4th Sunday after Pentecost - June 20th/21st, 2015 - Mark 4:35-41
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Luther's explanations to the Commandments always begin, "We should fear and love God so that." On commandments 2 through 10, if I ask, "what does this mean," you should all be able to get the first seven words right, they always stay the same. And yet, for us today, that third word, "fear", stands out as strange. We tend not to think in terms of fearing God - and yet, that's a common Scriptural way of speaking; it is, in fact, the climax of our Gospel text today, "And they were filled with great fear..." That's the point, and a good point. And one that we today often do not get - so let us listen again to our text and see what it teaches us about the fear of God.
"On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side.'" Jesus has spent a long day preaching, a long day preaching parables. The sower and the seed was that morning. The parables we heard last week as well - the parable of the ground, the parable of the mustard seed. And finally, Jesus is just plain tuckered out. He wants to rest, so He calls for the disciples to take Him across the sea of Galilee. Which makes sense - at the beginning of the chapter we hear that Jesus was teaching from the boat - it was acting like a natural amphitheater. Which is why Mark notes the following - "And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was." Jesus is tired with a capital T. They don't go back on shore to freshen up, they don't run to town for a nice dinner - it is just, "I'm done teaching, get the boat going." Think for a moment just how tired and ragged Jesus would have looked on that boat. He had been in the sun, on the lake, constantly talking and teaching. You guys have been to the lake enough, a good day on the lake tires you out. Especially if you've gotten a lot of sun. He's a mess - and they take him "just as He was" - and off they go. And this is why Jesus promptly falls asleep. Deeply.
And that's where the rub comes in. "And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling." A duster kicks up. The sea of Galilee would often have these squalls that would stir up - and the fishermen and boaters had learned to fear them. They could swamp a boat like that - so if you hit one, you rowed to shore (and hoped the winds weren't pushing you further out to sea) and everyone else started bailing water as quickly as possible. And this storm was apparently a bad one, because they aren't bailing fast enough. And if the boat goes under in a windstorm, with wild, heavy waves, you aren't swimming out of that very easily. In other words, it is bad.
And yet, there is Jesus, still asleep. "But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion." This is one of the things we miss - we hear that word "cushion" - some translations put it as "pillow". It's not a nice, fluffy comfortable thing. In the back and bottom of the fishing boats of the time there was a nice big rock to provide ballast - and it was called the pillow. While that sounds really strange to us - it made sense. Think on Jacob in Genesis chapter 28 - "Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep." Then follows the dream of Jacob's ladder. But the point is this - a "pillow" wasn't that soft fluffy thing we have - it was a smooth, rounded stone. And what did the giant ballast stones look like - like a big, smooth, rounded stone. Jesus isn't asleep in some comfy bed. He is lying down on a rock. In the bottom of a boat that is starting to fill with water... so the sea water would be starting to lap up on Him - and there He is, still asleep.
Which is why the disciples are surprised and wake Him up and say, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Dude, wake up, we are dying here! How in the world do you sleep through this?!? So get the picture in your head - there is a worn out Jesus, probably now covered not only with the grime of the day, but sea water and kelp and flotsam. Doesn't look like much, does He? Not at His freshest. And the disciples are in full panic mode - you don't tell your teacher, "You don't care" unless you are freaking out. It is a wild and woolly scene.
And then, Jesus wakes up. This isn't even the word for getting up and standing up from sleep, it's just that one where He just opens up His eyes, and then He "rebuked the wind and the said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." Peace is too gentle a translation in my opinion - it's "silence", it's "shut it", "quit your gabbin' sea." And "be still" is a weak translation - it's "Be muzzled" -- it's when you got your hands wrapped around the dog's snout with it's mouth clamped shut. He's "rebuking" - Jesus is laying some verbal smack down upon the wind and the sea... having just woken up, looking worn and groggy and tired. You know what Jesus looks like - you know when the little kid comes bounding into the parents' room all excited and bouncing, and mom rolls over and croaks out, "Go back to bed." That's what Jesus looked like here... except it worked. The winds died down, the sea became still.
And Jesus gets to the point. After the wind and sea are taken care of, He looks to the disciples and says, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" Why were you afraid of the sea, why were you afraid of the wind... don't you realize Whom you have with you in this boat right now? And that's when we hear of the disciples, "And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?'" That is a rhetorical question - that is wonderment, that is amazement. Who is it? It's God Almighty, the very maker of heaven and earth, the maker of the Sea and the Wind. And if you wonder who is more powerful - the sea or God Almighty, the One with "Almighty" in His title is going to win. There's the old pop song with the line, "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind." Well, what happened with the disciples? The wind was scary... and so they decide to basically tug on Jesus' clothes and tell Him to start bailing water. Hey Jesus, get up, get to work. And then they see Who Jesus is - the One who controls the wind and sea.
This is one of the common themes of the Old Testament - where people lament to God, start to tell God what He should or shouldn't be doing, and God comes and puts them in their place. That's what we had in our Old Testament Lesson. Job had been complaining to God, telling God that He was being unfair. And God decides to speak back. "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge. Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Alright hot stuff, you think you know how things should work - Gird your loins - dress for battle, because you are going to tangle with God. So - creation, what were you doing then? Oh, you weren't doing Jack because *I* hadn't created you yet... so "shh". And of course, the reason that this is our OT lesson today: "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made clouds its garments and thick darkness its swaddling bands, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?" For the Jew, God was the ruler of wind and wave - the waters were His thing to control... and in fact, when we were all really lousy, He controlled those waters to send a flood. And then, there is Jesus. Looking almost like a drowned rat, worn, tired. And He just casually controls the wind and the sea, He shows Himself to be God.
And the disciples fear Him. Now, when we say "fear" we often think of terror, of trembling. That's not the fullness of what this idea is - to rightly fear is to rightly recognize who has power and control. You've got to know who has the most power and who can do the most harm to you. If you are up on the top of a 20 foot ladder, and a bee comes by, and you panic and flail your arms... yes, you feared the bee... but you should have feared the heights - you should have prioritized the situation, because unless you are deathly allergic, a 20 foot fall is worse than a bee sting. This is why we aren't supposed to text and drive - while you might be afraid of what Ethan told Jenny last night, you really ought to be more afraid of swerving into the oncoming traffic or into the ditch.
We fear so many things - we often call them worries. We worry about what we will eat or wear, we worry about what people will think of us. We worry about declining health, or family problems. That's all fear. Those are all things that can cause us harm, things we don't enjoy, things that could hurt us. All fear. And they can all make us go and do stupid, foolish things. In the face of these worries, our fear ought to be a fear of the Lord - we should be more concerned with what God thinks of us than what the folks across town think of us - because while we might say that our neighbor "gives us hell", they don't, not really, not like God can. We ought to be more concerned with our spiritual health than just our physical health - because while temporal death ain't pleasant, it's eternal death and hell that is really bad. And so to "fear God" is to have your priorities put in order - where instead of you waking up God and having Him dance to your tune, God gives you the wake-up call, saying that yes, He is the One in charge.
And that's a good thing. You think Jesus looks ragged and haggard in the stern of that boat? It ain't nothing compared to what He looks like upon the cross - and while the world with it's pride and arrogance and misplaced fear sees nothing but a beaten and dying man - behold there is Christ Jesus, God Almighty - just letting the world do its worst to Him, because He is bigger and stronger than the world, bigger and stronger than sin, bigger and stronger than you sin, bigger and strong than death, bigger and stronger than you death. And He dies and rises, and He says, "I, the Lord God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Ruler of all things, the One who casts Satan and His legions into Hell, into the unquenchable fire - I forgive you all your sins. I tie Myself to you in Baptism, so that no ploy, no plot of Satan or the world can separate you from Me, for My Word and Promise is stronger than them. I give you My own Body and Blood, so that Your Body will rise, and you will enter eternal life washed in the blood of the Lamb." Dear friends, It is good to fear God, to remember who is in control - for He is in control for you. Don't let the world distract you from this great and wondrous truth. Be still and know that I am the Lord. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +