With Jesus through the Storms of Life
Twelfth Sunday of the Year. Fr Mark Edney preaches on Jesus ‘in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep’.
St Mark’s words might express the feelings of many people of shaky faith or none. When the storms of life rage overhead, people often can’t keep themselves from a word of protest:
Where is God when I need him most?
After all, God is supposed to be at the helm of the ship. That’s God’s job. Instead, he sometimes seems comfortably sheltered from the maelstrom of human concerns. Perhaps he’s just dozing. His captaincy sometimes seems hidden from view.
The disciples ask Jesus,
Do you not care?
Lots of people in our day ask God the same question. Is it any wonder? A captain at rest while his ship is going down would shake anyone’s confidence.
Most of us are probably too far removed form the perils of the sea to enter easily into the fear expressed by the disciples. These days the storms of life confront us in different ways. Concern about a sick or dying friend, worries about keeping our jobs and supporting our families, anxiety that we’ll just be taken for granted, fear that we’ll be left alone, that those whom we love will turn out unfaithful.
Sensitivity to wider world issues only adds to the storms that hover threateningly over human lives: governments that appear unable to tell the truth, wars that cease only to be continued by other means, racial or religious strife that rises, an environment that groans, people everywhere suffering and going without.
In such stormy conditions, even very faithful believers might want to lodge a protest with God:
Do you not care? We are going down!
The psalmist more than once did just that:
Rouse thyself! Why sleepest thou, O Lord. Awake! Do not cast us off forever (44:23).
We’re not told whether he too received a rebuke from the Lord. But it’s not the psalmist’s lack of faith that motivates this wake-up call to God. On the contrary, it is because he has a sure confidence that the Lord alone can help him that he calls upon him.
The disciples had to learn who Jesus was, who this one was whom ‘even the wind and sea obey’. The Christian believer is not without the same need to learn. So what’s lacking if, in our fear, we sometimes feel like God doesn’t care?
Perhaps it comes down to the question of what we really want from God. Or better, what God really wants most to give us. Most believers will readily admit that Jesus shows tremendous care for his people. God cares. Just after this scene in Mark’s Gospel we see him casting out demons, healing a woman who has been in pain for twelve years, raising Jairus’s daughter to life.
He has already gained notoriety for insisting that the law should serve people, not enslave them, for promising freedom to prisoners, for defending the widow and the orphan. This is not a man, nor a God, who remains aloof from the human condition. After all, he too is in the storm-tossed boat with his disciples!
There’s always, though, something more to his mission than sheer activism. It’s his complete and entire confidence in God the Father. This is perhaps no more beautifully portrayed in the Gospels than in the image we have today of a man of such confidence that in the midst of the storms of life he is able to lay a tired head on a cushion and fall asleep.
When the storms of life rage all round us, which one of us would be so heartless as to deny a child of God that rest which alone comes with complete childlike confidence? That’s what God wants to give us.
Of course God cares. Jesus stirs himself from his slumbers, rebukes the wind, and silences the sea. His little boat and its scared passengers reach the other side safely. There remains but the unhappy memory of another failure in faith on the part of the disciples.The wind and the sea receive from the once sleeping Lord a mild rebuke by comparison with the one he saves for his closest followers:
Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?
It must have been little consolation to them that they made it through the storm. ‘We failed the test but at least we survived shipwreck.’
Christian faith is about much more than surviving shipwreck through the storms of life. It’s about believing confidently that the journey ends well. And that’s a cushion we can all sleep on.