Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (6/28/15)
Theme: Remember Your Training: Be Still!
Text: Mark 4:35-41
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to be taught about leadership from a man who knows what he is talking about. Col. Johnny Davis, current commander of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, the unit responsible for guarding Arlington National Cemetery (and many other placed just down the road), came and spoke to a group of pastors about leading people in challenging circumstances. He shared some fascinating stories about his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and leading young men in combat.
One of the points he made jumped into my head as I looked at the reading from Mark I just read. Col. Davis made a point most of us have probably heard before, but he’s seen it first hand: you don’t know what a man is made of until the bullets start flying. He told a couple stories about combat and looking at this 18-year-old kid next to him, and the guy was just frozen, his eyes fixin’ to pop out his skull… just standing there with bullets flying and RPG’s exploding. At times like that he said he would take them by the shoulders, look them in the eye, and say, “Remember your training.” They had been trained for this, now they needed to make the jump to applying their training to a real life situation. It was hard to do, but they had been trained to do it.
That’s essentially what’s happening in Mark 4.
For days Jesus had been training his disciples. He had been standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee teaching people about God, about the kingdom of God, how to live in this world, how the word of God worked, how to get to heaven. Jesus had been backing up his teaching with amazing miracles, healing anyone and everyone who came into contact with him.
For days Jesus had been teaching his disciples, but now it was time to start making that connection between training and real life situations. So Jesus told the disciples he wanted to go across the sea to the other side… they had no idea what was coming.
I imagine, at first, this request of Jesus brought a smile to some of those disciple’s faces. Remember that a good number of these disciples were fishermen by trade, before Jesus called them. They knew their way around a boat, and they felt at home on the Sea of Galilee, so I’m betting, at first, this was a nice break for them. They had spent all day mentally wrestling with these teachings of Jesus, mind bending teachings about God, eternity, heaven and hell, and now they could get down to doing something they did well… until the storm came. Mark tells us, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”
Now, I’ve never been on a boat in the open water during a storm, but I’ve seen enough TV depictions to know that I don’t ever want to be in that situation… imagine the numbing terror – the wind is blowing, the lightening is flashing, the waves are crashing, and there the disciples scramble to try and fight the storm, knowing that it was out of their hands, knowing that it was a very real possibility that no matter how hard they tried, they might end up under those waves on the way to the bottom like so many other fishermen they had heard of.
Even though none of us (that I’m aware of) have known this particular terror of going down at sea, I’m still betting you can empathize with some of the emotions those disciples were feeling… the feeling of terror because things are spiraling out of your control, the feeling of hopelessness, the feeling of having one wave after another crash into you faster than you can bail out the boat… Really, all of life is like that storm, isn’t it? At every stage of life we are confronted with obstacles that threaten to overwhelm.
The teenager struggles to keep his head above the tumultuous waves of adolescence. That wicked cocktail of high school life and the hormone-driven world of temptation has claimed more than its fair share of young men and women into terror and hopelessness.
The young parent franticly bails the water but wave after wave keep coming. They have been called to be a fulltime husbands/wives and fathers/mothers, and part-time physician, therapist, chauffer, chef, and maid and it becomes painfully obvious that they can do none of them as well as they would like. More than one parent has been reduced to tears of frustration, locked in a bathroom, because the waves just keep on coming.
The longer we live in this life, the more painfully aware we become of the waves that just keep on crashing. Just when we come to a place of comfort in this world – like those fishermen disciples on that boat – this world has a way of taking any comfort we thought we had away from us. Heartbreak, sickness, pain, death, and loss come at us like waves in a storm, often much more quickly than we are equipped to deal with them.
We may not know what it is like to be going down at sea, but we all understand the frustration, the hurt, the panic, the edge in that question the disciples had for Jesus when they noticed that there he slept in the stern of the boat while they ran around desperately trying to stop the storm from sinking their boats, “Teacher, don’t you care?”…
Do you ever remember saying something like that your parents, or those of you with older kids, have they ever said something like that to you? “Don’t you care?” It happens all the time. You had some problem as a child and you brought it to the people who handled problems for you, your parents… only they didn’t immediately fix your problem. And it is so easy to lash out and accuse the parents of not caring because they didn’t fix what was wrong … but we all know that is foolishness. Just because a parent doesn’t immediately fix a child’s problem, doesn’t mean they don’t care – just the opposite. Often, they want that child to put into practice life skills they have learned, even if it is hard to do.
It’s the same thing with God… we, like the disciples are tempted to accuse God of not caring because he doesn’t immediately take away the problems of our lives when we come to him asking him for help. “Don’t you care if we drown? Don’t you care that we are suffering? Don’t you care that we are hurting? Don’t you care enough about us to help us? God I know you can fix this, but you are not! So you must not care about me!”
Well, we’re by no means the first ones to accuse God of not caring. The Bible is full of stories of people who accused God of not caring. God’s message for those accusing him of not caring: well, we read it in Proverbs, “Have you come up here to heave and seen things from my perspective? No? Well I’ve seen the view from up here. Was it your hands that created this world? Set the waters in their place and the land in its? No? That was me. So don’t you think that I, being God and all, don’t you think that maybe I have a view of your life that you don’t? Don’t you think that instead of stomping your feet like a stubborn, impatient child you can let God be God and take refuge in me instead of telling me how to do my job?”
It’s important to realize just what we are saying when we start to panic when the waves of this world start crashing in… it’s important to realize that we are openly questioning our God’s ability to govern this world all because he isn’t governing this world the way we want him to… and when you see it that way, it shows fear for what it really is: foolishness…
Do you know where else God points people when they wonder if he cares about them? Not to the fact that we don’t deserve anything from him in the first place, but to the cross.
The impatient sinner accuses God for not caring because God isn’t running my life the way I want it to be run and God points us to the cross. “You want to know if I care about you? Look at the cross where my son died for you, where the sinless Son of God died for the sinful world, where every wrong you have ever committed was paid for in full.”
You see, an important Biblical truth we need to wrap our minds around and be reminded of on a regular basis is that we cannot confuse God’s silence with indifference. Just because he doesn’t immediately solve every problem we have, does not mean he does not care.
God is clear that he does care. He cares so much that he was willing to die to prove how much he cared. He cares about the teenager struggling to find his meaning and purpose in life. He cares about the parent desperately trying to keep their heads above water. He cares about the homeless, the lonely, the depressed, the sick, the dying. He cares, and he sent his Son to do something about it.
And so those disciples come to Jesus, terrified and accusing God of not caring and what happens next? God proved, once again that he cares! Oh, to be a fly in that boat watching what happened next…
Jesus stands up in the back of that boat, rocked by the waves and shouts at the storm, “Be quiet, be still,” and the storm listened – the created world heard the voice of its creator and instantly it was calm.
The disciples weren’t afraid of drowning anymore… but Mark tells us they were still afraid, ”They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Who is this? This is the Son of God come to earth to prove once and for all that God does care about his creation, that God does care about you and about me.
And that same Son of God looks at you in your little boat being tossed about by the wind and waves of this world and he says to you, “Be still! Be still and know that I am God.”
And it is a hard thing to do, isn’t it? To surrender the fight, to admit that it is out of your hands and trust that God will be God and take you where you need to go and save you when the time is right… It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s not just any God we are trusting. This is a God who has left us a long track record of being in control and doing what is best. This is a God who has proven just how much he cares for us on a hill shaped like a skull outside of Jerusalem. This is the God who has trained us to trust him, trained us to take our faith and the lessons he taught his disciples and us and put them to practical use.
When the bullets started flying for those disciples on the Sea of Galilee, they were not ready, they couldn’t handle that by themselves – but that day God trained them to be still and know that he was God.
Friends, when the bullets start flying, when the waves start crashing, remember your training… Remember to be still. Be still and let God be God – he’s good at what he does. He cares, so be still.