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"Calming the Storm"
Mark 4:35-41
           As a child, I don't recall that I ever slept with the bedroom door closed.  You see, I always shared a bedroom with my younger brother Jim, and he had a problem with the dark. 
Not only was the bedroom door open, but there was always a tiny light burning in the hall bathroom.  So as a child I don't ever recall sleeping in darkness. 
    Now, I don't remember ever being afraid of the dark, although I may have been, but fear of the dark is something that adults usually apply to children.  And adults tend to think of it as something we "grow out of." 
    But I would suggest that there is a positive side to this change in our lives--if and when it does take place.  And that is that we are BEGINNING a new stage in our lives.
All of us have certain dates in our lives that we remember very easily because they record profound events.  We remember our birthdays.  And we HOPE we remember the birthdays of your spouses. 
    We remember dates of earth-shaking events, like December 7, 1941.  And I remember August 13--Friday the thirteenth--in 1982.  It rained in Kansas City the Thursday night before.  And rained and rained and rained. 
    And it flooded the basement of Union Station in Kansas City, where I worked on the second floor of the east wing. 
    At that time I was working for a weekly financial newspaper, and we were running a late shift on Thursday.  And between eleven o'clock and midnight on Thursday night we lost electrical power.  But I figured, "Big deal; the power will be restored overnight and everything will be back on in the morning."  Well, it was NOT back on.  What I didn't know was that Union Station had its own power supply.  And I didn't know that its power supply was now under water in the basement. 
    So, at seven-thirty on Friday morning, with a forty-eight page newspaper to get out in seven and a half hours, the typesetting machines did not work; the printers did not work; the clocks did not run, the lights did not work, the wire service machine did not work; the fax machines did not work, and the phones would not ring.
    Was I panicked?  Yes, I was, and so was my boss.  We had a deadline to meet, and we had never been so totally shut down.  So we started scrambling, doing everything we could to get that paper out, including renting portable gas-fired generators, putting them on the roof, and running hundreds of feet of extension cord to keep at least two machines running at all times.  Well, we missed the ideal deadline by a couple of hours, but we DID get the paper out.
    Now, that's a long story for a sermon, but I want to make a really big point with it.  After that event, whenever anything went seriously wrong at the offices of that paper, somebody would remember that weekend, and our current problem would pale in comparison. 
    There was a general feeling that "If we could survive the flood of August 13, we could survive anything."  We were no longer afraid of the dark.  We had EXPERIENCED the dark and we had overcome it.  And now, major breakdowns held no fear for us.
    But what makes the difference between fear and confidence?  Is it only experience?  I think that there is something else, but it grows OUT of the experience. 
    And when our experience is deeply rooted, we develop a trust in ourselves and a trust in the God who takes care of us.  But if we have little or no experience, we don't know what to expect of ourselves even if we have a deep trust in God.
    Well, Jesus’ disciples probably weren't a whole lot different from us.  When they were children, maybe they were afraid of the dark.      Anyway, in the fourth chapter of the gospel according to Mark, after Jesus has spent much time in preaching, he decides he's had enough of where he is and wants to go somewhere else. 
    "On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side."  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  Other boats were with him."
    There's a really dumb riddle asking why the chicken crossed the road.  And the answer is "to get to the other side."  And that's about all we know in this passage of scripture.  We do know that it was all Jesus' idea to make this trip, not the disciples.
    Another thing that concerns me is the time of day that it is happening.  Or at least the time of day that I THINK it is happening.  Scripture tells us that it is evening.  Where I grew up, evening began about 6:00 P. M., and afternoon took place between noon and 6 PM. 
    However, when I moved to Seneca in 1989, I learned that around there, at least for many of them, there was no "afternoon."  Evening began at noon.  Now, if that's the case in our scriptural story, the sun may be high in the sky. 
    But if evening really IS after 6:00 P. M., darkness is going to be coming soon, and I have to wonder "Why is Jesus suggesting this trip so late in the day?"  Maybe it was because he was a night person. 
    In the post-resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus, in the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth verses of the twenty-fourth chapter of the gospel according to Luke,
    "As they came near the village to which they were going, he [Jesus] walked ahead as if he were going on.  but they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over."
    Anyway, in our story in Mark they head for the other side of the lake.  In the evening.  And then all heck breaks loose.  "A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped." 
    Obviously, they've not been watching or listening to the weather forecasts.  But at least four of the twelve disciples were fishermen!  They made their living in surroundings like this.  Surely, they would have known that a "great windstorm" was coming, wouldn't they? 
    Or maybe they saw the storm coming, but thought, "Hey, if Jesus thinks this trip is a good idea, it must be!  He must know what he's doing." 
    And there are times in our lives when our common sense, our own experience, tells us one thing, but others, who we trust more than ourselves, tell us something else.  And we believe them.  Or at least we WANT to.  There was a time when I BELIEVED physicians, attorneys, economists.  And even this country's presidents!  Well, so much for my naive childish gullibility. 
    But we really do WANT to believe.  We begin with admiration and respect and we TRUST.  And as small children we NEED to trust somebody, who we hope knows enough to get us through childhood. 
    But as adults we CONTINUE to at least selectively trust others who we hope know more about certain things than we do.
    And the disciples apparently trust Jesus.  "But 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?"
    And I'm reminded of the question that first showed up in the Watergate hearings in 1973 and continues to surface from time to time in such places as senate investigations.  "What did he know and when did he know it?"      Did he know it was happening AS it was happening?  Was he really asleep?  Is all this an accident, or are the disciples being set up?  There are some other things here than we don't know.  What are the disciples doing to HELP THEMSELVES?  Have they done anything? 
    Is there anything they CAN do?  And when they go to Jesus, they don't ask for help with bailing out the water.  In fact, they don't ask for ANYTHING.  They just complain.  "Do you not care?" 
    Now, are these the same guys who I thought TRUSTED Jesus?  Maybe too much.  Maybe their expectations were too high.  Maybe they just automatically assumed that Jesus would take care of every little thing, and then they got upset when he didn't.
    I think that there's a lesson for us about prayer in here.  Too often, we just automatically assume that God will take care of every little thing, and then we get upset when God does not.  But are WE bailing out OUR boats?      Do we go to God and ASK for help, or do we just complain that God doesn't seem to care?
    So the boat is about to go under, and the disciples are whining to Jesus.  And what does he do?  "He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace!  Be still!"  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm."
    Well, THAT was easy enough!  I guess this is what we call instant gratification.  But I almost wish that verse were not there.  It's all TOO easy.  Of COURSE, I like to believe in miracles and in the power of God.  But life most frequently does not work with dramatic miracles.  Most of the miracles for which we should be the most grateful don't happen suddenly.  They take time.
    What if, instead of shouting, "Peace! Be still!" Jesus had coordinated efforts to keep the boat afloat until the storm dissipated?  Would the disciples have been grateful?  Would we have appreciated that as much as this three-word miracle?  Probably not. 
    We're too impatient.
    One of the wonders of the contemporary world is the credit card and the revolving charge account.  If your credit limit is high enough, you don't have to work and wait and save money to buy something.  Just hand over the plastic card and sign your name to a piece of paper, and the thing is instantly yours. 
    I confess; I do this as much or more than the next person.  And now much of society is so conditioned to immediate acquisition that if they can't have something RIGHT NOW, if there is no miracle, they're not going to be much impressed.
    And this conditioning is really unfortunate.  Because we also expect politicians to solve problems  RIGHT NOW.  And politicians know that we're impatient!  So they end up promising far more than they can deliver.
    But Jesus gave the disciples the miracle they needed anyway.  And then "He said to them, "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"
    And the assumption he seems to be making is that IF we have faith, we will have no fear.  But can we reverse that?  Is the absence of fear always the presence of faith?  Now, I cannot prove an "always" statement, but I am tempted to think that the answer to that question is "yes."
    Look again at what Jesus did.  He stilled a storm of winds and waves.  But he did NOT still the storms that raged within the souls of his disciples.  And maybe it was because THEY needed to do that themselves. 
    They, by themselves, needed to confront their fear of the dark.
    And now, for a chicken and egg question.  Does our conquest of fear bring about faith, or does our faith conquer our fear? I think it is the latter; but sometimes we don't REALIZE, we don't RECOGNIZE, our faith until the fear is conquered.
    After Jesus poses his questions, the disciples are puzzled. "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?"
    Well, the wind and the sea in our lives are not always calm.  And there frequently seems little we can do about it.  But when times get really bad, are we going to complain to God, like a child in the dark, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" 
    Or are we going to put our TRUST and FAITH in God, knowing that ultimately that message will come forward in ways we may not always clearly understand, "Peace!  Be still!"

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