Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Peace in the Storms

Mark 4:35-41

 Are you a storm lover or a storm hater?  I think most people are one or the other.  Some people love the raw power and beauty of a thunderstorm; others want to hide under the bed till it’s over.

 Me?  I’m a storm lover.  But I have also found that, at least for me, there is a point where fascination turns to fear.  Maybe that happens to all of us.  Maybe we all reach a point where we say, “Enough is enough!  I just want it over with!”  That has happened to me on several occasions, but the one that I think will always stick with me was in September of 2006 in Algonquin Park, Ontario.

 Algonquin, of course, is the place I go each summer with the church camping program.  But we usually go in late July to early August.  In 2006, my brother was getting ready to go to Europe for several years, so we wanted to do our own trip, just the two of us.  We went in late September, and normally temperatures are about 10 degrees cooler at that time of the year than in August, but we happened to go during a week of cold, wet, miserable weather.  

 Our second to the last morning on the trail, we were camped on a lake called Kioshkokwi.  It’s about 8 miles long and over a mile wide.  When we woke up, the temperature was actually pretty mild, but the wind was blowing.  A strong cold front was pushing down out of the north, and it was just about to hit.  By the time we ate breakfast and packed in, the temp had dropped 20 degrees, the wind was blowing a steady 40 miles per hour, and the rain was coming down in sheets, sideways.  To continue our trip, we had to cross a mile and a half of open water.  

Fortunately, we were able to load the canoe in a calm spot behind our campsite, but just a few feet away, four to five foot waves were rolling by.  And we pushed off into the storm.  As we were out in the middle of the lake, rolling with the waves, struggling to see through the rain, the thought suddenly struck me, “If we lose it and go in the drink, we’ll probably die.”  We were almost a mile from shore.  It was getting colder by the minute.  We’d probably lose our gear if we went over.  And we certainly couldn’t get a fire going in that storm.  Fascination turned to fear.

We made it, as you can see.  By the end of the day the rain stopped.  It never got warm though.  It went all the way down to 25 degrees that night.  Our reward was that we got to sleep under the Northern Lights for the first time in my life.  

But getting back to our text today, we know that at least four of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, so they had certainly experienced their fair share of bad weather.  But here they were in the middle of the lake, miles away from shore, in the middle of the night, and they were decidedly fearful more than fascinated.  

The story begins at evening time.  Jesus had spent the day on the shores of Galilee, teaching from a boat near the village of Capernaum.  As the day winds down, Jesus says to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”

The lake, of course, is most commonly known as the Sea of Galilee, which is a real misnomer.  It’s not a sea; it is decidedly a lake, freshwater, and not even particularly large.  Living here in Pennsylvania with Lake Erie to our north, we probably wouldn’t think much of the Sea of Galilee.  It’s only about 13 miles north to south, 8 miles wide, and about 150 feet deep at its deepest point.  

But the Sea of Galilee does have a well deserved reputation for bad weather.  The Sea of Galilee is located in the Great Rift, which is a valley that extends from east-central Africa up through the Red Sea and ends just north of the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea is actually located 700 feet below sea level.  It is the lowest freshwater lake on the planet, and the only lower body of water is the salty Dead Sea to the south.  And the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by highlands reaching up to 3900 feet above sea level.  To the north of the sea, there are steep ravines that intensify cold winds as they come out of the highlands.  

What happens is that during the day, the air around the sea becomes very warm, and warm air rises.  This creates a low pressure area, and sometimes cold air from the highlands to the north will come rushing in under the warm air.  When warm and cold meet, you have a storm, and the sea has some very strong ones.

Jesus was already in the boat, so they headed off across the sea, aiming for the eastern shore.  These fishing boats that they used on the Sea of Galilee were pretty small vessels, only about 30 feet long by 8-10 feet wide.  They’ve actually found one that was preserved in the mud at the bottom of the lake since the days of Jesus.  I saw it when I was in Israel in 1996, and it was not an impressive boat.  

Mark includes the detail that other boats followed.  That seems like a very insignificant detail, but it serves a significant purpose.  It’s the kind of detail that would

be included by someone who was actually there.  It’s the kind of detail that tells us that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses.

Before they make it across the lake, a fierce storm strikes, and waves are breaking into the boat.  I can see the picture in my mind.  It’s dark except for the flashes of lightning.  They’re miles from shore, filling up with water, bailing frantically.  And where is Jesus?  Asleep, in the stern.  Not a care in the world, it would seem.

The story may remind us of another biblical story about a man of God on a boat in a storm, the story of Jonah.  And just like Jonah, Jesus is fast asleep in the midst of the chaos.  Both were awakened by panicked men, crying out, “Don’t you care that we are going to die?”  

It may not come across in English, but the disciples question to Jesus is actually quite rude.  It’s like they’re saying, “What is the matter with you?  We’re going to die and you’re asleep?”  

But Jesus’ sleep can also be seen as the tranquility that comes from deep faith.  It was often understood that a true prophet of God could show absolute trust in God in the midst of the most tumultuous circumstances.  

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was very troubled when, as a young man, he came to Georgia as a missionary, and on the way across the ocean, when the ship was struck by a storm, he panicked.  But other believers were silent trusting in God.  It was one of the experiences that pushed him to go deeper in his faith.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and the waves.  A few interesting notes here:  When Jesus rebukes the wind and sea, he uses the exact same words, in Greek, that he did earlier when casting out an evil spirit.  That seems odd, but there’s a reason for it.  In that worldview, the air was believed to be the home of evil spirits.  And the sea was often used as a picture of death, because so many who went out on the sea never came back.  So Jesus is demonstrating his power over death and evil by silencing the storm.  

Jesus is also demonstrating his power over creation.  It was understood that only God could control the nature he had created; only God could bring order to chaos.  

Everything became calm.  And after rebuking the wind and waves, Jesus rebukes his disciples.  “Why are you so afraid?  Have you no faith?”  Surely by now they should trust him!  Surely by now they should have known he would care for them?

But if anything, they are more afraid now than they were in the storm!  If the power of the storm was troubling, how much more so is the power of the man who can calm the storm!  “Who is this man?”  Jesus didn’t pray to someone else to stop the storm like the sailors wanted Jonah to do.  Jesus calmed the storm by his own authority!  If only God can control nature, and Jesus can calm the storm, then who is Jesus?  Jesus is God.  And being in the presence of God is more powerful than any storm.    

Our faith will be tested in the storms of life, and I’m not talking about the weather.  There are many storms that come our way:  The loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a divorce, an illness, a tragedy.  Each will test our faith.  And we are always going to be tempted to ask, “Is God there?  Does God care?”  

But there is a place of peace in the midst of a storm, and that place is in the presence of Jesus.  Peace comes from knowing who Jesus is, what he did for us, what he is doing for us, and what he will do for us.  He is God.  He died to save us.  He is always interceding before the Father on our behalf, and nothing can separate us from his love.  And one day he will complete our salvation and we will live eternally with him in a New Heaven and New Earth.  

No matter what storm we’re facing, our God is more powerful than the storm.  The disciples should have known better than to fear and panic because of what they’d already seen Jesus do.  

What has Jesus already done for you?  What storms has he already brought you through?  Do you trust that he can bring you through the rest of the storms you’ll experience?  Do you believe he’s more powerful than the storm?    

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