Practical advice is what people want. They want what is useful. What can Christianity do for me? Rick Warren of the huge Saddleback Church knows this. His Purpose Driven Life sold and made millions. He's followed that up with The Daniel Plan which is his "scriptural" way to lose weight. Since we're in the Season of Pentecost, the season of the Church Year which focuses on growth, let me try my hand at giving you something useful. Let me give you sailing tips on this 5th Sunday after Pentecost.
First collect you thoughts. That's one of the functions of the prayer of the day called the Collect. It collects the thoughts, ideas, and themes expressed in the rest of the Propers appointed for the day: the Introit, the readings, the Gradual, etc. And the first thought that comes to my mind is what changed between the 4th century and the 20th?
Unless you have a good memory and have been in the Lutheran church prior to 1982 you can't see the change. From the 4th century to 1982 the Church prayed to the Lord whose gracious presence never fails to guide and govern those whom He has nurtured in His "steadfast fear and love." And the Church asked the Lord "make us to have a perpetual fear and love of Thy holy name." Did you catch the changes? The 20th century church stopped praying about being nurtured in "steadfast fear and love" and started praying about "steadfast love and worship." And rather than asking the Lord for "a perpetual fear and love of Thy holy name," she started asking "make us ever revere and adore Your holy name."
Late 20th century people didn't want to hear of fearing God. That was old fashioned. That had been out of step with American society ever since Franklin Roosevelt declared at his first inauguration there was nothing to fear but fear itself. A little more than 30 years later a new generation was inoculated with the problem of being afraid by Buffalo Springfield singing that paranoia starts "when you're always afraid." Sorry, I'll go with 1500 years of Church history and pray to have not only a perpetual love of God but a fear of Him. I'll go with our Catechism which begins the explanations to the Commandments with, "We should fear and love God."
Collect your thoughts before sailing on. Sure hear the Introit asking, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear," but don't think the answer is "No one, not even God." Likewise don't think Jesus tosses the fear of God out of the boat by chiding the disciples for being afraid because of a lack of faith. The modern view that God is a good buddy, a life coach, a best friend whom we're not to fear doesn't jibe with the ancient view that God guides and governs those He has nurtured not only in His love but in His fear and that a perpetual fear of God is a thing to be prayed for.
Remember those decals of a few years ago reading "Fear This?" The Bible does know of something, better Someone, to be afraid of. Jesus says it's not sickness, not old age, not poverty, not men, not even Satan. No Jesus says, "Fear the One who can cast body and soul into hell." A ship at sea needs a compass. It always needs to know where true north is. The true north of the Christian life is the fear of God. It's the beginning of wisdom, knowledge, and salvation. You loose that and a dozen other fears flood your head and heart demanding to be the true north of your life. And once you lose true north, you have no idea what direction you're sailing.
Having first collected your thoughts, the second sailing tip is to recognize where the storms of life come from. Our text says that Jesus rebuked the wind and spoke to the waves. You don't rebuke or talk to non-living things. This is not a weather event. It's not caused by cooling air rushing down mountain passes on to the warm Sea of Galilee. This is no ordinary storm. It has master sailors, lifelong commercial fishermen, peeing in their pants. This storm is demonic and Jesus rebukes the wind as He does demons, and He says to the waves what He does to demons. "Put a muzzle on it."
This storm is aimed at Jesus. He is en route to a stronghold of demons. There is a legion of demons waiting for Him. The boat is the target of the demonic storm because Jesus is in it. You too have Jesus in you. The demons see what you ignore. Just as in Jesus' ministry the demons recognized who Jesus really was while men were put off by outward appearances, so demons see the reality of the Means of Grace.
You may forget that Paul says, "As many of you who have been baptized have been clothed with Christ," but the demons don't. When they look at you they see Jesus. Forgetting your Baptism, you see your sins, your old adam, your defiled flesh, but the demons see Jesus and His righteousness clothing you. You may forget that as often as the pastor absolves you, he seals you, he marks you, with the blood of Jesus and His forgiveness. But just because you can't see the mark; just because you forget it's there doesn't mean the demons do too.
Finally, while you and I may think little about walking away from the altar with the Body and Blood of Jesus in us, the demons know better. The real Jesus is no less actually in us than He was in that boat. As the demons stirred up wind and waves to attack the boat because Jesus was in it, so they stir up things against the little ship of your life.
In early Christian art the Church was portrayed as a ship. The rafters of churches like ours are designed to remind you of the wooden hull of a ship. Not only does early Christian art depict the Church as a ship but it always shows her on stormy seas. This was meant to be in contrast to the ship of the world which Ezekiel depicts in chapter 27 as huge, sturdy, stately, but at the end of the chapter it's broken by the sea and all the nations are aghast. By contrast the Church is depicted as an insignificant fishing boat on storm tossed seas where every wave could engulf it but doesn't.
That's the ship you're in. That's the ship Jesus is in. Wonder not that the winds howl and the waves heave. Wonder not that the forces of hell are arrayed against you. Wonder not that it's one thing wrong after another in your life, one challenge after another, one problem after another, one pain after another. Collect your thoughts. Know that your true north is the fear of God not fear of wind, waves, demons, disease, disaster, or dying. Second recognize that all the storms of life are aimed at those who have Jesus in them. Third, wake the sleeping Jesus.
This is St. Augustine's take on this text. Frankly, it bothered me when I first read it but I couldn't shake it. It fit my life. First I ignore the reality of what the Means of Grace give me: Jesus on my body, marking my body, in my body. Second, I regard Jesus as asleep in the boat of my life. Here's how Augustine put it: By saying Jesus is asleep in you "I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse Him, then; remember Him; let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him" (ACC, II, 61).
In the text, Jesus in His role as Savior sleeps as an exhausted Man. In our life, Jesus sleeps when we forget who He is and what He did, does, and will do. Jesus, as true Man, knows what it's like to be on the high seas of life. He knows how it feels to be pursued by sin, by death, and devil. And while we like the disciples, time and again, give way to fear; while we let the fear of men, devils, and death, drive out the true fear of God, Jesus never did. We can't imagine how that could be or what it would be like, but it's more important that we remember Jesus did it.
Jesus never felt like you and I. He never felt like He was a coward. In our text, Jesus doesn't merely ask, "Why are you so afraid?" But He asks literally, "Why are you such cowards?" Notice Mark has this after the storm is stilled. The point is they're still quaking in their sandals after the storm is stilled and the danger is passed. As Psalm 53 says, "They were in fear where no fear was." That describes me: being in fear where no fear is. The thing I ought to fear, God, I don't. The things I ought not to fear I do.
This doesn't describe Jesus. He never played the coward, and never gave up fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things. Yet God the Father handed Jesus over to be punished as if He didn't fear Him and was a coward. The Father handed over His perfect Son in place of us imperfect, cowardly, sons and daughters. All the disappointments, all the shame, all the guilt that a coward should endure, Jesus endured in your place. You aren't to go through life kicking yourself for being a coward; Jesus was kicked already for that.
Jesus was not only kicked, but whipped, ridiculed, and crucified not to sleep in you but to be powerful, active, and helpful in you. It's obvious in the text that the disciples first tried to deal with the storm by themselves without waking Jesus. Haven't you done that? Well stop. Jesus is not just along for the ride. He wants to be asked. Didn't He command you, "Keep on asking, seeking and knocking?" Doesn't He urge you, "Cast your cares on Me?" Doesn't He say, "Come unto Me all you who are heavy laden?"
Why do you think He clothed you in Baptism if not to be your shield against sin, death and the devil? Why do you think He marks you in Absolution if not so that you might point to that mark as a seal of His grace, mercy, and peace? Why do you think He does the extraordinary thing of giving you His Body and Blood to eat and drink if not to be in, with, and under you in all life's voyages to strengthen and preserve you in the saving faith? Jesus does not give Himself to you in the Means of Grace so that He might sleep in you, but so that you might rest in Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20120701); Mark 4: 35-41