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For the past two weeks, Layla has been waking up with nightmares. Sometimes 2-3 or three times a night. It usually goes something like this: I’m awakened from a deep sleep by Layla shouting “MOOOOM!” over and over in increasing volume and intensity until I stumble blindly and half sleeping into her room.
And then she tells me about the scary dream, I give her a snuggle, a sip of water, tell her it’s not real, but I’m here and she’s ok, I give her a smooch, and she goes back to sleep.
Sometimes I think she just wants to know that she’s not alone when she wakes up scared.
And honestly – I think that’s how I feel when I’m scared too, but since I’m about 30 years older than Layla it’s not really socially acceptable for me to call my mom when something scares me. (though sometimes I still do)
The texts today, from Mark and from Job, have this same underlying feeling. They both describe a basic human need that we all have – to feel we are not alone when bad things happen or when we’re scared.
In the Gospel lesson from Mark, we have the somewhat familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Many of us have likely heard this story before, and the lesson we hear in response to this text is usually the same:
Sometimes we are in storms, but don’t be afraid, Jesus will calm them.
And while I think this isn’t a horrible interpretation of the text, I also don’t think it’s necessarily a good one either.
Because what if you are in a storm and the storm doesn’t get better?
Does that mean Jesus didn’t hear you?
Does that mean you didn’t have enough faith?
This is why, in my opinion, assuming that this text is about trusting Jesus to calm the storm is the wrong one to make.
So what is this story of Jesus calming the storm really about then?
The text today begins with verse 35, “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “let us go across to the other side.””
What a start!
This one small verse has so many details in it:
On that day: what day?
The same day that we heard about last week. Where Jesus preaches all sorts of parables about the Kingdom of God to the large crowds on the hillside by the Sea of Galilee.
What time of that day? Evening.
He said to them – which we know means Jesus talking to the disciples.
And what does Jesus say? “let us go across to the other side”
So we know, from last week, that Jesus is in Capernaum, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples don’t know it, but we know that “across to the other side” means the Gerasene territory.
The Sea of Galilee is a stunning area.
Beautiful, warm, and in the Jordan River Valley, it’s surrounded by hills and mountains. But it’s a shallow lake, and known for being in a strange sort of ecosystem, where storms pop up with little to no warning and escalate quickly into dangerous territory.
So one thing you never do is go out on the lake at night.
It’s not done.
But it’s evening, “the end of the day” and Jesus says they should get in the boat to go to the other side, AND THEY DO.
This is insane.
They don’t question – they just get in the boat.
These disciples are fishermen, they should know this even more than the average guy.
And a storm comes up while they are traveling across the lake and it gets bad.
The boat is going down.
When the disciples call to Jesus – who is sleeping – they literally think they are dying – that this is it.
Notice they don’t ask Jesus to calm the storm.
No, they shout to him, “don’t you care that we’re dying?!”
Not help us Jesus.
But – don’t you care?
They are, in essence, asking: Where are you Jesus?
They don’t want Jesus to fix everything, they want to know they aren’t alone.
Yet Jesus gets up and calms the storm.
And then, you’d think all is better, but what does Mark say happens next? The disciples are even more scared than before.
The Greek literally says they feared a great fear.
But it’s a different kind of fear than before… instead of fear for their lives, as during the storm, the disciples’ great fear here is more awe than terror.
Because they’ve just witnessed the full power of what Jesus can do, and they realize Jesus is a lot bigger than they had even begun to hope for.
So they wonder – in fact, this whole passage ends with a question: “Who then is this – that even the wind and sea obey him?”
And it is left unresolved.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t like it when things aren’t resolved.
You want answers, because answers mean you understand it.
But we don’t get that here.
And maybe that’s ok.
I think maybe not having all the answers might actually be the point here.
And that’s made even more clear when read next to the Job text from this morning.
Job has lost everything, and his friends have tried and tried and tried to give him the reasons why.
Even Job has tried to figure out why.
And, even though today’s text from Job is best read in the context of the ENTIRE 42 chapters, this section’s point is pretty clear.
Are you God?
Did you create the world?
Then stop talking.
This whole section is basically a God smack down.
And while it seems kind of harsh, I think the core message of it is the same as Mark’s Gospel today:
Sometimes the why is not always knowable, and we don’t have all the answers, but the answers aren’t what is important… what is important is what we CAN know.
God is with us.
Job’s deeper need was to know that God had not abandoned him, that God still cared.
The same goes with the disciples – when they called out to Jesus in the midst of the storm, they didn’t ask for help, they asked if God still cared.
So what does this mean for us?
I like to think we are asked to get in the boat.
We are all asked to make a journey.
We don’t know where we are going.
We don’t know what the journey will be like.
We don’t know what is going to happen when we get to the other side.
And sometimes, the act of faith isn’t trusting that God will calm the storms on the way, but our act of faith is getting in the boat in the first place.
So today we are asked to get in the boat.
Despite all those things we don’t know.
All the variables we can’t predict.
But what we do know, what we can be completely and totally confident in is that being loved by God means we are not alone.
It is because we can’t see and don’t know and are almost always afraid – God sends us Jesus.
Someone who gets in the boat with us.
And having Jesus with us changes things.
But not always the way we think – the world doesn’t suddenly get easier when we have Jesus with us.
In fact, sometimes it’s even harder.
Storms still come.
We are still afraid.
We had a reminder of how dark and scary the world can be again this week.
When a gunman attacked a group of African American Christians in the midst of a Bible study.
We turned on the news and heard story after story about hate and anger and we felt sadness and fear.
Fear because we were reminded of how fragile life is.
Fear because we were shown that darkness can reach into any place.
And we experienced again how easy it can be to let our fear take over.
So maybe this morning, we too want to call out to God – don’t you care?!
Look – look around us God! See what’s happening?
Don’t you see that we are perishing?
The cry of the disciples is our cry too, each and every time we encounter the darkness of this world.
I was reminded this week by my friend and colleague Pastor Kat, that we often rush into the midst of things that are scary and try to calm people down by saying “shhhh, it’s ok… there is nothing to be afraid of.”
I do this each time I run into Layla’s room in the middle of the night.
It’s our knee-jerk reaction to calm fear by downplaying it’s reality.
But, I think this is wrong.
There IS a lot to be afraid of in this world.
There’s cancer, and unemployment, car crashes, and floods, and war and violence and hate.
There is a lot of scary stuff out there.
And we can’t ignore it.
We can’t minimize it, and we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
Our world is a scary place.
That’s the reality in which we live.
Sometimes, when we wake up to news like we all heard on Thursday morning, we wonder if in fact the darkness is overtaking the light… if maybe the darkness is winning.
And sometimes, we let fear take over for a little bit.
But God doesn’t ever tell us that there’s nothing to be afraid of, God says, over and over again, Do Not Be Afraid.
And there is a big difference between the two.
It’s not that we don’t have things to be afraid of, but we are told NOT to be afraid because God is with us.
And today we are also reminded that the opposite of fear isn’t courage – it’s faith.
God is in the boat with us.
God is here with us.
Today, the actions of Jesus help move us from terror to awe.
From fear to faith.
Today is our reminder that no matter what questions we have,
no matter how complex the mysteries of God are,
no matter how stormy our lives get,
no matter how sinful we are,
no matter how scary the world around us might be,
no matter what happens on our journey to the other side,
God is right there with us.
We are not alone.
That’s what God wanted us to know and learn and taste and see when he sent Jesus.
We are not alone.
And we are loved. We are SO loved.
All of us.
Those who are struggling to manage their fear and anxiety in a world that often feels more dark than light are loved.
Those who gather in churches around the world today despite fearing for their lives because of what they believe or where they are meeting are loved.
Even those who are filled with fear that has turned into hate and somehow act on it are loved.
God sent Jesus into the world, into our world, to be with us, to love us, and to be our light in the darkness.
Do not be afraid.
The light has come into the world, and the darkness, the fear, cannot and will not overcome it.