Facing the Storm: Proper 7

Facing the Storm: Proper 7

Proper 7: June 20, 2021
The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Year B: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

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Every year I spend a week at the New Jersey shore; that would be the beach to most of you. For most of us the ocean conjures up delightful images. Some enjoy walks on the beach (that’s the sand for those of us who grew up in New Jersey). We enjoy the serenity of an early morning walk, a sunrise, or a cruise to a tropical island. We are often lulled into a sense of tranquility when we think of the ocean.

But the sea can also be dangerous and wild. I recall the first, and quite frankly, the only time I swam in the Pacific Ocean. The funny thing is the meaning of the word “pacific” – it’s got the same root as pacify. Pacific means peace in character or intent. Let me tell you the Pacific Ocean was anything but peaceful. It looked peaceful, but I found out that the waves roll in very differently from the Atlantic Ocean in southern New Jersey. I grew up swimming in the ocean; I was timing my exit from the water, but a wave hit me from nowhere. I went under, lost my balance, hit my head on a rock, took in some water. I thought I was drowning. I didn’t surface for a bit longer than it should have taken. As I finally came up out of the water, three people were headed toward where I had gone down. This is more the kind of sea that we are hearing about in Mark. It is most definitely not a place where romantic cruises happen on crystal blue waters.

At the end of a long day of teaching, Jesus needed a break and initiated a trip across the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are in a boat with Jesus who is asleep in the stern. They’re in a great windstorm. This is a storm that was very fierce. The kind of storm faced by the disciples and Jesus was very likely what is known as a “widowmaker”. These disciples were experienced fishermen; they knew the sea; they knew its power. They knew their lives hung in the balance. They knew that storms happen – even to the best, the smartest, and the most prepared among us.

This story, however, is not just a story about a boat trip and stormy weather. It’s a story about life – our life – our fear – our faith, and the community of faith and fear faced in Jesus’ time and the community Mark was writing for.

Mark is writing for a community where those who are different from another are historical enemies, they are looked upon as sinners, as outsiders…as dangerous. Mark’s community is in the midst of a voyage into this dark, fearful and uncharted territory. They’re wrestling with questions like: If Gentiles come into this mostly Jewish community do they have to be circumcised? Do they all have to follow the same dietary laws? How do we accept someone in this community if they don’t read scripture in the same way we do?

It’s the kind of crossing and questions we have in our life, in our world, in our community. How do we accept someone who looks different? Someone who speaks another language? Who doesn’t fit our boxes of gender, race, or class? How do we live with others in our midst? What do we do when our life situation changes, when the wind shifts, and the seas rage, and the resources – the money, the people, the time – that we’ve come to rely upon are no longer there?

These times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger are often compared to stormy seas, and they come upon us whether we like it or not. Life is like that. We can avoid some storms by watching the weather forecast and using some common sense. We can avoid some emotional, spiritual, financial, and social disasters by being wise and following God’s instructions. But sometimes, bad things just happen – even when we’re minding our own business, doing what’s right, living out our Baptismal Covenant to the best of our ability with God’s help.

Even when it happens, though, like the disciples in the text, we are challenged to rediscover our faith in God’s word when we find ourselves in the midst of those storms.

Think about it – Jesus never says in this passage, “Do not be afraid.” The questions Jesus asked the disciples are the questions he continues to ask us: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”[1]

I don’t know about you, but I am afraid because I am human. I struggle with my fears and my limits just as the disciples did.

For more than a year, the storm of pandemic has taken us to uncharted waters. We’ve been hit on the head, taken on water, and had to pull ourselves up.

Yet the whole time, Jesus was here to calm us with the words, “Peace be still.”[2]

The challenge is to remain open to the unexpected in spite of our doubts, fears, and lack of faith.

Jesus wants the disciples to go across the sea, wants us to go across the sea to change us. He does this so that we will discover peace, hope, and courage. He takes us across the sea to enable us to open our hearts to any and all who seek Christ, to all whose stories we need to hear in order for us to recognize – and more fully participate in the spread of God’s reign of justice and peace, so that one day we might live together with all our brothers and sisters in unity.

Hopefully, as we grow in faith, we come to understand that the things that cause us despair do not have the last word. Faith does not eliminate, change, or take us around the storms of our lives. But faith does take us through the storms, reminding us that Jesus is there with us. We are reminded that the power of God is mightier than any wind – that the love of God is deeper than any wave that threatens to drown us. Jesus invites us to stay with him in the boat saying, “Let us go across to the other side”[3]. He’s telling us he won’t live our side, he’ll journey with us.

And let’s not forget that Jesus was not addressing only one disciple when he invited them on their trip. He addressed all twelve, and Mark tells us that other boats were with them. They were in community. If the past year has taught us anything it is the importance of community. People have worked so hard to stay connected to their communities even while they were apart.

Just as the disciples set off for the other shore with Jesus in the stern, we too, journey with our community, accompanied by the Master of ocean and earth and skies in whose promise we can be sure that the winds and sea will obey his will. When the winds of life toss us to and fro, I hope we are reminded that Jesus is present in every storm and his response is always the same: “Peace! Be still!”[4]


[1] Mark 4:40, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Cf. Mark 4:39, NRSV

[3] Mark 4:36

[4] Mark 4:39

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