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Worship for June 20, 2021

Mark 4:35-41

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK25yvElHxc



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         It had been a long, long day of teaching, and he was wiped out.  So many people had come to hear him that he had to climb in a boat to teach the crowd, swarming on the shoreline.  He told them story after story about farming and seeds and God’s kingdom.  But now he was tired and had no more words left.  His friends joined him in the boat, and they headed for the other side of the lake.  

         And that’s where we pick up today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark, continuing in chapter 4:35-41.  Listen for a word from God:

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.”36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along. 37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” 39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” 41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

May this Word of God speak to us here today.

 

         When it comes to this story, commentators over the generations have loved to point out how Jesus reveals his power to control nature - The wind and the waves of the storm – Just a word from him, “hush,” and all is calm.  The storm listens to him and settles down – A power many a parent of an angry toddler wishes they had!  One word, and the tantrum and storm passes!  

         But this presents a deeply troubling theological issue for us:  Why did Jesus calm THAT storm and doesn’t seem interested in calming any of the other natural disasters we small humans on earth suffer? 

Don’t you ever wonder that?  In just the past week this topic came up both at a visit I had with someone who isn’t too interested in church, but wanted to talk about God, and with the Confirmation Class youth.  Why doesn’t Jesus calm the storms of our lives?  What kind of God could act and instead chooses to do nothing?  How can that be a God of love?  

It’s one of those questions that once you start asking, you go down a really dark black hole of questions without satisfying answers.  Does God control everything?  Could God have stopped the California drought, or wildfires or life-threatening heat?  And if the Almighty could have and chooses not to, what does that say about God?  About our Maker’s love?  I told the man I was visiting that it sounded as though that wasn’t a god he could believe in or trust.  Honestly, neither can I.

         And what’s so curious about this passage is that the disciples don’t wake Jesus up to say, “DO SOMETHING!  STOP THIS STORM!  WE KNOW YOU CAN!”  No, they are scared out of their minds.  It feels like they are about to all drown in the crashing waves flooding their little boat, and they wake Jesus up to ask – 

         Do you remember?  They ask Jesus, “Don’t you care?  Don’t you care that we are drowning?”  Don’t you care that we are frightened, and feel abandoned?  Don’t you care that our lives are in danger?  Don’t you care that we are PERISHING?  Even though at least four people on that boat were experienced sailors, apparently this storm brought a level of fear that literally drowned out their skills.  And their faith.  

To me, that is the crux of this story.  Don’t you care.

Because I think that’s the deepest, most real question we all carry in our hearts.  Not so much whether or not our Lord can control natural disasters.  In fact, I don’t think that’s what “all-powerful” means, when it comes to our Maker.  Of course, we human beings understand power a certain way – The power to make people do what we want them to do, the power to control our external world, the power to do whatever we want whenever we want with whatever we want.  We understand power to be control – The power to make the world the way we want it to be.  We aren’t so good at this.  We humans - that’s our definition of power; not God’s.  

         The Creator did not go about making all this stupendous creation in order to control it, but rather, to love it all.  To be in relationship with it all – And if you have been in any sort of relationship at all – And let’s face it, that’s what it means to be a human being made in the image of our Creator – We’re automatically in relationship with the world around us – people, plants, weather, everything - And relationships built on trying to force the other person to do what we think they should aren’t really sustainable over the long haul.  I mean, you can try, but it’s a great way to make yourself miserable.  Thank goodness that’s not what love looks like – Love is not controlling everything around you, including the people in your life, to suit what you think is best. 

But that doesn’t make it easy.  If you are like me, those relationships don’t always go well, or easily, or smoothly.  Sometimes those relationships can be the most frustrating part of our life.  And that’s when I have to remember the phrase my therapist told me years ago:  Connect without control.  Connect, without, control.  Because that’s what love looks like.  And that is sometimes impossible for this little human to put into practice.  But that’s the power of God:  The power to connect in love with all creation, without controlling all creation.  All-powerful, for God, doesn’t mean coercion or control, it means the power to love all, all the time, no matter what.  It’s the power of love.

 Actor and podcaster Dax Shepherd says because his childhood was chaotic, he as an adult likes chaos, and it’s hard for him to resist.  He likes that rush of adrenaline that means he’s ready to fight, to defend the underdog.  He describes how it took him years to realize he had a choice – He didn’t have to jump into the middle of chaos, and when he found himself in the whirlwind of high emotions and bad decisions and a storm going on outside him and inside his own brain – He could make a choice.  There were other options available to him, when the chaos descended.  

And so I wonder if the disciples were witnessing a new way to be in the midst of chaos – A non-panicking, calm, centered, presence, in the person of Jesus.   We know emotions are incredibly contagious – Ever walked into a college library during finals week?  Or leave the dinner table to get something from the kitchen, only to come back and sense the whole mood of the table has turned, without anyone saying a word?   We are social creatures, and we pick up anxiety and fear and stress from the people around us.  And then we spin round and round and round and round, and invite others to join us, so we don’t feel alone.  Even though that doesn’t really help anything or anyone.  That sure isn’t the way back to faith.

This is such a great story, for us human beings:  The disciples are so caught up in their fear their faith is drowned out.  The storm feels so life-threatening to them.  And Jesus sleeps through it.  I love how they don’t ask him to fix it, only that he cares about them and what they are going through.  And I love that the wind literally grew weary, because that’s what storms do – In our lives, in our world.  They do grow weary.  

But then Jesus answers their question “Don’t you care?” with a question of his own.  He wants to know:  “Why are you frightened?”  And I’ve always heard in it my head like a scolding parent, “Why are you still afraid?  There’s nothing to be scared of here!”  “That’s silly!  To be scared of nothing!”  

But what if Jesus is asking with compassion and care:  O sweeties, tell me, what is scaring you?  Like, he really wants to know – He wants them to look inside themselves, and figure out what is going on in there!  And he says, “I’m right here.  I’m right here with you.  Just open your heart and look inside.”

What are those disciples telling themselves?   How are they responding to this storm?  Have they let fear take the wheel?  Fear literally swamps our brains – with hormones and chemicals – Because our brains care first and foremost about survival, and if anything threatens that, boom – A flood of hormones takes over your whole body so you can run or freeze, and deliberate later.  

But this storm is over, and Jesus asks them what about it frightened them?  Because he knows there’s always another storm on the horizon.  We know there’s always a storm coming, even as we step out from the storm that is the global pandemic.  Jesus is inviting them, Now that you’ve seen there are options other than fear, maybe you can choose faith to go along with that fear?  You can have both.  We, like the disciples – We’re made so we can think about what is scaring us.  We can lean on our faith, on the practices that remind us that their God is a God of love.  That love is so powerful it will never let us go.  That love is right there for us, beneath the fear that consumes us.  As we step out, let us step out with faith, not just fear of the future, or the next storm, or the uncertainty of the repurcussions of the pandemic.  Fear does not have to drown out faith.  Have faith, in God’s presence, in God’s love, in the midst of the chaos that is and always has been the human journey.

 


Worship for June 13, 2021


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6inydiax5s


Worship for June 6, 2021


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_5BGunvNs8


Worship for May 2:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBmSSCj7Rrc