Blowing in the Wind
New Revised Standard Version
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 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. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
This is a great story! It’s one of those children act out in Vacation Bible School and one they remember from Sunday school. Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat during a storm! Disciples freaking out as the wind blows and the waves fill the boat with water. You can picture the kids exaggerating as they portray the fearful disciples while one plays Jesus snoring in the back of the boat!
We all have storm stories. Some are more dramatic than others. A hurricane or a tornado or a large nor’easter or a blizzard of epic proportions. We remember the downed trees, the power outages, the damaged houses, the flooding, or the several feet high blankets of white snow. In the retelling of our stories, we lay out the timeline of events, share the emotions we experienced, and the aftermath and recovery.
Superstorm Sandy is one that sticks in my mind. Sitting in the basement with the wind howling overhead. Trees that fell across the driveway narrowly missing the cars. No power for 10 days. Huddled around the fireplace wrapped in blankets to stay warm. I could go on with the details – it would take up the entire sermon!
But we’re not here only to share our storm stories (a great topic for fellowship time, though!). So, let’s turn back to the disciples’ storm story.
Many of these men were seasoned fishermen. They had learned how to read the sky and weather signs to anticipate when storms would rise on the sea. They knew how to read the signs of the Sea of Galilee, the waters they fished.
The Sea of Galilee lies 680 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by hills and valleys that act like funnels generating intense winds closer to the sea. Storms can come out of nowhere.
The fishermen had experienced being on the sea when these storms suddenly came upon them. It is curious that this storm rattled them. Maybe it didn’t so much as Jesus sleeping through it! Didn’t he know that all hands were needed on deck in this situation? Didn’t he know they needed him on deck?
The disciples had already come to depend on Jesus to guide them, give them instructions, and resolve difficult situations. After all, they had been listening to him and watching as he performed one miracle after another. Maybe they had come to depend on him so much that, instead of relying on their own experience and skill they panicked, wondering, “where is our miracle?”
It is easy to be critical of the disciple’s reaction in this storm and their perceived lack of caring by Jesus about their welfare. What if we had been in their situation? Would we have reacted differently? I’m not so sure.
The disciples had spent the day listening to Jesus teach in parables and had heard his explanations of them. He had been describing what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus talked about a lamp hidden under a bowl being unable to provide light. About sowers and seeds – things they weren’t very familiar with. Even Jesus’ explanations weren’t enough for them to really understand his point.
Now they were faced with the reality of what they had heard. It was time to apply the lessons to life. They were struggling to put the pieces together. Hence Jesus’ question after he calmed the storm: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Don’t you get it? The disciples didn’t, at least not very well.
There are several ways to explore this story of Jesus and the disciples on the stormy sea. I’ll consider two: growing in faith and living with fear.
A first reading of the story and its application might be in the storms of life, turn to Jesus. He calms them and/or calms you. Trust him while, at the same time, utilizing your own ability to help out. Like boiling the water and getting clean towels for the midwife who is about to help deliver a baby.
As is usually true, there is more in this story than the initial, simpler, application. We know that life isn’t so simple. That answers to our requests are not so clear. Ask Jesus and everything is A-okay doesn’t work very often. If it did, we wouldn’t need to continue to study the Bible, go to church, and learn more about God. We could live under the assumption that “all I really need to know I learned in Sunday school,” and that we really could graduate from church after confirmation.
We know that we didn’t really learn everything we need to know about God, Jesus, and faith when we were young. Some of us didn’t even go to church then! The stories about Jesus – his miracles, parables, and teaching – and about God and God’s people teach us that faith is dynamic not static.
It ebbs and flows. Our faith grows over time as we learn and experience God’s presence.
The challenge we face, the same one the disciples faced, is the application of our faith learning and experience to new situations. We may know that Jesus is with us, even certain of it. But do we trust Jesus enough to step out in faith. To use what we know when life throws us a curveball.
Faith is not a quick fix. Or a comforting solution to the problems and pain of life – faith doesn’t necessarily make those go away. Faith is not a tool we only pull out when needed, hoping we remember its importance and how to be faithful. Hoping we remember how to put into practice what we have learned in the past.
Faith develops through use. By trusting Jesus enough to turn to him first rather than as a last resort when our own solutions don’t work. Through trusting Jesus enough to move forward when staying put seems like a much better option.
As our faith matures, we can handle the storms that threaten to drown us a bit better, acknowledge God’s presence more often – have a few more “aha” moments, and turn to Jesus first more times than not.
Faith doesn’t grow on a continual upward trajectory though. One thing that hinders or even stops growth is fear.
Fear is a part of life. A lot of fear is healthy. We make choices to keep us safe – wear a seat belt, look before crossing the street, use sunscreen. Take a step back, think before reacting, consider alternatives.
Unhealthy fear can hold us back from acting when we should, impact decision-making, even stop us in our tracks. This type of fear can get in the way of following Jesus’ way.
I want to be clear – fear is real. This world, this life, is full of things people have every right to be afraid of.
The fear I am talking about, the fear I think Jesus addresses in this passage is the kind that gets in the way of using the experience of God in our life and the skills God has given us to do God’s work.
The disciples allow their fear – of the situation, of the unknown – to take over. Their fear overcame their skill as fishermen. They didn’t really need Jesus to help bail water. They wanted Jesus to fix this for them like they had seen him do with others. Their anger at him for sleeping during the storm allowed the fear to creep in. It stopped them from taking the action they normally would in a similar situation.
Learning how to balance fear and faith is a sign of a growing faith. It’s a constant process that sometimes goes well and other times not so much. Each time we are able to take a step forward in faith instead of allowing fear to hold us in place we make progress. And we do make progress, grow in our faith. Looking back, we can see how far we have come.
There is one fear we all should have, we all need. The fear of God. Awe. Reverence. Of the one that even the wind and sea obey.
This fear, the fear of God, the amazement at who God is and all that God, the Creator has done, is the one that grows our faith. Embracing that the God who is in control also gives us freedom to choose to follow Jesus builds our trust in God.
Following Jesus, hearing his words, seeing his miracles, and learning his ways empowers us to step out into the storms we may face with the confidence that Jesus has given us what we need to move forward.
Yes, Jesus can calm the storms, but he wants us to play a part. When we do, we learn that we really “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”