Monday, June 22, 2009

Proper 7 of Series B (Mark 4:35-41)

“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is from the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, sometimes even the most minor details in Scripture have importance. In our text today, Mark gives to us a curious example. “And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him.” What’s with the other boats? Matthew and Luke don’t mention them, and even Mark doesn’t point them out again. Why include this detail? The most obvious answer is that it is true- the Gospels report to us history, and Mark may simply be trying to be as complete as possible. But I believe that there is an additional solution. The Gospels may be history, but they are not only history. They are also proclamation, they tell our story. The Gospel writers want us to see ourselves in the accounts they deliver to us. And what better way to do it than mentioning the presence of other boats? In that way we can imagine ourselves out on the lake, following Jesus by land and by water, when disaster strikes.

The sea is a place of danger to first-century people, it is the very embodiment of evil and death, an impersonal force looking for new ways to kill and destroy. “On that day, when evening had come, He said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’” There is an element of routine here- people travel across the sea every day- but when we hear these words, our hearts do feel a twinge of fear. We can’t help but think of Jonah, another prophet of God who traveled across the sea. We all know how that one turned out. On the Great Sea, the Mediterranean, his ship ran into a storm and Jonah ended up spending three days in a great fish. What possible dangers could be waiting for Jesus? Yet, there is something quite different about this Jesus. Jonah was God’s rebellious prophet, his journey on the sea was to escape the mission given to him. Jesus, however, is not unwilling but willing, He travels across the sea for the express purpose of declaring the Word of God to the Gentiles living opposite the Jews. Just as Jonah preached unwillingly to the Gentile sinners of Nineveh, Jesus goes to preach willingly to the Gentile sinners of the land across the sea, the Decapolis.

So we run to our boats and begin to follow Jesus. And, out on the water, in the middle of the lake, our worst fears come true. This Jesus guy seems to stir up trouble wherever He goes- we can all remember how the demon possessed ran to challenge Jesus, how He cast the demons from them with the power of His Word. And now the entire sea appears to be demon possessed. “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.” We can’t help but think that this storm is all that we deserve. It was our sin that plunged the world into chaos, that made travel across any part of God’s good creation dangerous. Mankind corrupted itself, and Jesus has been combating the results since He appeared on the scene. Diseases, infirmity, the oppression of the devil, even death itself are the effects of the Fall into sin. But it goes much deeper than that, and it is the ultimate consequence of our sin that gives us the most fear as the water fills our boat. For as much as the storm personifies the corruption of this fallen world and the oppression of Satan, it also reminds us of God’s judgment. We are sinful in our thoughts, words, and deeds, all we deserve is eternal separation from God, and it seems like this storm may be it.

What recourse do we have? As the storm rages, we have only one person that we can turn to, and He has disappeared. As we gaze into Jesus’ boat, the great teacher is nowhere to be seen. “But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” Jesus had found the only sheltered spot on a Galilean fishing boat, underneath the helmsman’s platform, and there He slept. Maybe there wasn’t such a great difference between Him and Jonah after all? That rebellious prophet also slept as the storm raged. But the connections we draw go much deeper than that. God has often seemed asleep to us, we have sometimes been unable to see Him working, to feel His presence. So often, it seems like God doesn’t care about us or what happens to us. The storms of life come upon us fast and furious, they overwhelm us with their power. They come in the form of sickness and disease, or the death of dear loved ones, and we cry out to God for deliverance. Natural disasters, the loss of property, the distressing events of our world continue to pour water into our boat, and we can’t believe that our God is sleeping. “And they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” Our question reveals the turmoil within us. We are in danger of giving up the faith, we are tempted so often to give in to fear and unbelief. If God won’t intervene right now, then why should we believe?

But the One who appeared to be asleep has been watching over us the entire time. “And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” We watch in amazement as the thunder of Jesus’ voice sounds out. Just as He told the demons to be quiet and come out of their hosts, so He exorcises the sea with the power of His Word. The sea is rebuked and silenced, the great storm is replaced by a great calm. But the sea is not the only thing that is rebuked. “He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’” The accusation cuts deeply. In so many of the storms of our lives, we have let fear replace faith, and for that we repent.

As we watch the storm clouds quickly fade away, a question forms on our lips. “And they were filled with a great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?’” We can’t help but think of when Job was asked a similar question. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said… ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?’” There is only one answer- the God of all Creation has appeared on the scene, Yahweh Himself has come in human flesh to deliver from the storm. This great teacher, this amazing prophet, this miracle-worker is no mere man, but our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, the very Son of God. As Luther puts so beautifully in his hymn, “You ask who this may be? The Lord of Hosts is He, Christ Jesus, mighty Lord, God’s only Son, adored. He holds the field victorious.”

But as we follow Jesus and the disciples in our boat, something is still not connecting. More storms will form over the Sea of Galilee, the earth has not been rid of all corruption. When we reach the other side, Satan will oppose Jesus once again in the form of a wild, demon-possessed man. Jesus will cast the demon from Him as well, but each of these victories seems incomplete and temporary. If Jesus is going to cleanse creation of the effects of our fall into sin, He has a long way to go. But as we travel with our Lord, it slowly becomes apparent that He is headed for a once-for-all, ultimate showdown with Satan. These minor engagements are only preliminary to what is to come. For Jesus Christ has come to still the storm of Satan’s domination, He has come to defeat evil forever. But He would do this in a strange way. At least the calming of the storm had the appearance of victory, we could cheer at the triumph of the Creator over His rebellious creation. Christ’s ultimate victory would instead come wrapped in the appearance of defeat. Jesus would allow sinful humans to falsely accuse Him, to beat and scourge Him, and finally to nail Him to a cross. It was only by sacrificing Himself that Jesus could win ultimate victory, our Lord and Savior offered His very blood in the place of you and me. There, on the hill of Golgotha, man’s scorn and God’s wrath raged against Him in complete fury, it was a perfect storm, and He endured it all for us, He endured it all because He loves you. “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat.”

When the sky cleared, Jesus had given up His very life to deliver you, His blood was shed for you, He lay in a tomb to sanctify your grave, and He rose to give you life. For sin, Satan, and death had done their worst, and had failed, for Christ had crushed them all, defeating them for you and me. The storm was silenced, its fury broken, mankind delivered. Satan had stood before the throne of God, accusing us of our sin, but now Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God, and He silences our accuser. “And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” Satan can no longer accuse us of our sin, for Christ took all that sin to the cross, we have been forgiven through His triumph, we are covered in His blood. Satan can talk all He wants to- we are God’s children through Baptism, we are forgiven, we are His own. That is the promise that we have, that is the victory Christ won for you and me.

As God’s children, we still travel the waterways of this life. We still encounter storms, terrible storms that make us wonder if God is asleep. But we have the promise of ultimate and eternal deliverance, we know that God will bring us through every storm to the harbor of heaven, His promised rest. Psalm 107 puts it so well: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and He brought them to their desired haven.” God may not always calm the storms of this life in the way that we want, but we take heart that the ultimate storm has been defeated, that every storm will be hushed in eternity. How can we thank Him, what is our response to this great proclamation of our Creator and Savior? Once again, Psalm 107 gives us the words: “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men! Let them extol Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the assembly of the elders.” Amen.

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