In seminary, some of my colleagues and professors would bristle when I did this thing I often do in sermons. I have this habit of lifting up portions of scripture or theological ideas, but I don’t really know what they mean or why they feel important. Yesterday in preaching, I did the same thing.
If you click here and watch the sermon, you might notice that about 1/4 of the way through (or 26 minutes into the video), I start talking about Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat. In Mark 4:34-41, we read about Jesus calming a storm as he and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee. While I go on to talk about choosing love and how God is an ever-present help in times (like these!) when we need God, I sort of tossed out an idea and made no attempt to figure it out.
So, what does that mean? Really!? What does it mean for us that Jesus is on the boat sleeping? Was he just really tired from all the miracles and travel? Was he feeling a little under the weather and just needed some extra sleep? Did he have an undiagnosed medical condition we should have picked up on before?
I don’t know. I really don’t. We can guess and assume, but the truth is no one really knows why Jesus chose that moment to take a nap. But there is something rattling deep in me that is screaming, “this is important!” and I don’t know why.
First, let me say that I welcome your thoughts. Seriously. What do you think it means? Why does it feel so important to me? Should I just let it go?
Second, here are some rough thoughts I’ve had since last week:
We need to wake God up sometimes. Ok, hear me out: I don’t think God is always sleeping while we go through life. I’m not saying that God is present, but snoozing so we need to get God’s attention. I do wonder, however, if this is Mark’s way of reminding us that asking for God’s help seems to matter. God works in ways that are so much higher and far-reaching than we can know. Even without our asking, I believe God is willing good for us (read the Psalms or Romans 8 to get this picture). Still, there is something to this idea that maybe we need to call on God in moments of need (or any and all the moments)!
There are many verses in the Bible that talk of God’s desire to answer prayers: 1 John 5:14-15, Psalm 107:28-30 and Matthew 21:22 just to name a couple of the most famous. But then there are verses like Isaiah 65:24 that says, “Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” So, doesn’t that mean that before the disciples needed to wake him up in the boat, God would have already heard them? Shouldn’t Jesus have directed them a different way that day? Or maybe he should have stayed on guard at the front of the boat, waiting for that storm to try and make a move (imagine Jesus in a cape, like a super-hero, just daring the wind and rain to try something!). Here is my favorite picture from Googling that image, “Super-Hero Jesus”
What happens according to Mark, though, is that they all got on a boat and Jesus went to sleep. On a pillow. Like nothing was the matter.
The truth is, nothing was the matter. Jesus was woken up by his panicking disciples and said 2 words (in Greek): siōpaō phimoō or “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Just like that, 2 words later and the storm was gone. Jesus and those with him went on their way.
“My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
I wish I knew what Jesus sleeping on that boat means. Not only because I might be able to stop throwing incomplete ideas out in sermons, but more importantly because sometimes it feels like God is asleep in the boat of our lives. Like right now, is God sleeping? I don’t think so, but I can see how we might draw that conclusion with the state of our world! There is a global pandemic (if you hadn’t heard) and thousands are dying. The global economy is grinding to a halt, people are worrying every day for someone in their lives. It’s touching all of us. The waves are crashing up against the boat and we are looking around for our savior, and it might seem like he is asleep. But with just 2 words, everything changed. With 2 words, the storm stopped and the wind calmed.
O, how I wish God would get up, say those 2 words and all would be fine again. But maybe all wasn’t fine before this pandemic and God is using this (not causing it, but not wasting it either). Maybe God knows how all of this sickness and hurt and pain and uncertainty can — eventually — lead to more good. Maybe we are just in the depth of the waiting, the depth of hoping, and God is on the way.
I wish I knew why Jesus was asleep that day. I wish I knew why it can feel like God is asleep today! I wish I knew what it all meant. But I don’t. None of us do. So what does that mean? What are we to do?
→ Don’t stop reaching out: to God and each other! Keep calling on God to come and be with us. I believe God hears and cares and is comforting. Keeping reaching out to each other. Keep sending texts, posting updates, spreading positivity and light into the world. We need you. I need you!
→ Don’t stop reaching in: take this time to explore the galaxies that exist within us all! What is waiting deep in you, wanting to connect with The Mystery and The Beauty that is all around? Take time to read and pray, to sit still with your thoughts, wants and needs.
→ Don’t stop wondering: one of the important tenants of any faith is to make meaning. Asking questions with no good answers is part of this. Please do share your thoughts on this passage with me, but let’s not try to “figure it out.” Instead, sit in the unknown with me for a while. Let the unknowing be a comfort. Let the mystery of God’s love and care for us take whatever form it wants — knowing that it always ends in love.
So, what does that mean? I’m not sure. Sorry professors and pastor-friends. I don’t have the answer. But I think in our wanting to know, our wanting to connect with God through scripture, questions and compassion, we are onto something glorious and full of grace. I’m glad you are there with me!
Grace & Peace, Pastor Cole
- Photo credit: Lindsay Jo Altizer, The Sea of Galilee