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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - June 25, 2006

A boat like this is one of the earliest symbols of the church.  You’ve got the boat with a sail and a cross on the top.  Sometimes you have it with the mast itself forming the cross.  But anyway it is an old and persistent symbol of the church.  Most people call the part of the church you sit in the sanctuary, but actually it is the nave, from the Latin navis which means ship or boat, so this nautical symbolism has actually been incorporated into the building itself.

Anyway, this boat imagery for the church has been around for a long time, the ship of the church floating on an ocean of time as it were and I assume this developed from gospel stories like today’s and others like it; there’s four times in Mark when Jesus is in the boat with his disciples and the other gospels have similar accounts; then there’s Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark and Jonah that have boat imagery, so it’s there throughout the Bible. 

Let’s look more closely at today’s gospel.   Jesus had been standing by the sea telling stories, I think we assume it’s the Sea of Galilee.  He suggests to the disciples that they should all go across to the other side.  Looking at my Bible atlas, going across to other side of the Sea of Galilee is a journey of at least several miles, depending on where they were exactly, maybe even as many as ten.  Now that isn’t exactly Lake Superior, but it’s not Lake Bancroft either.  It’s a pretty substantial trip that he proposes here.

It was evening.  Several of Jesus disciples were fishermen by trade.  You might expect them to raise questions about undertaking such a journey at that time of day.  But, at least according to the text, they didn’t.  When a great windstorm kicks up, it makes me wonder about this even more.  Wouldn’t experienced fishermen be somewhat adept at sensing changes in the weather?  Again, logic suggests that they would have had reservations about undertaking this excursion.

But they didn’t.  The storm rages, the boat is being swamped, the disciples are in something of a panic and Jesus is asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat.  The disciples wake him up and Jesus rebukes the wind and calms the sea and then he rebukes the disciples.  Our text has him saying, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Then it continues with, “And they were filled with great awe.”

An alternative and perhaps more accurate rendering of the Greek here changes this text a little bit.  It would have Jesus saying to the disciples, “Why are you fainthearted or despondent?  Have you still no faith?” and conclude with, “And they feared a great fear.”  You see the difference there?  I’m sure the disciples were afraid during the storm too, but the fear that the text mentions is after Jesus calms the storm, not before it.  It’s not fear because Jesus hasn’t acted; it seems to be fear because he has acted.

As for, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  But couldn’t we argue that they did have faith?  Couldn’t they have argued that?  Couldn’t they have said, “We did have enough faith to get in a boat with you at night when we knew the weather was going to turn ugly!  We had faith that you’d keep the waters calm even though our better instincts told us that this wasn’t such a good idea.  We had faith.”  As long as they thought Jesus was going to keep the waters smooth, they had faith.  But their faith wasn’t ready for what happened.  It wasn’t ready for wind and waves swamping the boat. 

The disciples who got into that boat had faith.  It was faith however, that came with expectations on their part.  Their expectation was that their faith would keep the ride smooth.  I can relate to that.  You probably can too.  We’re faithful people.  We go to church.  We’re in the boat with Jesus so the ride should be smooth.  Bad things shouldn’t happen to us; if they’re going to happen, they should happen to other people.  That’s probably what the disciples thought. 

So when something bad did happen they cried out to Jesus.  Prayer is what we call that.  It wasn’t a nice reverent, Lutheran prayer; but it was a prayer, and it was answered; answered in the way they wanted it answered.  The next line should be, “and they gave thanks and praised Jesus for calming the storm.”  But it’s not.  The next line is, “And they feared a great fear.”

In some of the books I’ve read on parables one of the things they say to look for that which is surprising.  They say that is where you are likely to get to the heart of what Jesus was saying and what he means.  This text today is not a parable, but it seems to me that it is like a parable with the surprise being the disciples greatest fear coming after Jesus had acted.

This is more than a story of faith and lack of faith; it’s more than a display of Jesus’ divine power over the forces of nature.  What this really gets at is the nature of faith and what it really means to be in the boat with Jesus.  Clearly, being in the boat doesn’t mean that the journey is always going to be smooth.

We’d kind of like that, but faith that lasts very long realizes that that’s not the case.  Just going to church doesn’t make you immune from bad things happening to good people.  We know that; but we still get upset with God when bad things happen.  Like the disciples, we’re ready to tell Jesus how he could be doing a better job. 

The disciples don’t directly ask Jesus for anything, but you have to assume that what they wanted was for him to calm the storm, which he did.  So the surprise is the great fear.  Why did they fear a great fear?  One conclusion might be because they realized that they were in the presence of someone and something that was greater in power than they had dared to imagine, able to control the very forces of nature, which is kind of scary.  That’s one possibility.

I would suggest though that another possibility might be that they feared a great fear not so much because of the display of power, but because they had some kind of access to this power.  It wasn’t just distant, divine power.  They had access to it.  It was close.  That could be frightening, because that could change the nature of their relationship with this Jesus.  That could upset the order of things in ways that they weren’t quite ready for.  Remember, they got in that boat hoping for a smooth, calm ride, having faith that Jesus could provide it, that he could keep their lives safe and comfortable.

But this changed things.  Faith wasn’t necessarily about a smooth, calm ride.  It was about a power present in their lives that upset things, placed new demands on them, opened up possibilities that they might not want to have to deal with.  This relationship with Jesus might actually change them, and maybe they were pretty happy with who they were and not really up for any major changes.  They were happier with a more casual relationship with Jesus that just made them feel safe.  The Jesus they encountered in that boat however, might be just a little bit dangerous.

And he is.  There are those comforting things about Jesus; but he’s dangerous in that he changes who we are by giving us access to his power.  That was the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit whose presence we celebrated a few weeks ago on Pentecost.  What if we thought about our faith that way, as being in the presence of this fearsome power that we have access to?  Wouldn’t that change things?  It’s not power that we can control, but we can call on it ways that change us.  It can enable us to do things we might not have thought possible.   But again, the ways it changes us may not be what we had in mind as it may call us out of comfort zone, out of our comfortable, cozy relationship with Jesus, out of that and into a relationship that takes us places we might find very uncomfortable.  If we thought about our faith that way, it would change things.   

          Jesus came into the world as an agent of change, most particularly changing our broken relationship with God.  But that restored relationship wasn’t a ticket to a storm free boat ride.  It was a ticket to continue the work of change that Jesus started.  We’re in the boat with Jesus and he’s in the boat with us; not asleep but empowering us to do things that we, like the disciples, might find just a little bit frightening.  They wound up changing the world in ways that would have been thought impossible.  In the boat with Jesus, we can still do that.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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