- The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III
Sermon - 4 Pentecost
In the Name...
As the passengers on a cruise were sitting down to dinner, their ship was caught in heavy seas and a minister offered the following grace, "May the Lord make us truly grateful for all we are about to …retain."
People who visit the Holy Land are always struck by the beauty of the Galilee, the region where Jesus spent much of his life. For one thing, because of the temperate climate and fertile soil, the predominant colour of the region is green, not brown, as in Judea. There, one can see the synagogue of Capernaum where Jesus first preached, Tabgha where he fed the multitudes, Cana where he turned water into wine, and, of course, the lake itself, the Sea, as we call it, of Galilee. For many pilgrims, the most memorable time of their visit is a quiet walk along the shore at night, or a journey by boat between the lakeside towns.
In today's Gospel, Jesus suggests to his disciples that they cross this beautiful lake to the other side about eight miles away. Sunset is at hand, soon it will be dark. Jesus is tired. He's had a long day. A quiet evening cruise will allow him to get some rest. So, they leave behind the crowds and set out. But, the topography of the Galilee can create unpleasant surprises because there is a significant difference in elevation between the western and eastern shores. Any of you who've been to the Grand Canyon know the difference between the north and south rims. The north rim can be covered with snow while the south rim is hot and dusty.
In this case, the prevailing winds in Galilee are from the temperate Mediterranean, but, on occasion, a hot, dry, east wind from the Jordanian desert can sweep down into the lake basin and whip up the normally placid sea into a boiling frenzy with waves up to ten feet. And that is exactly what happened that night.
It must have been terrifying. Miles from land, unable to see the stars or shore. Up and down, back and forth, tossing this way and that. Remember, only four of the disciples were boatmen. The rest were landlubbers. What use would a pampered bureaucrat like Matthew, or an urban terrorist like Simon, be in a crisis like this? I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of them were screaming uncontrollably in panic. One can imagine that not all the water flowing in the boat was coming from the sea.
And in the midst of this complete chaos, we are told, Jesus was sleeping. I've always marvelled at this. Now I've been tired, really exhausted, even, but, he must have been literally dead to the world and that's a good reminder to us that exercising his power was physically and mentally extremely taxing. He was God, but he wasn't Superman. He was a real person with a real body and got really worn out.
And the disciples tried to wake him up. Why? He wasn't a sailor. But, he was their leader. Maybe they wanted him to take charge or maybe they were convinced they were about to sink and wanted to make sure he wouldn't be drowned.
And, what happened? Actually, I think that what happened could have almost been a bit of an accident. Jesus had spent the whole day from early morning to early evening healing and teaching, exercising his power as the God who heals and restores. He is now in a deep sleep. He is roused under intense circumstances by his screaming disciples. So, forgive me the license, but, I can just imagine the drowsy Jesus coming to and, half asleep, almost offhandedly saying "Be quiet" to them, but, his words impacting Nature itself.
In an instant, the wind ceased, and sea became dead calm, and the disciples were stunned. Looking at his recumbent form, as he went back to sleep, they marvelled, "Who is this?"
With St. Mark, we believe we know the answer to that question. Jesus is the Son of God - The Lord of Heaven and Earth. That is the heart of our Christian faith. We read this Gospel and sometimes shake our heads at the ignorance of those poor disciples who just couldn't get it even when it was staring them in the face. But, is it really so obvious? Even to us?
We say that Jesus is Lord and that he is right with us on our journeys in life. He is on board, in the boat - and he is, just as he was when the disciples cast off that evening. But, when we actually find ourselves in the grip of the storm, racked by crisis and chaos, anguish and tragedy, we might, and if we're honest we know we do, do we wonder if Jesus is sleeping on the cushion in the back. Does he notice, does he care, if we go under?
It's worth noting what happens next in the Gospel account. After this fear-filled night, the disciples and Jesus land their boat on the Geresene shore near a graveyard and are at once accosted by a raging, violent maniac who announces his name is Legion because he is tormented by a legion of demons. This man is hopelessly lost at sea and storm-tossed within himself. He has gone mad with fear and anxiety, and, Jesus stills his storm and brings him peace.
To journey, whether through life or down the street, is to journey through storms, not around them, and the simple presence of Jesus does not automatically free us from our fears and anxieties. But, the Good News is that Jesus has the power to do something about them. He can dispel any chaos with a word and there is no storm we have ever faced, or will ever face, that he cannot still. We just have to ask, like the disciples.
Sometimes that's hard. We like to rely on ourselves as long as possible, though, when that's all we do, very often we find the storm gets worse and our efforts more futile. And, there's no reason for that. We have a great God. He listens to us, speaks to us, and does everything he can for us. And, that's not bad, because he can do a lot. So, let's not hesitate to ask him for help in time of need.
After all, he wants to give us everything and he wants us to be thankful for all that we receive and retain.
In the Name...