Jesus Stills a StormMark 4:35-41 (NRSVUE)
On that day, when evening had come, he 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. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 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?” And waking up, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Here in New England, we know that whether can be crazy sometimes, don’t we? It can change in an instant. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a minute.” And we saw that this past week, with temperatures in the 90s one day and the 50s the next. There were clear skies and cloudy skies. There was rain and wind, and there was even thunder and lightning.
I remember as a kid, my dad was always checking the weather because he owned a roofing company and his crews worked outside. But he also had a boat, and he liked to go fishing on Saturdays. So, he always wanted to know what the weather was going to be so he could plan ahead. But as we all know, the weather doesn’t always work that way.
In the bible, when there are mysteries beyond our understanding, times of chaos, or things beyond human control, we hear Jesus tell stories of storms. In today’s scripture reading, we are told that the disciples are out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, and suddenly a storm appears. The winds begin to blow, and the waves crash against the boat. Now the Sea of Galilee is about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. Wouldn’t you think that the disciples, since some of them were experienced fishermen, would have looked to see what the weather was like, like my dad used to before they headed out on the water? Wouldn’t they have seen a storm like that coming?
Well actually, because of the positioning of the Sea of Galilee, there is often a mixture of warm and cold fronts, and those contradictory temperatures cause sudden unexpected storms. And that is just what the disciples experienced that night. Scripture says that they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a furious storm, and waves swept over the boat! I wonder my friends, how do you think you would feel if you were out on a boat in the middle of the sea and a storm like that blew in? All around you, the waves are crashing, and the wind is blowing. Do you think you might feel a little afraid? Or worried? Or concerned? Well, it sounds like that is just how the disciples were feeling. And it was at that moment that they realized that Jesus, their teacher, wasn’t there with them. So, they looked for him, and where did they find him? Sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat!
Obviously, Jesus wasn’t worried about the storm, but the disciples were, so they quickly ran to Jesus and they woke him up and they said to him, “Lord save us for we are going to drown!!” But when Jesus awoke, he sat up and said to them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid!” You see, Jesus like the disciples, was IN the storm that night, but the storm was not IN Jesus. Did you hear that? Jesus was IN the storm that night, but the storm was not IN Jesus.
It’s kind of like a quote that a friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day that said: “Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; they sink because of the water that gets in them.” It went on to say, “Don’t let what is happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.”
Folks, even with all of the stress and anxiety, and worry that was around him, Jesus was at peace. And because of that, he could think and act clearly. The disciples, however, were beginning to panic and worry. And in so doing, the storm not only raged around them but also within them, allowing their fear to take over and causing them to lose sight of their faith.
The truth is, that happens to a lot of us, doesn’t it? We get all wrapped up in things that are happening around us: things that we hear in the news or read on social media, things that upset us and worry us, and when we do that, we allow the storm inside of us instead of staying calm, thinking clearly, and keeping our peace within. But what else could the disciples have done? And how can we stay calm and centered when the world around us seems to be spinning out of control?
Well, as with many of the parables and the stories of Jesus, we must look for clues or puzzle pieces to help us better understand. Because Jesus did teach us how to keep that inner calm and that sense of peace within even when the storms surround us. Friends, when the disciples were worried and afraid, where did they find Jesus? He was in the back of the boat, right? And he wasn’t just standing in the back of the boat, or sitting in the back of the boat, no! He was on a cushion sleeping in the back of the boat!
You see, even Jesus needed to rest, and he teaches us over and over in scripture the importance of taking care of ourselves, taking time to rest, and to pray and to keep ourselves physically and spiritually fed. When we think of the work that Jesus did here on earth, we think about him teaching and preaching to the crowds. We think of him healing the sick and feeding the hungry. And we think of him working for justice as he humbly served others. We often imagine that Jesus was always working. After all, people always wanted his attention, didn’t they? They always wanted his help, right? Over and over again, we hear about the crowds following him and pressing in on him. He must have been exhausted. After all, he was always so busy! But friends, the other piece of the puzzle that I was talking about just a few minutes ago was that during the storm, Jesus wasn’t worrying in the back of the boat, he was sleeping, and Jesus took breaks to rest and recharge himself all the time.
In the book of Matthew, after preaching to the crowds, scripture says that “Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.” In the book of Mark, after a day of healing many people, scripture says, “Rising early in the morning, he went out to a solitary place and there he prayed.” In the book of Luke, Jesus goes off to a deserted place to pray. And in the book of John, we hear that “being wearied, he sat down by the well to rest.”
Unfortunately, however, we don’t tend to focus on those scriptures. Because in the world that we live in today, rest is many times looked at as laziness. In our society today, the busier you are, the more important and successful you seem. We run ourselves ragged and we don’t give our minds, our bodies, or our spirits time to rest and recharge. The problem is, my friends, we need to rest and retreat every once in a while to have the energy to do good works and to help others.
We are not machines or robots; we are human beings. And yes, God made us to walk and to run, to love and to serve, to laugh and to dance, to talk and to listen, to teach and to learn. But we can’t do any of those things if we don’t also rest. Our minds and our bodies need time to recharge. And Jesus knew that!
Folks, if we look carefully, we see that he was constantly teaching us by his example–by resting and praying and taking time away from the busyness of the crowds. The problem is we often skip over those scriptures, or we don’t pay attention to them, thinking that they are merely transitions between the important stories. But sometimes, when Jesus rested and prayed and took time away from the crowds, those were the important stories.
In today’s story of Jesus calming the storm, when the disciples were anxious and afraid, where did they find Jesus? He was asleep on a cushion in the midst of the chaos. Friends, here in Oldtown, we are a church family, and we take care of each other. But when we are tired and weary and in need of rest, rather than supporting and encouraging each other, we tend to start focusing on each other’s shortcomings and faults. When we are tired, we complain more and judge more. And rather than looking for possibilities all around us, we tend to focus on the problems. Though it may be contradictory to what society teaches us, I can assure you that more is not always better, and busier doesn’t always get the most work done. Friends, today we learned that during the storm, Jesus was calm, cool, and collected–first, because he was Jesus, but second, because he had taken time to rest, finding and maintaining peace within himself. I often say that happiness is affected by what is happening around us, but joy comes from within. And peace works that same way. We find peace within ourselves when we give ourselves time to be grounded and spiritually fed.
Friends, today are celebrating the fact that we have new pew cushions here in Oldtown. They were donated by Ellen Kingman (aka my mom) in memory of her husband Dave (aka my dad). Because, though he ran many businesses, he was always donating his time here at the church and to those in need. And though he always had a very full schedule, he also always came to worship here in Oldtown on Sundays and sat in these pews because this is where he found peace. Friends, not only do my mom and I hope that these new pew cushions offer you a little comfort and rest during worship, but more so, we pray that when you sit on these cushions, you remember that though the storms of life may be raging all around you, and you may be overwhelmed by choices you have to make or struggles that seem to be out of your control, we hope that you understand, just like my dad always did, that you can be in the storm, but you don’t need to let the storm in you! You can sit on these new pew cushions and rest, finding peace within.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t
forget to slow down and take a deep breath every now and then. Turn off your tv
every once in a while. Sit on a pew cushion here, or find a cushion at home where
you can breathe, rest, and pray, connecting with your faith and finding peace
within. Because that is a gift that you not only give to yourself, but in so doing, you
also give to those around you.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!