Job 38: 1-11; Mark 4: 35-41 - Middle Lambrook URC 350th anniversary.
Tell me, in accents of wonder, how rolled the sea,
Tossing the boat in a tempest on Galilee;
And how the Master, ready and kind,
Chided the billows, and hushed the wind.
Well, that’s what happened, according to Mark’s gospel – but why is he telling us this story?
Mark – which is thought to be the first gospel to be written down – is the shortest gospel: so short indeed that it has almost nothing to say about the resurrection of Jesus.
Some of the oldest versions of Mark end with the women running from the empty tomb of Jesus and the phrase “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”.
Yet Mark did not write down his gospel until about 30 or 340 years after the resurrection, so you would think he would have heard about the resurrection of Jesus.
Mark starts his gospel with “the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God”, and he records all the events that happen in the light of his belief that the risen Jesus is the Son of God. He uses events from the life of Jesus to illustrate a dawning sense of realisation that Jesus is God’s Son.
Sometimes we do this with life-changing events.
To give a trivial example, I have recently been having trouble with my shoulder. I ended up going to the GP who asked the usual ‘when did it all start?’ question. It is only in the light of the pain and restricted movement I was getting that I remembered tripping over and twisting quite awkwardly. I found myself saying “come to think of it, my shoulder was never the same after that – I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of all this trouble”.
Mark tells us the story of Jesus, and on a number of occasions he tells stories where the disciples might have said ‘Come to think of it, it gave us goose-bumps, we should have known then that Jesus would rise from death.’
Mark uses the word ‘fear’ to describe this feeling – but it can be translated also as afraid, filled with awe, astounded, terrified. It’s not an emotion that can be ignored, and the disciples experience it 6 times with Jesus:
During this storm at sea (4: 41), and during another storm, when Jesus walks on the water to join them in the boat (6: 50).
Twice when Jesus predicts his death (9:32 & 10: 32).
At the transfiguration (9:6)
And, as I mentioned, on finding the empty tomb (16:8).
I fact, the fear is so great during today’s story when Jesus stills the storm, that Mark says of the disciples “they feared a great fear”.
This is the first time they’ve seen Jesus do anything like this.
It’s not because of what Jesus says or does to them, or something he does to the boat – Jesus commands the sea.
Only God – the creator of all, can command the sea: hovering over the chaotic depths, dividing dry land from sea, separating the waters above and below the earth.
We heard from the book of Job how God finally answers Job’s pleas for mercy, following the terrible fate that has befallen him. Job has laid out all his good works and asks ‘doesn’t God see my ways?’.
When God finally speaks he asks questions of his own “where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” “who supported the sea at its birth.. and said ‘Thus far you may come but no farther’?”.
God places Jonah’s suffering in the context of the wonders of creation – and especially God’s mastery over the sea. God who made all, holds all in his hand and sees all.
Yes, God cares for Job, but Job is not actually at the centre of the universe – God is.
When the disciples ask Jesus “Don’t you care that we are sinking?” – Jesus responds not only by saving them, but by demonstrating who he really is – he commands the sea.
The disciples are awe-struck and ask “Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him?”.
That question “who can this be?” grows through Mark’s gospel – and with it comes a growing sense of awe and fear.
Jesus is able to command the sea.
Jesus is revealed in glory at the transfiguration.
Jesus predicts his sacrificial death.
Jesus is not dead – and the tomb is empty.
Mark wants us to know that this living Jesus is the Saviour and the Son of God ad we should follow him and become part of God’s kingdom.
It is that determination to follow and proclaim Jesus that led people to begin worshipping in this place 350 years ago. I found a little of the history on line, suggesting that the earlier meeting house here burnt down and the new ‘Presbyterian Meeting House’ was registered in 1729. The meeting probably became Unitarian for a time in the eighteenth century but then Independent and later Congregational from the end of the eighteenth century.
This then became a United Reformed Church in 1972.
What other storms have hit in that time, I wonder?
Have there been times when you’ve felt like joining the disciples in the boat as they shout to a sleeping Jesus over the roar of the waves “We are sinking! Do you not care?”.
Or joining with Job to say “does God not see my ways?”.
But the truth, the gospel, the good news, is this: the creator of all and master of all is with us, ready to command the seas and the winds, and ready to calm our fears.
Protect me O Lord for my boat is so small,
Protect me O Lord for my boat is so small
My boat is so small and your sea is so wide
Protect me O Lord.
May this little vessel be one in which the glory and peace of Jesus Christ is known. To his glory. Amen.