As some of you know, the business career I recently left to enter into the ministry full time required me to travel quite a bit. In the last ten years of my business career I traveled just about every week. I was on an airplane two to three times a week. My jobs have required me to travel throughout the United States as well as Europe.
Now during my travels, I have had some pretty bizarre happenings on airplanes. I remember on one occasion the pilot made an approach to land at LaGuardia Airport in New York. All was fine as we started our descent. I could see the runway when all of a sudden the pilot aborted the landing, pulled the throttle back and we shot back up in the air. He banked the plane hard to the right. He turned so hard that I thought the wing of the plane was going to touch the water and I would soon be swimming in Long Island Sound. After about five minutes the captain made an announcement that another plane had turned onto our runway.
Another time I took off from Milan Italy flying on a very small thirty-five-seat commuter airplane over the Swiss Alps on my way to Geneva Switzerland. As we took off we entered into some very heavy clouds. We started bouncing around in that little plane. The plane shook, rattled, rocked and rolled as we flew through a storm. The flight attendants didnât even get out of their seats. I knew it was going to be a bad flight when I saw one of the fight attendants get out her airsickness bag.
The pilot didnât speak very good English and my Italian wasnât too great either, but from what I gathered, he was trying to get us out of the storm by lowering the altitude of the plane. We kept going lower and lower and I thought for sure we were going to eventually end up in the side of a mountain. Suddenly the clouds broke and as I looked out of the window of this little thirty-five-seat airplane I saw cows grazing on the side of a mountain. They were so close that I could tell they had already been milked that day. When we finally landed in Geneva, all of the passengers broke into a round of applause.
Throughout all my travels, and all of the close calls I have experienced, I have always had faith in the pilots. Iâve had faith, but you know never once have I looked into the cockpit and seen the pilot sleeping. I donât think thatâs something they normally do. Maybe John Bell can tell us if they do sleep up there. But in this morningâs Scripture lesson, we have Jesus, the pilot of this boat, so to speak, asleep in the cockpit. And I am sure that didnât give the disciples a very comfortable feeling.
This morningâ Scripture lesson comes from the Gospel of Mark. We will stay with Mark for the next several weeks. Todayâs story is about faith and where we place our faith. Itâs a wonderful story that I am sure each of us can relate to and learn from. Now next weekâs sermon is, well next weekâs sermon is just soooo wonderful that I canât even begin to describe it to you. I guess youâll just have to come and hear it for yourself.
Our story for today is the first of a series of four miracles recorded in this section of Mark. This is also the first of four boat crossings recorded in Mark. We are told that Jesus and his disciples had spent a very long day teaching by the lakeside. Mark tells us in the opening of this chapter that Jesus had been using parables to teach many things about the Kingdom of God.
There were so many people who crowded around Jesus on the shore of Lake Galilee that he had to get into a boat and go out a little distance from the shore to continue his teaching. We can just imagine Jesus sitting in this boat with the crowd all sitting on the beach listening intently as he spoke. Perhaps a few of the people even waded out to get a closer look at this wonderful teacher who had come to visit their village that day.
Now when the day was over, and the sun was beginning to set, Jesus said to the disciples, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." Perhaps Jesus needed to escape the crowds for the evening so he and his disciples could get some rest. Or maybe he was finished teaching on this side of the lake and decided to begin fresh in the morning on the other side of the lake. As they began to leave the crowds on the shore, other boats on the lake began to follow Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus and the disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee in one boat, with several others following. As they got part way across the lake, Mark tells us that suddenly, "A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped." The Sea of Galilee is notorious for its storms. The Sea of Galilee, (which is really a large lake) is below sea level, with mountains rising to the east. On the west, the Judean hills bend and twist, so that there are narrow corridors, which the wind can roar down. Violent storms come up very quickly in this area know as the Golan Heights.
It had been a tough day, and Jesus was exhausted from the crowds. He had fallen asleep in the stern of the boat, despite the storm. The disciples were panicked, since the waves were threatening to swamp the boat. The fact that the disciples were frightened tells us something about the nature of this storm. It must have been very bad. Remember that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen. They had seen storms before. They had survived storms before. They knew what to do in a storm. But this one sent them into panic. So, in desperation, they woke up Jesus. "Master," they said, "weâre about to go under here. Donât you even care? Donât just lay there ! Wake up! Take charge! Do something to SAVE US !"
Jesus didnât answer the disciples directly. Instead, he got up, looked around and spoke but three words: "Peace, be still." The wind immediately died down, and things became completely calm. The sea became as smooth as glass. There were no wind or waves, just a calm sea. This was not just a gradual dying out of the storm, but a sudden and miraculous total ending of the storm and all its effects. The storm ceased as quickly as it came up.
Jesus now addresses the disciples. He turned to them, and asked, "Why are you so afraid ?" The disciples must have been thinking, "Listen, weâre in the midst of this horrible storm, weâre all about to drown here and there you are sleeping in the bow of the boat. Donât you think we had the right to be just a little bit frightened and nervous ?"
Jesus puts another question to them. "Do you still have no faith?" Remember that the disciples had been with Jesus listening to him teach and preach. They had heard him give testimony to the crowds that he was the Son of God. They had even been witnesses to his power to heal and cast out demons. They had seen and heard all of these wondrous things and they still didnât get it. They still didnât have the faith needed to weather out the storm.
We note that the disciples are still afraid in spite of the storm ending. But now they have a different kind of fear. They ask each other, "Who is this that even the wind obeys him ?" They are frightened because they realize just who it is that they have sitting there in the boat with them, the Son of God who possesses the power from God that, "Even the wind and the waves obey him."
This story of Jesus calming the storm on the Lake of Galilee is a wonderful teaching about life in the hands of God. The story reminds us that God is in control. God, who created the land and the sea has the power to calm the very sea he created.
I donât know about you, but when I read this story about the disciples in the boat, I could relate to their fear and their panic. I think back to my story of flying over the Swiss Alps in that small commuter plane. I was pretty confident that the pilot was doing the best he could to get us out of that bad weather. But as the storm got worse, and we bounced around more and more, I became less and less confident. Isnât that the way most of us get when the storms of life continue to rock our boat ? We begin thinking, "Where are you God ? Donât you care that we are perishing ?" When our world seems to becoming unglued, our ears are not attuned to hear the words, "Peace ! Be still, I am in control."
And perhaps that is where the problem lies for most of us. We become fearful when the storms of life howl and the waves threaten us because we think WE are in control. We think WE can save ourselves. We think WE can fix the problem on our own. We think WE have all the answers. We think it all hangs on US. We keep one hand on the rudder, just in case God doesnât know where he is going.
The good news is that we are NOT in control, God is. We must remember in the storms of life, amid the chaos of suffering, through all the temptations that we face, in the unexpected hurricanes and tornados that blow against us, God IS present and God IS in control. We must remember that we need to be faith-filled and not fear-filled.
The message that Jesus presents to us in this Gospel account today is borne out in a recent stress management survey. Experts say that only 2 % of our "worrying time" is spent on things that might actually be helped by worrying. The other 98% of our "worrying time" is spent as follows:
40% is spent worrying about things that never happen
35% is spent worrying about things that can not be changed
15% is spent worrying about things that turn out better than expected
8% is spent worrying about things that are so petty that they donât matter at all.
We do much better when we fill ourselves with faith rather than fear.
This story doesnât say that if we have Jesus in the boat with us, our lives wonât get rocked. It doesnât mean that being in relationship with Jesus promises us perfect health, a satisfying marriage, a successful career, or a life without cares. Even as Christians, we are still subject to all the same adversities of the human condition which others experience. The message we need to take from this is that when the storms of life threaten us we have someone to call on. We have someone who will help us carry the load. That someone is Jesus Christ.
Some of us come here today with a storm raging in our life. Others come knowing friends or loved ones who have a storm raging, whether that be a health problem, a marital problem, an addiction problem or even the storm of an imminent death. We must remember that Jesus is in the boat with us. He calls us to turn our eyes for a moment from the storm to the Savior. He asks us to hear his words, "Peace! Be still. I am with you even to the ends of the earth." He asks us to not only hear these words, but believe them as well.
Let us go forth this morning keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and placing our faith in the Son who God who has thepower to calm the storms on the sea as well as the storms within our very being. AMEN !