When the Spirit Moves: Enduring the Storm

Last week we talked about the idea of how stories are how we define ourselves. This week I want to talk about a specific kind of story: the epic. No matter what kind of books or movies you like there are epic, larger-than-life tales to tell and which have been told. We look to stories like the Star Wars saga, the Lord of the Rings, the novels of the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen. We look to children’s literature and series like Harry PotterThe Chronicles of Narnia, and His Dark Materials. Tales spring off the page and screen of great quests, insurmountable odds, epic romance, and overcoming great obstacles and tragedies. And we the reader, the watcher, find ourselves lost in the stories. 

One thing I find interesting in all these stories is the heroes are not alone. No matter the odds, which should never be told, the heroes always face them with faithful travelers and friends. These bands of brothers and sisters face off against adversity, there with one another through it all. These faithful companions have one thing that the villains never have: trust in one another. The villains in these stories are always at each other, looking for an advantage and willing to cheat on one another should the occasion arise. Yet, the heroes prevail, quite often because they are not alone. They have those around them to trust and see each other to the end. 

In the gospel lesson today, the disciples are drowning. At least they think they are drowning or more specifically, they think they are going to drown. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. In chapter four, the writer of Mark’s gospel relates one parable after another. Jesus has taught and taught and seems to need a break. “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake,” he tells them. It seems like the sort of thing someone would say when they just needed to getaway. Yet, even as they try to get away the story tells us other boats followed them. 

But things don’t stay calm for long. One thing people of our time may not be a way of is how quickly strong winds can come upon the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. One writer talks about lakeside parking having warning signs on the western shore.[1] It is not uncommon for cars to be swamped by waves blown out of the lake and over the parking lot. These storms are common even now through the winter months and can sink a boat up to 35 feet long. The fishing vessels in Jesus’ day would certainly have been in danger and in this story, they were. 

In our story, such a storm comes along. The disciples, many of whom were experienced fishermen who once made a living on these waters, were terrified. The boats were being tossed about. The disciples frantic to keep them from capsizing. And somehow, Jesus is so exhausted from teaching and preaching and healing and ministering that he simply sleeps through it. The story says he was lying in the boat on a pillow, asleep. The disciples suddenly remember Jesus and wake him. “Dude, what are you doing? We’re dying here and you’re taking a nap!”

I wonder at that point, what was the expression was on Jesus’ face? Exasperation? Incredulousness? Whatever it was I imagine it was something to remember. Years later, I wonder if James and John were sitting around a fire in the evening talking and one says, “Do you remember the storm that nearly killed us on the Sea of Galilee? Remember the look on Jesus’ face when we woke him up? That was something, huh?” 

Nonetheless, I imagine Jesus looking at the disciples, shaking his head, then looking out to sea. “Silence! Be Still!” Given Jesus’ irritation in the heat of the moment, I imagine the translation is closer to, “Hey! Knock it off!” Nature hears the voice of its Creator in Jesus’ words. The winds begin to die down. The sea ceases roiling, and the waves go calm. The boat levels off and the disciples are left in standing water, looking dumbfounded. 

But why was Jesus irritated? I mean other than being awakened in the middle of the first good sleep he probably had in several days, what was he so upset about? The gospel says Jesus asks them a pair of questions, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” or better translated into modern meaning, “Why are you acting like cowards or frightened children? Can you not maintain your trust in me?” 

Now, there I think, is the question of questions in this and the previous passages. You see, the passages before—the parables—were teaching about learning to trust God to bring the Kin-dom of God to fruition in and through them if they simply put their trust in God and believed what Jesus had and was teaching them. But faced with a test of what that might look like in the real world, the disciples failed. 

I think this becomes a great metaphor for much of modern Christianity. We’ve heard the stories. We know the right things to say. We know how to play the game, how to show up and show out. But when the time comes to act on our faith, to step out from behind the doors of the building, out from the comfort of our little groups and cohorts, we falter. We run to Jesus and want to know why we are having to suffer, why we are being persecuted. 

The truth is most Christians have never faced any real crises of faith. Now, this is not to belittle the crises of life itself, the loss of loved ones, the struggle to maintain the necessities of home and health. I mean the crises that come with having your faith, your trust in God tried in a spiritual crucible. Most have never felt this because most have never tried to look beyond the handful of things they have been taught. Some of that is on the congregation for not being willing to grow and ask questions. Some of that is on preachers and denominations for not having the guts to teach what we are taught and learn in seminary and let the people learn what we learned. 

We all come to the time that heroes in the great stories, great epics come to where they step out and trust in something greater than themselves. It is time we all step out and trust God. It is time the people learn to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit. It is time to put away the childish things and learn to eat some meat. It’s time to grow up and start encouraging those who are willing to explore the practice of the Jesus Way instead of criticizing them for doing something different. There could be ministry, blossoming and growing in this place if we quit looking at what we’ve always done and consider what we might be able to do with the Holy Spirit guiding us and using our creativity. There might be leaders who could be trained for ministry if people let go of the stranglehold they have ‘doing it the right way’ (which is nothing more than a statement of comfort) from 18 or 19 hundred whatever. 

We must learn to have trust that God may lead us to places that we don’t feel comfortable with or even like. Your discomfort might be someone else’s path to salvation. Again, your discomfort might be someone else’s path to salvation. Once more, your discomfort might be someone else’s path to salvation. Last time for now, your discomfort might be someone else’s path to salvation. We need to get out of God’s way and get into God’s way. Or there may not be a way back to health and wellness for the church. 

[1] (Wright 2004, 51)