A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2018
Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey
The Sea of Galilee is an inland freshwater lake near the current border between Israel and Syria. It’s quite large, but not nearly as large as Lake Champlain, large enough for a fishing industry, but small enough that one could always see the other side. When I was a little kid, I went fishing with my father pretty frequently. One place we fished was at a local reservoir that was about a quarter the size of the Sea of Galilee. There was one time that we were out in my Dad’s small boat with an uncle and three of my cousins, trolling for bass and mostly catching catfish in the middle of Lake Lowell. Like the Sea of Galilee, Lake Lowell is in the midst of arid farming country. The sun was hot, the sky was blue, without a cloud. Well, except for one tiny one far off to the Southwest. So we were out fishing for a while, and suddenly that little cloud was overhead—I don’t know how long it had been, not long—suddenly it was getting dark and windy and rain was starting to pelt down. As we retrieved our lines, my Dad struggled to get the main motor of the boat started. The waves were higher than the sides of the boat. As soon as the motor started, Dad pointed the boat toward the closest point on shore and ran full speed onto the rocky beach. As soon as we stopped, the boat completely filled with water.
It was scary to be out in the middle of a desert lake in a sudden storm. The disciples’ boat was probably not much bigger than our boat. It was dark, so they couldn’t see the storm coming. When the storm arose they were in real danger and they knew it. The waves were coming into the boat and all they had were their oars working against the wind. They didn’t even have a 35-horsepower Evinrude to push them to shore. And there was Jesus. Asleep in the back of the boat. Remember, he had been doing a lot of healing and teaching and dealing with a lot of people over the past few days. Sometimes it was so crowded he didn’t have time or space to eat. We all know that feeling—sometimes, like Jesus, we all just crash on the nearest couch cushion.
Teacher! Don’t you see that we are perishing? The disciples were about out of their minds. Jesus looks up and says, “Peace! Be still!” I don’t know whether he was talking to the disciples or to the wind. They certainly thought that he stopped the wind, and perhaps that’s just what the story is about. But when I read the story more carefully, it’s about danger and fear. I remember my Dad, as that storm was coming up, he was very focused. I don’t know how he was feeling, but he was calm, making sure the fishing lines were in the boat, and attending to the cranky old Evinrude, making sure it started, making sure we got to the shore. There really wasn’t any time for panic.
Now the text says that Jesus, “rebuked the wind, and talked to the sea.” The facts were real, the threats from the natural forces were real. Jesus faced those forces of nature and spoke to them and they calmed down for him. We shouldn’t be so naïve or so arrogant as to think that every fact and every threat in nature will be dissolved by the subjective feeling of faith or believing or confidence. That’s not what is going on here. What happened here raises this question: “Who then is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The stilling of the storm reveals Jesus as someone different: the Lord of the Sea and the Sky, the Son of God, who is here to protect his people. He has told them to cross the lake and he is with them, protecting them on that journey.
If we look ahead, in the next verse Jesus and his disciples land at a place and are confronted by a man from the tombs, a man living among the dead, who is possessed by a Legion of demons. This journey is to cast out demons and restore the dead to life—the storm in our story today takes us into the very real dangers and the very real fears that we experience along the way in our journey to life and health in Jesus. We are called on a journey that is not necessarily safe, and it almost certainly will have hardships. The journey is toward abundant life, life in God. We are not significantly different or better than Jesus’ first disciples, there are times of fear or anxiety. Things are happening and it’s unclear where God is or what God is doing. And Jesus is just asleep in the back of the boat. What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to our families? This church? This country?
Jesus! Jesus, Jesus! Don’t you see that we are perishing??
And he says …
[ … … …]
Why? Are you afraid? Reflect on that a minute. All these things that cause fear, are they keeping you from rowing the boat, getting your line in out of the water, cranking up that outboard motor?
Then the next thing he says—let’s leave off our theological overlay and translate it from ordinary Greek: How is it you do not have trust, or confidence?
God is here. Loving us and protecting us. Loving us forward into life, into living in ways that might be less comfortable, but more life-filled. Into life filled with hope because we accompany Jesus in healing and giving life to others, a life of thanksgiving and generosity. Our Faith in God is our Trust in that Love that God gives, our Confidence that God gives life to all God’s people.
I don’t want to forget today to thank Mother Ann Holt for her ministry among us. She is an example of calm among storms, and wisdom when people might be lost or fearful. I have learned much from her, and appreciate her great skill and faithfulness as a pastor. Remember those times that Ann has given love, caring and guidance to each of us. We carry that in our hearts and our lives. Thank you Ann, for continuing with us in our life together in Christ.