(A sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost B–June 24, 2012–Mark 4:35-41–complete with sound effects.)
That moment when you realize you can’t stay ahead of the storm.
The first time I took a car trip alone with a very small child, I planned the timing carefully. We would drive after dinner, the long summer evening providing plenty of light. At the other end my parents would be waiting to receive us, eagerly watching at the window. I knew there might be rain, but after I watched the local news, I decided to stick with the plan.
When I stopped about halfway to pay a toll, I looked behind me and confirmed the fast-increasing darkness was not just because of the time of day. The thunder sounded close; as I started again there was lightning in the sky. For the rest of the trip I drove in a downpour so heavy I could not see where I was. I remember the tense feeling in my chest as I tried to decide whether to pull over or keep going. I was 25, and I’d never driven in a serious storm. I worried that the baby would cry.
I tried to figure out the best strategy for traveling in such poor visibility: the rain falling in torrents, the lightning offering brief flashes of the world and the thunder rolling over and around me. Some cars were going slowly, some had their flashers on, some stopped on the side of the road. I pulled off at a rest area, but seeing the baby grow restless, I quickly decided to keep going, rather than wait out the storm.
The trip took at least twice as long as usual. I breathed a little more easily once off the highway, but the night was dark by then, darker than I liked, with no moon, no stars. I drove the long, winding roads toward my parents’ house, toward home.
When I turned the corner, it looked dark and unwelcoming, a fallen branch having knocked out the power.
But when you live in a neighborhood where that happens a lot, you always have candles. In the midst of the storm, my mother was waiting, listening beyond the storm for the sound of my tires on the pebble driveway. The garage door opened, and there was light, and inside the storm didn’t seem so bad after all.
The baby, by the way, slept through the whole thing.
That moment the boat is swamped.
I took canoeing for six years at summer camp, and the only time I was in a boat that got swamped was on purpose. They teach you how to unswamp a canoe, and to learn how you have to swamp it on purpose, first. Canoe full of water, you jump out and get under the boat and raise it up to let the water drain out.
Honestly, I find it hard to believe I had the strength for it, but I did. I earned that Basic Canoeing patch. And there’s an adrenaline rush, even when you swamp the boat on purpose, an adrenaline rush that can do one of two things: make you freak out or give you the power to lift the canoe and turn it over. I love it that I went to a camp where 4’10” girls were taught to flip the boat instead of flipping out.
But there’s nothing funny about being swamped for real, and I don’t just mean in a canoe or a rowboat. Sometimes life is the boat, and we can feel it filling up to overflowing, and it’s not clear where we’ll find the power we need. Maybe you’re underwater in your mortgage, or underemployed and drowning in bills or desperately hanging on to the upside down canoe to keep a relationship together.
How will you un-swamp the boat yourself?
That moment when lightning strikes.
These days I get weather emergency emails from MEMA; I subscribed last winter to track a snowstorm, and they just keep coming. Flood warnings, and marine warnings and thunderstorm warnings filled my email Inbox yesterday while I sat in the gym at UMaine in Farmington listening to discussions and speeches at the Maine Conference Annual Meeting. By the time I left, around 4, I didn’t need an email to tell me about the thunder. I could hear it far away and feel the air crackling.
And on the way home I saw the jagged brilliance of a lightning strike.
It’s happened to me. Well, not actual meteorological lightning. Sometimes it comes in words we read, or a song we hear, or in prayer, or in conversation, or in the touch of a hand. Suddenly the world is changed, illuminated, as full of electricity as a bolt of lightning.
Not all storms are bad. Sometimes they show us something we need to know.
That moment when you’ve had all you can take.
It was a dark and stormy night at the end of a long, tiring day. In these first chapters of Mark’s gospel, Jesus draws more and more attention to himself. First he creates a stir in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then he heals people: Peter’s mother-in-law, a man with a withered hand, a leper, a paralytic. He casts out demons. He argues with the Pharisees and even the disciples of John the Baptist about fasting. He flouts the Sabbath laws.
At the end of Chapter 3, his family comes to take him home, fearing he is possessed by demons. He rejects them and claims a new family, those who do the will of God.
At the beginning of chapter 4 of Mark’s gospel finds Jesus teaching a crowd so large that he gets into a boat and teaches from the Sea of Galilee. People are following him. In today’s lesson we read that other boats were with him, so we can picture a scene with crowds on the shore and boats gathered around, everyone listening to the man who has done such amazing things.
They must wonder what will happen next?
After a long day of trying to teach the people through parables, Jesus withdraws with his disciples. And the other boats follow. Exhausted, he goes to the back of the boat and falls asleep.
And that’s when the storm comes. Maybe the disciples see they can’t get ahead of it. Certainly the waves break up and into the boat, because they are swamped. The wind and the waves may have been enough, but I have to think the next moment that came was electrifying.
That moment when you realize who was sleeping in the back of the boat all along.
“Peace! Be still!”
Once he’s awake, Jesus solves the problem of the storm, but the disciples are still afraid. And who wouldn’t be? After all, what do they really know about Jesus? They’re still fairly new to each other. They know he’s smart. He can out-argue the scribes and Pharisees. They know he’s gifted. He can heal the sick of all sorts of ailments. They know he’s committed to his purpose. Even the arrival of his family does not deter him.
“He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”
He scared them more than the storm did. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
No wonder they were frightened. It’s a lot to take in. Their teacher wasn’t just a religious revolutionary. He wasn’t simply a shaman with a good sense of timing. The disciples begged Jesus to wake up and save them, so they must have believed he could do something. Sail the boat better than they could? Drive steadily through the storm? Unswamp the canoe? Keep them safe from the lightning?
Instead he showed them his real power.
Who then was this? This Jesus was God.
That moment when you realize God is in the boat with you.