This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on March 21, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
How do you know God is with you?
This is an incredibly rich scripture, one where we could go so many different directions. We could talk about literal storms and God’s role in them. We could talk about the ways our faith is rocky, how we go through seasons that feel like giant storms, and how we should act in those moments. And we’ll touch on some of that, but what I really want us to hear from this passage today, is that God has always told us that God will be with us. God has told us that God is with us, and we get reassurance of that today.
Storms are inevitable in our faith journeys. As Christians, we are called to bring the kindom of heaven here to earth, and doing that is dangerous work. This story begins with the phrase “on that day”, which is to tell the reader that this instance when Jesus calms the storm is right after Jesus taught his disciples what the kindom of heaven was all about. It’s no coincidence that their faith will soon get tested, as we read today.
This story, of the disciples waking Jesus up to protect them, because they doubted he even cared, it reminds me a little bit of when you’re supposed to be awake at a certain time, and you wake up, but someone comes into your room to make sure anyways, because they assume you would still be asleep. Or if you agreed to pick something up on your way home, but you get five reminder texts even after you agreed and made a note of it. There’s a little bit of a trust issue happening, and in our story, a faith issue.
The disciples who are waking Jesus up are asking a bigger question than a personal question. They’re asking cosmic questions, questions and concerns about that which is bigger than themselves. If they were only concerned about the personal, they may have said something like “Jesus, my clothes are soaking wet and I’m freezing. Help me.” But instead, they woke Jesus up and said to him “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”. It’s a question that was pure and genuine, that showed respect and care for the we, not just the I. The focus of the disciples’ concern was really about Jesus’ identity, aka “do you not care if we die?”
It’s easy and natural and even okay to feel like those disciples. It’s okay to ask this question of how close God is right now, or does God care, or to even have doubts about God at times. God makes space for that, and it’s a part of having faith as well. Without doubt, we’d have certainty, which would leave no room for faith at all. And so, the disciples, in a time where their world was being rocked, asked that question of Jesus, not in a way of doubting him or accusing him of not caring. Instead, they asked out of fear, similarly to David crying out in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”
Now, why, when the disciples are freaking out, is Jesus sleeping? It’s because these storms do not worry Jesus. The rocking boat didn’t shake him, because he knew what the disciples didn’t know. It’s like seeing one part of a bigger picture, or watching the first half of a movie but never finishing it. Jesus sees the full picture. Jesus has watched the whole movie. While Jesus being asleep seems like a way of him being completely out of control, he still is very much in control and aware, and this story is an example of the ways Jesus, while fully human, is also fully divine, his power and authority much bigger and more complex than our own.
Even when we know God is with us, there are moments when it doesn’t feel like it. We can have all the faith in the world, and still be terrified. We can be crying out for answers and when we don’t get them, feel like the hurt and fear will never go away. We need to remember that this is normal, that it doesn’t mean we have no faith, but that our faith is dynamic and alive, and rooted in relationship with God. When we stop asking questions, when we have absolute certainty, when we don’t need any reassurance or support or signs from God, that is when our faith can begin to weaken.
Jesus responds to the terrified disciples by asking “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” I don’t believe Jesus was asking because he needed them to tell him why they were in fear. He certainly knew. Their boat was on the verge of capsizing in the middle of a storm. Rather, Jesus had just taught them about the kindom of heaven, and their role in it, which a big part of is the reality that God is with them. The disciples, upon hearing that question, were stopped in their tracks, and responded with a huge reverence for Jesus and the gentle reminder of faith and hope amidst the storm.
In stormy moments, Jesus is with us. God is with us, accompanying us through the rain and the rocky waves and the thunder and lighting. God is with us, helping us to navigate the unsteerable boat that seems to be going in circles. For even these moments are no match for the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Our story today, about Jesus calming the storm, it shows us that we have two options. We can either let the fears of our life overtake us, taking us further into a state of chaos and feeling alone, like nobody or nothing is there with us. Or, we can allow ourselves to live into the kindom of God message that Jesus told his disciples, that God is with us, even in our fears, and that God offers to us a promise that God will not abandon us, even in the storms. It doesn’t make that fear go away, but it offers a balm in the midst of what can feel like chaos.
This weekend, we at MHUMC hosted The Voyage Retreat, where we had over 40 young queer people join us virtually to be in community and wrestle with what it means to have hope amidst the storm.
If you’re here with us today, can you share in the comments one thing you learned from our time together, either about yourself, or something you gained from our sessions or community times?
If you weren’t with us at the retreat, can you share something God has shown you or taught you recently?
Something important for us to remember, is that while storms are inevitable, God is with us, unphased by the waves we see as insurmountable. God is with us, as we navigate the rocky waters faith sometimes leads us to. And God is with us, in our doubts and our questions.
As we leave this place, may you remember that the storms we face do not cause Jesus to wake. May you know that God is with you on the many voyages you take. And may you know that your faith is dynamic, ever-evolving, and rooted in God’s deep love for you.
Let us pray:
God of oceans and canyons, lakes and mountains, the depth of your love is insurmountable. We thank you for the ways your love for us strengthens our faith. Help us to recognize your presence in the storms of our life. Help us to give ourselves grace in the times we feel distant from you, for you God, are with us. In your name we pray, Amen.