6/21/2015 sermon “Alone in the boat”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia 
Text: Mark 4:35-41
4Pentecost, Proper 7, Year B

“Alone in the boat”

A young woman I know was seemingly healthy one day and BOOM, just like that, serious illness. I didn’t think she was going to recover. The doctors did their thing (a risky heart and liver transplant); we Christians prayed. The woman got well. The doctors call this good medicine; I call this a miracle.

Have you ever experienced a miracle? Has your miracle changed your life? Or maybe, just maybe, you are alone in the “boat” of your life, screaming for God to wake up and save you.

I once met a man knew that he was drowning from a lack of purpose; he thought that he was alone in his “boat.” So he didn’t scream at Jesus to wake up and save him. Then he had his own Damascus Road experience, like the apostle Paul. He found himself in the presence of a God he didn’t believe exists. BOOM, just like that, his life and his priorities were changed.

Have you ever found yourself in the presence of God? We say that we want to be in God’s presence, that we want God to notice us and favor us, but when God does, we are terrified:

  • Now that God is looking at us, will we measure up?
  • What will God want of us?
  • We’re grateful for the miracle, but know our lives will be changed in some major way.

I think this is what happened to Jesus’ disciples in the storm at sea. They feared for their lives. So let’s look at what they did and didn’t do:

  • Being professional fishermen, some of them, they knew their lives were in grave danger. Did they pray? No!
  • Now, you might say that, by running to Jesus and waking him, this was prayer. I don’t think so. They didn’t say, “Lord, if you please, calm the storm for us.” They didn’t even pray the prayer we usually use when we fear for our lives, “Lord, save us and we will give you everything we own.” No! They ran to Jesus because he was their leader and they expected him to at least CARE that they were going to die.
  • “But,” you might say, “they had seen Jesus do great healing miracles. They wanted Jesus to perform another miracle for them.” Yes! I think you’re finally onto something here. They wanted a miracle from Jesus, and they got one. Jesus rebuked the wind and spoke the sea into behaving.

That’s when Jesus rebuked his disciples also. “Have you no faith?” he asked them. “Why, yes,” they might have said. “We had faith that—if you would but pay attention to our situation—you would miraculously save us. And you did.”

Isn’t this OUR complaint about God? When we fear for our lives, we seek God, who seems to be asleep, who seems to ignore our plight.

The lesson that Jesus teaches us here is that there is an inverse relationship between faith and fear. To the extent that we fear, that is the extent to which we lack faith. The more faith, the more trust in God, the less we fear.

Now I know that we humans are all subject to fear. Fear is a mechanism meant to protect us. Fear warns us about danger; fear can force us to perform super-human actions, or conversely, fear can immobilize us. And there are disorders that make some people have to struggle with fear as a daily consequence of their lives. I am not suggesting that such people have no faith. Perhaps for them the definition of faith is continuing to TRY to trust in God. And some people have so much faith that they don’t seem to see the need to help themselves. But as a general rule, our victories over fear come when we “turn it over,” as the 12-step folks say, when we are able to give our fear over to God, to trust that God’s will is somehow involved in what happens to us.

And what if, somehow, you have misplaced your faith—not lost your faith, really, but are feeling very alone in the boat? Yell at Jesus, by all means. Wake Jesus up. Let him know how disappointed you are in him. Because—did you notice?—Jesus calmed the storm, tended to his disciples’ needs, before he chided them.

I can’t leave our gospel lesson THIS day without remarking on the events of this week in South Carolina. Instead of being on a sinking ship, though, Jesus’ disciples this week were studying the Bible in their church. And in came a man infected with hate and shot them dead while Jesus was asleep in one of the pews. Upon waking, Jesus gathered the families and friends of those who were killed and rebuked evil, declaring that on this day evil would not win. He wrapped those people—he wraps us—in his own garments, which is to say, he wraps us in love. Then—did you see this on television?—the families of those who were killed wrapped the hate-infected man in love.

Jesus is not asleep, by the way; he lives in and works through us! And Jesus is calling us to stand up in our boat and rebuke violence and hate.

So who are you in our lesson today? Are you asleep in the boat of your life, oblivious to danger? Or are you serene because you trust in God, despite what might befall you? Or maybe you are begging a seemingly indifferent God to wake and provide a saving miracle or to just pay attention to your needs. Whoever you are, know that God does save us, in this world and in the next. And Jesus isn’t really asleep, just waiting to wrap us in love. You can bet your life on it.

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