One of the things that is new to me
as your pastor is spending these summer months going through
the lectionary with you.
My last church spent the Summer off lectionary,
doing one or another sermon series
and so I’ve never spent these summer months
walking so deliberately though these texts.
And when you do that, new things emerge.
What is striking to me that I never really noticed before
was how focused Mark is, like a laser beam,
on Jesus’ concern for the interior well being of those encounters:
you can see it in pretty much every encounter we’ve seen this summer:
the leper, cured
the paralytic, walking again,
the crowds, listening to stories of seed and sun and nourishing rain
Jairus and his daughter, the woman hemorrhaging in the crowd
all of them. There is some external need met,
but so much more so…internal healing…
And no less true this story, stuck quietly in middle of the gospel,
between a miracle of feeding the multitude and another
tale of Jesus healing the sick
this story, about Jesus and the storm:
When evening came, the boat was out on the lake,
and Jesus was alone on the land.
When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind,
he came towards them early in the morning,
walking on the lake.
He intended to pass them by.
But when they saw him walking on the lake,
they thought it was a ghost and cried out;
for they all saw him and were terrified.
But immediately he spoke to them and said,
‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.
And they were utterly astounded,
for they did not understand about the loaves,
but their hearts were hardened.
May God bless to us our reading,
and our understanding,
and our applying of these words, to how we live our lives. Amen.
So, It takes only SIX verses to tell:
There was a STORM.
The translation in Mark calls it “an adverse wind.”
The Old Testament calls it “chaos.”
There is always a storm in the Bible…and in our lives.
Be it illness or tragedy or loss
pain or confusion or despair–
–it is that force of disorder that leaves us broken and shattered.
It turns out that the Bible is much more preoccupied
with the threat of CHAOS, with our STORMS—
–than with SIN and GUILT—
–those things that we seem to spend so much time fretting over…
We work very hard to devise some understanding of FORGIVENESS.
But…the STORM is NOT so easy.
I was thinking about all this this week
when the Girls and I ate dinner in our basement Monday night
flashlight and weather radio nearby
as the tornado sirens went off
and our own adverse wind swept through the heartland.
But the STORMS we human beings deal with
are more than the literal meteorological events.
The STORMs of our life produce an ANXIETY within us
that NOTHING seems to calm.
It is a sense of deep helplessness–because you cannot touch it,
and you cannot manage it,
and you cannot control it,
and you cannot predict it—
–and it blows into your life
and blows loose ANYTHING it wants to.
And it strikes me: The Jesus we encounter in Mark is really speaking to THAT.
Two initial things about the gospel text in Mark we see right away:
First, it says “they strained against an adverse wind…
Years ago, some neighbors discovered
they had a major water problem along their foundation.
Later on, they said they got it fixed at great expense.
But, as the contractor was leaving,
he told my neighbor:
“You need to know: water always wins.”
STORMS….are always too strong.
The OTHER thing the text says is: Jesus wasn’t there.
They were out on a boat. Jesus was on the shore.
The followers of Jesus were on their own.
He wasn’t far away—but he wasn’t paying any attention.
Even once he started walking on the sea, it says:
“He intended to pass them by…”
Jesus was NOT preoccupied with the disciples or their dangers.
And he does not SEEM much concerned, not at first.
Now, that is a recipe for trouble:
a big storm, straining without success, and…ABSENCE.
Do you know anything about that…in your life?
And THEN—they see Jesus!
They had NOT thought to call on him.
They had been trying to manage the storm on their own.
And they looked up—and there he was!
But they did NOT recognize him.
It’s like when you see somebody in a place
where you NEVER see them—
–and, since they are out of context—
–you DON’T know who they are.
In the middle of the storm, I would think they would have welcomed Jesus.
But they were TERRIFIED, Mark Says.
Jesus scared them…maybe MORE than the storm.
Jesus appears in forms that are NOT immediately recognizable.
They weren’t looking for him. They didn’t expect he would be there to help.
Jesus is NOT always a cozy, familiar presence—he TERRIFIED them!
MORE than that…his being there at the edge of the storm
DOESN’T do them any good.
He doesn’t change anything—not at first.
Jesus just appears and what he says is: “It is I.”
He doesn’t say his name.
They know his name—And moreso, they know who “I” is.
They had NOT thought to utter his name.
They had NOT thought to take the name of Jesus with them—
–BUT when he said “It is I”—that phrase SUDDENLY
opened the floodgates of memory and meaning to them.
ALL the ancient promises of God get recalled—in THAT storm—
by Jesus’ simple words: “It is I.”
“I am Yahweh, I have called you.” –Isaiah 42:6
“I am Yahweh, and beside me there is NO Savior.” –Isaiah 43:11
“I am the One who blots out your transgressions.” –Isaiah 43:25
“I am the first and the last.” –Isaiah 44:6
“I am Yahweh who made ALL these things.” –Isaiah 44:24
“I am Yahweh, and there is NO other.” –Isaiah 45:5
(You can look those up…)
Of all the things that Jesus COULD have said
in the middle of that fearful storm—
–that’s what Jesus said: “It is I.”
But he brought a boat-load of promises with him.
–And even those AFRAID, TREMBLING disciples
in the midst of that BIG storm KNEW what comes next.
What comes next is: “It is I…..(get this)……DO NOT FEAR.”
That is the oldest promise of God—and still the most reliable.
It is the word that has been spoken into ALL the STORMS of life
for years and years…and generations and generations!
“Do not fear, I am with you.” –Isaiah 41:10
“Do not fear, I will help you.” –Isaiah 41:13
“Do not fear, I have redeemed you.” –Isaiah 43:1
“Do not fear or be afraid.” –Isaiah 44:8
Do you remember how, just a few weeks ago, in Mark 4, Jesus asked:
“Why are you afraid?
Do you not know yet that my presence and my promise—
–is the antidote to the STORM?”
“Do you not see that I am the creator of heaven and earth
and CHAOS is interesting to me, but it is NO THREAT!”
“It’s NOT a threat to ME, and you can trust this—
–it’s NOT really a threat to you!”
THEN, Jesus said to them: “Take heart.”
They had lost heart in their fear
and their anxiety
and their panic.
Isn’t that wonderful! “Take heart!”
Take your heart.
Get back yourself!
God is giving us back OURSELF!
Be who you are.
Be who you are created to be.
Because Jesus has addressed us in our WORST,
most BROKEN places—
–and reminded us of the OLDEST
and most RELIABLE promises of God!
That is what Jesus said to them, in their storm.
….And that is what Jesus offers to US, too: “It is I….do not fear…TAKE HEART.”
BUT NOTICE: In that moment, in verse 50—they were with Jesus
AND they were STILL in the storm.
And according to Mark, the storm did NOT quit until verse 51.
The disciples—STILL in the storm are invited to respond to Jesus–
–BEFORE the storm quiets down.
It’s NOT that we get to watch the storm STOP—
–and THEN we’ll get around to FAITH and TRUST
and HOPE, and all those good things…
NO! The storm is still raging…
…when Jesus speaks the promises
and offers us an invitation.
Jesus says: “Yes, there IS a storm, BUT look at me, listen to me—
–do NOT heed the storm,
–DISREGARD the CHAOS—and look at ME!”
….And they did.
In that moment, they looked at Jesus,
but….they did NOT look EXCLUSIVELY at Jesus—
–they peeked, and then they looked back at the STORM!
He said look at ME…(and they looked at him and then at the STORM)!
He said look at ME…(and they did, and turned back to the STORM)!
Look at ME…(let’s look at the STORM)!
They looked back to him in FAITH,
and then back to the storm in FEAR….
…and RIGHT THERE—seems to be the cycle of our life!
FEAR and FAITH—vying for our attention.
What Jesus offers us is a way of living—where FEAR has NO place.
Jesus’ “Do not be afraid” is a MASSIVE invitation to FAITH
very much like the way a parent defeats a child’s nightmare
by going into the DARK with the child,
and saying “It’s all right, I am here—DON’T be afraid…”
EXCEPT that a sleeping child will roll over and go back to sleep.
Our nightmares…our storms…our CHAOS…
…what makes us so FEARFUL and BROKEN—
–go deep down in us.
The darkness of a bad diagnosis, or a bad report,
or a failed market,
or a failed test,
or a failed marriage,
or a failure of self-control,
or a broken relationship, or a broken heart—it all causes great fear.
But never forget:
the presence and promise of Jesus DEFIES every fear!
It’s like the wind and the storm say to each other,
“Let’s get out of here, we can’t win today—
–because the Lord Jesus is present!”
The disciples were AMAZED.
Of course they were.
We are always amazed because we OVERCREDIT the STORM,
and UNDERESTIMATE the power and promise of God!
The storm is real and powerful—but it cannot persist in the face of God
who wipes out the source of every FEAR.
What a mouth-full I get to say to you–and that we get to say to each other!
The storms of our lives are real and powerful,
but they cannot last in the face of God
who wipes out the source of every FEAR.
It would have been great if Mark had stopped the chapter in verse 51,
with calmness and amazement and promises—
–but it does not stop there.
There is this peculiar verse 52 that doesn’t belong there—but here it is.
It says: “They didn’t understand about the loaves…”
WHAT is that all about?
Well, at the beginning of the chapter there is a feeding miracle.
It is in that feeding that Jesus utters those glorious words of our faith:
“He took, he blessed, he broke, he gave…”
…He FED—and there were a ZILLION loaves of bread left over.
We might even explore this next Sunday.
But you have to read this through the lens of the Old Testament
to know what they are talking about here:
God has created a world of abundance!
Whatever it is you NEED—bread, comfort, peace,
the healing of your broken places,
the making WHOLE of a life that has come apart—
–God will provide it!
THAT is what we celebrate and remember when we come to the TABLE!
The ABUNDANCE of God is thrown into the teeth of the STORM.
…And God’s abundance….WINS.
Mark says the disciples didn’t get it.
Try as they might (and they REALLY tried),
they couldn’t see beyond whatever storm had them in their grip.
So, for all their momentary amazement in verse 51—
–by the end of the narrative,
they are almost as frightened as they were
at the beginning of the narrative.
This isn’t a Hallmark Card sort of story.
When we take verse 52 seriously,
this story tells it like we really are—frightened,
having met Jesus,
still unyielding, still looking away,
still living in a stingy world.
This is NOT a happy miracle tale—
–it is a story about HOW WEAK we can be
when the storms of life blow…
…this story does NOT LIE about us.
BUT, the story does NOT lie about Jesus, either.
He is the creator become flesh.
He is the truth-teller we most need.
He is the promise-giver who saves us.
He is MORE than a match for our FEAR.
The storm cannot resist him.
CHAOS is NO force against him.
Fear is done in by his Easter—Do not fear.
Tony Campolo tells this wild, wonderful, crazy story about when he attended a funeral 
for his good friend, Clarence,
at the historically African-American church where Campolo attends.
He says: “The pastor preached this incredible sermon about hope and faith…
…and the resurrection from the dead,
and how faith always meets and overcomes our fears.
After the sermon, he stepped down and talked to the family.
The LAST thing he did was he went over….
…and he preached to the CORPSE!
He went over and he yelled, “Clarence! Clarence!”
And he said it with such authority,
I would not have been surprised had there been an answer.
“Clarence,” he said, “there are lots of things we should have said to you
that we never said to you.”
We’re going to say them now.”
And then we went down the list of all these great and wonderful things
that Clarence had done for Jesus and for others.
And, when he FINISHED, he said:
“That’s it, Clarence.
There’s NOTHING more to say.
And when there is nothing more to say—
–there’s only ONE thing to say:
Good night, Clarence.
And with that, the preacher grabbed the lid of the casket,
and slammed it shut!
I mean, this is drama: “Good night, Clarence” and SLAM!
A shock went over the congregation.
And as the preacher lifted his head,
you could see there was a SMILE on his face.
He said: “Good night, Clarence, good night.
God is in charge, All our fears are OVER.
“Good night, Clarence, good night—
–because I know that God is going to give you
a glorious GOOD MORNING!”
And the choir rose and started singing
“On that great getting’ up morning,
we shall rise, we shall rise…”
And people were on their feet.
They were hugging each other–they were dancing in the aisles.
And Campolo says that he knew right then and there
that he wanted to part of a people
and part of a faith
that knew how to turn a funeral into a party
and a STORM…..into a promise of God’s glory!
The good news that I get to announce to you
in the name of the storm-stilling Creator,
and the storm-stilling Redeemer,
and the storm-stilling Spirit is this:
Jesus continues to speak to us TODAY, saying “do not fear”
and those words—if taken to heart—
–will finally banish ALL fear,
and put us beyond ALL storms.
And my prayer is that we can QUIT watching the storm….and LISTEN!
This sermon inspired by a similar sermon preached by the Rev. Mark Ramsey at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church of Asheville, North Carolina
 From Compolo’s sermon, “The Year of Jubilee.” One version of it is available here: http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/january/7010509.html