The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

PEACE IN THE MIDST OF THE STORM

Delivered 6/22/03
Text: Mark 4:35-41
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Fear Factor. Do you watch that show? Neither do I. In fact, of all the so-called reality shows on TV these days, that is the one I would be least likely to watch. It is based on the premise of seeing what can be done to make someone "lose it" in front of millions of people. Up to your neck in snakes, rats, maggots, whatever, and how long can you last. Oh goody.

Fear, of course, is something that is common to all of us. Truth be told, many of our fears are baseless - we are afraid of and worry about things that never happen. But there are times when our worst fears are realized. What happens when, afraid of floods or earthquakes or hurricanes as we are, one actually hits us? What happens when, afraid of flying as we are, the plane DOES actually develop engine trouble? What happens when we DO fail or ARE rejected? What happens when disease or death actually DOES come near? How can we deal with it? Where can we find peace in the midst of the storms of life? And not just the storms we FEAR might come, but those that actually DO come?

One thinks back to the terror those disciples felt on the Sea of Galilee that evening when the storm hit. Suppose for a few minutes that YOU are one of them.

There is no indication in scripture that you or any of your compatriots have any inkling as you set out in your boats that there might be anything amiss. To be sure, since a number of you are fishermen, you are AWARE that things like this can happen. After all, the Sea of Galilee is set in a deep gorge between two mountain ranges. The winds sometimes force themselves through the passes around Mount Hermon in the North and virtually explode on the quiet waters so many hundreds of feet below. Sudden squalls with waves of ten, twenty or thirty feet or higher can come up with little or no warning. You and your friends are deathly afraid of those squalls, and with good reason - everyone of you knows of friends and fellow-workers who have gone out to fish but never made it back. You have good reason to be afraid.

It has been a good day for you up to this point. According to Mark's Gospel, the hours have been spent listening to Jesus teach a huge crowd there at the water's edge. As a matter of fact, the crowd was SO large that Jesus had to stand in a boat to preach while the people pressed themselves along the seashore. You and some of the other disciples were there in the boat with him - after all, someone would have to keep things steady, tend the anchor and so on. You felt pretty good about that. Here were thousands of people gathered to hear this remarkable young preacher, and of all those thousands, only YOU and a very few others had been invited into the boat...a pretty special feeling.

But, now the day is spent...and for that matter, so is Jesus. He is worn out. He needs a break. Since he is already in a boat, he suggests that you all set out for the other side of the lake. So you weigh anchor and cast off. Several other boats see what you are doing - they follow and join in what becomes a mini-flotilla. Meanwhile, Jesus is so exhausted that he falls fast asleep on a cushion in the stern.

Suddenly, your worst fears are realized. Without any warning, one of those dangerous squalls swoops down from the mountain passes. The sky has grown dark and threatening. The winds are beginning to whistle. The black waves are growing and beginning to pound against the sides of the little boat and washing over everyone in it. The craft is tossed to and fro as easily as a leaf is tossed in a breeze. You and everyone else begins to feel the grip of a powerful fear clutching at your gut. Your heart begins to pound as hard as the waves. Your breathing becomes short and labored. Suddenly, you remember your very special passenger in the stern of the boat, you look back at him...and HE'S STILL ASLEEP!

How in the WORLD could anybody sleep through this? Here you are in one of the most dangerous times of your entire life, you look back at your Lord, this one to whom you have committed all that you are and all that you have, and he does not seem to be bothered about your trouble at all.

It is not hard to imagine that feeling. People have had the same reaction for centuries in facing the storms that buffet their lives. A young mother dies and leaves a bereft husband and two small children and people wonder if the Lord is sleeping through it all. A little child is hit by a car and crippled for life and the family wonders if perhaps God might have been taking a nap at the time. A home is broken by a painful separation and divorce and the wonder comes as to whether the Lord cares at all. The hymn says it:

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o'ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat'ning
A grave in the angry deep?(1)


We have all felt it. Everyone in your little boat feels it now. And all eyes have gone back to that figure sleeping on the cushion. Suddenly, almost with one voice, you all begin to yell back to Jesus: "Teacher, WAKE UP! Teacher, look what's happening here. Teacher, we're going to die. Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

Of course, that CALL is the beginning of your deliverance. Obviously, the Lord has not been worried about your fate. He has known all along that whatever storm might come up will pass. As much as you might not have thought so, things were never out of his control. But now you have called on him. You have taken the advice of the Psalmist when he wrote, "In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me."(2)

Master, with anguish of spirit,
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled;
O waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish,
Sweep o'er my sinking soul!
And I perish, I perish, dear Master;
O hasten and take control.(3)


It is interesting, isn't it, that here you are a fisherman, and in the company of other fishermen, in the place where your expertise might be most prominently displayed - out on the water. As special as your passenger happens to be, one would not think that you would call on him to deal with a situation that would be found in YOUR ballywick. After all, Jesus was a carpenter, not a boatsman. His experience is with hammer and nails, not with rudder and sails. Why should anyone expect that he could help at a time like this?

But, of course, you DO think he can help. You might not be sure WHY you feel that way, but something deep inside you and everyone else in the boat KNOWS that here is someone who has a power unlike anyone you have ever encountered. You have already seen him restore sanity to a deranged man; you have seen him cleanse the scaley skin of a leper; you have even seen him help a paralytic to walk. No question, this passenger of yours, this Jesus, has power far beyond the power of mere mortals. Yes, you know he is special...special enough to be called upon for aid in what should be YOUR field of expertise.

In thinking about that, it is a shame how rarely that happens. There are so many areas of life that Christian people, people who SAY they trust Jesus for their deliverance, simply do not bother to call on him for help with the decisions. People do not seem to want to bother him with questions about marriage and family. After all, he was a bachelor. They do not want to trouble him with mundane things like concerns about career. Why, he never looked for a job. They surely do not want to bring questions of money to him. He never had a mortgage to pay or a worry about getting utility bills in on time. The thinking seems to be that, No, there are many things that the Lord just does not know that much about, and certainly not as much as WE do. But then disaster strikes, and suddenly, we are on our knees with arms outstretched, eyes toward heaven and voices crying, "O Lord, deliver me." "In the day of my trouble, I will call to you, for you will answer me." Hmmm! Just like in the boat. And then the deliverance comes.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth's sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven's within my breast.
Linger, O blessed Redeemer,
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.(4)


Deliverance...and did you notice how it came? Just his word. He calmly stood up in that storm-tossed boat as you and your friends looked on in wonder. He spoke to the winds and waves with as much familiarity as you would speak to one of your own unruly children. "Quiet! Be Still!" And that was all there was to it. As suddenly as it had come up, the storm was gone. You sit there now in that boat as it gently rocks to and fro in the midst of the lake. You look at your traveling companions with eyes full of wonder. What kind of man is this Jesus to be able to do such a thing? And you know without saying so that this friend of yours is MORE than a man.

Then he speaks again, to each of you in the little boat. He asks, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

You sit there thinking silently for a moment, your eyes cast down toward your feet, watching the little water that is still in the boat after the storm wash back and forth between your toes. How should you respond to his question? You DO have faith, but you have never had it tested to the limit like this before. You have wanted to believe that he is Lord of ALL of life, but just how much you have wanted to believe it has never been called into question. Now, out in the middle of the silence after the storm, you are forced to look at that faith and wonder why you ever worried in the first place.

For whatever consolation it might provide, you are not alone in your thoughts. Your companions there in the boat have also been sitting with eyes cast down. They have the same questions going through their minds and they too are not quite sure how to deal with them. For that matter, down through the centuries, Christians have struggled with precisely the same thing - we say we have faith, but when times of crisis come, we have this deep dark fear that we have been left alone.

Too bad...because the storms can be calmed again by his word. He may not be standing visibly in the stern of our little boat saying, "Peace, Be still," but he continues to speak if we but hear his word. He affirms to us that even when we THINK he might be unaware of our trouble, we need not fear. The Psalmist wrote, "He who keepeth Thee will not slumber."(5) He affirms his presence with us even in the midst of our most dire crisis when we read, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."(6) Even when we fear that our situation would PREVENT his presence and help, we hear "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? No! ...neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."(7) Even when we wonder WHY the storms should come at all, we can be comforted by the calm of words like, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose."(8) Yes, his word is still capable of calming storms.

What storms are you facing? What is your "Fear Factor?" Whatever the storm or fear might be, it can be calmed in the same way you and your friends in that boat saw the winds and the waves become quiet. First, CALL on him for help; then TRUST that he can deliver; and finally LISTEN for the word he speaks.

The winds and waves shall obey my will;
Peace, be still; Peace, be still.
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No water can swallow the ship where lies
The master of ocean and earth and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey my will;
Peace be still; Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey my will;
Peace, peace, be still.(9)


Amen!


1. Mary A. Baker, "Peace! Be Still!" The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1938), p. 273

2. Psalm 86:7

3. Baker

4. ibid.

5. Psalm 21:3b

6. Psalm 23:4

7. Romans 8:35, 38-39

8. Romans 8:28

9. Baker

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