June 2024


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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

As we conclude this series that interweaves the doctrine of God with the Psalms, I cannot help but reflect on belief and knowledge as partners in the Christian life.

“On that day.” What an inauspicious beginning. Just a day, a day of teaching and healing, a day like many other days in the life of those who said yes to Jesus. But this was a particularly exhausting day. A tiring day. Jesus wanted to get away. No elaborate farewells, no ritual good-byes. He turns to his disciples and says, “Let’s blow this pop-stand!” And off they go. They get in a boat and they set off across the sea. Or rather the lake; it’s not that big really; it’s not like an ocean crossing. But the geography surrounding this lake makes it susceptible to pop-up storms. Out of nowhere with nothing on the horizon, then—bam—there it is. You’re in the midst of the storm.

That’s the nature of storms; they just happen. Sometimes we can look back and see them coming; but most of the time, they just come. It is almost as if someone, something was out to get us. There is a feeling about the storm in this story, that it isn’t just a storm, a natural occurrence, a common happenstance. There is something bigger here, something malevolent. When Jesus tells the storm to calm down, he shouts “Peace! Be Still.” These are the same words Mark tells us Jesus used to cast out demons. There, it is translated as “Be quiet! Come out of her!” Same words. This storm, Mark implies, is demonic, evil, needing the hand of a savior.

We’ve been visited by evil in our world. You name it in your place or see it in the wider world, our nation, at the heart of things. The storm of evil is all too evident. That evil exists is beyond debate. It’s not always easy to name it, to identify it in a messy world, a world broken by sin and fear. But sometimes it is the responsibility of those who claim the name of Christ to identify evil, whether it be in a culture and country so foreign to us as to be almost incomprehensible, or one that is all too familiar and even claiming to be the true face of patriotism. Like Christ, we sometimes need to stand in the face of the demonic and tell it to be quiet and get out.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The story isn’t really about the storm. The storm demands our attention. It seems to be the major character, the biggest threat, the loudest voice. But this isn’t a story about storms. It’s a story about Jesus. And it’s a story about faith. It’s easy to miss. We are distracted when we are afraid; we lose hope. And often one of the first things to go is faith, belief in a loving God, and hope in tomorrow and today.

That’s why Jesus jumps down the throats of the disciples. They let go. “Have you still no faith?” Still? Just the paragraph before this passage, Mark tells us that Jesus always spoke in parables, in riddles and stories. People often wandered off confused, uncertain. It was almost as if Jesus didn’t want to spoon feed people; he wanted them to meet him halfway. Take a risk and say I believe, even when I don’t fully understand. I believe, even as I doubt. Jesus was OK with doubts. Doubters get a pass from Jesus. But those who were afraid got a reprimand. Anyway, the paragraph before the storm starts says that Jesus always spoke in parables, except when he spoke to the disciples. To them he explained everything. Everything? Everything. He told them who he was. He told them what he was about. He told them what it meant. Everything. Have you still no faith? What else can I do, says Jesus? What else can I give you? What other cheat sheets; what other Cliff’s Notes? For heaven’s sake!

At the end of the story, they are in awe. “Who is this?” they said. Even the winds and waves obey him! Who is this? They’d never seen anything like this before. Jesus had never stilled a storm before. He had never stopped a wind gust, never smoothed out a wave. It’s no wonder that it never occurred to them to ask Jesus to do such a thing. They had no idea that this was in his toolbox. And frankly, if they had gently awakened Jesus and said, “Um, it’s pretty wild out here, anything you can do?” he probably would have smiled and then given them that “watch this” look and brought them to safety.

The problem is, they don’t ask him to do anything. Did you notice that? They don’t say, in Mark’s version of the story anyway, “We need help here.” No, what they say is infinitely more offensive to Jesus. It is evidence that they have been dozing through disciple class, their minds wandering as Jesus patiently walked them through his history and his mission. Worse than that, they missed the class motto, the mission statement, the center of everything. They forgot the most famous verse in all of the Gospels: “For God so loved the world” . . . so loved. “Don’t you care?” They shouted that in their fear. They lost their grip on the main truth about Christ. “Don’t you care?” You might as well shout at the birds in the air, “Don’t you fly?” Or shout at the raindrops, “Don’t you fall?” Or shake their fists at the sun and ask, “Don’t you shine?” Don’t you care? Of course, he cares. That’s why he’s there sleeping on a cushion because he is exhausted from caring for everyone everywhere. Of course, he cares.

But in their panic, in their fear, they forgot. They lost their grip on him and thought only of their own lives. Their boat was already swamped, and they gave up. On life, on hope, on him. They gave up. Have you still no faith? It’s easy to forget in the midst of the storm. Forget to hold on to him. Not because he will still every storm, but he will stand with you in the swamped boat, in the crashing waves. He cares, and that is everything in the midst of the storm.

Paul also is disappointed. Well, maybe not. But he talks to them like children, he says. They aren’t leaning into the wind, he says; they aren’t risking loving like they should, like they could. He doesn’t want to wait, doesn’t want them to wait. Now is the time, he says, right now. Yes, the winds are blowing; yes, so much is uncertain; yes, there are threats aplenty. But now is the time to claim faith.

Then, as if to make it even harder to claim faith, he tells them his own story. He tells them what he has endured, hinting, as he does, that their lives aren’t going to get any easier. In fact, he hints that it is possible that making this choice might bring a whole lot of trouble falling down on their heads. And yet, it is worth the choice. It is worth the storms that come. Paul would argue that it is the only way to survive the storms that come – by claiming this relationship, by claiming this family.

Remember the “you” to whom he speaks in the opening verse and throughout this text is plural. We choose together, or rather we as individuals choose to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We become part of a family. We become part of a community when we choose this day, which means that we have support, that we have resources when we face the storms that come. And we offer resources when someone else is struggling to find their feet in the winds that blow. That’s how we survive the storm: together.

In This Series...

Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Trinity Sunday, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes