The Rector’s sermon for June 24, 2018                      


1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41


Imagine yourself on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean, sitting in your room on the third floor. You look out your window and see…waves…level with your third floor window…crashing into the window!  A hurricane-force storm is tossing the ship and throwing enormous waves against the glass.  One of your fellow passengers leans against the window and says, “We’re just staying in one place, hoping not to die.”  Passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship had this experience two years ago, when they ran into a monster storm on a trip from New Jersey to Florida.  Thousands of guests and crew members were buffeted by 150-mile-per-hour winds that caused the ship to tip dangerously off center.  Items flew off shelves, deck chairs went airborne, and the ceiling of the ship collapsed.  Four passengers were injured, and—not surprisingly—everyone got a full refund. Well, I guess that’s the least that Royal Caribbean could do for people who paid for rooms on the third floor and suddenly found themselves underwater!


Like the passengers on that cruise ship, Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect to run into a monster storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee!  They’re looking forward to getting away from the crowd and enjoying a pleasant cruise. But as they sail across the water, a great windstorm arises, causing waves to crash into the boat and swamp it.  And where is Jesus?  Oh, he’s asleep in the back of the boat!  As you might think, the disciples panic and wake him up. “Jesus, how can you sleep through this?  We’re being tossed all over the place!  Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  The disciples are scared to death, and simply want to know: Jesus, are you with us or against us?  


As early as the first century, this dramatic story became a symbol for the Christian church.  In Christian artwork, the church began to be pictured as a ship—a ship with a cross for a mast, sailing through the storm of life.  But this story we hear today is more than a symbol of the church—it is also a statement about the identity of Jesus. Mark tells us that Jesus gets up from his nap, rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” He rebukes the wind in the same way he rebuked an unclean spirit in a man, earlier in the Mark’s Gospel.   Jesus has power over the wild, dark, chaotic side of life, both in the hearts of human beings and in the natural world.  In this case, his words cause the wind to cease and the water to fall into a dead calm.


Then Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  They’re filled with great awe and they say to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  This story reveals that Jesus has within himself the awesome and unlimited power of Almighty God—power that can overcome evil and chaos.


During the Second World War, Eddie Rickenbacker, the American aviator, was in a plane that went off course, ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific.  He and six other men floated in a raft for 24 days.  After three days, their food was gone, although at one point a seagull landed on Rickenbacker’s head.  Eddie slowly reached up and caught it, and the bird became both dinner and fishing bait.  It seemed as if the men were facing certain death, but their faith in God grew—in the midst of a storm, in the darkness of night, in a time of hunger and thirst.  Soon after their rescue, Rickenbacker visited some airmen in a military hospital.  They had just been sent back from the front, and many of them thought they could not go on.  Some had arms or legs missing, and most were broken in spirit as well as in body.  Rickenbacker spoke to these airmen and told them that they must not give in to depression and defeat.  Having experienced the power and goodness of God personally, he said, “If you haven’t had an experience of God in your life, you get yourself one mighty quick, because with that, you will have power over all your problems.”


The disciples are given “an experience of God” when Jesus stills the storm.  They discover that even the wind and the sea obey this One who has within himself the power of the Almighty!  With a word he can drive out a demon, calm a sea or strengthen the faith of airmen floating without food in the Pacific.


Passengers on the Royal Caribbean were relieved to make it back to port and return to the safety of their homes. But Jesus’ disciples discover that storms continue to rage even after they arrive on shore.  There, they encounter a man filled with unclean spirits, a woman suffering from hemorrhages and a dead 12-year-old girl.   In all of these challenges, Jesus demonstrates that he is…now and always…the one who is Lord over confusion and chaos.  In the face of these storms, Jesus teaches us to trust his power over all that can hurt or destroy us.  The “experience of God” we have with Jesus can give us strength to overcome our problems.  As we cross the Sea of Galilee with the disciples, we can trust that the Lord will answer when we cry out…like the psalmist, “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.”  We know what that feels like, don’t we?   Like the ancient Israelites, we often use the language of water to describe the chaos and disorder in our lives.  How many times have you said, “I’m swamped” or “I’m in over my head.”


Jesus stilled a variety of storms during his ministry, saving people from death, illness and demonic possession. But what kind of victories can we expect today…now…when Jesus is not physically by our side—in the stern of a boat, or next to the bed of a dying loved one?  Not all of the storms we encounter will be miraculously calmed, nor will all the diseases we face be instantly cured.  So we need to answer for ourselves the questions Jesus asks the disciples:  “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?” We have to answer these questions in a way that focuses on faith, instead of on miracles.


Our challenge is to have faith that Jesus loves us and is working for an ultimate good, even when our boat is being swamped. Remember that God has created the world and is in control of it, even when chaos seems to reign and evil seems to triumph.  Believe that the Holy Spirit gives us strength and inner peace, even when we’re feeling stressed and exhausted and at the end of our rope.  Faith is what keeps us going in spite of the depressing and disappointing circumstances around us, and it enables us to face an uncertain future without fear. When we have this kind of faith, we are victorious.  Christian author James McGinnis writes:  “If it does get stormy, we can cry out for help in confidence.  Jesus sleeps no more.  He can calm our frightened, turbulent spirits so we can ride out the storm together.”


Our focus should be on faith, not on miracles.  Why?  Because we can’t get out of the boat when we are being tossed around by the storms of life…an unfaithful spouse, a chemical addiction, a rebellious kid, a backstabbing friend or a secret temptation.  Fact is, some boat rides start rough and stay rough. That’s why the focus has to be about our faith, and not on miracles. Like the disciples, we need to prepare for the fact that we’ll be in many storms over the course of our lives. Sometimes our boat will swamp, and sometimes not. Sometimes we'll be paralyzed by fear, and sometimes we’ll work our way through it.  Our boats will be battered, and sometimes we need to simply hang on.


Here’s where the true message of the story comes into play. Jesus knows that he won’t always be physically right beside us, sitting in the next seat, ready with a miraculous cure.  And so he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  To have faith today is to trust that Jesus will give us an “experience of God”—even though it may not involve a rescue at sea or a miraculous cure.  Instead, Jesus can calm our troubled spirits and give us power over our problems so that we don’t panic or lose hope when a storm is blowing all around us. Jesus stills the storms that rage inside us, and gives us a deep sense of inner peace.  And maybe…just maybe…that peace is the greatest miracle of all!

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