Answers out of the Storm
The Greek translation of the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading share the word translated storm in Job and squall in Mark. As the Lord answered Job out of the storm, so may He answer us out of the storm in Mark.
Before you can have answers, you need questions. The text itself gives us questions. Two from Jesus, and two from the disciples.
The first question is from the disciples. They woke Jesus and said to Him, Dont you care if we drown? At first blush this is a horrible question. Teens say things like this when theyre hurting and think theyre parent is not caring enough. But actually the question in the text isnt born out of pain but perplexity. The Greek expects a yes answer. Its more of a rhetorical question. Mark doesnt say, They asked Him, but they said to Him. What they said is, Surely you do care that were drowning, dont you?
Youve had this perplexing question before, havent you? Youre in pain; youre in trouble; youre stressed; the wind is howling; the waves are building, and the boat of your life is filling up. You want help; you need help. You think, Surely God cares about your plight; surely God cares how near to the emotional, physical, personal edge you are. And the implied question based on the fact you know He does care is why doesnt He do something? Why does He sleep during the biggest crisis of your life?
The next question is from Jesus mouth but hangs in our hearts. It hangs over every single one of our serious fears. Why are you so afraid? One translation is even more pointed and accurate. Why are you such cowards? At first you might regard this as a silly question. Theyre out on open water; its night, and a furious squall suddenly comes up. Why shouldnt they be scared witless? If God the Son wasnt the one asking the question, I would regard it as silly, but the fact He does means its a legitimate question implying they dont have to be; dont need to be afraid.
Youve had fears get a hold of you this way. There is something tangible, real to be afraid of, but Why are you so afraid? Why are you such a coward? Theres probably something of the demonic here. The fact that Jesus speaks to the wind and waves as if theyre persons and even uses the exact same command to the waves as He did to the demon in Mark 1:25, Be still! argues for demons being involved. And doesnt that hold true for you sometimes when fear seizes you? A thought becomes a worry, becomes a fear, becomes a terror, but later on when you think of it again it stirs up no such beast. Why were you so afraid?
If Jesus first question hangs over us, His second one haunts us. Do you still have no faith? Jesus is basically asking, When fear knocked on your door, why didnt you send faith to answer it? Or He is confronting us with Psalm 56. Why didnt you react as David did? When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. Or even before fear knocks why didnt you do as David did? In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.
Do you still have no faith as you wait for the results of your test? Do you still have no faith as you hear the latest news on the economy? Do you still have no faith as you inch ever closer to the grave? Do you still have no faith as you look at your family or job problems? Do you still have no faith to answer when fear knocks?
Jesus questions pertain to their panic attack in the face of the storm. But greater fear came upon them after Jesus stilled the storm and asked His questions. Then the Greek says literally, They did fear a mega fear. And this leads them to repeatedly asking each other, Who is this? In virtually every Lone Ranger episode someone would ask, Who was that Masked Man anyway?" Jesus is masked to His disciples. The God who is light is dark to them. The God who is truth is a mystery. The God who reveals is hidden to them. And what about us? Is this our question too? Has Jesus been so long among us, and yet we still dont know Him? Who trusts a stranger? Who has faith in a stranger?
These are the questions in the text, but what were dying for is answers. We want answers not opinions. Answers not feelings. Answers not suggestions. Only a thus says the Lord will do.
The disciples in the boat on that dark and stormy night who asked, Surely you care if we drown, dont you? didnt yet know just how much Jesus does care for them. You do. You know how little kids will sometime tell you, I love you this much holding apart their tiny hands 18 or more inches. Well Jesus loved you this much. He willingly stretched His hands all the way out to suffer and die for you. And please hear that rightly. He didnt suffer crucifixion as millions of others had. He suffered damnation on that cross. And He didnt merely die as billions have, He died eternally as only the damned do.
A child who has been saved by his father from a house fire would be reminded of how much his father cared for him every time the child saw his dads fire scarred hands, wouldnt he? Jesus is the one on Easter evening who immediately shows us His nail holes. Jesus is the one who makes sure we see His nail pierced hands as He ascends into heaven to rule the world for us. Jesus cares not just more than we know but more than we dare even think.
Whats the answer to Why are you so afraid? Even though this strikes us as preaching the law to us, Jesus is trying to rescue us. Luther observed, What is feared as being such, has already been made such for a person (LW, 10, 377). When you fear getting cancer, in that moment its the same as having it. When you fear losing your loved one, in that moment youve lost him. When you fear going to hell, youre as good as there in that moment.
Twenty years ago I asked my confirmation class of 17 kids what they feared most. They wrote their answers anonymously. These were Detroit kids, so crime type things came up. More than one was afraid of being alone at night. Not one of them listed the fear of God. The First Commandment bids us to have the fear of God above all things, but in Jesus what does God say? Fear not for I am with thee; be not afraid I am Thy God to help, to heal, to hold you. What we are terrified of often times isnt real, not a reality at that moment. God is real at every moment, and in Jesus He is always for us.
There can only be one answer to Jesus question, Do you still have no faith? The answer is, Yes, we still have no faith. We never, ever will believe as we should. There is never going to come a time when you can say, I have enough faith. Jesus did. Jesus never lacked faith. He always trusted God perfectly. Yet, He took upon Himself our unbelief. He answered for our not fearing, loving, or trusting God above all things. Guilty, guilty, guilty God the Father declared Him, and punished Him as such. Friend in moments of crisis, of terror, of demonic fear dont rely on your believing; rely on Jesus. St. Paul promises, If we are faithless, Jesus will remain faithful, for He cannot disown himself. Though every earthly prop does give way including our faith, He doesnt. He remains faithful who promised to be there for us.
The answer to the last question is the answer to this text which Ive struggled with for years. I frequently have used this text when people are going in for major surgery. Ive pointed out that while Jesus indicates the disciples fear and lack of faith, it is the wind and the waves that He rebukes. All of that is true, but its in answering the last question Who is this? that the real point and comfort of the text comes out.
The disciples have been Christians for years. They have seen Jesus cast out demons, heal lepers, raise the dead, and forgive sins, but even so, they could get confused, turned around, forget all that it meant to say that Jesus is the Christ of God, the Messiah, God the Son. And so can we. We not only forget what He did which shows His infinite love and therefore care for us sinners. We forget who He is.
I think we get fooled by our own Sacramental theology. Because Jesus comes to us in the quiet waters of Baptism, we forget that He still rules the crushing waters of a flood. Because Jesus speaks to us the calm Word of forgiveness through the mouth of pastor, we forget that Jesus can muzzle the wind howling outside our door. Because Jesus appears in our space and time in Bread and Wine that anyone can disrespect, misuse, ridicule, we forget that angels, demons, and the cosmos tremble at His approach.
We meet each day in our Baptism and each week in our Absolution and Communion, the God Man who holds all things in the palms of His hands. Since they have been pierced clean through by nails for us, it is right for us to answer the storms of life with the assertion that nothing can come from those hands that is meant to harm us. Moreover, it is absolutely impossible that we who the Father has given into the hands of His Son (John 10: 27-30) could ever fall out of them. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20090705) Mark 4: 35-31