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?”
Storms frighten and fascinate me. When I hear about tornadoes, I’m one of those people who watches the news and goes on the internet to see them. I like to watch the footage of tornados racing across fields, awed by their power. But I don’t like to watch the footage of destruction. Seeing homes and cars and trees destroyed by a storm hits a little too close to home for me.
When my youngest daughter was an infant, we had a bad storm hit near our home. I have vivid memories of the rain cutting sideways across the screen in the window. Tree branches were falling and those that were still attached were waving menacingly at odd angles while I sat in the rocking chair feeding my baby.
As the roar of the wind escalated, the light and rumble from the storm bounced around the nursery. The electricity cut out and I carried Abby to the dark, dank basement. I was alone with a baby. I realized that I was in charge of protecting another life. It was my job to keep her safe against something over which I had no control. It suddenly seemed overwhelming. I held her tight and tried not to cry, realizing there was nothing that I could do. My daughter was oblivious.
There is so much packed into this short Gospel reading from Mark. It’s a story about nature’s storms and Jesus’ power, about boundaries and change, about faith and fear. It’s about a form of ministry that calls the disciples to go to new and even dangerous places. They are not just in a boat on the sea. They are on a journey. Jesus is taking them places so totally different that it threatens to overwhelm them.
My old house withstood the storm that day—minus a few shingles. The fieldstone foundation had again outlasted the rain and wind. The hand-hewn beams that still look like tree trunks stayed strong as they had for over 100 years. I thank God for the hands that created my sturdy home.
The scene outside was different, though. There, the trees were twisted and broken, power lines were down, the road was blocked. It took three or four days for the electricity to come back.
That experience changed how I view storms. It’s the dividing line between the then and now. Now I watch the color of the sky and eye the rain suspiciously. When the rain goes sideways, I suddenly remember some laundry I have to do in the basement. I call the kids down from their upstairs bedrooms despite their eye rolls.
This week, when the storm looked bad. I went to get my daughter—the very same one that I held in the basement 17 years ago.
“The storm is bad, c’mon downstairs,” I said, noticing her blinds were all down and closed. The drone of the box fan in her room made it hard to hear the wind.
She looked at me over the top of her computer. “Is it really that bad or are you just doing your mom worrying?”
Just then emergency message on my phone blared a tornado warning that said TAKE SHELTER NOW. See, I said, pointing to my phone. She sighed, closed her computer and followed me downstairs. She can't understand why I worry. Her time of storms hasn't come.
You have probably had one of these life events—or storms, one that was likely worse than my experience. Something that has happened to you that changed how you see yourself and the world. It might be something medical like cancer or leukemia or something relational like trouble in a marriage or with kids or something personal like addiction or adultery.
Suddenly the seas are choppy and the wind howls. Jesus seems to be asleep at the wheel while we cry in fear and worry.
We shout to Jesus above the wind, Don’t you care? It’s scary down here in the storm.
But in the midst of it Jesus says, Peace, be still. Maybe he’s not just talking to the wind. Maybe he’s talking about our hearts, too, reminding us of his incredible power to bring peace.
When these life storms hit there is a before and after. They become a boundary. Before I had cancer….After my miscarriage…Before I stopped drinking… After she died…Before I divorced
And in many ways, that’s what storms are in nature—boundaries. We can watch the storm line approach on the radar on TV or on aphone. The hot air and cool air are fighting it out on either side of the line.
We know that the air in front of the storm is usually hot and humid. Once the storm passes the air is cool and the humidity breaks. Storms discharge pent up energy and stabilize the atmosphere.
In the Gospel the disciples encounter a storm literally, but their work with Jesus is causing storms as well. They are charging the air with new way of following God. Jesus and his disciples blow in to a town like a wind and suddenly strange things happen. People are healed, outsiders are in, and crowds are energized.
In the Gospel today, Jesus gets in the boat and says let’s go to the other side. Most of us hear that without a second thought. But crossing the sea to the other side was crossing a huge boundary.
Dr. John Ortberg in his book, Who Is This Man? explains why going to the other side is a big deal:
The "other side" is something of a technical term. Jesus is not talking just about geography. The other side of the lake was the region of Decapolis, the "ten cities." This was largely enemy territory. Its inhabitants were pagan people.
There was a rabbinic tradition about “the other side” in Jesus’ day. It said that Decapolis – the “other side” – is where the seven nations of Canaan settled. It was filled with pagan temples…The Jews regarded the other side as the place where Satan lived. It was dark, evil, oppressive, and demonic. No one would go to the other side—especially no rabbi…
Yet, Jesus says, "Let's go over to the other side." The disciples were probably puzzled wondering why he would want to go there? Jesus is for their side, our side, not the other side.
Even if they had questions, the disciples are obedient and begin to cross over when a storm comes. . They are headed for pagan lands when suddenly a storm blows in and their boat is threatening to sink. All the while, Jesus is asleep.
And so they wake Jesus, and say, Don’t you care about us?
Do you not care that we are perishing?
Jesus gets up, maybe with a yawn, and rebukes the wind and says to the sea: peace, be still.
And this is what is so challenging about this story. Jesus can command the wind and the sea. Jesus has authority over everything. Jesus is obeyed even by the forces of nature. Saying Jesus Christ is Lord means he has ultimate authority. And Jesus says to us, Come with me, let’s go across to the other side.
Are you going to say no?
This gospel reading shows us how Jesus uses his ultimate power. He goes to the other side. He goes to the "others." He is mixing things that should not be mixed and a symbolic storm is starting to brew between Jesus and the authorities. Between those who think they have power to make and enforce boundaries and those who have been feeling powerless.
Jesus is crossing boundaries between people and ideas that have been kept separate by politics, culture and religion. He’s changing the dynamics in his world. He’s challenging the notion of whose lives matter, what people should do with their money and resources, and which values are more important.
We see these same storms in our culture today, too. Boundaries are shifting. For many of us the waters beneath our boats are churning and it’s frightening. Like the warm air and cold air in a storm, we have two opposing forces and ideals.
On one side, the Baby Boomers are a huge generation who have set the agenda politically, culturally and religiously since the 1960s.
But now we have another big generation—the Millenials, a counterforce with different ideals about what their country and values and even the church should be. And then you have people like me—the small Generation X--who are somewhere in the middle!
Both sides are flashing with anger and energy about topics like race, money, marriage and religion. Both sides are thundering in the media.
But ultimately, our arguments and storms are about power. Who has it? Who gets to decide which lives matter? Who gets to decide how money and resources get passed around? Who gets to decide the values by which we live?
As Christ’s church, these are questions that Jesus calls us to think about. Questions that he answered with his actions. Today, we must ask where is God in the storm that we are experiencing? Where is God when bullets are flying in a church? What would Jesus do?
Jesus promises a peace that passes all understanding. But we haven't found that peace and stillness yet. We haven’t reached the end times that the Bible promises. We haven’t experienced the healing of the nations--or even within our own nations. We are still in the middle of the storm.
By going to the other side, the Gospel reading shows us that Jesus doesn’t abide by the human boundaries that have been drawn by people or governments. Jesus crosses the boundaries that we keep making.
We keep taking sides. I guess it's our nature. For Jesus there is one side—and it’s God’s. It's not yours or mine.
I remember sitting on my basement floor during that memorable storm. The cool concrete on the back of my legs grounded me while the storm raged around us. My 4-month old was unfazed. She had no idea why there were tears running down my face.
I hope that I can have that innocent trust in Jesus that my daughter had in me when my personal storms get bad. I hope that if you are going though a personal storm right now, you can feel safe and secure in the arms of God.
I also hope that as a church, we can call upon Jesus to calm the storms in our world—to work as he did for the peace that passes all understanding. For all people. In all circumstances.
Storms in our lives and in our world are inevitable. The good news is that Christ is with us in the boat. God is not asleep at the wheel, nor have we been abandoned.
The storm may rage, but we have been given a promise.
God loves you, me and this entire world. We will not perish, but have eternal life.