This Sunday’s sermon grew out of a reflection shared earlier in the week at the Episcopal Cafe
When the disciples awakened Jesus, what did they expect him to do? They had seen him quell demons and restore wholeness to people in trouble and need; they had heard him speak in parables of his relationship to the reign of God. Did they know, yet, how deep that relationship ran?
In the beginning, says Genesis, all was formless and empty. The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters that were the opposite of creation, the anti-creation: chaos. God asked Job: Were you there, when I brought land out of the depths and life out of the ocean? When I swaddled the waves and rocked them like an infant?
This is why his disciples, after he had spoken the storm into silence, asked one another, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” It was beginning to dawn upon them that this man, whom they had already left everything to follow, was not merely some new and powerful prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit and as close to God as the ancestors. Out of the stillness that followed the storm came the thunderbolt of realization: this, somehow, was God’s own self come among us.
Is that what Jesus meant, when he asked them why they were afraid? Was he asking whether they had recognized him yet? Whether, in their little faith, they had not yet realized the lengths that God would go to to answer that question: Do you care that we are perishing?
Many of you know that I swim in our lake whenever I can. This week has been full of storms and the opportunities have been few and far between. On Monday, there seemed to be a sliver of a chance, so I took it. But the storm came out of nowhere. Swimming close along the shoreline, I saw the wind bending the trees away from the cliff. The lake was whipped up into waves and the beach emptied fast of families and small children. I couldn’t tell if it had begun to rain, or whether it was the lake itself showering me with spray. Needless to say, I got out in a hurry and walked back across the beach.
Out on the horizon, I saw a small boat racing the current toward safe harbour. The storm tossed it like a bath toy. I watched it out of sight, hoping it had reached the river mouth and calmer waters, that its people would have more stories to tell when they reached home than bruises.
Did they pray, as they hurtled toward harbour? Like the disciples, did they demand, “Do you not care, Lord, that we are perishing?” When they finally reached land, did it feel like the hand of God cradling them in its palm?
None of us expected, as we set out, such a change in the weather, with so little warning. We would not have placed ourselves in the water, trusting only in miracles to return us to dry land.
I do not think that when Mark wrote down this story he was thinking about the storms that attend our lives, about getting God’s attention to quell the disturbances of spirit that well up within us: grief, anxiety, rage. I think that it is as it seems: a story about a storm that sprang up suddenly, boaters who were afraid, and the miraculous self-revelation of Jesus as the One who called wind and water into being, the Word who could calm the very depths.
Still, the question and its answer reach out beyond the confines of the story and its little sea: “Do you not care?” “Why are you afraid?”
“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks them. “Do you not believe yet that I love you? That I am with you? That I am for you? Have you still no faith?”
Perhaps he meant faith in his power to still the storm, or to pluck people out of the strong currents that sap our energy and threaten our buoyancy, our lives. There are so many storms that assault us and make us afraid: Do you not care that we are perishing, ask the children of Gaza, the children of the South Side of Chicago, the children of Black mothers and fathers in America, the children orphaned by disease, abuse, and addiction. Other times the storm seems to come out of nowhere.
There is power in the Gospel of love to be harnessed and employed to rein in the power of those storms. There is power in raised voices and lifted hearts that confront oppression and racism and violence and despair with the determined faith that God would wish it otherwise, that Jesus would want us to suffer the little children to know his love. There is power in prayer, and in the compassion of a friend in Christ to sit out the storm alongside us.
But if the story is, in fact, about a storm on a lake, and a Messiah who is the very Word of God to still it, maybe Jesus meant faith in that: that yes, he cares; that God is not unmoved by our fears and our trials; that the clouds that run in on the wind cannot obscure God’s judgement or muffle her mercy; that the Holy Spirit dances in the tree tops, bending with them towards the earth, kissing the ground that we walk upon with grace and loving kindness, walking with us as Christ incarnate, the very body of God’s love.
This is our faith: that Jesus Christ is the very Word and Wisdom and embodiment of God; that he is known to us still, in the breaking of the Bread and in the prayers; that he cares for us still, through the storms and their aftermath; that he is our safe harbour, and our home.