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When the Storm Clouds Roll

By Louise Burton

 

Mark 4: 35-41

 

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth, the meditation of our hearts and the actions of our lives be acceptable to you. O God. Amen

 

At a number of conferences, workshops, etc. that I have attended over the years, one of the first things they do is hand out a stress inventory. It lists such things as death of a spouse, which at 100 points is the highest on the scale. The scale scores many different life events from 20 and so on up to the 100. After one has ticked off all the relevant events (stressors) in their life, they add up the score. Anything over 150 points is considered a high stress level. I can only imagine what the stress level of Jesus and the disciples must have been during their travels in hostile territory. And then the storm came! 

 

 Let’s look at the story of Mark in a bit more detail. Why do you think Jesus had them take a boat across the lake?  Crowds always followed Jesus, it seems – so possibly he just wanted to get away from the crowd and have a bit of a rest. Maybe he wanted to be alone with the disciples. Somehow, I don’t really think he had this test of a storm in mind when he issued the command to go across the lake in a boat – although apparently storms which came up suddenly were fairly common. We know that from living near the Okanagan and Shuswap Lakes where this does happen quite a few times every summer – sometimes with catastrophic results. Going across by boat certainly would have been quicker than the alternative, which was walking. Several of his disciples were formerly fishermen, so boats and lakes were familiar to them. It always amazes me that a boat is always available whenever Jesus thinks it might be a good idea!

           

So, the storm comes up and the disciples wake up Jesus who had been sound asleep. Why did they wake him up?  The story says they were in fear of their lives, so maybe they were hoping he could help bail out the boat – or maybe perform one of his miracles to bring them to safety. He had not demonstrated any skills at sailing so certainly that would not have been the reason. Also, they were probably amazed that he could sleep through such a storm that would make them fear for their own safety – especially when they asked if he wasn’t concerned for their safety as well. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

 

However, wake him they did!  And what did he say?  He was very direct - “Oh you people of little faith, why are you so afraid?”. Can you put yourself in the position of one of the people in the boat and try to imagine Jesus saying this to you and the others. How do you think it sounded? I asked this of a group of children once and the answer came back from an eight-year-old boy that it was like him talking to scaredy cats and proceeded to say it like that – Why are you so afraid, scaredy cat, scaredy cat! Jesus probably wasn’t giving them the line about being scared along with them either. I suspect it was more along the line of how disappointed he was in their reaction to the storm.

           

As in the rest of Jesus’ parables there is always something else to learn – and it isn’t about being in a boat in a storm. There is always another side of the story.

 

The world in which they lived was not a world of peace and goodwill toward each other. Their country was an outpost area of the Roman empire – a place where the poorest performing leaders were sent – either as incentive to shape up or as punishment for something they had done or not done in a previous posting. Then they were mostly ignored by Rome.

           

The synagogues had a hierarchy of their own and wielded a lot of power over the Jewish households in the country. Being kind to the non- Jewish population wasn’t part of their code. In fact, getting rid of them was encouraged. But certainly, these non-Jewish people were to be looked upon as unclean and not to be associated with in any way. So little skirmishes between neighbouring towns or family groups happened all the time. Often families or communities lived in fear of their neighbours, the Pharisees of the Jewish temples or the Roman rulers.

           

It has been said there are only two true emotions in the world – love and fear. Everything else is a variation of those two emotions. Well, if this is true, then the world of the middle east in the days of Jesus was a world of fear. The world around the disciples was like a storm… a storm which could easily take their lives from them. The storm of Roman rule, the storm of intolerance of others who didn’t fit into the accepted norms of the Jewish elite, the intolerance of almost anything which was different. Trust beyond one’s family and a small group of friends was almost non-existent. There was a real and present danger to the disciples of Jesus.

           

Jesus was trying to change that. He was trying to teach the disciples a new way of living and to be an example of this new way. This was a way of loving each other and their neighbours. It was a way of tolerating and even accepting those whose ways were different from theirs. He was trying to instill in them a trust of others. And how? Jesus led by example. He reminded them that the power of God was greater than anything else. He taught them that they, too, had the powers of God within them to teach and to heal. He taught them that they should go out with love to teach that message throughout their world. His commandments were straightforward – To love God and to love your neighbour.

           

Even as they came to the end of this stormy event with the waters stilled, they had doubts about the powers of Jesus. But Mark, the author of this gospel ends the story with a question “Who is this man?  Even the wind and the waves obey him?”.  This is a question that seems to indicate to the church of his day that the readers of this story would understand the power of Jesus and wonder why the disciples did not yet believe.

           

Today, in our own lives, we are surrounded by storms at frequent intervals.  Some of these storms are of our own making, but many aren’t. Some of the most common are financial difficulties, health issues, hassles with other people. Uncertainty about a future can be a very real storm to many. Several of these storms can build up at the same time with a feeling that the storm will only ever get bigger and scarier. The storm of tragedy can be added onto any of the others to make a huge storm which can be threatening to one’s sense of thriving.

 

At any given time, we can look at our lives and see where we are on the storm chart. Sometimes we have smooth sailing and enjoying what life has to offer. Occasionally there will be a cloudburst with its danger signals of a possible storm ahead.  Sometimes the water can be choppy, the wind is howling, and we are in the midst of a storm, and sometimes the storm is over, but we are still cleaning up the mess left behind.

           

We humans are a diverse bunch. We don’t all respond to events in the same way. And so it is with the storms. Sometimes the response is anger – Why me, why now? At other times the response is to try to just tough it out and put on a brave front. Yet another response is to just give up. Some will pray to God to get them out of this mess and let it go at that. Others will pray but will also ask what they can do to improve the situation. They will accept help and support from family, friends and maybe resource people.

           

This accepting help business reminds me of a story that I am sure many of you have heard before about a man who was in a major flood. He was on the roof praying to God to rescue him when one of the neighbours came by and offered him a boat ride to safety. The man refused saying God would rescue him. A while later a helicopter came and tried to lift him to safety and once again he refused saying God would rescue him. The waters continued to rise, and he drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked why God didn’t save him, God replied ”Who do you think sent the boat and the helicopter?  There was only so much I could do without your cooperation.”.

           

So, here we are, on life’s journey which sometimes finds us in a storm or cleaning up after one. Prayer is a good start, but we must recognise that we are all on this earth together. We are all God’s community, and we can assist each other and accept assistance from each other to help us through these storms. We don’t have to tough it out on our own and we don’t have to give up. We don’t have to waste too much time on being angry. Pity parties must be short. And during those times of calm we can build stronger relationships with those other children of God who surround us every day. Sometimes, we are the calm in their storm. As it says in our creed, “We are not alone. We live in God’s world”.

 

Let us pray: 

In times of storm and in places of calm,

we give you thanks, O God for your presence.

In calls to act and in gifts of peace,

we give you thanks, O God for your word.

May we remember that God is always with us

and there is nowhere too far to find

your way back through the storm.

Amen

 

 

 

 

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