The Squall

Scripture:  Mark 4:35-41

February 24th, 2007 has got to be somewhere in like the top three scariest days of my life.  At the time I was the youth minister at Epworth UMC in Indianapolis, and that youth group had a tradition of an annual ski trip.  Now, I think it was on that particular trip after spending more time on the ground in the snow then on skis that I decided once and for all that skiing just really is not for me.  However, my failure on the slopes is not what that day particularly scary.  It was the drive home.   We had already planned to leave a little earlier than we might normally because of some potential bad weather.  As the afternoon progressed we made the call to leave even an hour earlier than planned because the system was moving in.   We did not leave early enough, because the snow storm was moving faster than anticipated and it was stronger than expected.  By time we got from the slopes to the interstate it had started snowing.  Within minutes it was whiteout conditions.   There were times where it was impossible to tell where the road was because the snow was falling fast enough to cover up the tracks of whatever car was ahead of me.  The trip from the church to the Perfect North slopes was normally about an hour and half, but that return trip took closer to four hours, and during that time almost six inches of snow fell.   It was in those conditions I was white knuckle driving a van full of teenagers.  I was praying “God, please do not let us die” because I sincerely thought that was a distinct possibility that night.   Like I said, it was one of the scariest days of my life.  So as I read this morning’s scripture I find myself really empathizing with the disciples.  Because I have no doubt if Jesus was in the back seat of my van that night, then he probably would have been taking a nap much like he was in the boat from the scripture.

Whether it be a squall that blows up on a lake or a snow storm across the Midwest there are a lot of different storms.   However, not all storms involve weather systems.  The metaphor of a storm works well to describe a wide variety of situations we find ourselves in life.  When things seem uncertain, when darkness is on the horizon, when there is upheaval all around us, when our natural impulse is to seek shelter and hide then a storm is an apt description of what we are going through in life.   All of us go through those kind of storms in our lives at one point or another.  Yet even in those storms of life, I think Jesus would have the same reaction we find in this morning’s scripture and ask us, “Why are you so afraid?”   The lesson that the disciples learned in the boat on that night is still one that we can still learn today.

While some of us probably do enjoy a weekend out on the lake, the majority of us cannot properly appreciate the situation that the disciples and Jesus found themselves in.   As a rule, we tend to go out on the water when we know it is going to be safe.   If it is not going to be safe, then we stay out of the boat.   We check the weather, we double check the weather, and if we see dark clouds forming then we head back into the dock.   For most lakes in Indiana, the entire time we are never that far from land and we have access to a life jacket just in case.   These are all luxuries that the disciples did not have.   If their boat sunk or capsized they did not have life jackets.  The Sea of Galilee is 15 miles long and eight miles wide, so even if they could swim it would have probably been a 3-4 mile swim in bad weather, and they did not have access to satellite informed weather reports.  Even if they did have a weather report, it would not have done much good.

Even today “a furious squall” can come up on the Sea of Galilee suddenly.  Due to the unique geography of the region the Sea of Galilee, lies in a valley with interesting weather patterns.  Several ravines, gorges and valleys function as a sort of weather funnel that allow weather from the Mediterranean sea to end up stuck over the sea of galilee fairly quickly.  Even to this day, it is not an uncommon experience for it to be a bright and sunny today to have dark storm clouds roll in out of nowhere with very little warning.

This is the situation the disciples found themselves in.  Bad weather had rolled in without warning, and it must has been a full on squall.   With thunder and winds strong enough to create waves breaking over the boat.   Trying to put myself in the sandals of the disciples, it is not hard to imagine how scary the situation must have been.  The boat was surely rocking and swaying, the rain would have been pounding, the darkness near absolute, and then water coming over the side would have truly terror inducing.  Other than waking up Jesus, this morning’s scripture does not give us much insight into the way the disciples were acting, but I can only picture them in full out panic mode.   In verse 38, when it states the disciples woke Jesus and said “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?”  I can only picture that as a screamed shout of panic.   Fear, panic, anxiousness, that is often how we respond to storms but that was not Jesus’ response.

And can we talk about Jesus response?  He slept!   The scripture states he was in the stern, which just means the back of the boat.  This would have been a simple fishing boat, not a cruise ship.  It is not like Jesus was safe and secure in some state room.  He was sleeping with a pillow in the middle of a thunder storm, in a boat that was rapidly filling up with water.  I am not sure I have ever been so tired in my life that I would sleep through that, but somehow Jesus managed it!   One of the reasons why Jesus did not sweat it is because he knew that he had the power to essentially say “rain, rain go away” and the clouds would listen to him.

This is the lesson that the disciples learned in the boat, they got a glimpse of the power that Jesus holds as the Lord of all, as verse 41 points out, they asked each other in total wonder, “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!”   This morning’s story about Jesus calming the storm is part of a larger section in the gospel, because in the Mark’s gospel the very next story is where Jesus restores a man possessed by demons, and the story right after that one has Jesus healing a sick woman and raising a girl from the dead.  These stories are intentionally arranged as such to communicate that Jesus has power over the natural, the supernatural, and even over life and death.   Jesus is lord of all.   When we read the gospels with the disciples’ perspective in mind, I think one of the things we see is that following Jesus was a long journey for them to understand that there is power in the name of Jesus, and there is no force of this world or beyond this world that ultimately he does not have authority over.

Now of course Jesus knew this at the time of this morning’s scripture, but the disciples had not yet quite caught up.  This is why Jesus asked them, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  Just like the first disciples, Jesus’ disciples of today should also face those questions.    We profess that Jesus is our savior because it is through him we find the forgiveness and reconciliation with God.   We trust Jesus to deliver us from slavery to sin and death, but do we trust Jesus with more mundane things as well?  When we find ourselves in the storms of life, when we find ourselves full of uncertainty about what is going to happen do we still trust Jesus?   That is a question, we have to all answer for ourselves, but may we remember that Jesus is lord of all.   The Jesus that conquered the grave is the same one that calmed the storm, and that is the same Jesus that still reigns at the right hand of God the father today.   May we have a faith in Jesus that extends beyond church stuff, and may we trust Jesus in all areas of our life.

Which brings us to Jesus second words, “Why are you so afraid?”   If our trust is in God, what do we have to be afraid of?   Now often either because we are anxious, pragmatic, or a little both we can give a long lists of worst case scenarios that describe exactly what we have to be afraid of in any given situation    Despite those lists, Jesus still ask, “why are you so afraid?”

I think the answer is, of course, we are still afraid that the worse will happen; that despite trusting that Jesus is Lord of all the worst possible scenario will still come to pass.   There is a story of a Christian man that illustrates what we should do in the worst possible scenario.  Father Thomas Byles was a well-loved Catholic priest serving the parish of Ongar, England.   His brother had moved to New York, where he met the love of his life, and was set to be married.  Father Byles was asked by his brother to do the ceremony and his brother even provided him passage aboard a state of the art ocean liner.   The year was 1912 and the ship Father Byles boarded was the Titanic.   When the ship met its fate and collided with the iceberg, Father Byles went to the steerage class where he was a non-anxious calming presence.   He helped provide organize the poorest passengers and he was instrumental in getting some of them to safety.  The priest continued to be a calming presence in the midst of a chaotic storm of fear and chaos.  A survivor of the crash stated later that when people began to get excited and panicked all Father Byles had to do was raise his hand and calm returned as people loaded the life boats.   Being a man of God, he was offered a seat on a life boat more than once.  Each time, he turned it down so that another soul might take the spot he would have occupied.  The priest continued to minister to the very end.  He made his way to the stern of the ship where several people were stranded without hope of rescue, and as the Titanic went down he offered prayers of absolution, last rites, and he brought peace and stilled many trouble hearts while ensuring them there was no reason to be afraid.

In the midst of the worst possible case scenario Father Byles did not panic and he did not accept his fate with grim resolve.  Instead he glorified God, he loved others, he had no fear, and an abundance of faith.   When the storms of life come instead of giving into panic we should follow Father Byles example.   Even if the rain does not go away, we can praise God in the midst of the storm.

This morning’s scripture records a scary incident for the disciples.  They thought they were facing the worst case scenario, but instead they took a first big step in realizing the lordship and power of Jesus.  They began to learn how to have faith in Christ even in the midst of the storm.   May we as modern day disciples begin to learn that same lesson.   May we recognize that Jesus is Lord of all and may our trust be completely in him.   We will all face storms in life from real squalls, to global pandemics, to deep inter-personal conflict.   We will have times where our boat is rocked and the water is coming over the sides.  May we not panic and fear, but may we praise God in the midst of the storm and may we able to declare despite the wind and rain it is well, it is well with my soul.


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