Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jesus Slept

Mark 4:35-41
August 24, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

As our reading begins, the disciples and the crowds have just heard Jesus' parables of the kingdom. He has told them a parable of a sower planting seeds, and a parable about how the tiny mustard seed grows into a huge plant. The crowds who have come to see him are so large that Jesus has climbed into a boat, using it as his platform and his pulpit. Now it is evening on that day, and he says to his disciples, "Let us go across to the other side."

This act of crossing the water is emblematic of other crossings. As they are crossing the Sea of Galilee, they are also crossing over into Gentile territory, crossing boundaries. There, they they will be met immediately by a man possessed by a legion of demons rushing at them from the tombs. The next crossing in chapter five will take them into encounters with the silent desperation of a hemorrhaging woman and the chaotic grief of a household in which a little girl has died.”[1] In Mark’s gospel, as we travel alongside Jesus and the disciples, we also find ourselves crossing over into a new kind of understanding. We are crossing over into a new kingdom, in which we encounter Jesus as the son of God, whose journey will take him to the cross.

Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”
Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This is our fourth Sunday of the month of Sabbath.
This week we turn our attention to the notion of Sabbath as a time of rest, a day of peace in which we are free from anxiety, a day of calm. For many of us, the day of rest and peace is Sunday. I remember thinking Sundays were pretty nice days when I was a kid. At the First Missionary Church, there were three main events on Sunday. Sunday School was at 9:45; church service was at 11:00. Then we’d go home and have Sunday dinner. Sometimes we would go to the lake, or to visit friends. Maybe Dad would play ball with us, or we’d get a Monopoly game going. Sunday nights, the teens had Youth Fellowship, the adults had Bible Study, and the little kids had Sunshine Makers. And after that, we had Sunday night service. That was our church schedule every Sunday – year round.

This story from the gospel of Mark was a great favorite of ours at Sunshine Makers.
Mrs. Voth or Mrs. Schmidt would tell the story using the flannelboard. Do you remember flannel board stories? They were a great, low-tech way to tell a story. The board itself was a poster size board, covered with flannel. Some of the fancy sets had backgrounds printed on the flannel, like a temple, or pastures and fields, or, in this case, a sea with waves. There were paper cutout figures that seemed to magically stick to the board. For the story of how Jesus calmed the sea, there was a boat, a few disciples, some big waves to add to the drama, and, of course, Jesus.

There were two figures of Jesus for the story.
One was Jesus reclining, fast asleep.
The other was Jesus standing, arms wide, to speak to the storm.

The cutout of Jesus asleep looked very peaceful.
The cutout of Jesus standing did a lot of work in our flannelboard stories.
I was pretty sure that the cutout of Jesus speaking to the storm was the same picture that we had seen when Jesus preached to the people and when Jesus healed the little girl, AND when Jesus told parables and when he said, “Come unto me.” In every other story, Jesus was busy. But the picture of Jesus asleep was only in this story.

In this story, he stood on the bow of the boat, calmed the storm, and then asked the disciples, “What are you all so scared of? Don’t you have any faith?”

It was an exciting story. The disciples were experienced with boats, having been fishermen.
And they were used to being on the Sea of Galilee. But this must have been a terrible storm, with waves big enough to nearly swamp the boat, and the winds shrieking around them in the darkness. You could feel the water drops hitting your face like pebbles, hard, and the wind plastering your wet robe to your legs, whipping your hair around in your face, snatching your voice right out of your mouth.

You could imagine yourself splashing into the water, like Jonah tossed over the side of the boat in the storm, but there would be no big fish to swallow you up and save you. You would only be swallowed up by the waves, and they would wash over you, into your nose and mouth, and you knew you would just sink down and down and down.

We would lean forward in our little wooden chairs, scooching them across the concrete floor, anxiously waiting to find out what was going to happen. There was Jesus, in the stern, sound asleep, his holy head on a pillow. Out like a light.

How could Jesus be asleep?! at a time like this?!
The disciples would scream in terror,
“We’re all going to die! Don’t you even care?”

Then Jesus would wake up, shake his head a little bit, entirely calm, and the standing up Jesus would speak to the wind and the waves: “Cut that out! Quiet down!”
Even the wind and the waves knew they were in trouble if they didn’t obey Jesus.

Everything would quiet down, and then Mrs. Voth would say,
“Now children, you should have faith, and trust in Jesus.”
I’m sure there was more to the lesson than that, but that’s the part I recall.
That, and Jesus, asleep.
It seemed to me that the better lesson might be:
1. Do not go out across the sea of Galilee at night in a small boat.
2. If you do, make sure Jesus is in the boat with you. Awake, if possible.

Years later, I understand this story in a very different way.
I’ve been in some storms myself, not on the Sea of Galilee, or any sea, actually. You’ve been there, too, when you feel as if the waves of life are knocking you over every time you get up, when life’s challenges seem to sweep you underwater, into an ocean of troubles, in over your head. We’ve most of us known how waves of grief keep washing over us until we are sure we will drown.

And I remember that in those times, I’ve thought, because that’s what we all tend to think, that the way to get through the storm was to work harder, to bear down, to paddle like crazy. And sometimes, when life gets tough, that’s what we have to do. Sometimes, you just paddle as hard as you can to keep from getting swamped. But other times, more work is not the solution. More work, more activity, more stuff, more possessions, might help us to bind our anxiety for a period of time – maybe a few hours, or a day or two, or until night.

But when the storms come, those possessions can weigh us down. And storms don’t stop happening, and our need for rest grows along with our anxiety, until we find ourselves shouting at God, “Can’t you see we are perishing?”

And there is Jesus, sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat.

Maybe the reason we see him like that, snoozing away while the disciples panic, is to remind us that a crucial part of inner peace is deep rest. Maybe seeing Jesus asleep is a reminder that even amidst the tempests, we still need time for rest and renewal. And maybe we just need to remember that Jesus is in the boat.

There isn’t any way to prevent storms. We can’t change the weather, and we can’t ward off every challenge in life. But we can remember that Jesus is with us in the boat. Over the tempest and the noise of all the storms, he speaks to us an abiding word of peace. Even the wind and waves listen to him and obey him. And when he needs rest, he sleeps.

Sabbath time, whether it is a day or a moment, after a night on a stormy sea, or on Sunday afternoon after worship, Sabbath time is a time of rest, of calm, when Jesus speaks to all the storms.

May we hear his voice in our own storms.
And may we remember that he is in the boat, saying “Peace. Be still.”


For our response to the sermon, we did this guided imagery:

Sit comfortably, feet on the floor and hands in your lap
Listen to your breathing.
Imagine your are in a place where you feel peaceful, wherever that is for you.
As you sit, someone comes to sit beside you. It is Jesus. He knows you. He sees you fully.
He knows every part of you, your griefs, your fears, your troubles and your joys.
He is present with you. As you sit with him, gather up all of your fears, feelings of anxiety, grief, anger, anything that keeps you from rest.
Give them to him – he is ready and willing to take them.
He takes them without question
As you sit with him, remember that anxiety is a liar, that faith is stronger than fear, that God is with you in every moment.
Meditate on this Scripture (Psalm 107: 23-30):
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

Sit with this peace for a moment. Continue to breathe and feel this peace and rest. Hold it lightly, so that you can remember how it feels, and reclaim that feeling whenever you need it.

[1] Meda Stamper, commentary on the lectionary gospel reading for 2012,

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