Sunday, June 25, 2006

Third Sunday of Pentecost
Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

There is a scene in the story "The DaVinci Code" where the albino monk finds a stone with the words "Job 38:11" engraved on it. The monk is searching for something very important. He truly believes that he is on a mission from God and that anything necessary to accomplish that task is acceptable. He often seeks forgiveness for his crimes against man, but always does so with the assurance that God is with him in his evil ways. In this particular scene the monk thinks he has finally found the item for which he is seeking. He has killed several men to get the secrets pointing toward the location. In anxious expectation he breaks into the floor of a church and finds the rock. "And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?"

He thought his quest was over but he did not find the thing for which he was looking. More death would follow and he would never accomplish the task.

"And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?" The Lord God Almighty spoke these words to Job, poor Job. Job was a righteous man who had fallen prey to the adversary. He lost everything – his wealth, his health and his family. The book describes his lament in the midst of his suffering and shows us how even the most righteous can find themselves in the midst of a storm of doubt and uncertainty while undergoing suffering. Job comes to the point of blaming God for his troubles, a response to the questions raised by his losses. "Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?"

God answers Job's condemnation with some questions of His own. "Were you there at the creation of the world? Did your hand lay the foundation of the earth?" God asked Job if he had understanding, but He put forth an even greater question. We can study science, learn all about creation from an intellectual point of view, but can we make a tree? So, God asks Job if he has acquired the ancient wisdom that would allow him to know the mind of God and the mysteries of God's will. There is only so much that Job, even righteous Job, will ever know. There is only so much that we, no matter how much knowledge and understanding we have, can ever know. "And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?"

In the Old Testament lesson we see that God is the Lord of the sea. He is the Lord of all creation. We may seek after the kingdom of God, doing the work of His kingdom in this world, but the bottom line is that He is Lord. Sometimes we chase after hidden mysteries that are not for us to know, even though we truly believe that it is the will of God that we find the answers. In "The DaVinci Code" the monk is seen as an evil character because he is willing to do anything to accomplish the task that he truly believes is God-given. We may not commit murder in our quest to serve God, but we do sin against God and man in many other ways, "in thought, word and deed."

So, God asks, "Who are you?" He pulls rank on his human challenger and puts him in his place.

The imagery in the Old Testament lesson is continued in the Gospel lesson for this day. This week we hear the story of Jesus calming the storm. In it we see the disciples in a moment of distress crying out to the Lord Jesus in fear and concern. They don't understand how He could sleep when the boat is filling with water.

It helps to look at this story in the context of the events that surround it. Beginning at the first verse of chapter four, Jesus is sitting in a boat telling the parables of the kingdom of God to the crowds that had gathered to listen. There were so many people that he was using the boat as His platform. Sitting in the stern, He spoke about the kingdom in terms the people might understand. Last week we heard the parables about the growing seed and the mustard seed. He also spoke about the sower who cast seed that fell on the path, the rocky ground, in the weeds and the good soil. He said, "Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand? For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light." All these parables were given to lay a foundation of peace in the hearts of the disciples. In them we see that God is the Lord of everything and we need not worry.

Mark writes, "And on that day, when even was come, he saith unto them, Let us go over unto the other side. And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him." There are a few interesting things to note in this part of the passage.

First of all, Jesus invited the disciples to go over to the other side. It was probably very late in the day, almost night. I'm sure Jesus was exhausted from His day by the lakeshore preaching. I am sure that the disciples were also tired. It makes you wonder why He would want to leave just then. Wouldn't it have made more sense to wait until the next morning when they were well rested? The other side of the lake was largely populated by Gentiles. The disciples did not know it at the time, but they would face a demon-possessed man as soon as they landed on the shore. It did not make much sense to the disciples to make that trip at that time to that place. Yet, they did not question Jesus. They took Him "as he was" and went out onto the sea.

What does it mean that they took Jesus "as he was"? The simplest explanation is that they left immediately, with Jesus sitting just as He had been sitting while he preached. We see in this story a very human characteristic of Jesus – He got tired and fell asleep. The disciples must have been equally exhausted, yet they did not fall asleep. So, they took Him just as He was, perhaps already fast asleep in the stern of the boat.

This brings up another question – who owned the boat? There is nothing to suggest that the boat belonged to one of the disciples. After all, they'd been traveling for some time by then, having left behind their old lives for the life of a disciple. He was probably a follower of Jesus, having been there at the lakeshore and willing to allow Jesus to preach from his stern. Yet, what must he thought when Jesus decided to go over to the other side of the lake at that time of night? Perhaps with Jesus fast asleep in the stern they all decided – both the Twelve and whoever else might have been on that boat – to leave Jesus there and take that boat over.

I always pictured this scene with Jesus and the twelve taking the boat to the other side of the lake, but it is most likely that there would have been at least a captain and perhaps a few other hired hands on the boat also. This was not a miracle for a select few. Besides those on that boat, there were other boats that were willing to follow Jesus. We do not know how many boats or what happened to them. Did they turn around and go back to the shore? Was anyone lost in the storm? I wonder how often we get so caught up in our own suffering in the midst of the storms that rage around us that we forget about others who might also be suffering. We focus inwardly, ignoring the needs of others who are caught in the same chaos.

Matthew Henry provides another possible explanation to this idea that they took him "as he was." Henry writes, "They took him 'even as he was', that is, in the same dress that he was in when he preached, without any cloak to throw over him, which he ought to have had, to keep him warm, when he went to sea at night, especially after preaching. We must not hence infer that we may be careless of our health, but we may learn hence not to be over nice and solicitous about the body."

A third way of answering the question of what it means to say they took Him "as he was" is to remember that Jesus was not quite fulfilling their expectations. This is certainly a theme throughout Mark. We often say when reading the stories of the disciples in this gospel that they "just don't get it." The parables He taught while on that boat didn't quite fit their world view. After all, in the parable of the mustard seed He made reference to a weed. Though there were good uses for the plant such as for healing and flavoring, it was nothing more than an annoying weed. How could the kingdom of God be like that? How can we find comfort in the wasted seed? What peace is there in the mysteries that are beyond our expectation, like the seed that grows without our help?

Yet, the disciples and the other on the boat took Him "as he was." They may not fully understand what it is He was trying to tell them, but they accepted Him anyway. They followed Him and they did what He wanted. They took Him even though He was asking to go to the wrong place at the wrong time.

What does this mean for the church today? The boat in this story is often equated to the church. Jesus often calls us to go to the wrong place at the wrong time. Are we like those in the boat that take Him as He is and go to the other side of the lake? Or are we like those who had been gathered on the sea shore, the multitude that were left behind? Do we go even though we might not be fully prepared for whatever it is we will face, without cloak to protect us from the storm? Do we go even though we do not fully understand what Jesus is trying to say to us?

While the boat was traveling to the other side a furious squall arose. This was typical of the Sea of Galilee because of its location. It is surrounded by mountains with hot humid air that hangs over the lake. Cool air from the Mediterranean is drawn down through the narrow mountain passes. This combination of hot, humid air and the cool air provide the perfect circumstances for violent storms. It was not unusual and a good captain would have known how to control the boat through the tough time. Even the disciples who were fishermen would have been experienced in dealing with this type of weather.

Yet, the disciples cry out to Jesus, who is still sleeping in the stern, "Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?" I have always read this as a cry for help. However, the captain and those fishermen could handle the boat in the storm much better than Jesus who was not at all familiar with boats. Instead of thinking Jesus could help, perhaps they were unnerved by His ability to sleep through the storm. They cried, "Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?" They could not understand how He was so calm and unworried.

It is almost humorous to think about Jesus at this point. He is sleeping in the stern of the boat. Though I don't know much about boating, I read today that the best way to get through a storm is to face the bow or stern of the boat into the wind. The boat will rock much more and be more susceptible to overturning if the sides face the strong waves. Any boat will take on water during a storm either from the falling rain or the waves crashing against it. This is not the concern for sinking. The real problem is when a boat overturns. However, with bow or stern toward the wave the boat will remain balanced and safe. So, Jesus, sleeping in the stern of the boat, was probably becoming drenched with the water splashing on board. How could anyone sleep through that?

It is almost as if Jesus answered their fear with a question, "After listening to all those stories about the worry-free kingdom of God, you still worry?"

And so that they would know that He is the Lord of the sea, He said, "Peace, be still!" Immediately the wind ceased and there was a great calm. While He spoke those words to the storm, He also spoke them to those that were on the boat. "Be at peace, be still." He speaks to us, "Stop worrying. There is nothing to fear in that storm."

Their fear of the storm turned into a different sort of fear. Mark writes, "And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" The NIV says they were terrified. The NRSV translates it "they were filled with great awe." They seem to have traded one fear for another. However, as the proverbs tell us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." In this moment, they begin to see that Jesus is not what they expect, but rather that He is more than they ever hoped for. He is the Lord of the sea, the Lord of the wind, the Lord of the storm. This experience would help them in the days to come. After all, if Jesus is Lord over the wind and sea, then perhaps He is even Lord of the Gentiles. They can't help but ask, "Who is this man?"

Matthew Henry writes that Jesus rebuke of the wind could be translated "be silent, be dumb." In other words, Jesus was commanding the noisiness to stop. The troubled sea not only became calm, it became quiet. How often are our own hearts troubled and we can not think for all the noise we hear in our spirits? Henry writes that it can be not only a word of comfort to our hearts – that when the storms come, Christ can bring the calm, but that it is also a word of rebuke to us. "This is a word of command to us; when our wicked hearts are 'like the troubled sea which cannot rest'; when our passions are up, and are unruly, let us think we hear the law of Christ, saying, 'Be silent, be dumb.' Think not confusedly, speak not unadvisedly; but 'be still'."

Paul knew what it was like to live in the storms. During his entire ministry for Christ he faced difficulty from the Jews, from the Gentiles and from all sorts of authorities. He has a long list of sufferings to his credit. He spent time in prison. He was hungry, cold and tired. He was shipwrecked, beaten and rejected. He knew what it was like to be on the edge of death. He endured many things for Christ and for those who would come to know Him through his ministry. Through his hardships, Paul remained true to God, for with every hardship he suffered he can list an even greater virtue in which he is called to live. "…in pureness, in knowledge, in long suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…" Whether the circumstances were good or bad, Paul was there to share the kingdom of God with the church and the world. He faced it all with rejoicing because it would bring salvation to someone, somewhere at some time. I suppose we could say that Paul got it. He knew the Lord of the sea and did not live in worry or fear.

When we study stories like this, particularly when there are questions about why Jesus would do the things He does, we have to wonder if God did this on purpose. Did Jesus know about the storm? Did He plan for this lesson? When we face our own storms, we can't help but wonder if this was part of God's plan. This all too often brings us to the place where Job found himself – blaming God. Instead of having faith, we cry out in fear. "Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?" Or, like the disciples on the boat we ask, "How can you sleep while we are perishing?"

It doesn't help when we read scriptures like our psalm for today which puts even the storms into God's hands. "For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, Which lifteth up the waves thereof." Yet, the Israelites found in these words a sense of wonder and comfort. They associated the waters of the Mediterranean with the primeval waters in Genesis which were chaotic but over which God had power. God's total control of the sea, even being able to raise up the storms, gave them a sense of security. In the Gospel lesson we see Jesus identifying with this most basic characteristic of the Almighty. God can raise up the wind and the rain. Jesus can bring it down. Who then is this man?

Though we do not read the entire passage, the psalmist tells us of four types of people – lost desert wanderers, freed prisoners, the sick and seafarers saved from shipwreck. The Gospel lesson shows us just one story of one of those groups – seafarers. Yet, the storms of life can reach us anywhere, not just on the sea. We face difficulties throughout our life. We can face those storms in many different ways. We can be like the monk in "The DaVinci Code" taking matters into his own hands and doing whatever is necessary to get to the other side. We can be like Job, sobbing in our self-pity and blame God for raising up the storm. We can be like the disciples, reach out to Christ in the fear that He does not care. Or we can face the storms with rejoicing, knowing that all along we are in the hands of the Lord.

Those on the boat ask, "Who is this?" It is true that in Mark the disciples never quite get it. They never quite get that Jesus is LORD, Lord of the Sea, Lord of the storm, Lord of our worries and fears. In this passage we see that Jesus is more than just someone who can speak the parables of the kingdom of God -- He lives them. I suppose the way we respond to the challenge is dependent on our answer to the question, "Who is this?" Is Jesus Lord? Is He teacher, rabbi, healer, friend?

Or is He Lord of the sea? "Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men!" His works might include raising the tempest, but He will also quiet the storm. We do not fully understand the mystery of God, but it is ok for God says, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?" There is only so far we can go because God is to be feared. Yet, it is in that very awe that we live in peace. With a word He brings calm in the midst of the storm. Though the storm might still rage around us, in the bosom of the Lord of the Sea (and everything else) there is peace. Thanks be to God.

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