1 Samuel 17:45-58 & Mark 4:35-41
Five years, almost to the day, Thea and I and ten other religious leaders from Australia, crossed the Sea of Galilee in a wooden hulled trawler from the sea side village near Tiberius across the water to the Territory known as the Gentile area of The Geresenes’ or ‘the Gaderenas’, or ‘The Gergesenes’ (in Mark 5).
The day was sunny and we were, as a group, singing the most appropriate Christian hymns and songs for such an occasion.
Near the middle of what is now known as Lake Tiberius, a breeze came up and we felt smallish waves tap up against the hull, and the boat rocked just a little.
Thankfully no-one decided to walk across the water, the helmsman did not have to be roused from slumber and a wind squall did not eventuate. But one can imagine a wind storm – as the wind blows from the north – down the long narrow lake and there are fairly high cliffs on two side that would funnel the air to exacerbate the effect of a windstorm on that sea.
Mark talks of a furious squall that occurs on the night that Jesus and the disciple were heading cross to ‘foreign territory’. Matthew in his rendition of the story uses a different Greek word for the storm – which he calls ‘seismos’ – virtually an earthquake of great magnitude – a word we have absorbed into our language today when we speak of seismic earthquake activity.
Imagine the boat being buffeted, water coming into the boat, as if it is about to sink and an inky night and a long way from land. The disciples had very good reason to be worried, anxious and scared.
And there’s Jesus – asleep – a cushion cradling his head – in the stern of the boat. You know what else is normally in the stern of a first century fishing boat – a tiller or rudder and an anchor.
See in this story, Jesus as our anchor, holding us fast and the rudder who points us in the direction he has set for us.
A boat can be a place of safety – even comfort. Think of Peter stepping out of the safety of the boat to meet Jesus on the water – but the other disciples didn’t take the challenge, but stayed in the safety and comfort of the boat.
Here, in this reading, the storm surrounds them, but I wonder if the storm is also in them. That is, the storm is in the place they inhabit.
The journey is a fraught one, they are in an in-between place – no longer near the safety and familiarity of their fishing village, but pointing now towards a place that is dangerous and unfamiliar.
It’s gentile territory, where pigs are farmed, and demons reputedly reside in people. Jesus told them not to worry, for he would always be with them, but worry they do.
When they wake Jesus (i.e. call upon him) he calms the story, simply using the words ‘Quiet, be still’ and calm returns.
The terror of the elements has been relieved and calmed but it is replaced with terror about the nature of Jesus.
The disciples, like us, still have much to learn about the nature of this man Jesus, as well as the nature and power of faith.
This man, the Lord and creator of all, who has the wind, waves, demons, the sun and the whole universe obey him, still has humans who choose not to obey him.
This same Lord and Creator, who would succumb to the evil plans of some people and the sins of all people – then and now stood with the disciples and called them to have faith. For this same God is with them in their inner storms on the sea, and with us in the perilous places like the Gaderenes.
As we conclude this time, ask yourself this question – What does it mean to say Jesus is my anchor, my rudder, the wind in my sail, the boat surrounding my being, and the calmer of the storms within me.
Then remember too about the symbol of the Uniting Church -that we celebrate on this our 41st birthday – with its boat-like shape that we portray to the world and what it says about who we want to be.
Let’s pray this beautiful prayer by John van der Laar (Sacredise)
The worst storms, Jesus, are the ones caused
by our fear,
when we grow afraid of losing our power,
or we grow suspicious of the power of others,
when we refuse to acknowledge your mysterious authority;
Yet, it’s in the storm that we find our capacity to love.
In releasing our weak claim to power
and opening to your reign,
we discover a new way of seeing ourselves –
as called and useful and beloved –
and the other, whoever they may be –
as dignified and precious and beloved.
Here in the storm, Jesus, we need you, and we need each other,
and the love you give us to share,
leads us through sacrifice and self-giving
to peace and calm,
if only we will loose our hold on fear.