Pentecost 5, 2024

This week we get to hear one of the favorite stories of Christianity, so much so that we have named our buildings after it. We have the story of Jesus calming the storm on the sea of Galilee. The room your congregation worships in is of course a nave which comes from the Latin word for boat. It is also in our word navy. Is it there because of this passage? Yes, and for other reasons, including the fact that long narrow churches just look like a boat turned upside down. My parish in Roseburg worshipped in what had been intended to be a fellowship hall. It was something of a barge shape to be honest.

But this is series B and Mark tells this story with a cruciform twist for us. Jesus is asleep in the stern. I have sometimes suggested that this is why Lutherans often sit in the back of church, back of the nave, they are looking for Jesus asleep on one of those pews back there. But in truth, it has felt like Jesus is asleep of late. The wind and waves grow strong and all my pulling at the oars has no gotten us anywhere. I seem to have only blisters to show for it.

But it is not Jesus’ sleeping which strikes me so much. It is what happens after he awakes. He calms the storm, yes, but Mark points out that the men in the boat were more afraid of the man in the boat with them than they had been of the storm which had raged a moment before. “Who is this?” they wondered, for they were filled with “great fear” (a more literal translation would be “they were afraid with great fear.”) They had been afraid of the storm, but not this sort of afraid.

Luther says that keeping the commandments begins with the fear and love of the Lord. Are we ever afraid of the One who is in the boat with us, whose body and blood are on that altar, whose word thunders in Scripture and whose Spirit animates our fellowship? We might suggest that God’s love has driven out such fear (I Jn 4:18) but I do not think the fear in this sense ever really goes away, but it is transformed. Too often, I have come to realize, we have simply forgotten such fear and we conduct ourselves as if we are the ones who do things. We forget the parable Jesus told in which the kingdom grows mysteriously, by His power and direction. We imagine that we are the only ones in this boat. But Jesus has ways to awaken us to his presence. I pray for them now, for we need Him to do so.

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