The Storms of Life
This was a real storm with real wind and waves. The storms of life you find yourself in be they medical, physical, financial, marital, or personal are real physical storms too. But the spiritual dimensions of the storms of life howl louder than the winds and mount higher than the waves. Only with Jesus can one weather physically and spiritually the storms of life.
The storms of life come upon the Christian because Christ is in him. Paul uses the phrase "in Christ" over 150 times. Paul says that the Christian has been baptized into Christ and that Christ in you is the hope of glory. He emphatically says, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Peter says we're partakers of the Divine Nature. And could Jesus be any clearer on this point? He promises, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him."
We're the demons fooled by God wrapping Himself in flesh and blood? No they confessed not only who He was but what He came to do. "You're the Son of the Most High; have you come to destroy us before it's time?" Satan himself wasn't fooled by Jesus' State of Humiliation. He knew who He was even though Jesus didn't always use His divine powers as a Man.
Ephesians says we don't wrestle against flesh and blood but against evil angels. The demons aren't fooled that Christ in us is wrapped by weakness, sinfulness, fallenness. Just as Jesus promised the first pastors that men of peace would recognize their peace and return it to them, so the demons and all in their service recognize that they aren't at peace with the Christ in us.
They aren't fooled; are you? Yes, though we never get beyond, "I believe help Thou my unbelief;" though we never get beyond "O wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death;" though we never get beyond "Lord have mercy upon me the sinner;" though we never get beyond, "I have sinned; I am no longer worthy to be called Thy son," don't be fooled. We are sons of God. We are the apple of His eye. We've been engraved upon the very palms of His hands with nails that pieced them for us and for salvation. We've shared the same grave with Him in Baptism, and the same Body and Blood in Communion.
Though there were several boats crossing the sea that night the text says "other boats were with Him" only the boat with Jesus in it seems to have been attacked with a demon-driven storm. I say demon-driven because Jesus rebukes the wind and commands the waves. You don't do that to non-living things. Also Jesus, the One who was sent into the world to destroy the works of the Devil, is on His way to a stronghold of demons. There Jesus will find a man possessed by a legion of them, a Roman legion had over 5,000 soldiers, and they will beg Jesus to be spared.
When the storms roil the waters of your life you can be sure it is about Christ in you. The demons, the Devil, and the unbelieving world don't bother those that already belong to them just as zombies don't attack other zombies. So if the Christian's forecast is always, "Cloudy with severe storms likely" why do storms drive us to despair? Because the Christ in us sleeps.
The Word made flesh is not living and active to us. He's God in the box to be taken out when, if we need Him. Take Him out on Sunday morning, and it's back in the box by Sunday afternoon. Take Him out on holy days to the extent the worldly holiday lets you. In practice, we are like the supervising Episcopalian chaplain I had 20 years ago. He started many sentences with, "If Jesus was alive today." O we confess that He most certainly is, but He is asleep to us. So when the storms of life hit we turn to what we can do, we can think, we can plan.
Our first thought, okay my first thought, is not of Jesus. I forget that Jesus put me in this storm. Look at the text. Who says, "Let us go over to the other side?" Who waits to go till evening when the darkness will surely come upon them while out at sea? We don't know today what storms of life will strike us tomorrow or even in the next hour; Jesus does, and though to us He sleeps. He's in the stern from where out boat is steered.
I've been in real storms on water and land. I've been in spiritual ones too, and the appeal to Jesus is always a last resort. You can't think in our text where at least 4 of them in that boat were professional fisherman having grown up on the water did nothing when the storm hit. In fact they tried everything, just like you do when a storm of sickness, sadness, wickedness, our fearfulness strikes you. And they did everything right; they did everything you're suppose to do when caught in a storm at sea. They struck the sails; they manned the oars; they tried to steer into the waves.
How bad must have it been for those 4 professional sailors, one of them being brave, bold, never-say-die, Peter, to go to Jesus with terror in their voice, with panic in their eyes, with despair written on their faces? How bad does it have to get before you wake the Jesus you consider to be asleep? How terrified do you have to become before you remember Jesus is in you? How close to the end of your rope do you have to be till you resort to prayer, till you call upon Him in the day of trouble, till you cast your cares on Him?
The storms of life come upon Christians because Jesus is in them; the storms of life bring us to despair because to us Jesus is asleep. And the storms of life don't rouse Jesus, our prayers do. It's clear that Jesus slept through it. Wind howling in the mast, waves rolling the boat like a toy, and water coming in, didn't wake Jesus at all. Jesus is so thoroughly asleep and so human that He wakes like we do, in stages. The text says, "They raised Him" and then it says, "after being thoroughly roused" He acted.
What roused Jesus? Not the storm their prayers. We often miss the fact that when the disciples ask things of Jesus they teach us about praying. They don't pray, "Teacher don't you care if we drown?" That sounds like they aren't sure one way or another. The Greek makes it clear the praying disciples expect a yes answer. "You care don't you, that we're perishing?"
In this panicked situation, they nevertheless prayed in faith. You can too. You can pray, "You care Lord that my child is sick;" "you care Lord that my finances are a mess;" "you care that I'm sad and lonely;" "you care Lord that I have no idea what to do." We've been taught since childhood that "God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father." On what basis do we say this? Didn't you hear the Epistle? "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." Are you part of the world? Then God has become your friend in Christ. Are you part of humanity? Then your sins aren't counted against you either.
When the storms of life come 2 things happen. First, we forget about the Jesus we have put to sleep in the boat of our life, and second, when we remember Him, we talk ourselves out of going to Him. Our sins do it; the fact that we forgot about Him till now does it; the Devil, the World, and our Flesh do it saying, "Who are you to pray?" What can we answer? What Scripture does: I'm one who God the Son cared so much for that He came into the world to do all the things I fail to do and then was crucified in my place. I'm one whom Jesus gave carte blanche to ask anything in His name.
I can ask anything because He can do anything. Where Xerxes looked foolish, Jesus is majestic. When water destroyed the bridge Xerxes had constructed to cross from Asia into Europe, he ordered the waters to be whipped 300 lashes and threw iron fetters into it. He had the men with the whips say, "'You salt and bitter stream, your master lays this punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. But Xerxes the King will cross you, with or without your permission'" (Herodotus, 7: 35).
The historian Herodotus, a pagan mind you, describes these words as "barbarous and presumptuous" (Ibid.). Why because Xerxes had no right to say them and no power to do them. The Supreme Court is in this same place now that they have taken it upon themselves to redefine marriage. Their words can no more change God's institution than the words of Xerxes could command the water.
But the Words of Jesus are a different matter. By His Word the universe was created. By His Word the wind was stopped and the waves calmed. Yes, even the wind and the waves obey our Savior. So does death and life, heaven and hell, sin and Satan. When you were no more than a newborn the Words of Jesus delivered you from the powers of darkness into His kingdom of light attached as they were to your Baptism. Just today by my Words of Absolution Jesus, took your heavy, disgusting, unbearable sins off you and sent them so far away from you even God can't find them. And in a few minutes Jesus' Words are going to bring Him back to you and He will bring angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven with Him.
We put so much stock in the words of men that scientists, doctors, politicians, friends, enemies, talking heads and talk show hosts can send us into a storm with mere words. O no they can't. Jesus is the captain of our boat; we go where He steers. And when the storms of life do come, sure we panic; sure we forget Jesus is there. But when we call He answers. Sure it seems He is takes His time delivering us. But deliver us He will because He gave His blood, sweat, and tears for the right to do it. And He will delivers us by His Word maybe of command, maybe of promise, maybe of peace. But it is His Word that stills the storms of life even as it was by His Word that waster was created and the wind blows now. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20150628); Mark 4: 35-41