TEXTS: Mark 4:35-41
I was younger then and more confident, probably overly confident, in my abilities. I had the promises of a few persons from my local church to come and help me. The house was a bungalow; the pitch of the roof was fairly low. You could easily walk around on the roof without worry of slipping and sliding. There was no need for roof jacks. I had stripped off the old roof shingles and had re-roofed the back half of the house (the easy half). My friends and I were working on putting down the tar paper underlayment on the front half. The weather report had been sunny and mild, all day and all night, and it was exactly that – sunny and mild; that is until that bit of ominous blackness was spotted on the western horizon.
We began to hustle a bit with the underlayment as we only had a couple of courses to go. And then the wind picked up and we could smell the moisture in the air. And we scrambled for the tarps. And the wind picked up again to the point that we were having trouble keeping the tarps in place as we tried to weigh them down with shingles. And then the heavens opened up and the rain came down so thick and so hard that we could hardly see what we were doing.
In less than half an hour it was all over. The sun was again shining. We were soaked to the skin. The interior of my friend Stan’s car was a pond because he had left the window open. I hired professional roofers to finish the roof. The summer roofing project became a roof replacement, upstairs ceiling painting and living room ceiling replacement project. It was only by the grace of God that it didn’t become a divorce project.
This is the way of life, is it not? The world around you swirls in chaos but you are safely in your little boat atop the waves, enjoying what seems be a reasonable level of safety and security and even comfort. You planned ahead; you have taken precautions; you know what you are doing (or at least you believe that you know what you are doing). And then you look up and see that little spot of inky blackness on the horizon but you also know that there a hundred ways for that blackness pass you by completely and all you have do is hustle a bit and you will be in safe harbor. And then the storm hits and all the chaos of the world around you is suddenly sweeping over the gunnels of your safe little boat. And there are no life jackets; there are no life boats; the Coast Guard is not hovering over you in a helicopter ready to drop a rescue basket; and suddenly you are sure that you are going down with the ship. And in a sense of sheer panic, you cry out to God, “Do you not care?!” “Do you not care that we are perishing?!”
Now it would be so easy, so terribly easy to say that if we but trust in God, if we but embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior, the storms of our lives will be stilled. We will travel through our lives unscathed, possibly even un-threatened. It would be so easy to say, love Jesus and not only will everything be wonderful from here on, but that there will even be a rectifying of past woes. Love Jesus and life be like old country western song played in reverse. You know what happens when you play an old country western song in reverse, don’t you? You get wife back, you get your dog back, you get your truck back, you get your house back.
My friends, I’m sorry to have tell to you this, but that’s not the way it works. That is not the way faith works, not the way life works, not the way God works. Let me tell you friends, when that southern Indiana thunderstorm was bearing down on us as we were frantically trying to get those tarps in place on the roof of my house, there were some pretty fervent prayers going up from the hearts of some pretty faithful people. All those prayers didn’t cause that storm to suddenly veer off to the south. The wind didn’t suddenly change direction so that our tarps didn’t keep rolling up over the peak of the roof. The rain water didn’t suddenly shift away from the valley on the north side of the dormer where it was funneled straight down onto our living room ceiling.
And the point that I missed in the story which writer gospel Mark gives us of the storm on the Sea of Galilee is that the real terror in the hearts of the disciples in that boat did not come until after Jesus stilled the storm! In the story read this morning Mark uses the Greek term “delios” to describe the condition of the disciples when the storm was at its peak and they confronted the sleeping Jesus. “Delios” translates into the English as fear or possibly timidity. Mark uses the Greek term “phobos” when he describes what the NRSV translators kindly translate as the “great awe” that filled the disciples after the storm was stilled by Jesus’ command. “Phobos” is where we get the English term “phobia” and is best translated as “sheer terror”.
So which is worse, being confronted with the chaos of a storm while on the sea, believing that you are surely going to die, or being confronted with the inconceivable power of God Almighty; power that can command even a shift om the forces of nature? In the Gospel Mark there is no doubt, for Mark proclaims that living in the immediate presence of the power of God was for the disciples more terrifying than facing the prospect of death as a result of the forces of the world in which we live.
Sometimes I think that we have developed a bit of an immunity to our fear, our awe, our respect for the power of God. With all the science and technology of the world today, our awe before God has diminished as humanity has been pushed, I believe, in two directions. One of those directions is away from God completely, as people increasingly believe either that there is no God at all, or that God is powerless in our individual and corporate lives. Secondly, some people have come to believe that God can be manipulated, molded by humanity into being what we want God to be, and then we are back to the ever-present “believe in God, believe in Jesus and everything be wonderful” mindset.
Friends, if there is a message to be taken from this story, it is that we worship an awesome God, a mighty God, an omnipotent God who has the power to create and the power to destroy, the power to build up and the power to tear down. We worship Jesus Christ, fully human and so capable of all the senses, all the emotions, all the joy and pain that you and I are capable of, yet also fully divine and so capable of all the creation and healing and feeding of God Almighty. Capable even of ordering the forces of nature into obedience. And we worship this God, made known to us in this man, as a deity that is not at our beck and call; a God who will not be molded to whatever shape we find desirable. Instead we worship a God who creates for God; who creates to rectify evil; who creates and re-creates to mend what humankind so often, in its manifold sinfulness, twists and turns, colors and muddies, and in general mucks up. We worship a God who invites us to participate in that creative process, who welcomes us to work for good, to strive for peace. to be involved in the healing of the nations; and yet who gives us the freedom to decline the invitation and to even turn from or against the goodness that God ordains.
This coming week a number of our youth gathered here this morning will be traveling to Houston to participate in the 2018 ELCA Youth Assembly. To those youth I suggest that there will be much in the coming week that you will have the opportunity to be awed at. I suggest to you that the power of God Almighty made known to us in Christ our Savior will be more than apparent in ways as big as the jumbo-trons that you will be watching in the NRG Arena, as big as 30,000 people singing and chanting in unison. I would suggest though that you also be attentive so as not to miss the awesome ways that God will be at work in Houston that aren’t so huge, so outstanding, that might be made known to you even in quiet, one on one, conversations. I strongly suggest that you be attentive to the ways in which those “poor people” those “disadvantaged folks” that you will be ministering to on your Service Day have the power to minister to you and to change your life.
Friends, we stand before an awesome God, even a terrifying God, made known to us in Christ our Savior; constantly with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And yet we stand before a God of love and grace. Let us believe in the power of God Almighty, that we may truly stand in awe before God. Let us accept the invitation of God to participate in the creation of the goodness in which God is constantly engaged.
Praise be to God. Amen.