleans was devastated. Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012.  Hurricane Harvey hit Louisiana in 2017. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana and Texas in 2021 and here in Pennsylvania caused the Schuylkill river to rise over 17 feet. The most hurricanes occurred in 2020; they ran through the alphabet and started using Greek letters. Storms are out of our control and can be devastating as we will see in our gospel lesson today.  

For our series on Mark this summer, we jumped into Mark’s gospel in the fourth chapter with three parables and have continued from that point.  Let’s take a minute to review what Mark has told us about who Jesus is so far.  Mark doesn’t start with any birth narratives.  He begins with John the Baptist, the forerunner for Jesus.  Mark tells us of Jesus’ baptism by John and his temptations in the wilderness.  Then Jesus calls his disciples so we must remember that they are not aware of any of this.  They see a man who teaches with a new authority, they see him cast out demons, they see him heal, they are the ones to whom he explains his parables.  They know Jesus is a special man, a gifted person but that is as far as their knowledge goes at this point.  There are few in our world that would deny this.  Anyone who has learned of Jesus will acknowledge that he was a great teacher.  That is not enough though.  There is much more for the disciples and us to learn of this man named Jesus.

When our lesson begins, Jesus has just finished a long day of teaching the crowds the parables we heard last Sunday.  In fact, the first verse of this chapter said “and a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.”  Any of you who have ever taught can easily imagine that he is tired, exhausted from teaching and listening, answering questions, and the effort of explaining to the multitude about the kingdom of God.  We see Jesus here in his full humanity; I would bet that most of us have at some point felt the same exhaustion after a full day.  Jesus seeks to get away from the crowd and find some solitude for his soul so he asks that the boat set out across the lake.

To understand what happens next a short geography lesson will help.  The Sea of Galilee is not actually a sea at all but is the largest freshwater lake in Israel.  It is thirteen miles long and eight miles wide.  It is fed by the Jordan River, which flows through it.  The Sea of Galilee is notorious for its violent storms, which can come up with shattering and terrifying suddenness and be life-threatening for any out on its waters.  The lake is 680 feet below sea level with steep hills on all sides.  These heights are a source of cool, dry air.  In contrast, directly around the sea, the climate is semi-tropical with warm, moist air.  The large difference in height between surrounding land and the lake causes large temperature and pressure changes.  This results in strong winds dropping to the sea, funneling through the east-west-oriented valleys in the Galilean hill country and rushing down the western hillsides of the lake.  Small boats caught out on the sea are in immediate danger.  The most violent storms, however, are caused by the fierce winds that blow off the Golan Heights from the east.  One such storm in March 1992 sent waves ten feet high crashing into downtown Tiberias and caused significant damage to the city.  

Mark tells us that a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so the boat was already being swamped.  This wasn’t just any storm this day.  I imagine it must have been one sweeping down from the Golan Heights, the most devastating of storms.  Several of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fisherman, familiar with the lake but this storm was beyond their skill.  

Apparently the storm does not affect Jesus.  He is asleep.  I love the detail in the story.  He is asleep on a cushion.  That detail lets us know this story was told to Mark by an eyewitness.  Someone who was with Jesus and saw him asleep on that cushion and two thousand years later we know it too.  It shows us a very human side of Jesus.  He had been teaching the crowds of people and he was tired.  On the way across the Sea of Galilee he slept.  In good weather the Sea of Galilee can be crossed in under two hours.  That night there was not good weather and the crossing was taking much longer.  

The disciples, fearing for their lives, cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  When Jesus wakes up, before he answers the disciples, Jesus first deals with the storm.  As plainly as we saw Jesus’ humanity in his exhaustion, we now see his divinity in his ability to still the storm and the sea.  Jesus did not pray to God to still the storm.  In a clear display of his divinity, he commanded the winds and the storm.  He rebuked the winds in the same words he used to rebuke demons.

In our lesson this morning, the disciples’ view of Jesus grows.  They knew he was a powerful teacher.  They knew he could perform miracles.  But control the wind and rain? Jesus turned to his disciples and said to them, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?  

Our translation says the disciples were filled with great awe. I don’t think that does justice to the verse. Other translations tell us they feared with great fear, they feared exceedingly, they were overcome by great fear, they were terrified. Why were they so afraid?

The disciples were afraid because they didn’t yet know who was with them in the boat.  Jesus the great teacher they knew, Jesus the miracle-worker they knew.  But “who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”.  

For the answer to the disciples’ question, we turn to our Old Testament lesson which was from the very beginning of the Bible.  In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.  It tells the story of creation, of how God gave form and order to all that is.  Jesus isn’t mentioned by name in Genesis but John’s gospel tells us Jesus was there at creation.  Listen to the first verse of John’s gospel. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Jesus is the Word of God so when Genesis tells us that “God said”, God speaking is Jesus who is the Word of God.  So who was this that the wind and sea obey him?  This is Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord of creation who acted in the creation of the world and who still works today in our world. 

Let’s return to the storm and use our imaginations, let us put ourselves in the disciples’ place on this life-threatening voyage.  At least four of the disciples in the boat, Peter, Andrew, James, and John are experienced seamen yet this storm threatens the loss of the boat and most likely their lives.  The boat is filling up with water as the waves continue breaking across the bow and washing along the boat.  The boat is in danger of sinking and killing everyone on board.  The disciples are busy pulling in the sails, bailing out the water already in the boat, and hanging on to the boat while attempting to keep it from capsizing and sinking in the cloud-covered darkness of the evening.  And where is Jesus?  Jesus is asleep in the boat despite everything that is occurring.  Imagine you are in the boat with the winds shrieking through the rigging and the high waves slapping the sides of the boat and crashing over the boat as it bounces up and down over the huge swells. The waves are repeatedly swamping the boat.  You are terrified.  You’ve bailed water for what seems like hours.  Your legs are bruised from being banged about the boat by the heaving waves.  You are cold, wet and tired.  Out of your exhaustion you cry, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

How many times in our lives have we come to places like this when we cry out to God, don’t you care?  Don’t you see that I am perishing?  Don’t you see that my loved one is in pain, is dying?  Don’t you see my pain?  Don’t you care?

I tell you this morning, God loves you, Jesus loves you.  How much?  John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  God loves you, God sees your pain, and God reaches out to heal, to comfort, to protect.

The disciples didn’t know who was with them during that storm.  When we forget the presence of Jesus with us, we can become filled with fear as the disciples were.  Listen to his voice!  Hear him say, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Fear drives out faith.  When we are aware of Jesus we are filled with a calm and fearless peace in our hearts no matter what the storms of life.  Jesus gives us peace in the storm of sorrow and grief.  In the midst of grief, Jesus changes the darkness of death into glory when he reminds us of the eternal life we share with him.  Jesus gives us peace in the storms of doubt and uncertainty.  Jesus is there to support us and guide us as we make our way in the world.  When we are uncertain of our path, Jesus will direct us when we pray.  Jesus gives us peace in the storms of anxiety and fear that can assail us.  When we worry, worry, worry, we need to instead turn to Jesus and listen for his voice saying, “Peace!  Be Still!” and allow his peace to replace our anxiety.  In all the storms of life, Jesus brings us peace and the love of God, our Father.