“Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2012, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin”
Mark 4: 35-41
CAN I TRUST GOD? EVEN WHEN LIFE HURTS
All of us experience adversity at different times and in varying degrees throughout our lives. Learning to trust God in adversity has been a slow and difficult process for me. Recently my wife was admitted at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital for 31 days for brain aneurysm rupture. There were times that pain was such that I could not pray with words, nor could I even think much. I was prisoner to my own feelings and fears. To trust God in times of adversity is admittedly a hard thing to do. This whole experience of going through these difficult days of believing and disbelieving helped me to grow deeper in trusting the faithfulness of God. As one night I turned to psalm 42: 11 for assurance:
Why are you cast down, o my soul,
and why are you disquieted with me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
In the Gospel reading of Mark chapter four we read about the debilitating anxiety the disciples of Jesus faced. Jesus had a very busy day. He needed a break. He initiates a trip across the Sea of Galilee. The sea, the storm, and the fragile craft that carry our Lord and his disciples across the Sea of Galilee offer evocative metaphorical images of our life journey—the perils of some passages, the profound vulnerability of the craft that bears us on our way, and our longing for One who calms both us and the storm.
These disciples who accompany Jesus in the boat, especially those who fish for a living, are accustomed to the mercurial nature of the water. What they are not accustomed to is having a passenger who might have the power to protect them from harm. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ identity is still unclear and the disciple’s faith in him still tenuous. The event then, becomes a moment of clarity despite the chaos of the storm: clarity as to Jesus’ true identity and power, and clarity as to the desperate need of the disciples—and us—for the calming, healing power that Jesus only Jesus can provide. Mark is not writing a story about danger and rescue. He is telling us true identity of Jesus whom St. Paul later explains in his hymn to the letter to the church in Colossian 1:16:
“For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
Every speck of cosmic dust in the universe is his creation—everything! He is the sustainer:
“He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).
Scientists spend thousands of hours every year plumbing this mystery. Jesus is the atomic glue of the universe. He is the Goal:
“All things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16). He is Creator, Sustainer, Goal and Savior of the soul! Mark here is revealing to us who Jesus is.
To the Hebrew people, sea represented a place of chaos, threat and danger. Mark remembers how God had rescued his people through the deep and troubled waters of the Red Sea and brought them into the Promised Land. Think further back in the book of Genesis at the time of creation. God’s new world, merged from the dark primal sea. The psalms several times speak of the creator God who rules the raging of the sea, telling its rough and threatening waves to quiet down (Ps. 65:7; 89:9; 93:3-4; 107: 23-30).
What can we learn from this passage? This is a story which is rich with meaning. There are so many ways that this story applies to us. This story for today is an invitation for us to trust God not merely when life is good, when we have plenty of health, cash and family around, but to, also, trust God in the midst of the storms of life. We note in this gospel story that the disciples in the boat were “not yet” ready to come down completely on the side of faith. So instead of the “great storm” that was turned into a “great calm” becoming a sign of “great faith” for the disciples, it becomes a source of “great fear” (phobon megan). This “fear factor” represents a challenge to the disciples and the followers of Jesus in the 21st century. Will we respond to questions about the identity of Jesus with faith or fear?
Trusting in God is a matter of faith, and faith is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Only the Holy Spirit can make God’s Word come alive in our hearts and create faith, but we can choose to look to God for help and refuge, or we can choose to be ruled by our feelings of anxiety of resentments or grief. This has been my own personal experience with Myra’s very serious illness. During those nights of terror walking up and down the room, offering disjointed prayers from a heart torn with distress, that a thought suddenly struck me, with usual force, to this effect—“The promise of God must be true; surely the Lord will help me, if I am willing to be helped!” I remember one night saying these words, “Lord, I am helpless indeed, in myself, but I hope I am willing, without reserve, that you should help me.” I acknowledge that you are my “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). I heard the words of Holy Scripture ringing in my ears that I had learned in my Sunday School:
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrew 13:5).
The mark of Christian maturity is to continually trust the Lord in the minutiae of daily life and to surrender our hearts. Invite Jesus to calm our storms, anxieties and fears. And pray “God I don’t understand, but I trust you even life hurts.” And invite Jesus into your heart: “Come in my heart Lord Jesus!”
Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 17, 2012
Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin
The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min., Rector
Mark 4: 26-34
Jesus loved teaching in parables. What is a parable? The Greek word is Parabole which corresponds to the Hebrew word mashal as in “an allusive narrative which is told for an ulterior purpose.” Or, the best of all, to adopt the words of a modern poet, parables are imaginary gardens with real toads in them. Jesus’ parables are among the best known and most influential stories in the world. Parables were the means Jesus used most frequently to explain the kingdom of God and to show the character of God and the expectations that God has for humans. In the 21st century the parables of Jesus deserve a fresh hearing from people who are ready to learn and follow his instructions.
Jesus’ people lived in an agrarian society. They depended on land, rain and sun. The farmers in the crowd heard Jesus saying:
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how (Mark 4: 26).
These Palestinian farmers knew how difficult it was to grow any good crop, let alone to have seeds growing by themselves. Lack of rain in a land infested with swarms of insects, rocks and stones presented major challenges to grow crops. An old Arabic tale illustrates the point:
When Allah was creating the world, he entrusted all the stones to two angels, giving each a bagful. As the angels were flying over Palestine, one of the bags broke open, and half the stones intended for the whole world spilled onto the small area.
The purpose of these parables was not to offer tips for improved agribusiness. Jesus is relating the truth about the Kingdom of God to his disciples. These are his followers who will have a challenging job to grow the seeds of the good news of the gospel. The story is warning against looking down on the small beginnings of the great work God was to do in Jesus’ Galilean ministry.
A few years ago I read an interview of the Bishop of Peshawar-Pakistan in the Church Times London. Bishop Rumalshah said:
“We are 100,000 CHRISTIANS living in the most dangerous part of the world in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. In this volatile setting, Christians — 85 per cent of whom work in menial jobs --- provide care for all in need. We are trying to recreate God’s love as we have experienced it in Jesus Christ, and those people of God are the Taliban and al-Qaeda and Christians, whoever they are. This is our heritage through mission, and it is our privilege. Our three or four health centers are services in diakonia.
He spoke of the work of six Lutheran women in a hall that they share with an al-Qaeda camp. They are working in an area where even the bravest of the brave would shudder to go. The say, “We clean the wounds of the children, and that gives us the right to be of service there”.
Yet the Church faces great problems: Legal discrimination against me on the basis of my religion — that I cannot tolerate. . . That is a crime against humanity, and that is what is being done to us. We are in the impossible situation of a slow death, a slow suffocation by prejudice, despite all our service. It is the challenge of our times. How do we co-exist in a situation of majority Islam? Our destiny is to exist as a Church and a people of God to encourage reconciled relationships. My challenge is that our destiny is to embrace the enemy — to smell the sweat of the enemy — and that is why God has supported us and places us there. We have not gone underground, and I am proud of that.”
Jesus said... the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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 4: 30, 33).
Mustard seeds grow into something like a shrub. But then this story gets even more absurd, because this shrub-weed takes off, and grows, and grows and, like in the Jack and the Beanstalk story, becomes a tree – which Jesus describes as the greatest of all plants, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
There was the zinger that Jesus slid in – the low growing shrub that became a high-growing tree with large branches that even the birds can nest in it – this is no random description. This is Ezekiel’s tree – the tree pictured by the prophet as a symbol of the nation of Israel, planted and tended by God: (Ezekiel 17: 22-24).
Here is the point: Jesus has been out among the Galilean peasantry; people of low social status. But looks can be deceiving. Behind these rag-tag faces, God is at work. The mustard plant may look like a shrub-weed in the beginning, but it’s not over ’till it’s over. This little low-lying bush has been purposefully planted – it’s not a volunteer –God has been a gardener here. It is going to become a huge tree, big enough for the birds to make their homes.
Now get this: Jesus is not saying only that this small group of marginalized people will win the “Israel’s Got Talent” show, although that in it self would be amazing, Jesus is saying something even greater. This group is not just going to be any big tree – this is THE tree! This parable is meant to instill courage and hope in the small and fragile discipleship community for its struggle against the entrenched powers.
Jesus is saying to his church this morning: Remember who your God is and what he has promised. Realize that this small beginning is the start of God’s intended kingdom revolutionized by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom that will eventually offer shade to the whole world through your lives and ministry no matter where you are in the world ----ministry preparing sandwiches on Tuesday mornings at the Salvation Army to feed the poor children of La Crosse, ministry of healing by the Sisters of Charity in the gutters of Calcutta or ministry in one of the most dangerous areas of the world to offer medicine and cup of cold water to an injured Al-Qaeda militant. This is all about God empowering ordinary men and women every day to be the instruments of peace. Therefore, where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. In Jesus name Amen.
(I have borrowed thoughts from several books and other preachers)
Tom Wright, Mark for Every one
Lamar Williamson, Jr., Interpretation, Mark
Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent
Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man
Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man
Synthesis June 15, 1997
Llyod J. Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Comentary, Mark
R. Kent Hughes, Mark Volume One