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  • Writer's pictureSt Georges Milton

Jesus Calms the Storm - A Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Pentecost - June 23, 2024

I struggle with the idea of Jesus ordering the sea into peace. If we were to stumble across a time traveler’s videotape and find that it all happened just as Mark reports, I’d still be troubled. Because this isn’t the way the world works. People don’t go around saying, “Peace! Be still!” to the wind and the waves, and find that the wind and the waves obey.

That isn’t how things work now, and surely that wasn’t how things worked back then either. And if Jesus, being God as well as man, has the ability to control the winds, why does he allow people to be killed by hurricanes and tornadoes? Is that the action of a loving parent? That bothers me even more!

So, is this passage a story that didn’t quite happen? Was an overeager writer showing how powerful Jesus is by cobbling various little events into one dramatic miracle? Or, as can happen in the sea of Galilee, did a sudden calm come after the boat had nearly capsized, and just when the disciples woke Jesus; and when they told the story, they decided that it was Jesus who stilled the waters?

Or did Mark decide to elaborate a storm event into a parable about Jesus?

Would a video camera, had it been available back then, have recorded the miracle that Mark—apparently determined to highlight Jesus’ lordship over nature—tells about?

If I knew the answer, I’d share it. What I’ll give you is my best guess. I think the Gospel writers adapted some incidents in Jesus’ life to be parables about Jesus. And like all parables, today’s story is layered with meaning both for us, as the church, as a congregation or in our own personal journey.

Mark was writing his gospel to a church living in a time of persecution. Their Boat (an early symbol for the church and today the logo of the World Council of Churches) was sailing in stormy seas, rejected by the Jews and persecuted by the Romans.

If Mark’s gospel was to be good news for the Jesus followers, it had to proclaim a message of hope in the midst of these storms, We, too, live in a time of Chaos. The church is battling reduced attendance and possibly fighting for its existence; and then the secular world we are faced with many issues such as: wars, climate change, global warming, violence. 

We, too, need a message of hope.  Are we, like the disciple, afraid because we see God asleep, resting on a pillow in comfort while we perish? Or do we have faith in God’s ability to protect and save, even though we do not understand God’s ways? Are we afraid, not only of the storms but of God’s power to overturn the natural order of things? Or do we have faith? As I see it, this is a story about, amongst other things, fear and faith.

Let’s look at Jesus’ two questions: why are you afraid and have you still no faith. The inference is that if they had faith, they would not be afraid. I don’t think Jesus means that we should never be afraid of anything. Fear, which can give rise to the flight or fight reaction, is a valid and necessary part of our safety. But the way Mark tells the story, the disciples’ real terror of the night began not when the storm was swamping the boats, but when Jesus words actually still the storm. Surely someone who can change the way the natural world works can do all sorts of terrifying stuff!  Jesus isn’t questioning their fear of the storm, but their lack of trust in him.

It might be worth mentioning at this point, that the miracle happened in spite of the disciples’ lack of faith. One simple message conveyed by Mark's narrative is that the miracles do not require faith or produce faith, but faith sometimes has a role in the miracles.

Have you still no faith? Have we still no faith? This question applies to us as well. And it doesn’t have anything to do with whether we believe facts about God but asks if we put our trust in God. This kind of faith is not a magic charm that somehow protects us from loss or hardship or catastrophe. It doesn’t banish fear but it makes it possible for us to cope with it. So, what does it take to move from Fear to faith?

The disciples move from fear of the storm: do you not care that we are perishing? to: Who is this? It shifts from what, the miracle, the event, to who, Jesus, the person. Which makes me think that the answer to my question: what moves us from fear to faith, is relationship.

Faith Isn’t about believing certain cognitive propositions such as when or how God created the world or whether Mary was perpetually a virgin.  Rather faith is about a relationship, a relationship with the God who is revealed by the ministry and words and actions of Jesus, who is relentless in his pursuit of caring for all of God’s children.

Surely it is relevant that the disciples are in the storm because Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side [of the lake]” . Crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they are also crossing other boundaries, into Gentile territory, where they will be met immediately by a man possessed by a legion of demons rushing at them from the tombs. 

Jesus crosses many social and spiritual boundaries. He eats with unsuitable people, breaks Sabbath laws, associates with the unclean and heals them at the wrong times, and communicates with unclean spirits. Crossing to the other side with Jesus may be a risky, unpredictable proposition, symbolized in this parable by a mighty storm. And God’s roll in protecting us is symbolised by Jesus commending the obedient winds and wave to be still.

I started this homily by saying that I’m not happy with the idea that Jesus ordered the sea to be still. This just isn’t the way things work. This isn’t a story about the weather. It’s a story, rather, about how little we trust God to be with us in the overwhelming storms of life. We want a God who is in control and makes difficulties go away, but we, like the disciples, are uncomfortable with a capricious God who has the power to control and change the natural world at will.

But God’s power isn't in the control of creation or of people, but in being in relationship with us. It isn’t in imposing the divine will but in journeying with us as we stumble around and make our way in the world.  God’s power is not in miraculous interventions or pre-emptive strikes in the cosmic war against suffering and evil, but in inviting us to build a Kingdom with God and each other, out of love peace and justice, to be Co creators with God.  God’s power is not in the obliterating of what is bad in the world but in empowering us to build something good.

Do you find this jarring? Think about it. Our loving God shares the power. A God who insists on having all the power is a controlling, insecure narcissist. Our loving God’s power Is in sharing power in order to have a meaningful relationship with creation. In some way, God has given “free will” to all creation, not just to humans who only appeared on the creation stage so very recently. And God does not block the exercise of free will, but empowers Creation, including us, to use it, nudging us towards using it for Good but not forcing in any way.  Our God, who is always influenced and influential but never controlling[1].

God’s omnipotence isn't about having all the power but in sharing power with us. As Saint Paul said Jesus emptied himself To become one of us, to be in the boat with us in the midst of the storms that surround us in life.

So that’s the Christian life in a nutshell. We get into the boat with Jesus, , enduring the storms of life, cross to the other side where we find the needs of the world, and, sharing in God’s power, co-create with God and the rest of our shipmates, past, present and future,  a new Kingdom of Love in this world. Easy to say; not easy to do, but with the presence and power of God, we can do our part. Bon Voyage, my friends. See you on the boat.

[1] Oord, Thomas Jay. Open and Relational Theology: An Introduction to Life-Changing Ideas (p. 43). SacraSage Press. Kindle Edition.


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