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Sermon for June 23, 2024 – Proper 7

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3030 | The Power of His Presence
Michelle Fleming

Do you believe that God is with you? Do you believe that the Creator of the universe hears you when you call and is present for every moment of your life? As unbelievable as it sounds, most Christians would say “yes.” We believe in a God who cares for us as his children. Yet sometimes, still, we find ourselves doubting that God is with us when we find ourselves in precarious situations.

A few summers ago, I decided to train for a Sprint Triathlon. At the time, I was an avid runner and enjoyed biking, but wanted to challenge myself through the swimming portion of the race. I followed a training program for a few months and swam laps at my parents’ community pool on swimming days. They joined in the process, counting laps for me, and cheering me on. My mom even watched YouTube videos to help coach me through my stroke. I felt the love of God through the support and encouragement of my parents.

On race day, we arrived at the beach and the waves were pounding.  I had trained but not in open water. I tried my best to play it cool until race participants in the more experienced groups were rescued by boats to get out of the water. When my group’s turn came up, I entered the water and was immediately forced to swim harder than I had in any of my practice sessions. Determined not to quit, I began praying and swimming, “God, why do the waters have to be this rough. Please, please, please get me to shore safely!” It was easy to trust the power of God’s presence in the smooth, clear swimming pool with my family around me, much more difficult alone in the choppy, rough open water.

Because of this experience, I can relate to this lesson, Jesus’ disciples had to learn about trusting the power of God’s presence. In Mark 4:35-41 we read:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35-41

Jesus was with the disciples in the storm, but because he did not react in the way they expected, they doubted if Jesus cared about their situation. After performing a powerful miracle, Jesus asked the disciples why they doubted. Since Jesus was the one who told them to sail to the other side of the sea and he was with them, they should have trusted in him. They should have rested in the power of his presence.

We can often act like the disciples. If we are in a trial and God does not react the way we expect, it is easy to doubt his care for us. At times like this, we should remember that God is with us and there is power in his presence. In a moment, God can speak a word and change everything. His power is supreme and even the forces of nature must obey him. This does not mean that we will never suffer. Rather, it means that God will be with us even when we suffer, and he has the power to bring us through any storm.

In case you were wondering, God did not calm the waves during my race, but he calmed me with the peace of his presence and he brought me back to shore.

I am Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 9:9-20 • 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41

This week’s theme is Christ conquers the chaos. In our call to worship Psalm, God is heralded as the one who exercises his strength for the oppressed and troubled. The Old Testament text in 1 Samuel recounts portions of the story leading up to and including David’s defeat of Goliath. Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are a proclamation of the acceptable day of salvation that will not be hindered by the human chaos and trials Paul and his fellow servants experienced. The Gospel text in Mark tells the dramatic story of Jesus calming a storm while in a boat with his disciples.

Christ in the Storm

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

Today we have the opportunity to revisit one of the most well-known and dramatic stories of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat caught in a storm. The story is a favorite as it speaks to us on so many levels of the “storms” we encounter in our life and journey with Jesus. You may be going through a personal storm of your own today. Or maybe you are thinking of a wider storm that seems to be engulfing your church, community, country, or even world. Let’s face it, we are no strangers to storms. As we look at this story, I do hope it will bring you some encouragement and comfort as your face whatever particular storm or boat you find yourself in. This story can certainly do that.

However, I also hope we can pull back from our immediate storm and look at this story from a wider perspective, a perspective that Mark seems to be alluding to. May we come to see that our current storm is swept up into a cosmic storm of epic proportions. But more importantly, may we come to see a little more that there is someone in our boat who rides out the storm with us in a most radical and unexpected way, with a result that will leave us asking, “Who then is this?” That’s the question we will pursue as we get in the boat with Jesus. So, buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Before we go through the story, let’s learn a little about the storyteller, Mark. If you’ve ever noticed, Mark’s Gospel is much shorter than the other three. Mark does not spend much time telling the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. He seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere. And it becomes apparent that he is rushing off to linger on the story of Jesus’ death and crucifixion. When he gets to that story, he slows down considerably. This is what Mark is concerned with and what he wants to press upon his readers. Everything seems to be leading to this climatic point. As a result, Mark does not linger on many details. He is content to tell the stories, get to the point, and move on. Because of this we can read these stories with Mark’s overall focus in mind. Here are two things we notice about his focus.

First, Mark doesn’t include as many details as the other Gospel writers. That means, the details he does include are weighted. Mark is very intentional to include the details he does, so we must take care not to overlook them. Mark has a reason he makes mention of them. So, we will linger on a few details in this story that might otherwise be dismissed as just the setting and props of a good story.

Second, we can be on the lookout for elements in the story that may be serving Mark’s bigger picture. He may be telling the story in such a way as to lead up to what is going on with Jesus dying on a cross. So, be on the lookout for any shadows from the cross that may be cast over the story. Mark is a good storyteller, and he has no problem employing some foreshadowing.

Now with that introduction, let’s see how Mark chooses to introduce the story:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” (Mark 4:35 ESV)

Mark begins the story with “On that day” which lets us know that this is the same day that Jesus had got into a boat for the purpose of teaching the crowds. Part of that teaching included the two parables we looked at last week. So, this story is part of a long day of teaching, using many parables, which will conclude with the disciples being thrown into a living parable on the sea. Mark transitions the story with “when evening had come.” We are already prepped for ominous events. The day is about to turn decisively dark. However, Jesus still initiates a trip across the Sea of Galilee “to the other side.”

Jesus taking the disciples “to the other side” may have more meaning than merely getting across a lake. If we see this story as another “parable” of sorts, although a live one that Mark is including along with Jesus’ spoken parables, we can be invited to think of the setting of the story as carrying additional meaning. Is it too much of a stretch to see Jesus taking his disciples “to the other side” as a microcosm of his mission to bring his creation into the kingdom of God, the very kingdom he was teaching about in the previous parables?

Notice that Jesus invites, “Let us go.” Jesus is not going to the other side alone, and he is not telling the disciples to get there on their own. Jesus is going to the other side, and he is taking his followers with him. If there is a deeper meaning of Jesus inviting his disciples to, “Let us go across to the other side,” one thing is certain, whatever it is, Jesus initiates it, he is involved in the entire journey, and he is the one who will ultimately get them to the “other side.” It’s hard not to see overtures of the mission of salvation Jesus was sent to accomplish for us.

Let’s see if the story has any other threads to pull on:

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. (Mark 4:36 ESV)

For the disciples to embark on this trip requires them “leaving the crowd” as well as taking “him [Jesus] with them in the boat.” When Jesus takes us on a journey with him, we will often have to let go of the things we have surrounded ourselves with. There will be many things that we will have to leave behind, things that are not fitting for a journey with Jesus to the other side. But we must also remember that it is Jesus who is taking us and who will ultimately bring us to our final destination. We don’t go on our own strength or power. We remain aware that Jesus is in the boat with us. Also, we noted that Jesus has provided the boat.

The passage says that the disciples took Jesus “just as he was.” The meaning of this is simply that they took him in the boat he’d been in. It can also mean he did not take extra provisions of food or clothing. Remember, Jesus had already been in a boat teaching parables to the crowd. The disciples do not try to provide a bigger, quicker, or stronger boat. This story can remind us that we can trust Jesus with whatever boat he has chosen to work in. We do not put our trust in our “boats” but in the one who is in the boat with us.

Mark also includes a brief detail in the story that “other boats were with him.” This may be one of those details that seem unnecessary to the story. In fact, it never comes up again. So, why does Mark include it here? We are not told, but its inclusion does invite us into exploring some possible deeper meaning than Mark just filling out the scene. Remember, Mark doesn’t include details for nothing. He is very sparing of the ink he uses so we may do well to think a little more about these “other boats.” At this point, all we know is Jesus has chosen to be in one particular boat. However, with Mark telling us about the other boats, we can entertain how Jesus’ actions in this one boat will affect those in the other boats. So, as we continue through the story, remember that there are other boats involved, even if they are not mentioned again.

We have the setting and scene of the story. Now for the conflict:

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. (Mark 4:37 ESV)

This description of the storm describes quite well the storms we all encounter in life. Conflict can arise out of nowhere without warning. Like the wind, we often don’t know where it comes from, don’t see it coming, don’t know how long it will last, how bad it will be, or when it will end. But we can see the waves it produces and the damage it does. Can you relate to this description of a “great windstorm” in your own life? I’m sure many of us have had experiences where we felt the boat we were in was going to sink. Maybe you are going through such a storm even now. But even if your days are all sunshine and smooth sailing at the moment, there is another storm raging that none of us can ignore. The storm of evil.

The “great windstorm” is a pretty good description of the problem of evil. And evil would be firmly in the minds of the disciples, some of whom are seasoned sailors, as they get caught in a mighty storm at sea in the middle of the night. For the Jewish mind during the time of this story the sea was understood to be the place where the demons would reside. The sea was the realm of the satanic and the place of chaos. So, the disciples are not just afraid for their physical safety, they are in fear of encountering the demonic world that appears to be throwing a fit. To put it mildly they are scared out of their wits. It does seem that Mark wants us to relate to the disciples’ experience here. There seems to be far more going on here than just a random act of nature. The “storm” seems to be reacting to something and targeting the boat and everything near it. And I think it is fair to say that is what is actually taking place. The evil one does not like Jesus in his territory, and fear is one of his greatest weapons. The disciples are powerless against this raging storm. They are terrified, and destined for fish food if something drastic doesn’t change.

And that sets the story up for a transition, and in this case, a twist. Every good story should have one.

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38 ESV)

Jesus is found asleep in the storm. Seriously! Asleep? But wait, that’s not the best part. Jesus is “in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” We may miss the significance of this description with our modern boats and their captains at the wheel. For this boat, the stern and cushion would signify that Jesus is asleep in the pilot chair, where the rudder controlled the boat. That’s the significance of that detail Mark includes. That’s right, Jesus has fallen asleep on the job. Maybe if he had stayed awake, he could have steered the boat out of harm’s way. Or at least he should have been awake enough to try to get out of the storm. But Jesus seems content to just sleep right through it. With this picture, I think we can easily identify with the disciple’s question: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And it’s not really a question, is it? It’s an expression of the deeper fear we all have. God doesn’t care. Is that not the real threat of every storm in our lives? The evil one can use the storms in our lives to deafen us with the lie that the Lord does not care. We may be tempted to believe that the Lord is oblivious to what is going on in our life and disinterested in saving us. The lie that aims to capsize our journey with the Lord is that God just doesn’t care.

Now for the resolution of the conflict:

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. (Mark 4:39 ESV)

Notice, Jesus doesn’t answer their question. However, he does answer their fear. He wakes up and “rebukes” the storm. This huge conflict of sea and demonic forces, this “great windstorm” comes to an abrupt “great calm” without Jesus lifting a finger. So much for the epic battle scene every good story should have. But maybe we shouldn’t be too fast to dismiss the epic battle! Mark is telling a story within a story. His larger story has a fine focus on an epic battle that gets played out on a wooden cross. With that end in mind maybe we missed the foreshadowing battle that took place at sea. How did Jesus defeat death, darkness, and the Devil on the cross? He fell asleep, so to speak. He took the fight to the storm by steering right to the center of it and then dragging it down into his own death, drowning it forever. When he was raised up in his resurrection, he only needed to say the word that his actions had secured, “Peace!”

So, what was the action Jesus used in the boat? The same action as he did on the cross. He trusted the Father in the middle of the storm. Jesus was asleep on the boat because he knew the Father cared. He trusted the Father to bring them to the other side safe and sound. It may have been a rocky ride but for Jesus it was just another night to rest in the Father’s love.

With that perspective, this story does seem to be included by Mark as another parable Jesus uses to teach us about the kingdom of God, who his Father is, and who we are in Jesus. There is a connection with last week’s parable of the growing seed that made mention of the “man” who “sleeps and rises.” For my money, this story is just another story to help us see who this “man” is. He is Jesus, our Lord and Savior who fought the epic battle of faith for us, not in a wooden boat, but on a wooden cross. He has defeated the evil one and proclaimed “Peace!” He has truly brought us to the other side.

But we are not done. Jesus has a few words for us to ponder.

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:40-41 ESV)

This story ends with Jesus asking a question in return. “Why are you afraid! Have you still no faith?” As we come to know the Father’s love for us as revealed in Jesus Christ, we can put our trust in him in the middle of all our storms. His love will chase away our fears and we too can rest in peace as the Father brings us home to him. So, if you find yourself still in a storm today. Mark tells this story to encourage you. The Lord does care, and he will see you through. The way he calms our storm may not always be how or when we would prefer, but we can trust that Jesus will get us to the other side. In the meantime, we can rest on the cushion with him, finding comfort knowing that he is in the boat with us.

One final thought in case you think I forgot. Remember those other boats that “were with him?” They too were caught in the same storm. The storm was also calmed for them. But they did not know who calmed the storm – at least initially. In fact, they may have had even more fear of the sea after they witnessed a supernatural event on a demonic-infused night. But the disciples who went with Jesus knew what took place. They are no longer talking about the storm. They are talking about “Who then is this…”

The disciples got wrapped up in this story Mark recorded for us. But now they too have a story to tell. And I suspect there are plenty of frightened folks who need to hear it. If the Lord has called you into his boat and revealed to you that his Father does care and loves you deeply, this does not mean he does not care or not love those in the other boats. Rather, he is giving you the opportunity to share with them who this man is. They do not have to live in fear any longer. Jesus has saved us from sinking. He has pronounced peace and silenced the storm. May we not be silent in sharing this dramatic good news with others. What a story you have to share!

Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W4

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June 23— Proper 7 in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:35-41, “Don’t You Care?”

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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W4

Anthony: All right, Chris, our next passage is Mark 4:35-41. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, June 23. Would you read it for us, please?

Chris: Certainly.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And waking up, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Anthony: That’s the question, isn’t it? Who is this? So, from your perspective, was Jesus knowingly sending his friends, with himself, into a raging storm?

And if that’s the case, what are the implications not only for them, but for us, if anything?

Chris: Yeah. The text doesn’t specify, does it, whether Jesus was sending them there knowingly. Of course, that evokes lots of questions about the omniscience of Jesus in his being human, but also God, fully God.

These are questions that have occupied theologians for many years. In fact, I’m just reading a book by Austin Stevenson for an OnScript podcast next week. The book is called The Consciousness of the Historical Jesus, and he’s got a few chapters thinking about: how do we speak of the omniscience of Jesus in light of particularly passages in Mark where Jesus seems to admit that he doesn’t know everything?

That’s a bit of an aside. But here’s something we can say: that God does send us into difficult times. I think of the baptism of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, upon descending on Jesus, immediately sends him not into a nice place, but into the desert. So sometimes the Holy Spirit isn’t being friendly, in whatever way we might understand the word friendly. So, it wouldn’t be beyond the pale to understand Jesus putting them through this knowingly, with all of those theological footnotes in place.

But I do think that we are now encountering something which is essential to the fabric of faith. That question: don’t you care? Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t being a Buddhist and just having perfect peace about everything.

It’s about wrestling with psychological strain and questioning: how can this thing happen? Most of the Psalms or many of the psalms, they’re psalms of lament. The psalmist might turn around and say, look, we’ve done everything right, God, but you have fallen asleep. Wake up.

It’s evoking precisely these kinds of psalms where the faithful in Israel are perplexed that their enemies are taking over. So, this is the question of faith, not the question of atheism.

And just yesterday or the day before, I came across this Facebook post where someone was saying, the most devastating critique of Christianity is the presence of evil. And someone clever responded and said in the comments — I don’t know why I look at Facebook comments; it’s not very good for me — but someone clever responded in the comments, “How can an atheist say anything about evil because you don’t have a standard of which to talk about evil because you’ve given up faith in God?” And they turned around and they said, “Ah, this is an internal critique of Christianity.”

And I thought, okay, I follow the reasoning, but it’s actually a critique of faith, right? The question: don’t you care? That’s what believers, it’s what disciples ask, not an atheist.

And so, Jesus responds to us then in that light, as those who are his brothers and sisters and mothers. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? In other words, there isn’t this you’re on the verge of being an outsider now kind of condemnation. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? This is the kind of questioning that Jesus puts to his brothers and sisters and mothers, which then causes us to be filled with great fear and ask, who is this Jesus?

The questions, in other words, continue right off the back of that.

Anthony: You mentioned the Psalms and I recently read Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Spirituality of the Psalms, and he helped me see a rhythm in scripture, specifically the Psalms. But you see it in the Sermon of the Mount and the passages where he talks about orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

We come to Jesus with a certain orientation, what we think we believe about him. And then we’ve got to wrestle with that. Like you said, like there’s a windstorm and he’s asleep. What do we do with this? And then he says, be silent, be still. He orients us to the fact that he is God, and he is Lord of the weather and all that is. And that’s why we have to wrestle through this to get to the space where we actually see him and who he is.

And so, I’m going to invite you, Chris, before we depart from this pericope to get personal with people who may be shaking their fists at the sky saying, don’t you care? Because of whatever they’re facing in this life, the evil that they’ve encountered.

What would you say to them? So instead of giving a lecture, maybe what I’m asking you to do is preach and share a word of consolation to those who are wrestling right now.

Chris: Oh, yeah. I’ve been there, Anthony. I’ve been shaking my fist at God and utterly perplexed with what is going on.

And all I would say is, this is the life of faith. This is what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We’re not inoculated from these kinds of questions, from these complaints. But what we can do is when the storm starts to subside, we can remember that we stand on a rock and that rock is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. And the God revealed in Jesus Christ is our eternal Father. Jesus says, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Think comparing that with the love of the perfect earthly father. This is what Jesus is pointing us to. God loves us so dearly, much more, but analogous to the way in which the best human father loves their children.

I’m a father and I’ve got to say, I don’t know a love like that. I’ve often thought, would I give up my life for my wife? And I’d like to think I would. If I had to step in front of a bus to save my wife, I’d like to think I would. But here’s the thing. If either of my two children were in danger and I needed to give up my life for them, I would do it in a heartbeat, a thousand times out of a thousand instinctively.

That’s the kind of love that a father has, a good father has for their children. And Jesus is saying, this is the way in which God loves us. So, let’s question, let’s rage against the silence. Let’s question, because this is the kind of story that gives us permission to do just that. Evoking those psalms of lament of God’s silence, of God falling asleep.

But remember, that when the waves subside, we can ask in astonishment, who then is this Father, this incredible love, an eternal love from before all eternity?

Anthony: Preach, preacher. That was a good sermon. Thank you.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Are you currently going through any storms that this story spoke into? How did Mark’s telling of the story speak to you personally?
  • What are some examples of “leaving the crowd” that may come with getting into Jesus’ boat? What are some things that are not fitting for a journey with Jesus?
  • What did you think of Mark’s description of the storm? Are there any additional insights that stood out for you?
  • What difference did it make for you in the story knowing that Jesus was sleeping in the pilot chair of the boat?
  • Are there other insights you had from reading this story as if it were another parable?
  • Do you know of some “other boats” that may need to hear about Jesus calming the storm?

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