Sermon for Pentecost 3, Year B
Based on Mk. 4:35-41
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Our gospel for today tells the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea. For most of us, this gospel story is probably so familiar that we don't think too much about it. One of the dangers of familiarity is that we often miss or overlook important details. It's sort of like not seeing the forest for the trees.
Preachers are quite tempted to focus on the obvious themes of this story. Themes like: Jesus is always with us to calm the storms in our lives; or Jesus is a miracle worker. But today I'm going to digress a little from such obvious themes, by exploring some of the not-so-obvious details of this gospel story.
First of all, Mark tells us that after a long day, Jesus says to his disciples: "Let us go across to the other side." The words, "to the other side," can be interpreted here in more than one way. The obvious meaning is that Jesus and his disciples are travelling from the west side of the Sea of Galilee to the east side. However, the east side also refers to Gentile territory. In other words, it symbolizes Christ's mission to the Gentiles.
Jesus is not limited to his own Jewish people ~ his ministry as Saviour and Messiah is all-inclusive; it is a ministry to the Gentiles as well. Thus, Jesus is not merely Saviour and Messiah of a few people ~ rather, he is Saviour and Messiah of all peoples around the world. His gospel message is intended to be proclaimed to everyone in the world.
I wonder sometimes if we too easily forget this all-inclusive nature of Jesus and his gospel. Do we get so caught up in our small little world that we forget to travel with Jesus across the sea to the other side? Do we develop the attitude that Jesus and his gospel are only meant to be hoarded for myself and my small circle of family and friends? What are we doing to travel with Jesus across the sea to the other side? How can we become a more all-inclusive Christian? How can we become a more all-inclusive congregation, so that others might feel loved and accepted in our midst?
How can we share the gospel message with others right here in our neighbourhood, our larger city, our province, nation and world? These are some of the questions facing us all here today? If we, like the disciples, stay in the boat with Jesus and keep our oars in the water, Jesus shall certainly take us safely across to the other side. We can count on that!
By keeping our oars in the water and travelling in the right direction; by staying connected with Jesus; by listening to his instructions and acting on his guidance, we shall indeed journey safely across to the other side.
Another little detail in our gospel story is that Jesus went with his disciples in the boat across the sea ~ Mark tells us ~ "just as he was." What does Mark mean by those words: "just as he was?" Again, it could mean several things. For example, it might refer to Jesus' clothing that he was wearing. Or it might refer to his physical mental, emotional and spiritual condition at that particular time of day; in that particular situation. On the other hand, it might refer back to Mark 4:1, where, we are told, Jesus got into a boat to teach the crowd beside the seashore. Or it might even refer to all of these things, as well as other details together.
As I reflected on these words further, it struck me that the words could also apply to us as followers of Jesus. We are in the boat ~ a symbol for the church ~ with Jesus "just as we are." We remember this when we sing those wonderful words of Charlotte Elliot's hymn: "Just as I am, thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve."
Jesus accepts us just as we are, no matter what we are wearing; no matter what our physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual condition may be; no matter what time of the day; no matter where we are and what our situation; Jesus is there for us all to receive, welcome, pardon, cleanse and relieve us. His love and grace embrace us all just as we are. We don't have to put on masks; we don't have to be or do this or that to qualify: Jesus loves us, calls us, accepts us just as we are. When we face so much conditional acceptance; when we experience rejection, even hostility from others; it's good to know that Jesus accepts, loves, and calls us just as we are. We can count on that too!
Another little detail that Mark tells us is that while the storm is raging, filling the boat with water, Jesus "was in the stern, asleep on the cushion." This little detail, once again, probably has more than one meaning. It may very well refer to the fact that Jesus had had a long day with the crowd and that he was exhausted. He was drained, he needed to get some sleep to restore his energy.
This detail certainly underscores the fact that Jesus was Fully Human, like the rest of us ~ he could and did grow tired like each one of us. He, like us, needed his sleep when he was tired. When you're busy ministering to the needs of a large crowd all day long, by evening you become exhausted. If you haven't done it yet, try it sometime, you'll find out for yourself how Jesus must have felt! I find this focus on the humanity of Jesus rather comforting and inspirational, it's good to remember how he can empathize with us by sharing our human experiences.
Another way of interpreting this detail is to focus on the fact that Jesus was also Fully Divine. That's why he is able to sleep through a raging storm at sea. Jesus is trusting in God's providence and protection completely. He places all of his trust in God ~ without any doubts or fears. He is confident that they will not perish, even when the boat is filling up with water and it looks like they are going to sink. Even the worst storms at sea are no match for Jesus.
In our lives too, we do face storms in this world. Whether they're storms at work, at home, at school, in the larger world ~ or whether they're storms we face as individual Christians or as a congregation or denomination: always remember, even our worst storms are no match for Jesus. He shall certainly calm our storms and lead us safely through them all. We can count on that too!
Reading the text further, there's yet another little detail. Jesus speaks the following words to calm the raging storm: "Peace! Be still!" The words, "Be still!" in the Greek mean, quite literally "Be muzzled!" It is also spoken by Jesus at Mark 1:25, where he casts out an evil spirit from a man by saying, "be silent!"
I rather like this image or metaphor from the Greek of Jesus being able to muzzle the raging, life-threatening storm. For Mark, Jesus is bearing witness to his divinity, his Messiahship by turning the watery-windy chaotic storm into order, peace and calm. This too, we recall, is what was happening when God created the world, God transformed chaos into an ordered creation.
In our gospel story, no evil powers of destruction ~ whether they be natural or supernatural ~ are able to overpower Jesus. We as followers of Jesus are safe with him. As long as we stay in his boat/his church; as long as we keep our oars in the water; as long as we remain faithful to him and his church; we shall always be safe with him.
The storms do come and threaten us. But we should not panic or fear because he has power over all of life's threatening situations; he is able to muzzle all life-threatening situations if we place all of our trust in him.
This page has been visited times.