Birdsongs or Sirens
There is a storm. The disciples are terrified. Jesus is asleep.
Why? Why does Mark tell us this story? Jesus had been teaching on the shore near Capernaum. And as evening fell, he said, “Let’s go over to the other side.” The disciples had no reason to ever cross the Sea of Galilee: the other side was Gentile, they had pagan temples and Roman culture. In the midst of the storm, the disciples had to have been thinking, “You got us into this – we didn’t want to go over where all those unclean people are! Now we’re going to die on the way! And you are just snoozing away!”
Storms happen, even when we are following Jesus’ desires for our lives, even when we are sacrificing and going where we don’t want to go. On the Sea of Galilee they happen a lot. Storms will blow up without warning on the Sea of Galilee, with mountains on two sides, cool air rushes down the gorge and meets the warm waters, creating billowing waves. Boaters even now are very careful, constantly on alert even when the sea is calm, and unless conditions are very settled, they won’t venture far from shore.
Frightened disciples happen. When you have a boat, you learn to be respectful of the water. It is powerful. Some of the disciples are fishermen, but fishermen fished from their boats close to the shore – they did not go out to sea. For Mark and 1st Century Jews the waters of the seas represented the dark powers of chaos and evil. As they cross over to the other side in the night, there is an eruption of evil, winds and storms threatened their lives with waves tossing and crashing – the disciples are afraid they are about to be pitched to their doom!
Jesus sleeps. Jesus is asleep. Completely unafraid, at peace in the presence of evil raging, confident in the power of God.
Presbyterian pastor Richard Deibert says, “The only adequate explanation for Jesus’ sleep is that he is utterly fearless over the prospect of dying. Jesus can sleep at this moment because he suffers no anxiety over death. Jesus can sleep in the back of a thrashing, swamped, doomed fishing vessel because he sleep the sleep of a faithful Jew who entrusts his future entirely to the Lord of his past….he sleeps in …confidence that the existence of everyone in that boat is safely enfolded in the hands of …God, who will be true to the covenant even in death.”
It’s true in life, too. Storms happen. Frightened disciples happen. Jesus sleeps.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t set well with me. Jesus SLEEPS. In the midst of the storms of our lives? When we are frightened that we are going to sink?
The disciples wake Jesus up. I can understand their preference for Jesus to wake up and handle it. When I was a little girl, I loved paper dolls. I didn’t like to cut them out, though. My mom could cut them out faster and more precisely. So, I would ask her to cut them out. And she might cut some, but then she would hand them back to me to cut. And I would put them away, irritated that she didn’t do more. Over and over again, this went on. One day, there was a storm in me about these paper dolls. And Mom quieted the storm with these words, “You can cut them out. The more you practice, the better you will get. One day, you will be able to cut them just like me.” I had my doubts. I really just wanted her to cut them out for me.
The disciples woke Jesus up because they wanted him to handle it. Presbyterian pastor, Stephen McKinney-Whitaker asks, “Why do we [have] doubt[s]? We believe in Jesus enough to worship him. We trust him with our lives, we trust in his words and his power to bring life and to cast out sin and death, but we don’t trust in his power in us.” They didn’t even try to rebuke the waves. They didn’t pray. They panicked. They didn’t have faith. They didn’t even understand where his power came from. The storm threatened to overthrow their boat, and they woke him up because they knew he could save them.
Augustine, the 5th Century philosopher wrote about this passage: ‘When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is aroused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger; your heart is imperilled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate, but the joy of revenge brings with in another kind of misfortune – shipwreck. Why is this? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then, remember him, let him keep watch within you, you heed to him.’
We need this story because it is our human condition. Storms rage. We react. Jesus sleeps in us. We allow ourselves to be shipwrecked by the storm rather than rebuke the waves, “Peace! Be still!” We allow our carnal nature to take over with fight or flight responses, rather than trusting in God and responding according to Christ’s example. When we are afraid, it is easy to cry out that Jesus is sleeping and needs to wake up! But, what if Jesus is our example, even then? What if Jesus was talking to the disciples rather than the waves when he said, “Peace! Be still!”?
The words of one of my morning prayers this week spoke to me as I prepared for this sermon. I invite you to pray with me:
Whether I wake to birdsong or sirens or the deep silence before dawn, I awake to your presence, most gracious God. Enable me to trust completely in you as I meet the challenges of this new day. Make me watchful for your grace at work; may all I do be a testament to your glory. For Christ’s sake, Amen.