The geography of the Sea of Galilee – a low-lying area surrounded by hills – makes it especially susceptible to sudden and sometimes violent storms. Lake storms can be swift and terrifying, even to those who make their living on them, like the fishermen in Mark 4:35-41.
There are storms in life as well – storms of weakened health or prolonged illness, storms of job loss or mounting debt, storms of troubling global events, storms of emotional upheaval, storms created by the normal aging process, the human journey toward death or the grief of losing someone we love. Most of these storms are uninvited. They appear suddenly on the horizon, like dark gathering clouds, and move toward us while we consider what to do.
The story in Mark’s gospel gets interesting, because Jesus falls asleep on the trip over. This may not seem like a big deal. After all, he’s the carpenter, the rabbi, the landlubber. Some of his disciples have spent their whole lives fishing on this very lake. They are the experienced ones here. They are the ones who understand the variations in weather, and know how to handle them.
But here’s what happens. A great windstorm arises, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat is being swamped. The disciples do their best to remove the water, but it is getting into the boat faster than they can bail it out. They panic. These men who have always been comfortable on the water are now having their confidence tested.
Isn’t that how life treats us sometimes? Don’t we have our comfort zones, our places of safety, our circles of family and friends? Don’t we have our country – where the ideals of democracy and freedom have guided us for over two hundred years? And then something happens – a storm brews, divisions arise, an enemy approaches – and we are suddenly in fear for our lives.
In the midst of the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, the seaworthy disciples find themselves afraid that this might be the day that their time runs out.
They are at the moment of truth.
Life is about to overwhelm them.
Death, they fear, is about to swallow them up.
And Jesus is asleep.
Pastor Kevin McHarg poses this question for us to consider: Am I willing to trust a sleeping Jesus?
When I’m in the doctor’s office awaiting a diagnosis, am I willing to trust a sleeping Jesus?
When I’m in the throes of a difficult divorce, am I willing to trust a sleeping Jesus?
When I’m making a change in my career path, am I willing to trust a sleeping Jesus?
A Jesus on the road to Jerusalem I might be able to trust.
A Jesus opening the eyes of the blind I might be able to trust.
A Jesus teaching on a hillside or in the synagogue I might be able to trust.
But – a sleeping Jesus? I’m not so sure.
The disciples, fearing for their lives, wake Jesus from his sleep, and say to him, “Teacher! The boat’s going down. Don’t you care?”
Jesus wakes up, rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”
All becomes calm. The wind stops howling. The water lays so still that it reflects the starlight. There is nothing but silence, until Jesus speaks, and asks the question that is asked of us as well, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
It is as though Jesus is saying, “I am right here in the boat. I am right here in the midst of your lives. What more do you need before you will trust me?”
Charles Tindley wrote a hymn a century ago titled “Stand By Me.” The opening stanza reads: “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me; … When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”
Faith, you see, is a willingness to let God be God. Faith means that even in the storms of life we know that Christ stands with us. Faith assures us that we are never more than a whispered prayer away from the powerful Presence whom even the storms obey!
Words (c) 2012 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo (c) 2012 Dallis Day Richardson