North Shore Baptist Church
24 June, 2012
Mark 4: 35-41
(Prologue: The Big One)
April 19, 1996. The day had been rainy on and off. It was one of those typical stormy spring days. The overcast skies had kept most of us inside for most of the day. At about 6 o’clock that evening though, I had to head out. I was leaving my dorm room and walking to the auditorium where I was to be an usher of that evening’s performance of our annual dance concert. As I walked up the hill that went from my dorm to Shilling Hall, the humidity was making me sweat even though the temperature was not all that warm. There was a stillness in the air. The birds were quite. The trees were still. Just the clouds, way up there were moving. The were coming from the south west. I stood and watched them for a few moments, and I began to see the clouds in the layer above moving in the opposite direction. Having spent my entire life in Central Illinois, I knew we were in store for a pretty big storm. I had seen this dozens of times.
8 p.m. The house lights go down and the dance concert begins. It is a sold out house. 220 people had gathered to watch the student choreographed and performed pieces. The concert was moving along, and people seemed to be having a good time. We were just about to begin the last piece before intermission, and the house lights came on. The stage manager came out and said that building security would like us all to move down stairs into the foyer under the main stair case. A tornado had been spotted just north of town. As an usher I had to make sure the people made it to the safe zone quickly and calmly. People grabbed their belongings and headed to the foyer quite calmly. It was a very easy exercise. However, when we got down to the foyer, we could see out some windows. This is when people began to panic.
For those of you who have never experienced a tornado, there are certain things that happen outside and things that happen to the air. It is really a whole body experience. There are sights, sounds, feelings, and smells. Many of the people there, dancers and audience were from the Chicago area and had never experienced this before. Looking out the window the sky had turned green, and it isn’t a pretty green. Think the color of Lake Michigan after a stormy day, or the color of split pea soup. People’s ears began to pop as the barometric air pressure suddenly and significantly drops. Even inside we could smell the almost metallic smell of the impending storm. And the air that hits your skin, even in the safety of a foyer that has withstood storms for nearly a century immediately causes your clothes to stick to you. I could see a family huddled in the corner, holding each other. I saw students, praying. I watched as a mother held on to her daughter, still in full costume and makeup. As we waited, someone spotted the familiar funnel cloud. The clouds I had seen earlier moving in opposite directions were now entwined in a dance. A pas de deux that would touch down about a mile north of Millikin University. A dance of destruction that would destroy over 200 homes and cause over 9 million dollars in damage. A danse macabre that did not deal death in Decatur, but was part of a twisting ballet of tornadoes that day that decimated several small towns in Central Illinois.
April 19, 1996 is the most scared I had ever been during a storm. Yet, I had a peace that I could not understand. Not at the time.
(Scene 1: The Waves of Destruction)
Reflecting on that evening as I was preparing these words, I began to finally understand the fear the disciples had. Here was a bunch of guys who had been running ragged. They had been going non-stop since this teacher had, somehow, convinced them to join his journey. Though Mark doesn’t give a time frame, in these four short chapters leading up to this point Jesus had called the disciples, healed a man with an unclean spirit, healed Simon’s mother in law, gone on a preaching tour, cleansed lepers, healed a paralytic, eaten with tax collectors and sinners, gotten into debates with the pharisees, healed a man with a withered hand, cured the multitudes at the seaside, appointed his twelve main disciples, been called crazy by his family, been accused of being the devil, and gave a major sermon by the sea shore. And now he was wanting them to go to the other side of the sea. To the side of the Gentiles. This could not be good. The clouds were gathering.
Exhausted the disciples and Jesus loaded the boat. Hoping for some time of quiet. Praying that they would not have to go to the other side. Maybe Jesus was saying that so they could go out alone and just float in peace. After all, why would he want to go over there, where the heathen are. Sadly, though, as they shove out they see there are other boats following them. They hoist the sails and head to the middle of the sea. Jesus bunks down in the rear of the boat. He covers his head for darkness and falls asleep. The others, too, begin to doze off enjoying the brief respite. But then the clouds that were gathering began to turn and twist in the dance of destruction. The swirling of the clouds. The moving of ions. The charge of static. Boom. A lightening bolt hits the sea barely a mile in front of them. They are all away. All except Jesus. The waves begin to churn. The rain begins to fall. Stinging the skin of the arms as it pelts them with pieces of hail. The waves now begin to swell causing the boat to list back and forth. The fishermen on the boat immediately begin to lower the sail. They start yelling at each other to batten down the cargo. Matthew, only been on a boat a few times, lurches of the side of the boat and lets go of his lunch. The remaining disciples being using whatever they can to throw the constantly incoming water overboard. Everyone is in panic. All except Jesus. Jesus who is sound asleep. Jesus who told them to go to the other side. Jesus who caused this by making them head to the unclean ones. This is like when God was angry with Jonah and caused a storm, sending him to Nineveh. This is God causing a storm to sent them back to the right side of the sea. The were all beginning to get angry. All except Jesus. Jesus who was sound asleep. Someone wake him up.
These storms on the Sea of Galilee are not small things. They can cause waves that will crash in parking lots a quarter mile off the shore line. They are huge and fierce. They disciples were only reacting like any of us would in such a situation. These were waves of destruction. These were waves that would bury them at sea, and not allow them to where their journey with this teacher might end. These were waves caused, so they may have though, by a God who was angry at them. These were waves of destruction.
(Scene 2: Stormy Weather)
Storms have long been a literary device for something ominous. Snoopy’s oft used opening line to his novel, “It was a dark and stormy night…” The opening sequence to untold tv shows or horror movies. Storms have almost gotten to the point where they are a cliche image. We know something bad is going to happen when the camera cuts to the clouds moving behind the barren tree and the music hits a minor key. But anyone who has been through a severe storm can tell you, they are scary.
Storms have the ability to remind us how small we are as human beings. How powerless we are against the forces of nature. Our mighty buildings can be washed away by a whole in a levee. We all can picture New Orleans and others places that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The empty plots of land that were once entire neighborhoods. Gone. Erased by waves of destruction that engulfed the land. Duluth, MN right now is experiencing unprecedented flooding. I have seen pictures of entire swaths of highway gone. One street , where the flooding river has gone under ground looks like a cratered image of the moon. Lake Superior is engulfing the port city. Thus far, $80 million dollars worth of damage. Our section of the country is suffering from another kind of storm, the overwhelming lack of rain. Drought is choking out the land that my family comes from. Hopes of a harvest that will provide for those who farm the land are blowing away in the dust from the cracked ground that should be nourishing the crops. Waves of dusty destruction are sweeping over much of the rest of the country. We are in stormy weather.
The storms that we face are not just the natural storms. Not just the storms that cause us to get wet, or cover our eyes from the drifting dust. No, each of us in our own lives are often caught adrift in a sea, while the storm clouds pirouette above our heads. We do what we can to push the water out of the boat, but the deluge just keeps coming.
The winds begin to blow as our national debate gets more focused on what a woman can or can not do, or who can marry whom; than on whether or not our children can get the education they need or that the poor and working poor can afford to food on the table. When the debate is misses the fact that those needing food-stamps, now will have $90 dollars less a month to buy groceries and instead focuses on whether or not the president or his challenger said something that might offend some constituency or another. Some times the blowing winds come from us when we vote purely along party lines instead of asking how a candidates positions are in line with the Reign of God.
The lightening strikes when we are told that an offer has been extended only to have it pulled our from under our feet. An offer of a new job, only to be told never mind. An offer for a place of our own, only to later be told we didn’t mean it. To be told we are loved only to have that person turn on us when their own storms are threatening to overwhelm them. The bold of lightening flashes when we speak our of both sides of our mouths.
The clouds move in when our mailbox is cluttered with past due bills, and our voice mail box is full with voices saying,” please call us as soon as possible.” The clouds begin their dance when the doctor says, “cancer;” when the employer says, “we need to make some cuts;” when the loan officer says, “you don’t qualify.” The clouds are spinning over our heads. The rains fill our boats. There are so many storms that threaten to throw us overboard.
(Scene 3: Wake Up!)
The disciples feared being thrown overboard. They are angry that Jesus is not helping. That he is sleeping through the storm. That he does not seem to even notice that they are dying.
“Wake up, Jesus! Help us.” They are crying out. “Get our of bed and throw water overboard, all hands on deck.” But what does Jesus do. He gets up and shouts at the winds and the sea, “Peace! Be Still.” And immediately the seas calm. The sun begins to break through the clouds. The fierce skin piercing wind turns into a gentle breeze.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” That is all he says to them as he heads back to his place in the stern of the boat and falls back asleep. Stunned, they disciples ask each other who this man is that even the winds and the sea obey. They don’t get it.
Who is this man that even the seas and winds obey? Who is this carpenter’s son? Who is this man born in scandal, born out of wedlock? This teacher who heals and exorcises demons?
This man is Jesus, the Word incarnate. The very voice that said let there be light. The very voice that split the waters in two creating the heavens and the earth. The very voice that caused a storm that led to a rebirth of humanity. The very voice that blew winds across the sea creating dry land for refugees to cross into freedom. The very voice that in the whirlwind that tells the suffering one “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?…Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?…Has the rain a father or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth…the waters become hard like stone.” The very voice that from a boat in a storm tossed sea says, “Peace! Be Still.” The voice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the voice that calms the storms.
(Scene 4: Peace! Be Still.)
As the storms of our lives threaten us, Jesus is not asleep. Sometimes we may think he is, but through faith we know he is in the boat with us. Jesus is saying to our storms, “Peace! Be still. I got this. I can carry you.” Trusting that God is with us in our storms will bring peace. Remembering all the times before when Jesus has caused the rains to cease and the winds to stop, we again can hear the words, “Peace. Be still.”
When our neighbor come over to offer a listening ear, “Peace! Be Still.” When our child holds our hand in doctor’s office, “Peace! Be still.” When a parent says, “I am proud of you.” “Peace! Be Still.” When a meal is provided and we did nothing for it, “Peace! Be still.” When a community lifts your joys before the Lord, “Peace! Be Still.” When our heartache is prayed for by our sisters and brothers, “Peace! Be still.”
The storms of our lives like the storms in the sky will keep coming. It is a fact of life, but the voice that created the world says, “Peace! Be Still.” That voice that cried out on calvary’s cross, “It is finished.” The storm of Good Friday ended with the sunrise of the resurrection. “Peace! Be still.” The storm may be here now, we may be sitting in the rain on Saturday, but we know that Jesus rose on Sunday and our storms will come to an end. The Sun will shine. Just believe. Just trust. Jesus hasn’t let us down yet. God the creator of the universe can calm our storms. The sun will shine.
(Epilogue: Here comes the sun)
As the tornado touched down in Decatur, I felt a peace in my terror. Even though the town had major damage, I had a peace and I did not know why. But I have come to believe that it was Jesus in me. Reminding me that even though there is destruction, I am there. I am there when the neighbors came out and hugged each other, when strangers helped rebuild each others houses, when an entire community – a community with economic hardships – came together and bore each others’ burdens. It was Jesus telling me, “Peace! Be Still. I got this. Here comes the sun.”