My father grew up in the little farm town of Washington, Illinois just outside Peoria. He spent his childhood playing cowboys and setting off firecrackers down by the creek, walking to school (uphill both ways in the snow, according to him, but that’s another story…) and worshiping at Grace Presbyterian. He loved his town, and we went back there often when I was a kid.
You can imagine the shock and horror my dad felt when a vicious tornado ripped through his hometown in the fall of 2014. He and my mom dropped everything and drove back to help in whatever way they could. They shoveled glass out of farm fields and picked up shoes and toasters and mattresses from front lawns. My dad has worked in insurance for decades and has seen quite a few storms, but he was still overwhelmed at the extent of the devastation.
“The storm came out of nowhere,” one man told him. “Things were fine, and then…” he gestured to the ruined foundation of his house, now a pile of crumbled cement and scattered boards, “…then things weren’t.”
Often storms come out of nowhere with little warning. One day the citizens of Washington were planning their Thanksgiving holiday. The next, they were standing in horrific awe at the unbridled, unexpected, unparalleled power of a storm.
It feels like almost everyone in my life is weathering a storm right now. For some it’s health–cancer or infertility, a mystery illness or a chronic one. For others it’s vocational–they’ve taken on a second job, finances are tight, the dissertation isn’t finished, or the job they have isn’t paying the bills. For others it’s change. For still others it’s grief.
Are you in a storm? Sometimes we all fear we will drown at sea.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus and his disciples take a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee. Soon after they depart from shore, the wind starts whipping and the waves start crashing, and their boat is nearly sunk.
Mark 4: 35-41
35 That day when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
The Sea of Galilee is prone to storms, and they often whip up over the mountains with little warning. The surprising thing in this story is not that there is a storm. The surprising thing is that Jesus is asleep!
Have you ever felt like this? The storm you’re in is so fierce, so terrifying, so all-encompassing that you fear your little boat might not make it. You start to wonder: where is God, anyway?
This is what the disciples ask Jesus. They wake him and demand an answer as to why he was sleeping when they needed him most. They’re actually kind of snarky: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Nobody asks a question like this unless they already believe that the person they’re asking is in the wrong. I once shared an apartment with a grouchy woman who communicated entirely in these questions. “Don’t you care that those dishes are dirty?” and “Can’t you tell that I’ve had a bad day?” and “Are you really going to wear that?” She was a delight.
The disciples’ question is really an accusation. They have already assumed that he doesn’t care. They might as well have said: “Jesus, how can you not care that we are about to die?”
His disciples wait until their boat is nearly going under and then accuse Jesus of not caring. This is often what I do—and maybe you do, too—when things in life get stormy. I assume Jesus doesn’t care what is happening. I may or may not actually talk to him, but I make all kinds of assumptions. I end up in a place of terrible fear and anxiety and despair. For who among us can whether a storm alone?
Yet—here’s the good news for you and me and to these frightened disciples out on the sea: Jesus is in the boat.
We serve a God who is with us in Christ. God came down to us, to live among us. Through the Holy Spirit, God is with us. As soon as the disciples go to Jesus and tell him that they need his help, he responds.
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Jesus turns to the wind and the waves and yells at them. What’s more—the wind and the sea listen. Jesus calms this storm. He is in the boat and he can calm the storm. He is with us, and he can calm our storms.
But wait—if we believe in Jesus, whenever a storm comes up will he stand up in the boat and yell it down? What about all of the other storms that have wracked and ravaged our world? Where was God then?
Following after the Lord doesn’t mean that life will be easy. Storms will come. But Jesus is in the boat. The Lord of the universe, the God of all creation, sits beside us in the storm. Even in the mist of our greatest pain or darkest despair, he is there. At the moment of our death, he is there.
Victor Hugo once wrote:
He is awake, and he is in the boat.
God can overcome our storms because through Christ, he has conquered even death. And because of this great mystery, sometimes the times of greatest hardship are our times of greatest peace, for this is when we lean most heavily on our savior.