Sermon for June 24, 2012 || VBS Sunday || Proper 7, Year B || Job 38: 1-11; 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13; Mark 4: 35 – 41 ||
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
A few summers ago Don and I decided to learn to sail since it was beginning to seem like we were the only ones in Cohasset who hadn’t been weaned behind the tiller of a 7-foot Opti. So we spent three hours every Saturday morning for eight weeks desperately trying to wrap our ageing brains around concepts that were as much a part of ordinary life as eating and sleeping were to our teenaged instructors. When we graduated, we had official certificates (of which we were very proud) testifying that we’d passed both the written and open-water parts of our Helmsman Test.
What this meant was that either one us could now take a boat out on our own, unaccompanied, through the schooner-speckled, rock-infested obstacle course known as Cohasset Harbor.
Now…..this would be a very big mistake.
I can assure you, you would not want Don or me taking any sailboat out anywhere single-handedly…certainly not if you had a boat anywhere within a 10 mile radius. You might enjoy having us as guests on your own boat some warm and sunny afternoon (and yes, that’s totally a shameless hint to all you sailors out there) but you most definitely wouldn’t want either of us in a vessel of our own anywhere near you.
So it took a little research for me to get a clear picture of what it might have been like for the disciples in this morning’s gospel, in a boat out there on the Sea of Galilee with the wind whirling and the waves whooshing and Jesus asleep in the stern. And here’s what I learned from even the most experienced sailors among us: It would’ve been scary. Really scary.
I learned that if a boat is “already being swamped,” which is how Mark describes the situation in this morning’s gospel, that boat’s already going down. It’s filling with water fast and furiously, and with a dozen men working equally fast and furiously, they could conceivably bail it out before it went under, but the odds would not exactly be in their favor. And remember that while four of the disciples in that boat were fishermen, the other 8 were landlubbers who shared a very powerful cultural inheritance in which it was a given that the sea was a supernaturally dangerous place—a place teeming with dark and demonic forces. Especially after sundown. And in a storm. And on your way to someplace entirely new.
So it seems pretty reasonable that these guys were: a) scared to death and, b) astonished that Jesus was somehow sleeping through the whole hair-raising ordeal.
On the other hand, maybe when Mark included in his story the curious detail about the disciples taking Jesus in the boat, “just as he was” he meant that Jesus was so tired after what had been a very long day of hurt-healing, demon-destroying, disciple-calling and parable-telling that he could sleep through even the most frenzied, chaotic, and distressing of disturbances. In which case, knowing how tired he was, these newly named disciples shouldn’t really have been astonished in the least.
In fact, it’s entirely possible that they had taken Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was—which is to say dead tired—expecting, if not insisting, that he lie down and get some sleep. After all, he was their teacher, they’d left everything to follow him—and he was understandably exhausted after a very long day. “Teacher,” they might have said, “You need to rest! Why don’t you lie down right here, on this pillow, and get some sleep. We’ll take care of everything…”
In all likelihood, these new disciples had started out on their journey “all about” Jesus. But then fear reared its ugly head, and all of a sudden it was: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus might’ve just been grumpy because they’d wakened him. Or maybe he was deeply hurt by the accusation that he didn’t care about them, since he probably expected them to have known just how extraordinary his love for them was. And besides, couldn’t they have said, “Teacher! You better wake up!” as if they were worried about him instead of themselves?
But no. Instead, it’s: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Well, whatever his reason, Jesus admonished the disciples—rather harshly, it seems —for what he characterized as their fearfulness and lack of trust. But notice the sequence of events here: The first thing Jesus did, even before chastising the disciples, was eliminate their misguided fear. He rebuked the wind and commanded the sea to be still—and the journey continued.
There is nothing remotely subtle in Mark’s moral of the story here. Like his original hearers, we are meant to notice that the source of the disciple’s fear is not of God, but of dark and demonic forces symbolized by the storm-ridden sea. We are meant to notice how that fear immediately turns these formerly caring and compassionate disciples in on themselves, distorting their perspective and corrupting their concern from “other” to self. We are meant to notice that Jesus is decidedly not frightened by these dark forces, that without lifting a finger much less engaging in any sort of battle, Jesus simply tells them what to do and they do it. And like the disciples in the story, we are meant to say, “Holy cow! Who the heck is this guy?” Because clearly Jesus is not your average first century miracle-working healer or run of the mill revolutionary.
The line that says the disciples were then, “filled with great awe” is more literally translated that they “feared a great fear.” And if you put yourself in that boat, no matter how good of a sailor you are, in the presence of the kind of power-over-nature that Jesus had just demonstrated, it’s not hard to understand why. Because only God’s own self has that kind of power.
That’s awesome power indeed. Maybe even a little scary. Yet it’s power that loves us and cares about us. It’s power that is on our side, and it’s power that always—absolutely always— has our best interests at heart. It’s the power of God, in Christ, and it’s power we can trust.
Now, you have no doubt noticed the rather unusual décor in and around the church this morning. And perhaps you already know that this week we’ll be welcoming children from all around our community to our first Vacation Bible School at St. Stephen’s. But what you may not know is that in a wonderfully holy coincidence, the key Bible theme on which the whole week’s curriculum is based is the same as the message of today’s gospel: “Trust God.”
Through all kinds of activities and adventures, each day of the week these young people are going to learn a different aspect of trusting God. On Monday, it’s, “no matter who you are, trust God”; on Tuesday, it’s, “no matter how you feel, trust God;” Wednesday is “no matter what people do, trust God;” and Thursday, “no matter what happens, trust God.” Then on Friday it all gets wrapped together.
The really wonderful irony in all of this is that when Mary Whitehouse first came to me with the idea for VBS and explained the months of prep work that goes into it, I was outwardly supportive but inwardly afraid few, if any, children would come. What if she and all these other volunteers –-volunteers I wasn’t at all sure would materialize any more than the children—what if they went to all of this trouble, then no one came?
Well, yours truly simply wasn’t trusting God. Mary, on the other hand, was—and last week we actually had to close registration with twice as many children signed up as even Mary had hoped for! Fifty-four kids will be here for Vacation Bible School! On top of that, more than a hundred of you will have been a apart of our VBS effort in one capacity or another by the time we’re done. I’d say the success of our first VBS is about as much of a miracle as stilling a storm or quieting the sea! And what a gift to our community!
Of course, we all know that not all stories have such fabulously happy endings. We all know that Jesus doesn’t always work the miracle we’d hoped for. And no doubt few, if any of us, have shaken our fist at God for the last time while asking, “Don’t you care?”
But perhaps the next time we doubt the power of God’s ever-present loving care, we will remember this story. Perhaps we will remember how fear turns us in on ourselves, instead of out toward others. Perhaps we will remember how the disciples began to journey with Jesus with one idea of who he was, and were awe-struck to discover quite another. Perhaps we will even remember to trust God…to trust God with the kind of childlike trust that our VBS kids will be learning each day this week: “No matter who we are; no matter how we feel, no matter what people do, no matter what happens…” to “Trust God!”
And perhaps that’s the miracle we really need. Amen.