O.K., I’m from Nebraska where the ancient oceans receded millions of years ago. The largest body of water we have there is a man-made lake on the Platte River; a river which is otherwise known for being a mile wide and six inches deep.
I do not know the sea.
I have been in a few fishing boats, but never on any open water that seemed scary.
I did take an Alaskan cruise once that encountered twelve foot seas, but on a massive cruise ship, that experience was largely about laying on a bunk bed and turning green from motion sickness — no real fear of sinking. We only wished that we could die….
I only know about big water’s power and force from what I have read, and from the movies I’ve seen.
I don’t really know what it is like to find oneself in the kind of perilous situation described in the Gospel today, with the waves crashing and a boat swamping.
The Disciples, (or at least a good portion of them,) were seasoned fishermen and so one supposes that they should have known this lake and their own business well enough to know when they were in trouble!
It is no small thing then for the disciples then to decide to shake Jesus awake and cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
In fact, that might be a question worth considering for our own circumstances.
We live in the midst of what often feels like overwhelming times. There are storms raging in our own lives that threaten to swamp us.
The perpetual upheaval in the Middle East and tug of competing interests.
Conspiracy theories circulating around that threaten to undercut confidence in the truth.
Debilitating partisanship in politics.
Economic forces we do not understand and can’t predict.
Global temperatures rising, drought, famine, and the migration of populations.
All these things and forces are swirling around us, and they often seem like some “perfect storm.” There are legitimate things to be afraid or, or worried about these days!
Most annoying to us is the apparent silence of Jesus in the midst of all of this! What, is he asleep or something?
What are we to make of this apparent disinterested sleep of Jesus while we face all the raging storms and struggles of this world, apparently on our own?
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing here?”
This is what really bothers us; Jesus asleep, not seeming to care at all about what happens to us in the storms of this life. Not seeming to care about what happens to our world.
Where is Jesus in the midst of this storm I’m going through?
Where is Jesus in the midst of my job loss or change?
Where is Jesus in the uncertainty of my retirement? – in the diagnosis that hits our family so hard? , – in the struggle to make grades, or to keep up appearances?
Where is Jesus in the midst of all the uncertainty of what the future will hold for any of us, or for the next generation?
I don’t have any good answers for you.
I wish I did.
I wish I could say that everything will be all right in the end, but we know that’s not always the case.
Some stories end poorly.
The storm will win, the ship will be lost, a not everything in this world arrives at a happy ending, a peaceful resolution, or ends up wrapped up in a nice tight bundle with no loose ends.
“Happy endings” are not what Jesus came to promise us.
Jesus came promising that he would be with us, even to the close of the age.
Jesus is, (you know,) no less present with those disciples in this story even in the worst of the storm than he ever was. He may be silent, or apparently unconcerned, but he is there!
He is still there with them in the midst of that storm that grips and tosses.
They know that he is there! That’s why they cry out to him in fear, wondering why Jesus seems so unconcerned.
Why doesn’t Jesus leap into action right away at the first hint of rough weather?
Well, it appears that most of the storms of this world that we fear most and that we get most worked up about just don’t demand or attract Jesus’ attention. They seem pale in comparison to the true forces that conspire to sink us.
The stuff that we fret over and scurry around about doesn’t even warrant Jesus raising his eyelids.
There are larger forces at work in this world that Jesus needs to be concerned about, bigger things to be afraid of than the huffing and puffing that we can see and feel.
Jesus barely lifts an eyelid at the raging of the storm.
But, at the suggestion that he doesn’t care about them, or about us?
When that is suggested Jesus’ full attention is aroused! That is when he speaks, rebuking both storm and the disciple.
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” He asks his disciples bluntly!
And they, in return were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
That’s a really poor translation, “filled with great awe” – the Greek uses a doubling down of the same Greek word, Phobos – “they are “feared with a great fear” – We might say, “they were scared spitless.”
If they were afraid of what the storm could do to them, that was nothing compared to what they found sitting in the back of the boat with them!
Here is someone who can command sea and the wave! He rebukes the forces of nature with the same kind of language and ease that he uses to silence the demons and to cure the impossible afflictions.
If the guy in the back of the boat can command those unbridled forces of nature, what else might he be able to do? What else might he be able to command – perhaps of us?
This is a story about fear, and the things of which you really ought to be afraid.
We waste so much time and energy being afraid of the little things in this world, the swirling storms of petty bickering and arguments.
We whine about gas prices or our neighbor’s dog doing its business on our side of the lawn.
We bemoan the actions of those folks in Washington as the bicker and posture to make plays at power.
We listen to the international news and fret over what is happening half a world away that might affect us someday, if nowhere else than in our pocket books.
But all the while, most of those things that we make a big deal over aren’t really that big a deal, and they certainly aren’t the things that WE can make much of a dent in.
The storms we most obsess over are just the whims of personalities and principalities.
They have repeated themselves over generations and across cultures.
Corruption in government? Nothing new…you can find it in every civilization over the last 4000 years.
Threats of nation against nation? War? Again, nothing new to the world in the grand scope of history.
What makes those things seem like big deals are the forces behind them that feed them.
Insistence on one’s own way as the best way, the ONLY way.
These are the real forces conspiring against us and against the Kingdom of God coming into our midst, and these are the force which rouse Jesus to action.
Sin, Death, and the power of the devil as Luther said, — those are all the things conspiring in larger realms than we can imagine.
They amplify our own petty human ambitions into truly dangerous levels.
The storms we see now, wars and lies, deceits and betrayals, the breakdown of families and governments and societies, scary as they may be, — are not what we have to be afraid of.
They are only symptoms of the deeper ill, the deeper evil, and it is that power in this world that Jesus comes to confront.
What you really ought to be afraid of is forgetting that Jesus is with you!
What you really ought to be afraid of is rousing his anger by suggesting that he does not care!
He who commands the wind and sea, has told us how to live and love one another. He has shown us at great cost to himself how to are to live together and to love one another, do you imagine he sleeps through our neglect of that? Your neglect of that? Where is your faith?
When accused of not caring about us Jesus pops up off the cushion and asks us where our faith is? Have we no trust in God’s presence with you in the here and now?
What you really ought to be afraid of is thinking that the call to follow Jesus is somehow an option, or an obligation that you can fulfill just over the weekend or whenever it seems good to you.
It is fitting that this story appears on the weekend of “Juneteenth.” That’s an anniversary that very few of us who are not African American know much about or know what to do with really. It commemorates the issuing of General Order # 11 in Texas that ended the practice of slavery there.
Slavery had indeed ended with the Emancipation Proclamation 2 ½ years earlier, it just appears that the good people of Texas and Louisiana simply chose not to inform their slaves of it. They continued to own, work them and profit from them.
They pretended, you see, that God did not care. Pretended God was slumbering while they continued to engage in oppression and persisted in an unjust system long after it had been abolished by law and had opportunity to see their brothers and sisters of color in the way that God saw them, as beloved and precious.
It is not you see the policy or laws, not the storms of politicians or nations that attracts Jesus’ attention and rouses him to question.
The man who appears to be asleep in the back of the boat commands your very life, and he is roused to action whenever it is implied or argued that God does not care for you, or that God does not care for others, or that God does not care about life!
Who are we to oppose Jesus, to ignore him, to treat his call upon our lives to love and to forgive one another and to be his witness so lightly?
Of what should we really be afraid?
Not the storms we can see, but the ones that rage within unseen.
The hardness of heart, the stopping of ears, the persisting in pulling at the oars of prejudice and greed, to act as we always have even when the wind of the Spirit indicate a change of course is needed.
We ought to fear the winds of the Spirit that blow in and around us, calling us to love. Winds we so often seem to struggle against, resist because they call us to change.
No matter how those disciples pulled at the oars, expert as they might be at the ship they found themselves in, they could not out-maneuver a wind that was set against them.
What winds of the Spirit are blowing against us now, calling us to sail with them instead of struggle against them?
What demons found in, with, and under the storms of this life attract Jesus’ attention and rebuke? Will only be calmed when he rebukes both us and the storm?
Of what should we really be afraid? We should really be afraid of not realizing that Jesus is here, and that God cares for all!