Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Third Sunday after Pentecost (June 21, 2009)
“A Great Storm and a Great Calm” (Mark 4:35-41)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you find it unusual that the disciples were afraid during that storm on the Sea of Galilee? After all, several of these guys were experienced fishermen. Most of them had probably grown up around that big lake and had seen some pretty fierce squalls. They had probably already ridden some pretty big waves out on those familiar waters. Evidently, this storm was such a big one that they all were afraid they were going to die.

I've never quite been in that situation. A few years ago, I went on a fishing trip out of Westport where I got terribly seasick from the big swells. Last summer, the men in our family went on a fishing trip off of Vancouver Island. It was two of us and a guide in a 17-foot boat. The water was calm, but I got a little nervous because I think our guide was not quite right in the head. But I've never been on a boat in the middle of a storm where I thought I was going to die. However, I get scared just thinking about their predicament. My blood pressure goes up every time I see clips of that movie “The Poseidon Adventure” where a huge wave topples an ocean liner.

When you think about how frightened those disciples were, how was it possible for Jesus to sleep during that storm? The experienced fishermen Peter and Andrew and James and John were terrified, but the carpenter Jesus was snoozing away in the back of the boat.

Worry and fear are sinful. It shows that we really don’t have faith in God to take care of us in the midst of our difficult circumstances. But our Gospel lesson today teaches us that He does indeed take care of us. He is with us, even in the times when it doesn’t seem like it. Therefore, we don’t have to worry or be afraid. God can turn our great storms into great calm.

A Great Storm

This real event in our Gospel lesson teaches us about Jesus’ human and divine nature. He was sleeping. His body got tired, just like ours does. Jesus was fully human.

But He also spoke His creative Word to the raging elements of nature, and they obeyed Him. This is something only God can do. Jesus is also fully divine. This is one of the many accounts that reveal to us that Jesus is true God and true Man. But it teaches us so much more.

The storm can represent for us the storms in our life. In the Old Testament, the sea often represented evil, with its churning and roiling waters, swallowing ships and sailors into its depths. And ultimately, the problems that we face in our life—sickness, family problems, losing our job, fear of crime in our neighborhood, and so on—these all have an evil origin: the fact that we live in a fallen, sinful world and that there are evil influences all around us.

For the early Christians, their most pressing problem was the storm of persecution. That’s why a boat came to be used as a picture of the church in early Christian artwork. One could be safe inside the boat, even when the waves of trial and tribulation beat against its sides.

When our storms buffet us, we may be tempted to cry out just as the disciples did, “Jesus, don’t you care if we perish?” Our cry is often, “Don’t you care, God? Where are you?”

God sometimes does seem absent. We pray and pray but he doesn’t seem to answer. It’s as if he’s sleeping and doesn’t care about what’s happening to us.

A Great Calm

Even before Jesus made the wind and the waves stop, we see a great calm in Him. He was sleeping in the back of the boat. He was perfectly content, trusting in His Heavenly Father’s care, even in the midst of crashing waves.

This is a picture for us of what Luther called “theology of the cross.” The “theology of the cross” deals with “the hidden-ness of God.” God is still present and active and powerful even when he seems to hide himself. Jesus didn't seem very powerful on the cross. But in the flesh of Jesus, God hid himself. In his weakness and humility as he hung there and died, the very power of God was present and active to save us and forgive us through the crucified flesh of Jesus. Likewise, Jesus was fully in control of things there on the waters of Lake Galilee, even if it didn’t look that way. And God is fully in control of things in the churning, roiling waters of your life, even if it doesn’t seem like He is.

Jesus graciously answered the disciples’ cry by stilling the storm. He could have rebuked them for waking him up. “Hey! Leave me alone!” he could have said. “I was perfectly content back here sleeping!” But he didn’t. He heard their cry and graciously answered their plea for help.

God hears your cry for help, and he is powerful to still the storms in your life. Psalm 89:9 says You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them. David declares in Psalm 65:7, You…still the noise of the seas, The noise of their waves, And the tumult of the peoples.

If God can stop the sea from raging, is it too hard for him to take care of both the big and little problems that cause us to worry and be afraid?

Jesus heard the disciples when they cried out and graciously answered them, but he still rebuked their sinful fear and lack of faith. “Why are you so afraid?” he asked. “Do you still have no faith?”

It was as if he was saying to them, “I was right here all along. Why did you worry? Why the fear in your hearts? Haven’t you learned anything from me yet? You’ve been traveling with me for a while now. You’ve seen me cast out demons. You saw a leper get well. You saw a paralyzed man get up and walk. You saw the shriveled hand of a man work again. You’ve seen many other miracles. Don’t you get it yet? You could have at least looked at me in the back of the boat sleeping soundly and knew that everything was okay. But to show you that I have power over nature, and more importantly, to show you that I love you, I stilled the storm.”

God rebukes our sinful fear and lack of faith today, too. But we can know that even though it may seem as if Jesus is sleeping, He is still very much with you for your good. He loves you. Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay, because Jesus truly does care if we are perishing. Sometimes, however, our storms are not stilled. Take, for example, St. Paul’s ship when he was traveling to Rome in Acts chapter 27. Paul’s ship sunk in a great storm on the Mediterranean. The ship ran aground on a sandbar and was broken apart by the crashing waves. Those who could swim to shore did. The others got there by floating on pieces of the wreckage.

You see, there is no guarantee that your storms will always be stilled. Your boat may be filling with water. It may seem as if you are about to perish. But God will not let those storms get the best of you. Remember how I said that in the Old Testament the sea often stands for evil forces opposed to God. But listen to God’s voice in our reading from Job this morning: “Who shut in the sea…and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, when I said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?” (Job 38:8, 10-11) Likewise, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God destroyed Satan’s power over you. God bound him and gagged him so that his reach is limited. He cannot harm you. His “proud waves” have been “halted” by the walls of God’s Word and Sacraments that surround us.

But even if your storms are not stilled, you can still enjoy God’s great calm. You can still be at peace in the midst of the storm, because you have been saved from perishing eternally. God hears your cries for deliverance. In today's Epistle, St. Paul quotes the Lord as saying, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I helped you.” And then he goes on, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” You don't have to wait for God's deliverance. You are saved now. He already saved you at the cross and the empty tomb. God's gracious favor is already yours in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, you can enjoy God’s great calm. You can be like Jesus, sleeping in the back of the boat, fully trusting in your Heavenly Father’s care. Psalm 4:8 says, I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. And in our Introit for the day, we sang, Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. You and I are on our way to that safe harbor called heaven. In the meantime, we are kept safe on board this ship we call the Church. Jesus has paid your fare with His precious blood.

Our gracious God can take great storms and turn them into a great calm. And even if He does not immediately stop the waves and the winds, you can still have a great calm in their midst.


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