35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?
39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”
Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Back in the mid 1970’s, I was, for about a year, a Boy Scout. I never amounted to much of a scout. I never even made Tenderfoot. I joined for the camping trips. I’ll never forget the weekend we went canoeing on the French Broad River in western North Carolina.
We traveled on a Friday night after school and set up camp by flashlight in some farmer’s field. The next morning, we ate breakfast, cleaned up, and headed for the river where we unloaded our borrowed and beat-up aluminum canoes. We put on those old cumbersome, orange, yoke-style life-vests with the mildew smell manufactured into them.
Our scoutmaster, Uncle Jack, gathered us around and said, “Listen up! Each canoe must have at least one person with the canoeing merit badge.”
I teamed up with Uncle Jack’s son, David, and a blonde-haired boy whose name and face I don’t remember. When we got into our canoe, David sat up front. The other boy sat in the middle, and I took the stern. We were next to last in line. Behind us, Uncle Jim, the assistant scoutmaster, and Alan Monfalcon, an older scout, brought up the rear of our flotilla.
Now, we were 13-year-old boys, so we were well on our way before we actually brought up the subject of the canoeing merit badge.
“I thought you had it,” I said to David.
“I thought you did,” he said. “You took canoeing at summer camp.”
“Yeah, but I failed it.”
The blonde-haired kid was just as clueless as David and me.
We were an un-merited team, and our sudden loss of confidence made us a disaster waiting to happen.
The section of the French Broad we were floating was smooth and lazy. So, there was no reason to have a proble…until a malevolent tree limb reached down and grabbed David by the collar of his life vest. The stern of the canoe swung around so that we were facing upstream. All three of us squirmed at once, in varying directions. And all I remember was the canoe pitching port side and greenish brown river water pouring in.
When I hit the water, I went into a full Poseidon Adventure panic. I completely forgot my canoe-mates, but I did remember, from my failed canoeing merit badge course, to stay with the canoe. It had flotation in either end. So, I lunged for the capsized canoe. And the moment my weight hit, that old hunk of aluminum sank – without even a gurgle.
To me, the river’s gentle current became a homicidal torrent sweeping me downstream. “Help!” I yelled “Help!”
“Grab something!” someone yelled.
I grabbed for a branch hanging over the water, and it broke off in my hand. A few feet later, I caught hold of a root near the riverbank. David, who’d already managed to get out of the water, scrambled toward me. He picked up a stick and held it out to me, but it was water-logged and rotten. And as soon as we both pulled, it broke.
“It’s no use!” I cried. “Save yourself!”
This was not my finest hour.
The next thing I knew, I was standing on the bank next to David. He had pulled me out. Uncle Jim and Alan had seen to the blonde-haired kid.
David put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay,”
“You sure?” he said.
“Well yeah. I’m sure.”
“But Allen, you were hollering, ‘I’m going to die! I’m going to die!’”
“You don’t remember?”
I still don’t remember.
Everyone survived, and we eventually recovered the canoe, but in that terrifying moment, I was convinced, apparently, that I was going to die. Had Jesus been there, I might have screamed at him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
Mark wants us to feel the overwhelming fear of that night on the lake. Remember, he’s writing for Christians suffering persecution. They’re watching Roman soldiers storm Jerusalem and dismantle the Temple. For first-century Christians, following Jesus is like being in a boat, at night, in a deadly tempest. If Jesus is there at all, he’s asleep, and those who are awake and trying to pilot the boat don’t have the merit badge.
For centuries, the Church has found its salvation not in Jesus nearly so much as in its reliance on kings and nations who have claimed to protect it in exchange for the kind of outward loyalty feudal lords demanded from serfs. The world has seen through the duplicity of such self-serving fealty. And now, instead of working together to proclaim and inhabit the new reality of Resurrection, many Christians are circling their wagons into disparate camps of uniformity and conformity, arguing with and insulting each other. And as we lose members and relevance, as our own boat struggles to stay afloat, many of us cry, Jesus! Don’t you care that we’re dying?
Oh, my, Jesus says to us. What has happened to your faith?
Jesus says these words after having calmed the storm. Let’s play with that detail.
We’ve just been bailing water and hanging on for dear life in a threatening storm. When Jesus finally wakes up, he does whatever he does, and everything settles down. Then he sees that we’re no less scared now than when the winds and waters were raging.
“Why are you afraid?” he asks. “Do you [now float on peaceful waters and] still have no faith?”
Fear doesn’t always subside quickly. When a friend of mine back in Mebane, NC overcame years of alcoholism, he, his wife, and daughter were all delivered from a demon. And it nearly cost them their family. Early in his sobriety, my friend was irritable and angry. More than once, his wife asked if she could just go and buy him a case of beer.
Why was she afraid?
It’s not uncommon for people who have sought, prayed for, and found deliverance from an abusive relationship to stay in or return to the nightmare.
Why are they afraid of?
When the women get to the tomb on that first Easter morning, a young man greets them with wonderful news: Jesus is not here. He’s alive! The women turn and run, says Mark, “for they were afraid.”
Why? What happened to their faith?
The story of Jesus calming the storm is not about supernatural power. It’s about the dreadful wonder of redemption. When we expect God’s deliverance to return us to some sort of happy Eden, the story of Jesus calming the storm suggests that we really don’t understand what deliverance offers – and costs. His deliverance doesn’t make things like they used to be. He delivers us from old arrangements based on merit and power. He saves us from old fears and prejudices. And letting go of all that can be as traumatic as a near-death experience. That’s why the metaphor of death and resurrection, dying to the old self and rising, by unmerited grace, to a new reality is the central metaphor in Christianity – as it is, in one way or another, in most enduring religious traditions.
For Christians, though, faith, hope, and love are familiar words, and they call us to an entirely new, and still mostly-distrusted way of living in a panicked, cynical world grappling for dominance.
Remember, though, the boat ride was Jesus’idea. Come on, he says, “Let’s go across to the other side.”
“The other side” has nothing to do with geography. It’s about the ongoing journey of discipleship. And when the journey proves dangerous, the disciples cry out, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
And through word and deed, Jesus says, in effect, Perish away, my friends. We’re crossing over to a new life, a Sunday life.
My name is Allen Huff. I am a Presbyterian pastor (PCUSA) living in the delightful community of Jonesborough, TN. Jonesborough - home of the International Storytelling Center and the National Storytelling Festival - is nestled in the beautiful foothills of northeast Tennessee.
I find that preaching forces me to wrestle with God, my faith, and trying to live as a Jesus-follower in a broken and all-too-often violent world. I want to be known as someone who trusts and follows the Jesus' way of compassion, peace, and justice. I also know the road of discipleship is fraught with challenges from within and without. I tend to use my sermons as a way of struggling, like Jacob at the Jabbok River, with God and with how to make sense of life in this magnificent but incomplete creation. If something you read in these sermons, newsletter articles, and occasional, random musing speaks to you in a positive way, I will be grateful. I'd love to hear your thoughts, too. And feel free to take issue with anything I say. I certainly don't claim to have a lock on the truth.
When I'm not writing sermons, I may be writing songs on my guitar, taking photographs of the mountains, rivers, or streams in east TN and western NC, hiking the woods with my wife, or throwing a stick for our insatiable Border Collie, Todd.
*I have been posting my weekly sermons and monthly newsletters for several years on another site, Storied Faith at: pastorallentn.blogspot.com. While I will soon stop posting on that site, I will maintain it. So if you find anything on either of these sites interesting and helpful, please share with others!
Blessings and peace. Allen
View all posts by allenhuff