Mark 4:35-41 – The Rev. Helen Havlik – Lent 2 – March 17, 2019
What are you most afraid of? What keeps you up at night with anxious thoughts racing through your head? What won’t you do because you’re afraid? How does fear get in the way of your loving God and loving neighbor? Lent is the 40 days before Easter where we spend time thinking about where we may be falling short in faith so that we can move back toward God. This year we’re looking at what Jesus says and does about fear—so that we can “fear less.” I wonder if Jesus’ disciples knew what they were getting into when he called them to follow him? Several were fishermen, no strangers to the challenges of boating on the big lake that Mark up-grades to the Sea of Galilee. I doubt, though, that they were ready for where Jesus is taking them and what would happen, or their fear of the turmoil around them. I’m reading from Mark, Ch. 4, beginning with vs. 35. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
Marie Kondo. You may not know her name off the bat—but I think you’ve heard about her and her work. She’s the creator of the KonMari method—millions of people follow her on Twitter and watch her Netflix show. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has been translated into more than 30 languages, and in 2015 Time magazine named her one of that year’s 100 Most Influential People. All this and she’s only 34! Still don’t recognize her? She’s the woman who encourages people to go room by room through their living and work spaces, picking up things and asking, “does this bring me joy?” If yes, honor it and keep it; if no, thank it and toss it. Unlike most homemaking gurus, she came to her mantra, “choose joy,” by way of an epiphany. One day in a frenzy of cleaning, she passed out. When she woke up, she had this revelation that the work of tidying up isn’t about throwing things away, it’s about identifying and keeping what things make you happy. Apparently she has motivated many, many people to do that, who no longer live in clutter chaos. (By the way, I find joy in everything that’s in my office—just kidding!)
I think there are two kinds of people in the world—those who fear chaos and those who create it! Actually, there’s a third category: those who experience peace in the middle of it. In Genesis, the first thing God does in creation is to bring order out of chaos—what does that tell you about people that the first words of the Bible are about God tidying up? Chaos bad, order good—chaos is overwhelming, it’s disorienting, it’s distracting, it’s energy wasting—add your own adjectives. When we say something is chaotic, other words that may come to mind are disordered, deranged, tempestuous, riotous, raging. In contrast are words like order, harmony, calm, tranquil, peace. And who wouldn’t want more of them, right? Fortunately, from people like Marie Kondo we can learn how to bring order out of chaos in our spaces. But what about the things we can’t control? What happens when our circumstances overwhelm us—and we can’t simply pick up something that brings us joy, and all we’re left with is fear?
Jesus and his disciples have had quite a day by the big lake. It all starts as Jesus is teaching on the beach and the crowd gets so huge he gets into a boat and lectures from there. He talks about seeds and sowers and lamps and baskets and because he’s talking in parables, some people get it and some don’t. He reassures the disciples that they are among those who are at least on their way to getting it—and he takes their questions afterward in private. So it’s been a busy day and when evening comes Jesus, for some unknown reason, wants to go across to the other side of the lake, to the gentile territory of the Gerasenes. They have an escort—other boats are with them—and Jesus, apparently exhausted from a day of crowds and teaching, falls asleep in the back of the boat. Everything is fine—these are experienced sailors, they’re used to fishing at night, so this trip is no big deal, maybe even a treat since they aren’t hauling nets. Everything is fine—Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat, they’re making good time—until suddenly a wind-storm comes up. I read that this is typical of this particular lake—it’s big, it’s shallow, though it’s surrounded by mountains, wind from the Mediterranean can randomly come whipping through something called Pigeon Pass, challenging even experienced sailors to keep their relatively small boats upright. That night their boat is battered and tossed and there’s no end in sight as it fills with water, and their pretty good day turns awful. None of us can relate to this—right?
What happens next is usually explained away nowadays. Is it a miracle? Is it just the wind dying down as suddenly as it came up? We’re not so sure about miracles, so we lean toward the second. We haven’t spent time with Jesus in person, so this quaint story may not have the same impact on us that it did on the guys who were in the literal boat with the Son of God. Where they are terrified—the word we have here isn’t “awe” in the sense of “gee whiz” but more like “quaking in their boots”—we might picture only Sunday at the cottage. And some people think Mark not only was reporting an actual event, he was using it as a metaphor for what was happening in his church in 70 AD or so. People were scared—times were rough, the church, like that boat on the lake, was being battered and tossed and there was no end in sight. Everyone assumed Jesus would be coming back soon and the world would end and they would be with God at the great banquet table and their suffering would be over. But so much time had passed—longer than the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and still no Jesus. The world not only hadn’t ended, but their lives were much more difficult precisely because of their faith in Jesus, who held them to a higher standard (loving enemies?) and expected them to keep at the ministry he had started. What was the point of faith anyway if everything was still such a challenge—even chaotic? Why did they still struggle? Where was he already? It was really tempting just to get out of the boat, leave the church behind and not have to worry about it anymore. It was tempting to give up and just bow to the economic and political and religious chaos of the day—do the best they could on their own without having to worry about trying to live as Jesus had taught—difficult enough in good times. And especially they didn’t want to have to change—it was terrifying rather than awe-inspiring.
So the storm raged and suddenly Jesus is asked to prove himself. “Don’t you care if we drown?” Wouldn’t the reassuring words of our Lord himself be enough to satisfy their fears? Even if they’re surprised and afraid at first, we might expect the calming words of Jesus to seal it for them. Though on second thought, when we’re overwhelmed and pray, “Lord, help us!” do we really let him? When we pray, “Lord, take this burden from us,” how often do we take it back? When we pray, Lord give us guidance, how often do we ignore it? How often do we pester Jesus for a miracle, only to miss seeing the miracle that actually takes place?
It’s scary to follow the Lord of Life—because sometimes he takes us right into the midst of chaos. He takes us places we don’t want to go. He gives us work we don’t think we can handle. He demands that we turn our lives over to him and that means everything, including our money. He tells us we will lose our lives in order to gain them. In return for our faith and our praise and our worship, both as individuals and as a congregation, we receive so much more—but it’s hard to remember that when we’re afraid. Thankfully for most of us, the times of chaos are few and far between. Most of us do not lead chaotic lives where we don’t know how we’ll get our next meal or where we’ll sleep tonight. Our lives are more tranquil than that—we have the ability to choose what gives us joy and let the rest go.
But for those times when we are overwhelmed by health issues, money issues, family issues, work issues, school issues, church issues—well, you know. For those times, take heart. Jesus is still in the back of the boat. When we’re afraid and overwhelmed—and nowadays, who isn’t?—it’s really tempting not to get in the boat at all, or when we do, to get out of the boat and try to swim for our lives, but Jesus says to us, “you’re still feeling timid? The only way forward is to stay in the boat as together we sail across the lake. It’s so much easier when we’re all together! So keep coming to worship, keep praying for each other and the world, stay in fellowship with the congregation I’ve called you to be part of.” Jesus will not leave us helpless because one, it’s his boat and two, we’re his people. Sure, the winds are strong and the waves are powerful, but we’re not being asked to still the storm. We’re being asked to stay in the boat and trust the one who can.