"CALMING THE STORM"

LUKE 8:22-25

27 Oct 2013

 

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            It was our first full day in Galilee.  We had visited the Mount of Beatitudes, then the Valley of the Wind containing a road that Jesus regularly walked between Nazareth and Capernaum, then to the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus had fish and chips with the disciples shortly after his resurrection.  We then headed to a boat to sail across the Sea of Galilee for lunch.  As we boarded the boat a severe storm developed.  Lightening cracked.  Thunder exploded.  Winds raged.  Rain poured, and the sea, which shortly before the storm was as still as glass, rolled with white caps.  We surprisingly left shore, some wanting to wait until the storm passed, being tossed about by the waves, and then as quickly as the storm ensued, it subsided.  Something similar happened to the disciples.  The big difference between our storm and the disciple's storm had to do with Jesus stopping it.  Turn with me to Luke 8:22.  Let's begin reading.  By the way, you may be wondering why we skipped verses 16-21. I want to get through the Book of Luke before Jesus returned, so we skipped those verses.  So once again, follow along as I read, beginning in the 22nd verse.

 

            One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, Let us go across to the other side of the lake.

 

            Note Luke's use of the word "lake" for the Sea of Galilee.  For a non-Palestinian, "sea" referred to the Mediterranean.  This gives us an insight into Luke's target audience.  He's primarily writing to Gentiles living outside the borders of Palestine.

           

            So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep.  A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 

 

            Due to the geographical surroundings, windstorms are quite common in this area.  The Sea of Galilee resides six hundred feet below sea level and is surrounded by great mountains.  The Jordan River runs through the ravines between the mountains.  These ravines act like great wind tunnels as cold winds from the mountains are drawn down and storms arise.  Listen to how one traveler described his experience.  "The sun had scarcely set when the wind began to rush down towards the lake, and it continued all night long with increasing violence, so that when we reached the shore the next morning the face of the lake was like a huge boiling cauldron."  It was one of those sudden squalls that struck the boat that day.

            Let's continue reading.

 

            They went to him and woke him up, shouting, Master, Master, we are perishing! And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, Where is your faith?  They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?

 

            Note three striking features of this story.  First, note how Jesus "rebuked" the wind and the raging waves. 

            That's an interesting word choice ... "rebuked."  That word makes this story sound a little the story that follows.  What Jesus does here sounds somewhat like an exorcism.  In ancient times large bodies of water were believed to be the abode of evil spirits which sometimes stirred up storms against sailors.  We see this belief in the beginning of the Bible and at the end of the Bible.  The belief was as old as Near Eastern flood stories in which the water tried to take over and destroy the land, like the story of Noah and his ark.  And the Book of Revelation echoes that belief in its description of the final triumph of God saying, in the 21st chapter of Revelation, "And the sea was no more." 

            By the way, I certainly hope that will not be the case.  You've no doubt heard people say things like, "If there are no dogs in heaven," or "If there are no golf courses in heaven," or "If there are no chocolate in heaven," or "If there is no beer in heaven," it doesn't sound like that great a place.  Well, if there are no large bodies of water in heaven, that does not sound like such a great place to me.  Trudy and I, maybe it has to do with growing up in Southern California, love the ocean.  We like to take cruises on the ocean.  We prefer to vacation at the ocean.  We love the ocean, but for desert people in Palestine, not so much.  For them a large body of water, be it the Mediterranean Sea or the Sea of Galilee, is filled with evil spirits, so Jesus "rebukes" the wind and the raging waves.  He rebukes those spirits in the water.  

            Second, note how Jesus ministers to the disciples.  In a sense this episode in Luke's gospel is in a class by itself because Jesus takes his disciples away from the crowds and the critics and ministers to them.  It is rare in the Gospels for the disciples to be the direct beneficiaries of Jesus' power.  Usually, they are present as he ministers to others or the disciples join him in that ministry.  Not here.  They are the recipients of Jesus' presence and power. 

            This is important for us, for the church, to keep in mind.  Like the disciples we minister to others in Jesus' name, however, if we also are not the recipients of the power and presence of Christ then we cannot sustain that effort for the long haul.  And if a church goes along without the presence and power of Jesus Christ, then it will eventually fall under the weight of institutionalism or go astray with self-promoting programs.  I'm reminded of the all too true critique of the church.  Someone said, I don't remember whom, "If the Holy Spirit were to leave the church in America, ninety-percent of all the church's activities would continue as they are now."

            Whew.  Ninety percent.  That's quite an indictment of the church.  I don't know who wrote the poem.  I came across it in a sermon by Maxie Dunham, the former editor of The Upper Room devotional.  A portion of it goes as follows.

 

            Jesus walks in church today,

            Jesus speaks while people pray

            Granting one a new life's start.

            His garment's hem just brushed my heart.

 

            We need more of that, don't we?  Wow, if we met Jesus here every time we gathered, why they couldn't keep people away, but the truth is we don't.  We catch up with our friends.  We learn more about the bible.  We sing songs we like and don't like, but meet Jesus?  Experience his presence and power?  Well that's rather rare.  Sad, but true.  If we did regularly experience his presence and power we would never miss a Sunday.

            The third striking feature are the two questions.  Jesus poses the first question, and the disciples pose the second one.

            Jesus asks, "Where is your faith?"  Now what is Jesus getting at here?  He certainly is not saying if they had more faith there would not have been a storm.  Some people believe that.  I don't know why but they do.  They have a sentimental faith that supposes being with Jesus is a total comfort.  We know it's not.  Bad things do happen to good people.  But some people believek that being with Jesus will prevent every storm, and they are shocked, disillusioned when that is not the case.  So he's not saying if you had more faith, there would have not been a storm. 

            And he's not likely saying if they had enough faith they could have stilled the storm themselves.  Has any other person in the history of the world been able to command the weather and receive such an instant response?  If so, I'm not aware of that person.  Paul was a great apostle, and yet he didn't do it.  He was shipwrecked four times, but we never read that Paul commanded the weather.  He never rebuked the winds and the waves.  In fact, we are told once he had to stay in the open ocean for a day and a night as a result of a shipwreck.  But Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, commands the winds and the waves, and they obey him.

            No, the question, "Where is your faith?" signals a level of expectation from Jesus.  The disciple's had been with him long enough to have adequate ground for trust in God and in Jesus' access to God's power.  After all you have seen me do, where is your faith in me?   You have been with me long enough not to get so rattled. 

            One of the popular ads for the 2011 Super Bowl was a Volkswagen commercial that pictures a child dressed in a Darth Vader costume attempting to use "the force" around the house.  With the familiar Star Wars music associated with Darth Vader playing in the background, the boy marches down the hallway and then raises his hands dramatically toward the treadmill.   Next the young Darth points his hands at the family dog lying on the floor.  The dog looks up quizzically, but again nothing happens.  Darth does not give up.  Now in the bedroom, he raises his hands forcefully toward a doll seated on the bed.  The doll stares back blankly without budging an inch.  Darth's arms drop to his sides in frustration, and he slumps in discouragement.  In the kitchen, still in costume, he now stands dejectedly at the counter with his black-helmeted head in his hand.  His mom has to push the sandwich when his force powers fail to draw it to him.

Then his father pulls into the driveway, and Darth runs out to the car as his father walks into the house.  He hasn't given up!  One more time he raises his hands and points them dramatically at the auto.  He waits, hands upraised. Suddenly the car's yellow turn signals light up and the engine starts!

            The startled child stumbles backward.  We see that the playful father had started the car from the kitchen using a push-button ignition.  The amazed child whirls to look toward the house, then back again toward the car.

            Where is your faith?  That is a fair question.  One little push from God is worth more than all the force we can muster.  After all the time we have spent with Jesus, after all we have seen him do, how come we get so rattled?

            The second question comes from the disciples.  "Who then is this?"  Surely, this question has been forming itself in their minds before this, but now the question is clear, and it's out in the open, "Who is this guy?"  The disciples thought they knew Jesus.  Then they saw what he had done here and they were no longer sure.  The answers they might have given to this point wont work anymore.  Carpenter.  Rabbi.  Prophet.  Master.  None of these titles cover what they have just seen.  Maybe you missed it: Jesus didnt appeal to heaven for authority over the storm, he was the authority.  He didn't pray.  He spoke.  The waves listened.  The storm ceased.

            "Who is this guy?"  That's a question we all need to answer at one point or another.   Some of us are still wrestling with the question.  Some of us are avoiding the question.  Some of us answered it long ago, and we are sticking to that answer, like in the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  When Meredith Viera asks us, "Is that your final answer?" we reply, "Yes, that's my final answer."

            Who is this guy?   Who is this guy indeed.