June 20, 2021 – 4th Sunday After Pentecost: Mark 4:35-41
May 14, 2021 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
Today's lection is a familiar one. It's so familiar you probably have preached on this hundreds of times, taught Bible study classes on it, shared VBS and children's messages about it. It's the story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples, the wind and storm toss the boat, the disciples are understandably worried and afraid that the boat will sink and they'll drown, all the while Jesus is taking a nap, whereupon he is awakened he calms the storm by speaking to it, and the disciples are left in awe as they discover that their Teacher is Lord over weather, over all calamities, over their fears and doubts. Notice that that summary was one entire sentence! To summarize it was easy. It flowed from my fingers because of its familiarity. It's like approaching the Easter and Christmas stories – how many times can we say Jesus rose or Jesus was born. We preachers try to find that one nuance, that one angle to preach so that the all-too-familiar story can catch our audience by surprise, or that we don't get too bored re-telling the story for the umpteenth time and people (or we) check out before we get to the Aha moment.
But I wonder if that familiarity is the point of this story. Jesus takes a nap because he knows what any of his disciples will do when confronted with any sized storm, with any gust of wind. His introspective question, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” sounds like his exact expectation of what they and we would naturally do. We would worry. We are fearful. We are doubtful whether God really cares. We wonder why Jesus is literally asleep on the wheel. Our reaction is an expected reaction. And so Jesus's response is like he simply waves his hand, speaks a word, and the climatological change is effected: storm, wind, rain, and waves are silenced, calmed, and stilled.
That familiar story with familiar human responses with familiar divine peace at the familiar Spirit-time sends a strong, clear, calming message: we need the windy, sometimes stormy, wavy breath of the spirit to rouse us from our sleep so that we can be awakened to all-too-familiar love of God who assures us, “I got this” “I have your back” “Don't be afraid” “I am with you.” It's familiar. And in the familiarity, we can fall asleep, we can forget, we can take things/God for granted. There's a beauty in the familiarity, in the expected. Like knowing the sun will rise tomorrow and set like yesterday. And the day before that. When ascribed to God, such familiarity is a familiar word: faithful.