Kingdom living

Mark 4:35-41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

            A man gets on a train in Staunton, VA with the intention of traveling through the night to Philadelphia. He approaches the conductor and tells him that he is an extremely deep sleeper and needs the conductor to wake him up and make him get off in Philly. He tells the conductor, “Here is an extra $100. Please wake me up in Philly and don’t listen to anything I tell you. I tend to be a little unruly when I wake up.” The conductor agrees to do just that.

            The next thing the man knows he hears the conductor shout, “Next stop, New York, NY.” The man is irate. He gets up in the face of the conductor and yells at him for not waking him in Philadelphia and demands his $100 be returned.

            One of the other passengers leans over to another and says, “Man, is that guy angry.” The other guy replies, “Yes, but not nearly as angry as the fellow they made get off in Philadelphia.”

            I’ve always been a little bit jealous of the people that can sleep like that. I’m awake at any little noise and usually can’t get back to sleep very easily. However, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that it is our job to learn how to sleep like a log. You do want to be like Jesus, don’t you?

            Obviously this isn’t a story that is intended to teach us how to sleep better at night, or maybe it is. I’ll let you decide for yourself. But before we get to that, let’s review the story.

            We find this story quite early in the book of Mark. Jesus has just come on the scene and he has been busy teaching and healing the people. He is gaining a following and people are beginning to question just who he is. Is he the one we have been waiting for? Is he the messiah?

            Jesus and his disciples decide one day that they need to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and they jump into a boat. And evidently this teaching and healing thing is pretty tiring because Jesus decides to take a nap in the stern of the boat on a cushion, and he is a hard sleeper. He is such a hard sleeper that when a great storm comes on, as is common on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sleeps through it.

            A couple of the disciples were experienced fishermen, and it was possible that the boat that they were on was one of their boats. Experienced fishermen with experience on the sea. Surely they have been caught in one of these pop-up storms before. But this one was a big one. The text tells us that the waves were crashing into the boat and these experienced sailors were afraid for their lives.

            Through all of this, Jesus is still sleeping. My father can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and he tells my mother that this is because he has a clear conscious. Perhaps Jesus is able to sleep so well because he is without sin, I don’t know. But he is out like a light and oblivious to the storm that is tearing up the ship. And verse 38 tells us, “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?””

            A groggy Jesus then rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and everything was calm. But Jesus seems a little disappointed in his disciples. He says to them in verse 40, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

            But the text tells us that the disciples didn’t stop being afraid right then and there. No, they simply changed the object of their fear. At first they were afraid of the storm, and now the text tells us that they were afraid because Jesus was more than what they had expected. Even the wind and the sea obey him.

This is significant and we can miss it if we move too quickly. Let’s go all the way back to Genesis 1:1-2, which reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

            Before God put any order to the world we are told that there was disorder. Not nothing, but disorder, or chaos, and water.

            Jump ahead to the second day and verse six and we find this, “And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

            So the pre-scientific Jews understood the sky as a clear dome that separated the water above from the water below. Rain occurred when God allowed that dome to leak.

            Let’s do one more verse, verse 9 says, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.”

            Any Jewish man who grew up learning the Torah would know these verses by heart. There was no doubt who was in charge of the water. It was God. And this didn’t change after creation was complete. In Psalm 107 the Psalmist talks about some sailors that go out on the sea and a mighty storm comes up out of nowhere. The sailors were scared for their lives; they couldn’t even walk around on the boat because of the storm and waves. And we find this in verses 27-28, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Again, any Jewish man who grew up learning the scriptures would know these verses by heart.

            After Jesus calms the storm the disciples are still scared, but they are scared for a different reason. They are scared because they begin to wonder just who this Jesus guy is. Up to this point he was healing people and teaching with authority, which is great and all. But now he was doing things that only God can do.

            That is a great story. The question is, What does it mean?

            Some people will be tempted to say that Jesus is angry at the disciples for their lack of faith, and it is easy to arrive at this conclusion from the text. It can sound like Jesus was questioning the faith of the disciples because if they had faith they would have known that Jesus would keep them from harm. And the take home message seems to be that the faithful person will be kept safe in the midst of the storm, both metaphorically or even a literal storm. Unfortunately we know that to not be true.

            This week a well-known, well-liked member of our community passed away while swimming in the ocean. It is believed that he got caught up in a rip tide and was unable to swim to safety. He was only 49 years old. He was a father, a husband, a son, and a friend. I have heard stories of his volunteer service in our community and the wonderful, Christian family that he came from. He was a member of a local congregation; a man of faith. And this is unfortunately an all-too-familiar story as anyone that has been a part of our congregation for at least 4 years already knows. Faith doesn’t assure you smooth sailing.

            I saw a video of a teaching by a former pastor named Rob Bell this week and Rob made some very interesting comments that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with today’s passage but ultimately have everything to do with today’s passage. Feel free to see if you can anticipate where he is going with these references to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (See The Science of Homiletical Architecture, from which I am borrowing this interpretation)

In Matthew 7:6 we find this foundational teaching of Jesus, which many of us have adopted as our life verse. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

            Like I said, this is foundational teaching. How many of our lives have been changed by this verse? I remember reading it for the first time and I was like…Oh…wait. Life makes so much more sense now. No, I don’t have any pearls and I don’t have any pigs. This has never been a real temptation for me. Even if I had pearls and pigs, I can’t say that I would have to fight with this inner yearning to toss my pearls to the pigs.

            Now let’s jump back to what comes immediately before this whole thing about pearls and pigs. Chapter 7 verse 1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” This is teaching that is meant to be freeing. You do not sit in the judgment seat. It isn’t up to you to condemn someone and it isn’t up to you to decide who is living a good and holy life. But I need to correct them, to make sure that they know how much they are messing up their life. No, it isn’t your job to judge.

            And let’s go back to just before this teaching. The end of Matthew chapter 6, starting at verse 25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” The next ten verses then tells us about the physical things of this life and how God already knows that these things are important to us and how we need to chill out about them a bit.

            So we have Jesus teaching that we need to be free from worry about our own lives and then Jesus tells us we don’t need to be obsessed with the lives of others. What Bell says is that life in the kingdom is about entrusting your life to God to live without worry and anxiety. And once we have entrusted our life to God, we are to entrust the lives of others to God.

            Judging others is about trying to control them. And yes, people make decisions that we don’t want them to and perhaps we know a better way, but we can’t force people to do things that they don’t want to do. So it is wrong to judge people, trying to manipulate them into doing the things we think they should be doing by pointing out where they go wrong and guilting them into do what is right.

            But it is also wrong to try to control others by offering good things. Pearls are a good thing. They are rare and they are valuable. Pigs have their place, but they are rather unrefined and dirty. I like a good pulled pork sandwich, but I’m not going to adorn a pig with a strand of pearls. The pig won’t appreciate it and the pig will just use something beautiful to walk on.

            Sometimes we try to use beautiful things to control others as well. The gospel of God’s redemptive work through Jesus is a beautiful thing. But if people aren’t ready for it, it will be trampled underfoot.

            Life in the kingdom is about entrusting your life to God to live without worry and anxiety. And once you have done that, you must entrust the lives of others to God as well. We don’t seek to control others by condemning them or judging them, and we don’t seek to control others by trying to steer them with good things either.

            So we come back to these disciples on the boat and the faith that they seem to be lacking. Jesus never says to them that their faith will keep them safe. Indeed we see that 11 of the 12 disciples were eventually martyred for their faith in Jesus. What Jesus seems to be calling to their attention is the fact that you cannot have faith and fear at the same time. Faith and fear are opposing forces.

            What are we afraid of today? I have heard that some fears are good for you because they keep you safe. It might be a good thing to be a little afraid of snakes, or a little afraid of heights, or a little afraid of strangers when we are children. Some of us are still a little afraid of strangers. And perhaps this is still a good thing. We don’t need to all go jumping out of airplanes. The issue arises when we allow our fear to overcome our faith; when we allow fear to keep us from doing what Jesus has called us to do.

            I have heard that the best way to tell when your church is being faithful to God is to ask, “Are we being persecuted?” Following Jesus will always mean looking different from the majority of the world around us and the world around us doesn’t always like people who look different.

            One of the times in the history of the church when our Anabaptist forebearers were persecuted the most came during the Protestant Reformation. Anabaptists were martyred for their faith and convictions, particularly those convictions concerning infant baptism. Nothing follows that teaching of Jesus to not judge like burning another Christian at the stake! (Oh wait, am I judging?)

            I don’t need to go into all of the details, but this martyrdom was never done in a humane way, if there is such a thing. It wasn’t death by lethal injection, firing squad, beheading, or even hanging. It was always a slow, painful, and public death. Like Jesus, our Anabaptist forebearers were made an example of. Burned at the stake, drown in the river, locked in the stocks, and things of this nature. It was a slow death, often with the hope that these heretics would recant, or publically change their beliefs.

            I am sure that there was a lot of fear in the hearts of those Anabaptists as they awaited their own martyrdom. Surely they feared what would happen to their families and surely they feared the pain that they were about to endure. But in reading historical documents, like The Martyrs’ Mirror, we find that again and again they used their last days, last hours, and last seconds of life to offer praises to God. Many are said to have sung hymns while they were being burned at the stake.

            No, faith does not mean that you have nothing to fear. Faith means that you know that regardless of what happens, God is there with you. God was there with the Anabaptist martyrs and God was there with the disciples on the boat. Faith is recognizing that presence among you. Life in the kingdom is about entrusting your life to God and entrusting the lives of others to God as well. Knowing this should help us all sleep a little bit better tonight.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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