Mark 4.35-41 “Learning To Trust” Listen
It’s a strange place to begin. Did you notice? The end of a long day, evening has come, darkness is falling over the Sea of Galilee. It’s time to rest. Jesus, though, turns to his disciples and summons them to go with him to the other shore. These are experienced fishermen. They know better than to be on a boat in the middle of night crossing the sea. Fierce storms come up without much warning. When they do the sea is not the place for anyone. Still, Jesus says to the disciples “let’s go to the other shore.” He apparently wants to get away from the crowd.
What better place than a boat in the middle of the sea? The disciples, of course, have heard this before.
Come with me, he said, you will be fishing for more than fish. Drop your nets; leave it behind, follow me. They had heard it before and didn’t quite understand.
Now he says it again.
He doesn’t cajole, give a reason, or provide some explanation. He just says, let’s go to the other shore. Looking across the sea through the fast falling darkness, there are only two options: go with the One who calls you or stay on the shore with the crowd. The boat pushes off from the shore, moving slowly into the darkness.
And the Lord who calls falls asleep. It’s a strange place to begin. Then again, maybe it’s not such a strange place to begin.
After all, isn’t life a series of not-resting places? If you are fortunate as many of us are we live with a constantly moving set of choices certainly in our early years. You choose this direction, instead of that one; this job, not the other one, and that single choice changes everything. Students graduate, and start leaving life with their parents and friends behind and start another chapter.
The life of faithful discipleship is like this, too. Disciples, one and all, we stand on the shore, often wary, if not weary and wondering as we seek to be faithful to the One who calls us.
Did you notice what else happens when the disciples are called?
The crowd goes home with no commitments. The crowd has no resolve to follow at all cost. They feel neither a twinge of fear nor a spark of joy. They will simply go home, with their life intact, unchanged and rest after hearing the Lord speak. Period. Life is under control.
But that’s not what happens with disciples. No, over and over, the weary, puzzled Church stands on the safe of the shore listening to our Lord who says, Let’s go to the other side. And down through the ages, time and time again, faithful disciples leave the safety of what is known and, sail to another place where our Lord calls us.
The Church is unaware of what lies between the safety of one shore and the promise on the other side that can’t be seen. This is always the way it is. Disciples move into the boat and out on the sea, because the Lord calls them to a new place.
Can’t you imagine the disciples? Stomachs turn and knots form. Sweaty palms are everywhere. All of a sudden the mind is filled with a hundred sane reasons to stay put, if only because it is familiar. The Lord will have nothing of it. He keeps calling disciples to follow him to the other side.
The Church in our time is facing similar questions as we seek to follow Christ in a new context. Within 5 miles of my home is a Sikh temple, a Buddhist meditation center, a Mormon church, a Jehovah’s Witness meeting house, two Jewish synagogues and an Islamic prayer center. And this, of course, doesn’t mention the majority who has no faith tradition or those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. How can we be a faithful Church that speaks the gospel with clarity and serves our neighbors in this 21st century context? What does it mean to be a community of mercy known by our neighbors as the friends of Jesus? (This is how the earliest church was described in the Book of Acts.)
We have questions. Some of them are good questions. (But not all of them. Like the ones that begin: we’ve never done that before.) For instance the Presbyterian Church is committed to starting 1,001 new faith communities in the next ten years. Someone raises her hand: Don’t you think we ought to study the question a bit longer? Maybe we need to build a bigger, better boat, first. It’s a fine question. Yet a faithful Church, even one filled with questions, hearing the Lord’s call, climbs into the boat in darkness to sail to another unknown shore. Here we have to say that the life of faith is formed in storms, even life-threatening storms.
Sure enough, all our fears soon come true. All that could go wrong does goes wrong. The sea turns to chaos waves crash over the deck. Thunder, lightening; this is no small storm. It’s dangerous and life threatening to be on the sea in such chaos. And we who seek to be faithful in the chaos are frightened–with good reason. The Lord sleeps soundly. So we have to say that the life of faith is formed in storms, even life-threatening storms.
Our denomination, like all denominations, is experiencing our share of worry as we name the differences that will test our unity in Christ. We will argue over the definition of marriage and the Church’s role in providing guidance to gay couples seeking blessings. While facing challenges to the tradition, we have to find new ways to bear witness to the astonishing love of God Jesus Christ, whom we follow.
So it’s with good reason that the disciples call out to the Lord. The boat is sinking. We have two choices: jump ship or blame the One who got us in this predicament in the first place.
But disciples choose the second option. They stay in the boat and cry out to Jesus. Lord, we cry out, don’t you even care that we are perishing?
Jesus hears their cries, rises from sleep and still the forces of chaos.
Then he does this amazing thing that I think is the pivot point for you and me.
Why are you afraid? He asks. Have you still no faith? Of course, he knows why we are afraid. He knows we have no idea where we are going; we are following him, crossing our fingers and saying our prayers. He knows that chaos around us frightens us and doubts haunt us like a bad dream. He knows us who sit together in the tiny boat sailing through chaos. We are the Church.
Knowing who we are, Jesus asks the disciples in that tiny boat to move beyond fear to genuine faith in him. And I believe he asks the same of you and me.
Our whole life long journey is sailing through a sea of chaos. The Good News is that the one who calls us on this journey sails with us. Is he trustworthy? Will he see us through to the other side? Dare we abandon our fear and solely trust in him? These questions are the heart of faith.
“Who is this”, we ask, “that even the wind and seas obey him?” We sail through a sea of chaos on a tiny boat. This is our story. It has been the story of the church from the beginning.
“Who is this Lord, who is leading us?” The boat tips slightly while our Lord strains forward to hear our answer.
He is the one who brings us home in peace. Amen.