The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Sermon by the Rev. D W Hinkle
Pentecost 5 Proper 7B June 24, 2018
Scripture: Mark 4: 35-41 “35 On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’“
“He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
My father, George Hinkle - everyone called him Bud - was a great story teller. I still remember a lot of the stories he told when I was a child. Many of them I could never tell in church, but this one I can. Once, a few years before I was born, when he was serving in the Navy CBs (Construction Battalion) during the Korean War, he was on board ship during a terrible storm in the Pacific Ocean. He and some of his shipmates were trying to watch a movie down below deck. The seas were so rough that the ship was rolling back and forth from side to side. The sailors were use to rough seas and weren’t paying too much attention to the motion of the ship. They were so focused on the movie that whenever the ship rolled to the left, they would rock the folding chairs they were sitting on to the right, and when the ship rolled to the right, they’d rock their chairs to the left. The only way into the movie room below deck was down gangway stairs on either side of the room.
Dad was sitting next to one of those gangways enjoying the movie and rocking his chair back and forth with the other guys, when the storm began to get worse and made the ship roll steeper from side to side. The camera man had a tough enough job trying to hold the projector steady on the stand before, but now he was really working. And the sailors were not only rocking back and forth, their chairs began to slide from side to side, too.
Finally, my Dad said the storm got so bad that the ship listed right over onto its side so far that he thought it was going to roll completely over. Sailors, chairs, projector and everything else that wasn’t secured went crashing down into the opposite wall on the other side, which was now horizontal, not vertical.
I’ve never forgotten that story. I still get scared by it, and a little sea sick in telling it. Fortunately, Dad was able to get behind the gangway he was sitting next to. It was so bad that he ended up laying horizontal on the stairs, but at least he didn’t crash into the wall with the rest of the surprised sailors.
Both of my sons served in the Coast Guard. My oldest son, Christopher is out now, but my youngest son, Andrew, is a career man and is now stationed in Atlantic City. He tells a story of his first tour out to sea on a large Coast Guard Cutter. He was at his first assignment in Maine and they went out of the Kettering base during a real bad Nor’easter. There were forty foot seas and he was sure that ship was going to break right in half when it hit the next wave. Several hundred coasties were on board that cutter and things were so bad that everyone was sea sick but two: the Captain and himself. And the Captain was turning green.
I have the worlds weakest stomach when it comes to getting sea sick. I still get a little queasy when I tell those stories of storms at sea. We must always respect the power of Mother Nature. She can do a lot of damage, as you know having lived through hurricane Sandy here on Long Beach Island just a few years ago. Surely, it’s something of a small miracle that your church suffered so little damage from that storm. God be thanked.
Some people wonder if terrible storms and other natural disasters are sent by God to punish our sins. After all, that’s what the Bible says God does. And if God says it, I believe it, and that settles it, right? But even if the Bible does say it, I don’t believe God’s like that. When I look at Jesus, I don’t see that kind of punishing, wrathful God.
But, storms do serve a revelatory purpose. They lay bear the corruption of politicians and others who cut corners in building the levies that broke and flooded New Orleans, causing so much damage to so many poor people during hurricane Katrina. And corruption was revealed in the aftermath of Sandy in the underhanded politics behind the decisions about who gets the funding, how much and when for clean up and repairs. And the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing in recent years really is a result of climate change, which is a direct result of our burning fossil fuels for these past 200 years. Unlike many of our present government officials and the head of the EPA, I’m not a climate change denier. I believe the science. We have to stop fouling our nest and become better stewards of God’s creation and move to renewables, now!
Our Gospel storm took place on the Sea of Galilee and by comparison with Sandy or Katrina was probably a mere squall. In any case it scared the disciples many of whom were fishermen. They began to complain that Jesus wasn't doing his bit, but nonchalantly sleeping in the stern, on a pillow no less. This detail of Jesus sleeping tells us one of two things: either it was not much of a storm and so the disciples panicked unnecessarily (I daresay panic is unnecessary by definition), or Jesus suffered from insomnia or narcolepsy.
There’s a famous painting by Rembrandt entitled, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” In this wonderful painting, the boat emerges from the characteristic Rembrandtian darkness into a great splash of white light that is the waves pouring over the stem of the boat. Jesus is in the semi-darkness of the stern and the disciples are tugging on him, shaking him awake with the question, “‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This question is, of course, blasphemous. Think about it. If Jesus means anything to us disciples, it’s that he cares for us as no one else cares. But the question is posed here as an essential part of the pedagogical function of the story. Mark wants us to learn a lesson. What might that lesson be?
We’re afraid when we’re alone in what we perceive to be danger, and we usually react like the disciples, don’t we. We should never forget that in Mark’s gospel we are to identify with the disciples, and not with the Lord. Like them we often demand that Jesus show up in person and take care of the problem, thus proving that he really does care for us. We want him always to be taking care of our problems, and thus repeatedly showing his love for us. We are often like insecure children. On such occasions he says to us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
From this story we are to learn that when the ship of our life is in a storm and the waves are swamping us and the sailors and the chairs and projectors are crashing to the wall and everyone is sea sick including the captain and we feel we’re about to go down,.. the Lord himself is in the boat with us. And even in his sleep he’s taking care of things. Surely, he doesn’t have to prove his love to us over and over again, does he? Because our faith lets us know that Jesus is with us and always takes care of us. Amen?
His questions to us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” show us first that fear is the opposite of faith, and secondly, that faith is essentially confidence in Jesus. Faith is confidence in Jesus and fear is lack of confidence in him. Can you imagine anything more insulting than to tell someone that you do not trust him, that you do not have confidence in her? To be sure, our confidence is tested when the ship of life is about to flounder and the one who can save me seems to be asleep. Clearly our story is an extreme case designed to make the point as clear as possible: No matter how adverse the circumstances and no matter how terrified you are, trust Jesus and relax. Amen?
We can hardly resist the urge to say in prayer, “Where are you Lord, do you not care that I am suffering like this?” but the answer will be the same as in our story, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” We’ll all eventually come to the other side of life’s sea, and there Jesus will meet us and lead us on to new adventures, but in the mean time, the sea we must cross can be stormy and, although he is in the boat with us, we may from time to time doubt that he cares because he seems to leave so much to our own strength and resources. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid, have faith and relax.
There’s a wonderful paradox in this teaching story for us this morning that comes through more readily in the original Greek. The disciples are more afraid after they witness the miracle of the stilling of the storm than they were in the storm itself. There’s no mention of their fear during the storm; it’s Jesus who first accuses them of fear in his question, “Why are you afraid?” After the stilling of the storm, however, as the original text says, “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”
So the full understanding of our lesson involves two kinds of fear and one kind of faith. There’s the bad fear of the terrified disciples tossed in the storm, who think that their maker doesn’t care about them, and there is the deep and mindstretching awe of the creature in the presence of the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth. I feel that awe when I stand looking out at the ocean.
The faith occurs when the first fear turns into the second, as we see who Jesus really is, and we entrust ourselves in awe to the one who brought us into being in our mother’s womb. He created me, not from nothing as is often taught, but from his very self as a spider spins her beautiful webb from the very substance of her body. And God created me because he wanted there to be this precise and unique creature for him to love and cherish, and he will help me across the sea, whether it entails a miracle of control, or just a sleep in my boat.
A final point to notice: Jesus is in our boat, which means that he has confidence in our sailing skills, such confidence that he can go to sleep on our watch convinced that all will be well. I’ve known people onto whose boats I would not step or in whose cars I wouldn’t ride, but Jesus entrusts himself even to us, and so we can surely return his confidence in us by relaxing into him and trusting his assurance that, as my favorite lady, the 14th Century English saint and mystic, Julian of Norwich once said, “…all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Source: Sermon of same title by Robert Hamerton-Kelly June 25, 2006