Thursday, June 18, 2009

A little boat trip...

35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
41They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mark 4:35-41)

It was just suppose to be a short trip across the lake. Nothing stress full. Something these disciples had done many time before in their lives as fishermen or just travellers. So when the storm breaks, its ferocity is revealed not only in Mark’s description of waves breaking over the boat and his statement that the boat was “nearly swamped”, but in the reaction of the disciples who are fearing for their lives. Imagine the panic. The hurried bailing of the water by any means possible. The wind. The water. The confusion. The darkness. The loss of direction. It would have been terrifying.

Contrast that scene with Jesus. He would have been soaked by the water as the waves broke over the boat. Tossed around as the boat was blown from side to side by the gale force winds. The screams of the disciples trying to be heard over the noise of the wind and their desparate battle to stay afloat and alive would surely have disturbed him as this was not a large craft by any stretch of the imagination. Yet we are told that Jesus slept. How is that possible?

When the disciples wake him up he immediately takes action. First he rebukes the wind and waves, stopping the storm. Then he rebukes the disciples. What is of particular interest is their reaction to Jesus’ actions.

Just moments earlier they were terrified of the storm and of dying. Now that Jesus has demonstrated a power over nature that the Jews attributed solely to God, the disciples are now terrified of Jesus. For they realize that they, sinners as they are, are trapped in a boat in the middle of the lake with God himself. Being this close to God is not a safe place to be. I wonder if they began to regret their decision to wake Jesus as in Jewish thinking, to stand before God was to stand in danger of judgement and destruction. The storm and drowning probably looked like an easier option at this point.

This story and the reactions are not foreign to us. You may not have had to ride out a storm at sea or on a lake, but all of us have faced those times in our lives when we have experienced the brush of death or turmoil in our lives. In those times we quite often cry out to God in prayer asking “Why?” and beg for deliverance or healing or some sort of positive resolution to the situation. Sometimes it comes. People recover. Conflicts are resolved. Problems solved. Our life is spared. Then we are surprised. Shocked. Overwhelmed that God should actually have heard our prayer and acted. But then there are those other times when God remains silent. Inactive. Absent. What then. Do you despair or get angry or cry out against God for his inaction?

There are no easy answers here. Despite God’s many promises in Scripture about his care for us and his faithfulness, every day we read and hear headlines about innocent people who die in accidents, natural disasters, victims of violent crimes or from heart attacks, strokes, cancer and other illnesses. People who were not involved in any dangerous or criminal activity, but just going about their lives. A 15 year old girl walking her dog is struck by a truck. 11 people killed on a train at a level crossing because the sun glare blanked out the signals. 228 people die when a jet suddenly falls out of the sky for no apparent reason. A healthly lively person is diagnosed with a brain tumour and given months to live. A 55 year old man drops dead without warning having no previous health issues. A person is beaten for $10. A child disappears without a trace. The list goes on and on and on. Like the disciples crying to the sleeping Jesus we are tempted to cry out to God, “Don’t you care?????”

Our best understanding, in the limited time we have to explore this question today, is found in the sleeping Jesus. Jesus slept because he knew that God cared. He trusted in the words of promise. Jesus knew that no matter what the outward circumstances or how they appeared to his human sight and reason, God was still in control. God still cared. God wasn’t blind to the pain and suffering of life. Jesus wrestled with this in his own life in Gethsemane and in the lives of the people whom he healed. But through it all he never forgot God’s promise of care and love. Jesus knew that reality was not necessarily the things that he saw and experienced in this world. Reality was...and is...that God is present always. That he will never fails nor forsakes us. That he is intimately involved in our lives. That he knows our pain and suffering and loss. That he never gives us more than we can bear. That he gives us the strength to endure through his Spirit in us. That... all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Friday, June 05, 2009


There was a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. One night he went to Jesus... "How can this be?" asked Nicodemus. (John 3:1-2, 9)

A couple of things struck about this text while preparing for this Sunday's sermon.

The first was about Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. Was he really afraid of being seen with Jesus? Or was it more a case of wanted a time of uninterrupted dialogue with him. The Jews believed that one of the best times for studying the Word of God was in the evenings after the day's activities had finished and friends and neighbours had returned to their homes and families. John presents us with Nicodemus, who in his role as Pharisee highly valued the study of the Word, perhaps unknowingly involved in just such a studious and reflective dialogue this night with the Word made flesh. Though it is obvious from the dialogue that John records for us the meeting was less than satisfying for Nicodemus, it is obviously the beginning of something in his relationship with Jesus as Nicodemus is one who actively participates in the burial of Christ's body after the crucifixion. (John 19:39)

The second thing that struck me was his concluding statement in this dialogue with Jesus. "How can this be?" This question alone should qualify him to be the patron saint of all Christians who seek to know and understand God and his will. Many times in my life as a Christian and as a pastor I have come up against situations or events that have caused me to wonder how God was working or why things had happened and where was God's presence in all this. "How can this be?" is a heart-spoken question of one seeking to know the truth of God.So Nicodemus' story reminds us that we are all seeking to know God in some way. He shows us Jesus as a teacher who challenges and stirs us in our seeking without condemning our questions or condescending to our ignorance. We can draw courage from Nicodemus' actions...courage that enables us to love our God with the whole of our heart, soul, mind and strength even while we wonder "How can this be?"