The Third Sunday after Pentecost

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“Out of Control”

Mark 4:35-41

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:41, ESV).  And we want to say to those disciples, “Obviously this is God.”  Who else could silence the roaring sea and the howling wind with a word?  Disciples, why are you afraid?  No matter what’s going on around you, you have God in the boat with you!  What could possibly shake your confidence when the Lord of both land and sea is right there, in the flesh?  He’s obviously not worried or concerned; He is as calm as the sea is wild.  But of course, we’re not on that boat in the middle of that storm.  And we can’t see Jesus the way the disciples could.  So we might be more sympathetic if we were there; and in our crises, we ask nearly the same questions that the disciples asked: Do You not care that we are perishing?  And isn’t that the question that Job had been asking?  God was absolutely silent for 37 out of 42 chapters and Job wanted some answers.  Had Job done something to deserve the suffering that had come on him?  Was there some secret sin that Job had forgotten to confess, for which God was punishing him?  Job cried out for God to defend Himself in the face of nearly limitless grief and pain, and…nothing.  Perhaps God was no God, or maybe He was preoccupied or sleeping, as Elijah had taunted the prophets of Baal.  Then in chapter 38, God does answer; but He does not tell Job the reasons for his suffering.  God does not say, “Job, come on.  That wasn’t Me, it was Satan!  We’re good, man.”  No, God accuses Job, and asks Job to defend his limited knowledge.  “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (Job 38:3, ESV).  What you think you know is nothing.  What you think you control, you don’t.

The disciples must have thought they knew Jesus.  All the healings, the casting out of unclean spirits, His teaching with authority; they knew that He was not just another rabbi.  And the disciples must have thought they could control a boat when the lake got rough, as it often did.  Surely they could handle their boat in a storm.  They were experienced and knowledgeable.  But they found out that their experience did nothing for them in the middle of a divine whirlwind.  Their knowledge did not help them when the waves were overwhelming the boat.  Some of you know what that’s like: thinking you have things under control.  Sure, you struggle sometimes, but there isn’t anything you can’t get through with the support of family and friends and a little perseverance.  But then the unexpected happens: an unexpected death, an unexpected diagnosis, an unexpected difficulty.  We give the outward impression that we can handle the waves and the wind; like Bill Murray in What About Bob?, we call out in glee, “I sail!  I’m sailing!  I’m a sailor!”  Then we find out that we’re really just tied to the mast while the boat moves through the water.  Despite our best efforts to project a confident front before other people, God sees the private tears, the secret panic, the concealed realization that things are far bigger than we can see and we cannot even begin to get a handle on what is happening, let alone why.  Most of us, at one time or another, have been Job, crying out for God to give us answers to our questions.  Maybe you’re Job now.  Maybe you’re trying to order and organize the events in your life into a coherent whole.  Because if everything fits together, if you could see the purpose of everything that happens to you, then you could fool yourself into thinking you’re still in control.  At least until the mirage of control is blown apart again.  When it rains, it pours.  We are not in control and we never have been.

It is not only our own lives over which we have no control.  Creation itself is beyond our control.  Even if we could predict natural disasters with perfect accuracy (which we can’t), we have no control over an actual tornado or hurricane or earthquake.  Nor can we control the sun and the rain to insure that the fields produce as we would like them to.  More than all of that, we can’t control what God does.  Now I could tell you that if you cry out to God, He will calm all the “storms” in your life.  I could say to you in the face of some crisis or overwhelming difficulty, “Why are you cowardly?  Have you no faith?”  With the implication that if only you had more faith or the right faith, Jesus would step in and speak a word and the raging sea of your life would become a glassy calm.  But you wouldn’t believe me, because it’s not true.  The calming of the storm by Jesus is not meant to illustrate how God acts in every situation; nor can we distill this event down into a pure application to our present circumstances.  Don’t misunderstand: pray to God like dear children to their dear Father.  Ask Him to heal you, or to provide the solution to your problem because you have nowhere else to turn.  He hears you for the sake of Jesus.  But do not think that if He does not heal you, He doesn’t care or can’t heal.  Do not think that if the crisis is not resolved in the way you think it should be, that He hasn’t heard your prayer.  Know that He is Lord of heaven and earth, and He can do all things, as Job finally confessed (42:2).  If He doesn’t do things the way you would if you were God, that only means that He is God and you aren’t.

From nearly forever, creation has been twisting and turning, rolling and raging, groaning and sighing.  Our first father and mother were responsible for that; (how’s that for a Father’s Day message?!).  Humans and the rest of creation are inseparably linked because the one God is the author of all things.  Sin and the ruinous power of creation go hand in hand.  It was the sinful disciples who were afraid at the power of water and wind.  It is we sinners who are afraid at our lack and loss of control.  And things always go from bad to worse, and finally to shipwreck, when sinners try to control the outcome and refuse to let God be God.  But God in human flesh rises up and answers even our fearful, unbelieving questions.  “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation…the one who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples” (Psalm 65:5, 7, ESV).  Jesus rose up from the bowels of the boat and with a word silenced the chaos of His creation gone wrong.  And Jesus rose up from the bowels of the earth and with a word silenced the chaos of life gone wrong in death.  Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him? (Mark 4:41)  Who, then, is this, that even death cannot hold Him?  He is the One whose authority extends over all creation: the One by whom all things were made and without whom nothing that exists was made (John 1:3).  He is the One whose authority extends over life and death: the One who took human flesh so that He could die once for all and put death in its grave.  Finally, resurrection is the only answer that can bring certainty to sinners living uncertain lives and caught in an uncertain creation.  The answer to Jesus’ desolate cry on Friday did not come until Sunday.  But because Sunday came, we know that Jesus the Resurrected One, in the glory of the Father with the Holy Spirit, is Lord over all things.

Sunday has come.  [Sunday has come for Addison, and Jesus has already raised her from this watery grave to new life.  She has nothing to fear from the chaos of creation.  It cannot touch her because she is in the boat with God.]  Sunday has come once again for you, the baptized child of God, and it is here that you find the answer of God’s righteousness: Jesus Christ stands, arms stretched wide—not to answer your sinful accusation against God, but to answer God’s righteous accusation against you.  He dressed for action like a Man.  He was there when the foundation of the earth was laid.  He does know who determined its measurements.  He heard the morning stars sing and the sons of God shout for joy.  The Son was at the eternal right hand of the Father when He limited the sea and its waves.  Through Him all things were made.  And because He was there at the beginning, He will be there at the end.  He will, that Day, speak a great calm upon the chaos of creation and remake everything, including you and me.  Then all storms will be stilled.  Then everything will be brought fully and visibly under the reign of God for Christ’s sake.  But the new creation has already started; we have now a foretaste of the feast to come.  [The Holy Spirit has this day come upon a child of nature, Addison, and made her a child of grace.  She has been granted new life by the Word of God in the water.]  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).  And so, the Lord who rose up to silence the chaos wrought in her [you] by sin will rise up on the last day and silence sin and death once and forever.  Then, as St. John reminds us, we will see “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1, ESV).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/18/09

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