[The disciples] woke [Jesus] up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”Mark 4:38
The Sea of Galilee is a beautiful body of water. But because it is surrounded by hills, and is 700 feet below sea level, it is prone to sudden, violent storms, like the one in Mark 4:35-41. You could be out on a boat enjoying a beautiful day, and quite literally out of the blue, a life-threatening storm could hit. One minute, things are quiet and calm; and the next, there is a raging storm threatening to capsize your boat. Here is a picture of the Sea of Galilee I took during a picnic lunch there with my daughter:
It was beautiful that day, but storms can come along quite suddenly. And I think that many of the storms that face us in life – the physical, emotional, and spiritual storms – are like that. One minute, life is going along quite smoothly. Quietly, calmly, routinely. And the next minute, quite suddenly and out of the blue, something happens which throws our life into complete and total chaos.
We all face these kinds of storms. There’s simply no way to get through life without them. You might be facing one of these storms today. I may or may not know about it. It may be raging within, and threatening to overwhelm you with doubt or despair. If that is the case, and even if it’s not, there is much that we can learn from this powerful story in Mark’s Gospel.
In a sermon that Martin Luther preached on this story, he shared several lessons from this story. I enjoyed spending time with Luther’s sermon this week, and so I thought I would structure my sermon today around his lessons.
We All Face Storms
Martin Luther began by pointing out that “the first lesson of this Gospel is that if you want to be a Christian and want to have the gospel, you must anticipate rough weather, for it is inevitable.”
How true. These storms are inevitable. Even faithful Christians are not immune from them. In a very famous book by the Christian psychologist, M. Scott Peck, his opening words are these:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.”
Storms of all sorts are inevitable. So if you are facing a storm today, know that you are not alone. We all must face rough weather in our lives. Life is difficult. There are lots of storms in life. Some are our fault. Most are not. We must anticipate rough weather. Because life is difficult. Storms are unavoidable.
But there is one storm, I believe, that is the most difficult of them all. At the end of the day, there is really only one kind of storm that is truly frightening. And it can be summed up in the disciples’ question to Jesus, when they woke him up as the storm raged around them. Their question is this:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Isn’t that the worst storm of them all? To wonder whether God really cares? Because if we know that God cares about us, then we can face any other storm in life. But what if God doesn’t care? Then is there any storm that we can survive? Stephen Crane once wrote a short but powerfully simple poem:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
The universe does not always seem to deal us a fair hand. Some people just seem to have it worse than others. And when we are dealt something challenging, we can wonder why. And wonder whether God even cares about us.
I really believe that I have encountered far fewer people who don’t believe in God than people who just wonder if God really cares about them. If we doubt that God cares for us, then every storm can seem overwhelming. But if we truly believe that God cares for us, then there is no storm that is too great for us to handle.
When We Most Need Our Faith
And that brings us to the second lesson in this story, according to Martin Luther. Which is that living without faith only works well when the seas of life are calm. Any of us can live on our own just fine when life is going smoothly. Luther put it this way:
“When you live in security, exercise your freedom, are free of danger, and have no needs, then you may think that with free will you can do anything. But in time of need … where is your free will then? It’s lost and fails you when it comes to the test. But faith stands and seeks Christ.”
When the seas of life are calm, we don’t need our faith. We can live just fine without it. But what happens when life gets difficult? When the storm hits? That is when our faith is needed.
But here’s the thing about faith: It is not something that we can just put in our pocket and have handy when we need it. It is more like a muscle that needs to be used to stay strong. Our daily prayer, bible reading, and weekly worship, are all ways to keep our faith-muscle strong.
To use a sports analogy, the reason why basketball players keep practicing free throws is so that when the game is on the line, and they are exhausted, and everyone is counting on them to make those crucial shots, they can go back to what they have practiced thousands of times. Or when a golfer has a five-foot putt to win a tournament, the same thing applies: they can rely on what they have practiced thousands of times, when it didn’t matter, to make this putt that could change their life.
When the storms of life hit, we can go back to the prayers, the scripture, the worship that we have done when the weather was calm, so that we can find the strength to endure the storm.
“Even though he sleeps, Christ is in the boat”
And the reason that we can find this strength brings us to Luther’s third lesson from this story, which he presents as a simple but memorable maxim:
“Even though he sleeps, Christ is in the boat.”
Even though he sleeps, our faith leads us to trust that Christ is with us on the boat, and with us in the storm. He may seem to be sleeping on the job, so to speak, but he is still with us. And so, to use Luther’s words:
“When distress strikes and he does not help immediately, no matter, just hold fast, do not waver, but firmly believe that Christ is with you in the boat. For in his own good time he helps.”
Christ is in the boat with us. And in his good time he helps. And this brings me to one more lesson that I want to add to Luther’s. Because it seems to me that Christ is not just on the boat asleep. He can also be woken up.
Our faith and our prayers can wake Jesus up. When the disciples found themselves in the midst of that terrible storm, when they struggled with doubt, and wondered whether Jesus even cared about them, they still managed to do one remarkable thing: They woke Jesus up.
Think about it. The waves were beating into the boat. In fact, the boat was already being swamped, according to the story. They must have been doing everything imaginable to keep that boat from capsizing or sinking. And yet, in the midst of all that, someone thought of waking Jesus up. And whoever that was should have been thanked by the others.
And isn’t that the gift and blessing of being part of a church community? In the church, like in that boat in the storm, there is always somebody who thinks to wake up Jesus. That’s why we need each other; why we need this community. Because when we’re caught in the middle of life’s storms, we can forget to wake up Jesus. But there is always someone in the church to do it for us. Our faith is made stronger by the presence of other disciples.
Church is a team sport, you might say. We don’t always have to be the one to make the winning shot, or sink the winning putt. We are in this together. And when the storms rage around us, we just need someone to wake Jesus up.
In fact, when you think about it, maybe that is one of the tasks of the church in the world: To be the one who remembers to wake Jesus up. Christ is in the boat; he is with us all in this world, and with all of us in the storm. Sometimes, he just needs to be woken up.
Through our worship and prayer, we can do that. We can wake Jesus up. And we can remind the world that Jesus is in the boat with us. That he cares for us all. And does not want us to perish.
Luther concludes his sermon by saying:
“If you wish to be a Christian, you will certainly experience trials. However, if you call upon Christ in time of need, he will hear you, rescue you, and cause your trial to bear blessed fruit and great glory. For the present every necessity is met; and later, eternal life will follow.”
Call upon Christ, for yourself, for your family, for your church, and for our world. And he will answer, in his own good time. He is with us, always, and he will not allow us to perish in the storm.
One day, all of the storms of life will end. The sea will be peaceful and calm forevermore. Until then, we can count on storms. Life will continue to be difficult. But through it all, we can hold onto this one amazing truth: That Jesus cares for us so much, he is willing to get in the boat with us. He is willing to die for us. To perish, so that we do not have to. His answer to the disciples’ question, “Do you not care?” Is always yes. Jesus cares, and that is all that matters. It is what gives us peace in the midst of any storm.
Thanks be to God. Amen.