Mark 4:35-41 begins a section in this gospel in which Jesus and his disciples make six voyages back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. In this way, Mark makes the point that the ministry of Jesus was to both Jews and gentiles. The western side was inhabited by Jews and the eastern side by gentiles.
Growing up, I always thought of the Sea of Galilee as a much larger body of water than it actually is. I remember how surprised I was when I visited Israel for the first time and our tour bus stopped atop a hill overlooking the body of water. I could see the entire thing! It is only thirteen miles from north to south and eight miles from east to west.
It is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth. The Jordan Valley makes a cleft in the earth and in the very center of this cleft is the Sea of Galilee, some 680 feet below sea level. Because of this, the climate is usually very gracious and warm, but to the west of the sea are the mountains and some large gullies. Sometimes the cold wind blows down through these gullies and causes sudden storms. All the great writers who have lived near the Sea of Galilee have experienced these sudden storms and repeatedly reported that at one moment the water can be as still as glass and then almost without warning it can become quite turbulent with enormous waves and high winds.
The scene described in Mark 4:35-41 finds Jesus and his disciples suddenly caught in one of these violent storms. Jesus had just finished preaching and was tired, so he lay down and went to sleep. When the storm arose, the waves threatened to overcome the small boat and the disciples were afraid they were going to be tossed overboard and drowned. When they turned to Jesus, they were amazed to find him asleep. They cried out to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus then calmly stood up and commanded the waves to be still. The sea became calm and the storm was gone.
Even though the disciples should have recognized who Jesus was by virtue of his command over the wind and sea, they still seem dumbfounded. The text says, “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”
Don’t they remind us of ourselves? When we find ourselves in the storms of life, don’t we have similar difficulty in placing our confidence in the One who guards and keeps us? That may be the chief reason the story has been preserved and retold by generation after generation. It contains important spiritual truths and we occasionally need to be reminded of them.
Whenever we are isolated or alienated, we tend to become anxious and desperate.
This was not the first time the disciples had been in a storm. It was not the first time a turbulent sea had threatened to overturn their boat. Why did they react they way they did on this occasion? I believe it was because they felt that Jesus was unconcerned about them. They cried out, “Don’t you care?” And, in the face of their panic and despair, he calmed the angry sea. Of course he cared about them and of course he cares about us.
The storm story shows us that the disciples needed to hear a voice in whom they had confidence.
When Jesus woke up and heard the cries of the disciples, his voice rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” You and I need to learn to listen for, recognize, and trust the voice of the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls who is greater than our greatest fear, mightier than our biggest enemy, and who has the power to issue orders to the storms that threaten us. Our ears are particularly well atuned to other voices, particularly those that raise our anxieties. We want the voice of our Savior to be familiar enough and clear enough to stand out above the rest.
Wherever and whenever Christ is with us, the storms of life grow calm.
I don’t know what is going to come to my life or yours today, but I know that Jesus Christ is with us and that his presence brings peace. As a pastor, I have stood with people in just about every imaginable kind of life experience from remarkable victories to devastating defeats, in moments of joy and in moments of deepest sorrow. Whether it’s been a whirlwind of celebration or a tempest of tragedy, the presence of Jesus Christ calms the storms and brings the peace which passes understanding.
The greatest lesson I ever learned about faith, I learned from my Father. I had accidentally sailed a balsa wood glider up onto the roof of our home in Houston. When my Dad came home, instead of getting a ladder and climbing up to retrieve it, he picked me up and boosted me onto the roof so I could get it myself. We lived in a 1950's era "ranch style" house, so the roof wasn't actually that far off the ground, at least to my dad, who was 6' 4" tall. I had never been on the roof before. It was frightening - mostly the getting up.
When I began to express my fear, Dad said, "Don't worry. I won't let you fall." His hands and arms felt strong, his voice was firm and confident. He had been on the roof himself. He believed I would be okay. So, I forgot my fear. My trust in him was stronger than my fears and Dad didn't let me fall.
I found my faith. Through the experience of trusting, I discovered that my Dad was trustworthy.
I have been able to live my life with an abiding faith, often tested by the things that test everybody's faith. It goes back to that glider on the roof, my Dad's strong and loving arms, his reassuring voice, and his dependable promise, "I won't let you fall."
That has made it easier for me to trust my heavenly Father, who promised, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Earthly parents, though fallible, have a role to play in the formation of faith in their children's lives. In fact, parents are the primary faith-givers. Christian parents' chief evangelical, disciple-making opportunity is with their children.
Even helping a child retrieve a toy stuck on the roof can be an occasion for faith-forming. The world needs dads to give their children a fear-conquering faith. Of course, Moms do it too. But this is Father's Day!
Each summer, Calvary Episcopal Church and First Christian Church of Ashland, Kentucky join together to offer a Vacation Bible School, open to children throughout the community. This year's theme is "Adventures on Promise Island: Where Children Discover God's Lifesaving Love." We will meet on the evenings of July 16-19 to assist the children in discovering some of God's promises:
• July 16 - The Story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - God's promise: I am with you.
• July 17 - The Story of the Raising of Lazarus - God's promise: I care about you.
• July 18 - The Story of Jesus' Resurrection - God's promise: I will save you.
• July 19 - The Story of Paul and Silas in Prison - God's promise: I will answer you.
Last night we had a meeting with the VBS teachers to review these four scriptures from an adult perspective in order to help them think about ways they will present them to the children. First Christian's Pastor Ike Nicholson and I took turns providing exegesis and commentary for the teachers.
In the course of our discussions, I was struck by how each of the four readings involves liberation. For example, King Nebuchadnezzar has the hands and feet of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego bound before they are thrown into the firey furnace. When he looks into the fire, he sees them (and a fourth figure who looks like a Son of God) walking around freely. They emerge from the firey furnace completely unsinged. Then, when Jesus calls Lazarus forth from his tomb, he instructs the bystanders to "Unbind him and let him go." Likewise, Jesus leaves tomb and the grave clothes behind when he is raised from the dead on the first Easter. During the earthquake, the chains the hold Paul and Silas are broken and the gates of their cell are opened so that they can go free. In each case, the miraculous liberation provides an opportunity for God's message to be shared - the message of a kind of freedom that can be found only in our relationship with the Living God.
It was an epiphany! God has been at work delivering people from one form of slavery or another for ever. When God reigns in our lives, we are completely liberated. Whatever binds us and holds us back is removed so that we can live with a freedom we can't find any other place.
Today is the feast day of St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea. Basil knew and boldly expressed that unfettered liberty when the emperor Valens passed through Caesarea in 371. Valens demanded Basil's theological submission and Basil flatly refused. The imperial prefect expressed astonishment at Basil's defiance, to which Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never met a real bishop before." His freedom was derived not from a temporal ruler, but from the Sovereign of the Universe.
This collect from the office of Morning Prayer expresses it very well:
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our children need to know that God gives them the freedom to be who God wants them to be and to follow God's leading in their lives no matter what happens. We need to impart that message to them in the words we say and the lives we live. God, liberate from whatever attachments may interfere with our ability to freely represent you to the children you have given into our care!
A verse of scripture has been on my mind all week and I can’t stop thinking about it. When that happens, I assume that it may be a prompting of the Holy Spirit that is important for my life and ministry.
The verse is from St. Paul’s exhortation on Christian behavior found in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans. It is verse ten and the translation that keeps coming to mind is from the New English Bible. It reads, “Give pride of place to one another in esteem” (Romans 12:10b NEB). Most other translations use honour instead of esteem, but those are not the translations that keep popping up in my mind.
Our English word esteem is derived from the same Latin root (aestimāre) as estimate and means “to assign value.” If I were to try my hand at a Ron’s English Version of this particular verse, I would write it like this: “Put others ahead of yourself to demonstrate how much you value them.”
The late Scottish Biblical Scholar, William Barclay, offered the following insight in his commentary on this passage: “More than half the trouble that arises in Churches concerns rights and privileges and prestige. Someone has not been given his or her place; someone has been neglected or unthanked. The mark of the [true Christian] has always been humility” (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, Westminster, Philadelphia, 1975, p.164).
General Conventions, Episcopal and National Elections, Annual Meetings, as well as day-to-day life in churches of all sizes and locations afford many opportunities for tensions to mount that tempt followers of Christ to forget that humbly loving one another as Christ loved us is a prime directive. The world at our doorstep is watching to see how we behave toward one another.
During Lent, Gay and I attended a seminar that was led by John Philip Newell at Lexington’s Christ Church Cathedral. In one of his talks, he invited us to meditate on these words from the Quran, “Whichever way you turn, there is the face of God.” The thought is similar to the promise we make in the Baptismal Covenant, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
Do I look for the face of God in every person at every turn? Do I work at treating others as I would treat God? When I disagree with a fellow Christian, how will I tailor my response in a way that demonstrates esteem for that person, in spite of differences? When I prefer one candidate over another in an election, will my comments about the other candidate be tempered by my awareness that I are speaking about one who is the apple of God’s eye? When someone does something that bothers me, do I speak about the person or to that person? Am I more concerned with being valued by others than I am about putting others ahead of myself to show how much I value them? Am I more concerned about what I am getting than what I am giving?
If every Christian works at showing esteem for others, there will surely be enough esteem to go around, and then some. There must be a way for us to run our meetings, our elections, and our churches that puts others first and values them as those who are “Christ’s own for ever.” Let's see what happens if we try harder, with God's help!
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