Monday, June 29, 2015

The Seed Grows

    Let me begin this morning by setting the stage for what is happening in our Gospel lesson from the book of Mark.  I have said before that I believe Mark is a brilliant writer and story teller and that he places things in his gospel for a particular reason.  Such is the case with our lesson today.  Just prior to this account of Jesus’ calming the wind and waves, Jesus was teaching people from this boat as they gathered to hear Him preach.  Jesus said the following:

    ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’  30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’  Mark then informs us that Jesus taught the crowd with such parables, but when He and His disciples were alone, Jesus would teach them in more detail.  After informing us of this, Mark delves straight into a demonstration of Jesus’ power, but I would like to argue this morning this is less a demonstration about Jesus’ power and more about who He is.

    Mark begins by telling us that Jesus tells His disciples that they need to go across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  The phrasing of Mark here indicates that they did not stop for provision.  They did not go ashore to stretch their legs.  They didn’t take too much time to check the weather.  They took Jesus “just as He was.”  Other boats were with them as they began their trek across the waters.

    Now, for a little bit of detail about the Sea of Galilee.  It’s a body of water that rests over 600 feet below sea level.  It is thirteen miles long and eight miles wide.  It has a mountain range on one side, and it is prone to sudden and violent storms.  You see, winds oftentimes rush down the mountainsides and wreck havoc on boaters even today.  There is very much precedent for the kind of storm Jesus and His disciples were to experience, but we will get to this in just a moment.  For now, we need to turn our attention to Jesus Himself. 

    For, you see, in this little snippet, we get a very real sense of the human side of Jesus.  For it is the only time in the whole Bible we hear of Jesus sleeping.  He had spent the entire day teaching; healing; forgiving sins and the like.  Perhaps some of you here this morning have worked so hard that you could not keep your eyes open.  Perhaps some of you have engaged in activities to the point where you crash out and you wake up unbelieving that you have slept so long and so hard.  Perhaps some of you have been so tired that you fell asleep at two or three in the afternoon and then suddenly woke the next morning realizing you have slept for thirteen, fourteen, or even fifteen hours.  This is the kind of tired Jesus is experiencing.  He is wiped out.  Completely and totally.  How wiped out is He?  Mark gives us the details.

    You see, one of those sudden storms that I spoke of earlier hits the disciples as they are crossing the Sea of Galilee.  It’s not a little storm.  Not in the least.  Mark records that the boat is being swamped!  This means the waves are breaking over the top of the boat and soaking everyone inside it.  Now, this fishing boat was approximately 26 feet long.  It could hold about 15 people.  They did not have any sort of cover on it.  There was no below deck or anything of the sort.  Jesus is lying in the front of the boat on a cushion.  He is exposed to the weather.  He is having waves crash over Him, and He is not waking up.  Think about that.  When is the last time you were splashed by water while you were sleeping and you didn’t wake up?  Probably never.  Yet, Jesus is so tired.  He is so desperately weary, that He doesn’t wake up.

    And this ticks off the disciples.  Yes, you heard me correctly, this ticks off the disciples.  You see, the disciples know they are in trouble.  This is no small detail according to Mark.  I mean, we know that several of the disciples are experienced fishermen.  They have been in boats all of their lives.  They know how to handle these boats backward and forward.  They know all the tricks of the trade.  They know how to survive.  And even these disciples are afraid.  Even these disciples know that if something doesn’t occur to change what is going on around them, they will die.  At least they have the sense to go to Jesus.

    But they approach Jesus in rather brutish fashion.  “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  Let me quote to you one of the commentaries I consulted this week regarding this statement.  “Matthew 8:25 softens the reproach to a prayer, and Luke 8:24 to a plea for help.  The rudeness of Mark’s wording reflects the way frustrated and desperate people speak and is probably a verbatim reminiscence of the disciples’ response in the crisis.”  It’s telling that later writers–who probably consulted the book of Mark–softened this particular rebuke of the disciples’. 

    It’s not surprising, however.  Remember how I said earlier, this story is not so much about the disciples as it is about Jesus.  And the disciples had been around Jesus.  They had seen Him heal the sick.  They had seen Him cast out demons.  They had seen Him perform amazing acts of power and release people from trials and tribulations.  He had done all this stuff for complete strangers, and now, the very people who Jesus Himself had called to be His followers were in grave danger.  The very people Jesus had entrusted to the explanation of the parables and His teachings were in very real danger of drowning and dying.  And what was Jesus doing?  How was Jesus facing this terrible storm?  By sleeping.  This just wasn’t right.  Something had to be done.  “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

    How many times do we find ourselves just like those disciples?  How many times do we find ourselves looking heavenward and saying, “Don’t you care?”  We look around this world and see people who reap blessing upon blessing.  We look around and see people who do not go to church; who do not pray; who do not study the Bible; we see these folks reap benefits.  They seem to capture special blessings of God; but those of us who are involved in church and who strive to do the right things get caught up in storms.  I know many of those storms you face: whether it is grief at losing a loved one; whether it is battling cancer or dealing with a loved one who has serious disease; whether it is struggling with a relationship that has gone south; whether it is facing a shortage of money in your household; these are just some of the storms we all face, and our temptation is to look to God and say, “Don’t you care?  Are you asleep?  We are dying here?  Won’t you do anything?”

    And Jesus, after awaking rebukes the wind and the waves.  He says, “Peace, be still,” and there is a dead calm.  Now, mind you, when winds die down after a storm, the waves still beat back and forth until their energy is used up.  Both wind and wave do not normally cease at once, yet this is exactly what Mark tells us happens.  And it causes a great amount of awe to fall upon the disciples–an awe that is rammed home by Jesus’ words to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

    That question at the end is a bit of a rhetorical one because Jesus has just shown who He is.  How so?  I would like to take you back in time–way back in time–to the very beginning of time.  Hear now the words of Genesis chapter one: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

    I am not going to read any further because the scene becomes repetitive.  Over and over God speaks into existence the world.  By the command of His voice, all things come into being.  By the command of His voice, the chaos of water and wind and darkness is transformed into the order of creation, and now, Jesus standing in a fishing boat with a command of His voice stills the chaos of water and wind in the midst of the darkness once again.  Who is this?  This is God incarnate.  This is the One who is fully divine and fully human; who becomes so tired that He sleeps through crashing waves and who is so powerful that He stills the storm with a few words.  This is Jesus, our Lord and our Savior who is unleashing the Kingdom of God–a Kingdom that began small, the tiniest of seeds that is now growing into a huge bush.

    But, wait, you might say.  I see what Mark is trying to convey in this story, but what does this have to do with me?  What does this have to do with the storms in my life?  Let me ask you the same questions Jesus asked His disciples: “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have such little faith?”  Or, do you have such little trust? which is probably a better interpretation       

    Why would I say such a thing?  Why would I seem so callous to your inquiry?  Let me ask you this–Do you not realize what Jesus has promised you?  Do you not realize what Jesus came to the earth to accomplish?

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.

    You see, the storms you face in life are hard.  They are rough, but they are nothing compared to the storm you would face without Christ.  For we are all in the same boat as far as our relationship with God.  We all fall short.  We all miss the mark.  We all act in selfishness and self-centeredness.  I am no better than you.  You are no better than me.  We are no better than the guy who walked into the AME Church in South Carolina and massacred church goers.  We desire to be in charge and in control, and deep down, we know we do not even measure up to the standards to which we hold others.  We are tremendous hypocrites.  Deep down, I think we all know this, and if there is a Judge over the universe, we know that if we were to ever appear before Him, we would stand condemned.  We would face the ultimate storm of that Judge’s wrath.

    And we would face that wrath if it were not for the one who faced that storm for us.  We would face the horrible prospect of the wrath of God if it were not for the God incarnate, Jesus Christ, who faced that wrath in our stead–who upon the cross cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” as He felt that storm.  But after facing it–after going through the storm of death and God’s wrath, He was raised to new life.  He was resurrected as the first fruit of a new creation–of a new heaven and earth; of a new Kingdom–a Kingdom that you and I have been invited to join through the blood of Jesus.  When we place our trust in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross, we know our ultimate destination, and we have little to fear.

    If you trust that you are traveling with Jesus, then whatever storms assail you, you can rest assured–He has been there.  He has faced the ultimate storm.  He loves you and will never desert you.  As Martin Luther wrote in his famous hymn, “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse.  Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.  The Kingdom is ours forever!”  That kingdom begins like a mustard seed deep within your heart, and it grows as you place more and more of your trust in it.  And when you realize that Jesus is the incarnate God who died to save you when you were still a sinner, you will have peace in your storms.  Amen. 

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