By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 20, 2021
Mark 4:35–41 (ESV)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The past couple of years, we have heard many people say things like, the new normal, we are learning as we go, and in my circles, they did not teach us this in seminary. I personally can honestly say they did not teach this to me in seminary because I did not attend an actual seminary, but they are saying these things because our society had things thrust upon us that not even one of us ever expected to endure. We all have our opinions on what should or should not have happened, we are all passionate about our opinion, but the one thing I want us to remember is none of us really knew what to expect. And no matter what our communities did we would be wrong in many people’s perspectives.
That is now part of our past. We need to move forward now. We need to admit to each other that the decisions that were made were based on the information we had at the time and were made with the desire to do what was best for the most people based on the information we had. Offer grace if you were offended and as a leader, I also ask for forgiveness if I caused offense. I think that this pandemic experience has shown us a great deal. I believe that many of us have grown because of it, and it has caused us to reexamine our lives and priorities.
We have had to think outside our normal traditions. We have had to consider what is most important and what is not, and it has allowed us to realize the things in life we have neglected because of the busyness of life. How well did we do? We did good and we failed miserably. The reason we did is because we had to live lives based on faith instead of relying of what we have always done. And yet it was difficult, we struggled, we complained, and wondered about our future.
I feel today’s passage speaks to these feelings that we have. We all have feelings of overwhelming stress and our health is not what we would like it to be. Some of us might be struggling financially and others may be having stressful issues within the family. These are real problems for us. They seem to be sucking all the life and joy out of our lives. And I often find myself crying out like the disciples. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Does God care? I have heard this question more often than I would like. I have asked this question more often than I care to admit. Does God care? Does God care that there are children facing hunger every day because they do not have access to school lunches during the summer? Does God care when the violence in the streets seems to be out of hand? Does God care that war has been the constant state of being for my children’s entire life? Does God care?
This question has left many people asking another question, does God even exist. They ask this because in their mind if there was a God, then certainly God would care, and since there is so much seemingly wrong with the world that many are left feeling empty.
I want us to sit with these questions as we contemplate today’s passage. The evening had come and Jesus told his disciples that they should go to the other side of the sea. Jesus was in his hometown and while he was there the crowds were so great that they could not even get in to eat. These crowds were asking questions, seeking deliverance from disease and oppression. There were religious leaders seeking to pin Jesus down on theological issues and Jesus’s family was also there out of concern for his wellbeing.
Jesus was working. He barely had a break. When we read these accounts in Gospel account of Mark, we can almost feel the stress that Jesus and his disciples were facing. Mark always has Jesus on the move doing something. But as evening approached Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Jesus had just finished presenting some of his most recognizable parables, things like the Sower and the seeds. He had to face down accusations that he was possessed by the vilest of all demonic entities. And was being accused of being mentally unstable by his own brothers. And as the day ended, Jesus wants to sail to the other side of the sea.
If we were to skip ahead, we would see that Jesus was not only going to the other side of the sea, but he was going into an area that was unclean. A place where it was not uncommon for people to tend to swine herds instead of sheep. A place where a demon possessed man lived within a city of the dead. Jesus said after he faced some of the most difficult situations, let us go to an even darker place.
The disciples knew what was on the other side of the sea. They knew who lived there and what they did, but they did not object. They simply left the crowd and helped Jesus onto a boat. They describe this scene in an interesting way. “And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”
Just as he was. That phrase has lodged itself in my prayers this week. Jesus did not make any special effort in preparation, and neither did the disciples. They were about to embark into one of areas of Roman Palestine that was not adherent to the customs of the Hebrew faith, and they did not even bother packing meals. They just listened to Jesus’s voice and jumped onto the boats. Just as he was.
Does this phrase stick out to you? We often have the mindset that we just are not ready to do certain things. Before we can embark, we need to prepare. Before I speak, I need to prepare. We must set our affairs in order before we are free to leave. This is not how Jesus approached the mission set before him. He was guided to the other side of the sea, just as he was.
We should be in that sort of position as well, ready to jump on a boat or in our cars to go at any moment. But are we ready to go? I have often been asked to explain aspects of the Testimonies of Friends over the years. People seem to understand our Peace testimony, they may not agree but they can see why it is there. But what about the other testimonies. While I grew up my pastor Edith used the acronym SPICE to help us understand the testimonies of the Society of Friends. This was not her construct because it is used almost universally among the various groups of Friends in the United States. S for simplicity, P for Peace, I for integrity, C for community, and E for equality. These are important testimonies because they speak about our intent and purpose of being, but we often forget why they are important.
I will not spend much time on all the testimonies but I want us to consider Simplicity for a moment. Why do Friends almost universally feel that simplicity is one of the most important things in our lives with God? The answer is as complex as it is simple. We believe that all people are called in some manner to participate in the ministry of Christ. And if we are all called, we need to be living a lifestyle where we can be like Jesus, ready to go to the other side of the sea at a moment’s notice, just as we are. If we have lived beyond our means, we are not free to embark, because we have debts that need to be repaid. If we are engaging in too many activities we cannot embark at a moment’s notice because we would have to free up our schedules to be able to participate. If we are worried about what others think about our fashion or our education, we are not free to embark into the ministry of Christ because we must first pack our bags and read some books. The simple life is a testimony of Friends because we should always be ready to participate in the Ministry of Christ and to become a blessing to others.
Jesus is encouraging that kind of life. To be able to go, just as we are. We struggle with this. And we should be convicted in our spirits to make this a greater priority. How can we live the love of Christ with others if our minds and lives are stretched to a breaking point?
Jesus gives us that example and his disciples seem to resemble that because the do not question their teacher at that point, instead they jump in the boats to leave. But as they traverse the sea, they encounter a great storm. The wind is blowing and the waves are breaking into the boat, and the boat is beginning to fill with water. This is not an uncommon occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. Due to the geological and environmental factors in that region storms can build and hit rapidly.
This storm is blowing in, and the waves are filling the boat. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. We have already discussed the massive amounts of stress that the crowds had recently placed on Jesus. We can understand that the fatigue within the human body. Jesus was tired and he slept. Jesus slept on a boat in a sea where intense and randomly occurring storms were commonplace.
We cannot fault Jesus for taking a nap, but even the most fatigued of us when entering on a potentially perilous journey would do all that we could to stay alert. Which is why it is strange that Jesus was asleep, and even more curious that while waves are breaking over the sides of the boat Jesus remained asleep. This phenomenon is something that has struck me this past week, how could Jesus be secure enough on that boat to sleep? Is this something that has ever occurred to you?
There is one thing that kept coming to mind while I prayed with this passage, Jesus was not afraid. You might say well of course not Jesus was God. But when I say afraid, I mean he was not concerned. We can quickly assume that Jesus was did not have concern for the safety of his own body and that of his disciples, because of his power. But he was not concerned because he knew the crew. He knew that they could handle the situation they were in, and even though Jesus knew that the storm that was about to roll in would test them to their limits he was confident in their abilities. They already had all they needed; they were ready just as they were.
God has given us much. He has gifted us with abilities, we have had knowledge of countless ages compounded into our brains, and we have been blessed with resources. Yet like the disciples we look at the world around us and we cry out in fear, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” We fear, we cry out, but why? We are often unaware of what God has already done and currently doing. We look at the world and we make assumptions based on a perception that is incomplete. We fear because we narrow our view. We cry out to God. We cry and we are often left wondering why the answers we seek are not the ones we are given. We wonder why does God not care that we are perishing? Could Jesus be asleep on the cushion because He has already given us what we need?
The disciples do interrupt his slumber. Jesus rises from the cushion and rebukes the wind and the sea. He speaks, “Peace! Be still!” and the wind ceased and the waves were calmed. Jesus looks at and rebukes the things that distract us. For the disciples, the distraction was waves that they had experienced countless times before. The waves were breaking over the sides and water was beginning to settle in the bottom of the boat. This had happened before; they had probably been in a similar situation several times while they lived their lives in the fishing community. What made these waves seem worse than the ones they faced before?
Jesus turned to them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus rebuked the waves and the wind, but he cuts the disciples to the core. We each seek after a life of faith for different reasons. Some of us hope for a better future. Some of us hope that God will take us out of a bad situation. This is not wrong. God can give us a better future and God can take us out of a bad situation if it by doing so it brings glory to Him. But what if God has given us what we need for these things already. Could it be possible that God has already answered the prayer of our hearts, but we have been so distracted by small nuisances around us that we have not seen what God has already given? Jesus looks at the disciple and asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The disciples had built expectations in their own mind as to how God would respond. We see this throughout scripture, the Samaritan woman told Jesus, “When Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.” That statement speaks volumes. When Messiah comes, he will take care of it all. When Messiah comes all our troubles will be taken away. When Messiah comes things will be perfect. We have this idea in our head that if only we believe God will remove all our troubles. But what happens when the life throws us a curve ball? What happens when we overlooked a bill and now our account is overdrawn? What happens when our child informs us that they are expecting a child out of wedlock? What happens when a relationship dissolve? Are any of these things truly unexpected? The reality is that we are distracted and these things hit and we are unprepared. We are unprepared because we have taken our attention away and expected God to just take care of it. And now we cry out, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
God does care. God cares a great deal. He cares to such the degree that Jesus, God, came to live among us. Jesus taught and showed us how to live a life with God. And because there are things that we cannot handle on our own he took those things on himself when he went to the cross and rose from the grave. He defeated our own mortality so that when we believe we can have life with him. That is the gospel. But that life is not just in the far future, that life is now. When Jesus told us that the Spirit will come, God lives with and in each of us that believe. God teaches us and leads us if we are willing and learn to listen. And we learn that life when we look at the teachings and the life of Jesus. Jesus made it his custom to worship with the community. He withdrew often to pray in the isolated places. And he ministered to the needs of those around him. He was able to respond because he was ready. He was able to go across the sea just as he was, because he was already prepared to face the challenge set before him.
When we take the name of Christ on ourselves, we are saying we trust and entrust our lives to him. We say that we will take his life and lifestyle onto us. That means we need to live as he lives. We too need to make it our custom to worship together, to step back from ourselves and our desires to put God’s will as first in our life and in our community. We need to withdraw to isolated places to pray and commune with God. And as we do these things, we will be ready to minister just as we are, because we are already prepared to live the love of Christ with others. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Jesus asks us. He has already given us all that we need to do what he is calling us to do in our community today, what is stopping us?
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