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Who Then Is This?
Series: The Gospel According to Mark
Leader: Rev. David Thomas
Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
Date: Mar 27th, 2022
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I know I always say “Don’t read the comment section!” because the comment section in even the most seemingly innocuous post can be filled with hate and vitriol.  Also, how much of a substantive dialogue can you have in a comment section?  Discuss (though not in a comment section please).  Nevertheless, I do occasionally ignore my own counsel and glance through a comment section.  I was reading one recently following a story about a church scandal that was a very bad scene.  People were expressing various opinions in the comment section and one person wrote “I’m not surprised – religion after all is about power and control.”

What does all of this have to do with Jesus and the 12 apostles (they are 12 now at this point in the story, they were appointed in Mark 3)?  We’re looking at a story about Jesus performing a deed of power and control, and this one is of particular significance.  When we talk about power and control, these are not things that we ascribe to ourselves as followers of Christ. This will lead to trouble.  Instead, we ascribe them to God.  When we look at this story, we should not primarily think of what it means for me or even what it means for us (though we do a little later and it does mean something for us).  We look at it primarily for what it reveals about Jesus.  We look at it primarily as an apocalypse – in the true meaning of the word which is a revealing. I came across this description of the story as I was preparing for today – “The apocalyptic boat ride from hell.”  This revealing caused those who were in the boat with Jesus on that night to say “Who then is this…?”  This is where we took the title of this series from.  Who then is this?

Jesus has been in the boat for a while.  Jesus was teaching all day from the boat.  He was teaching about the kingdom of God.  He was telling people that news of the kingdom of God would be received in different ways.  He was telling people that the kingdom of God grows like seeds that a farmer scatters - mysteriously and in ways that are unknown to us.  He was telling them it grows inexorably like a mustard seed.  There is no stopping the kingdom of God.  This is demonstrated as our story continues.  Jesus tells his followers “Let us go across to the other side.”  The other side of the sea of Galilee is gentile territory.  “We’re going to break on through to the other side,” says Jesus.  It’s kingdom time.  It’s good news time.  

All found in the man who falls asleep in the boat.  I don’t know that there is any other Gospel story (good news story) in our Bible that so fully describes Jesus as both fully human and fully God.  Jesus is exhausted.  He’s been speaking all day from this boat. He is done in.  He is sleeping even in the midst of a violent storm.  At the same time, we see Jesus having power over the very wind and waves that are threatening life.

You know I have a healthy respect for large bodies of water.  Oceans most definitely.  Lakes even.  The black water lakes of cottage country.  Great respect.  When we are invited to a cottage I like to take the opportunity to go out in a kayak (life jacket of course).  I invariably capsize it.  I remember once being out quite far and turning it over.  I was holding onto the kayak wondering how I was going to get it and myself back to the dock.  How glad was I to see our friend’s daughter dive in, swim out to where I was and help swim-tow the kayak back in.  I have no stories about being in a boat in a storm because I absolutely would be nowhere near the water in a storm and have great respect for all who brave such conditions.

In my trepidation, I feel a kinship with the Israelites.  The sea in the Bible very often symbolizes chaos or forces that work against God’s purposes.  The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the waters.  Chaos.  Formlessness.  Confusion. Unreality.  Emptiness.  In the books of Daniel and Revelation, we read of monsters emerging from the sea speaking arrogance and blasphemy.  These concepts are not difficult for we who live in a world of slit trenches turned into mass graves.  The darkness does not have the last word.  Then God said, “Let there be light and there was light.”  The Ancient One sits on his throne and one like a human being comes to the Ancient One and is given glory and dominion and kingship (Daniel 7).  In Revelation 21 John describes a vision of the renewal of all things and he writes “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”  Darkness.  Confusion.  Chaos.  Arrogance. Blasphemy. Mass graves.  No more.

Sometimes a storm is not just a storm.  Mark doesn’t say this pointedly but Mark knew the power of symbolism.  There is something being depicted here of the struggle against forces that would oppose God and God’s will for humanity and all of creation.  Jesus is awakened and he speaks.  He doesn’t pray that the storm would stop, note.  This deed of power is revealing something about who this man is.  Prophets had healed people before.  Prophets had even raised the dead before.  This power is something new.  Jesus speaks and he uses the same kind of language with which he addressed a demon earlier in the story (Mark 1:25).  “Peace!” Be silent.  “Be still!” This is a much more polite way than this could be translated, literally “Muzzle yourself.”  “Shut up.”  “Ferme ta gueule,” as we were taught never to say in French.  Shut your trap.

This is maybe best because we know how these forces trap us.  I have usually imagined Jesus standing with one foot on the gunwale, holding his arms up as he speaks these words.  Looking at this picture by Rembrandt (the only seascape Rembrandt ever painted), I like to think Jesus simply spoke from where he was. Maybe even still lying down or propped up on one elbow.  Turning his head to the waves and saying “Peace.  Muzzle yourself.”  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

God himself is with us, dear sisters and brothers.  Whom shall we fear?  God himself is with us.  Of what shall we be afraid?  This man in the boat with us is the son of God.  To put it more plainly, this man is God.

We turn now to ourselves.  We’re asking “Who then is this?” and we’re asking “What does it mean to be his follower?”  To be a disciple of Christ, to be a student of Christ means those words that are sometimes dreaded in a learning situation – there will be a test.  Following Jesus is not simply auditing a course.  It’s not simply going to class (and I must say I always encourage those auditing courses to write the papers if they have time and to sit the tests – it’ll be good if you have the time).  The apostles have spent a day listening to truths about the kingdom of God, how it grows mysteriously and in ways unknown to us, how its growth is inexorable and inevitable.  Someone has described their situation after listening to a day of Jesus’ teaching like this, “One may hope that when the next threat to their security arises, they will remember and maintain courage, perhaps asking Jesus, “Is this what you were talking about?” Instead, they panic, charge Jesus with not caring and react with astonishment when he rescues them. If we view the last episode of chapter 4 as the test at the end of the day’s teaching, the disciples do not demonstrate they have mastered the material.”

Neither have we, of course.  We wonder where Jesus is.  We wonder if God even cares.  Lent is a good time for self-examination.  Lent is a good time to hear Jesus asking us questions like, “Why are you afraid?”  “Have you still no faith?”

We can find ourselves in the middle of a raging storm.  We may feel the last two years have been a kind of storm.  We may feel that we’re still in it.  The disciples have been asked to go to the other side.  The other side can be difficult.  The other side can be full of unknowns.  We don’t know what awaits us on the other side.  Someone has said that the “…other side of health is illness – getting a report from the doctor that you didn’t expect.” The other side of a loving committed marriage is a broken relationship, acrimony and guilt and shame.  The other side of a dream job in one’s field is layoff or dismissal and wondering what this means to one’s identity.  A trip to the other side in the middle of a storm might make us cry out “Where are you God?” or “Don’t you even care?”

In the howling gale we hear Jesus speak words of peace.  We find that in the middle of test and trial we are coming to know something more of God.  We find that in the middle of being beyond our power and being taken outside of the realm of things that we think we can control, we are being formed into God’s people.  How good it’s been to hear of how God has been at work in the storm in the lives of our Blythwood family.  What have we to fear? Absolutely nothing. And we pray, “Lord strengthen our faith, help us to know our dependence on you.”  Jesus is in the boat.  Jesus has brought us this far and we have good reason to believe he will keep bringing us.

We remember too that Jesus is bringing us together.  It is not for nothing that the image of a ship at sea has been used for centuries to depict the church.  Not a ship of state or a ship of fools, but the ship of Christ Jesus.  We have it on one of our paraments (the one we use for Ordinary Time).  I love it when church construction reflects theology.  The word “nave” that is used to describe the central part of a church building is from the Latin word navis, which means “ship.”  Often, roof beams are left exposed, not due to lack of funds to finish the ceiling, but because if you flipped them upside down they look like the bottom of a ship.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  The living Word, who was in the beginning with God, who was God.  The Word through whom all things came into being.  The Word who became flesh and lived among us, who lives among us in the Holy Spirit of God.  May we be coming evermore to trust him, and may this be true for all of us. Amen