Prayer of the Day: O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. By your strength pilot us, by your power preserve us, by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Faith seems easy enough when there is a beautiful sunset or mountain grandeur to delight our eyes. Or when an intensely perilous story draw to its close with rescue, relief, and renewal. Faith seems easy when there’s a social context conducive to faith – when the people around us are of the same heart and mind.
But what does faith require when times are turbulent? What kind of faith is possible when the Son of God falls asleep? More to the point: what kind of faith is possible when the Son of God falls asleep at the wheel?
Remember, Jesus’ first followers were fishermen. They plied the waters of the Sea of Galilee not in pleasure craft but in fishing boats – working boats. When St. Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep in the stern, on the cushion, what cushion could it possibly be other than the cushion where the guy holding the rudder usually sits? Jesus was asleep on the pilot’s cushion. Jesus is asleep at the rudder!
Or switching to more familiar images, drawn from our common experiences with driving, we would say that Jesus is asleep at the wheel!
Now, it’s understandable that Jesus might be lulled to sleep in the boat. After all, it was the evening of a strenuous day of ministry. I can imagine that as he stepped into the boat and took a comfortable position, and felt the gentle rocking of the boat beneath him as it set out from shore, weariness washed over him, and his eyelids began to droop.
But he is seated on the pilot’s cushion. His hand is on the rudder. He’s in charge of navigation and safety.
As this boat was propelled forward by the wind from the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile side, a violent storm suddenly came up. (The Sea of Galilee is notorious for such phenomena. It’s because of the contours of local topography.)
While Jesus is overcome by sleep, his disciples are overcome by terror. Don’t you care, Jesus, that we are perishing? Don’t you care, Jesus, that the wind and waves threaten to overcome our boat and overwhelm us? Don’t you care that we are being demonized by forces beyond our control? Don’t you care that we are helpless, that we are tormented and victimized?
Lots of things threaten to overwhelm us in life. Some of us know the sting of cancer, heart disease, or despair so deep that it threatens to completely engulf us. Maybe you or someone you know has contracted HIV-AIDS or the COVID-19 virus and has become desperately ill. Or perhaps you’ve had some experience with tragedies wrought by natural disaster or personally-inflicted violence. I think we all have some knowledge of what it’s like to be helpless, to be prey to the forces of sin and death.
So then, maybe it’s quite understandable to come to the conclusion that someone, who ought to be in charge, has fallen asleep at the wheel. And when we then seek out the one who should be in control, and we see him so outrageously calm in sleep as the waves continue to crash down on the deck – then no surprise that we cry out in desperation: “Don’t you care that we are perishing?!”
The man at the rudder stirs. He awakens. He addresses the wind and the waves in the same way as he addresses evil spirits, rebuking with quiet authority. “Peace; be still.” Immediately the wind ceases, the sea becomes calm – as calm as his voice. And then Jesus says to his disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
When Jesus first called them from their life vocations and backgrounds, they simply left whatever they were doing and they followed Jesus. It was as if something had possessed them and compelled them to follow. Well, that sounds like faith, doesn’t it?
They accompanied Jesus as he went around the towns and villages of Galilee. They witnessed him casting out demons and healing people who were considered incurably ill. They saw him associating with the kind of people who, in a class-conscious society, were pushed aside and left out on the margins. Jesus ate with them and established community with them. He was gathering up the whole people of God! He was creating the family of the kingdom – the family of faith!
And his disciples were part of that family of faith from the very beginning.
Throughout their time together he taught them about his heavenly father’s kingdom. He spoke in parables – in brief, surprising stories that grabbed hold of his listeners and offered new visions of what it was like to live with God and God’s people. And even when, to his consternation, his disciples failed to catch on, he would take them aside and patiently explain it all to them.
All this for the sake of their faith. In fact, earlier in the day of this wild episode on the sea, Jesus had preached from this very boat, tied up along the shore so that he could address the great crowd of people that had come to hear him. The disciples had heard him as well. Together with the crowds, they had heard him minister for the sake of faith.
And yet, when Jesus falls asleep at the rudder and his disciples panic in the face of a violent sea, he can only ask them: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Just what kind of faith is Jesus talking about?
You know, first of all I think maybe we should say that faith isn’t really personal, claimed faith until it has opportunity to show itself in the realities of everyday living. Maybe we don’t know the dimensions of our faith until those dimensions are pulled and tugged and stretched … perhaps to the point of breaking.
I guess you and I know this very well in theory, but only when it’s actually happening to us can we can appreciate the depth of the disciples’ crisis. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples’ question echoes the anguished cries of people in every generation.
Meanwhile, there’s Jesus, slumped over on the pilot’s cushion, sound asleep. Maybe one of his arms is still on the rudder, swinging back and forth as the boat careens wildly upon stormy waters.
You know, his demeanour is actually the Biblical ideal of faith. Read the Psalms. Read the Book of Proverbs. Read the Book of Job. Read even Leviticus, that book chock full of priestly laws. There you will find that sleeping sweetly and soundly in a turbulent world is a picture of perfect trust in God. That’s why, when the disciples ask their desperate question, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?, Jesus – only just roused from his trusting repose – Jesus responds with his own question: Have you still no faith?
And you know what we should say right back to him? We should have the audacity to reply, “No, Lord, apart from your voice of calm, we have no faith. Speak, Lord. As you spoke to the violent wind and the roaring waves, speak to us. Calm us. You, Lord Jesus, the Voice of Calm, speak for the sake of our faith.”
I can think of no better reason than this for the church to mediate God’s call to particular people in order to identify, nominate, train, and ordain people authorized to speak for Jesus Christ. God’s people need to hear a down-to-earth, personalized, confident voice speaking on behalf of the Saviour: “Peace, be still. In the name of Jesus Christ, all is forgiven. God is as happy with you as God can possibly be. Peace.”
That, in fact, is what God in heaven says through the cross of God the Son. That is what is accomplished by Jesus’ own tribulation. And that word is precisely the word given to the church to speak to all. That’s what you and I need for the sake of faith in a turbulent world.
And so, for the sake of faith, I – a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ – I say to you once again: “Peace, be still. In the name of Jesus Christ, all is forgiven. God is as happy with you as God can possibly be. Peace.”
Hey – are your eyelids starting to get heavy?