A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

Mark 4:35-41

Psalm 133

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

The Australian poet and cartoonist Michael Leunig wrote the following poem:

There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear.
Love and fear.

Jesus in a boat on the sea, in the story we heard read from the 4th Chapter from the Gospel according to St. Mark, seems to be saying something similar. It’s like he is saying to the frightened disciples who are with him, “Love is with you, why are you afraid?”

It’s at the end of the day, when evening has come, and Jesus says to some of the disciples, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ To the other side of the sea, he means. And leaving the crowd behind, they take him with them in the boat, just as he is, the text from Mark’s Gospel says. “Just as he is” –what does that mean, we might wonder. Jesus has been teaching the crowd from a boat, teaching them in parables, the ones about the seeds. The parable of the sower, with its interpretation about the word, and the parable of the mustard seed, of the kingdom of God being like a tiny seed. It’s one of my favourite parables because he doesn’t say the kingdom is like the great bush the seed grows into, he says the kingdom of God is like the tiny mustard seed. We might well imagine that this teaching has left them puzzled, worried even, as they embark on the journey in the boat to the other side of the sea. To Gentile territory.

A great gale arises, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat is already being swamped. But Jesus is in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they wake him up and say to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He wakes up and rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceases, and there is a dead calm. He says to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 

Love is there and fear. It is not difficult to imagine what they are afraid of. A great gale, waves in the boat …many of the disciples are fishermen so it is not as if they don’t understand the sea. But this is not a normal sea. This sea is life threatening. They are not exaggerating when they cry out to Jesus that they are perishing.  But there is another source to their fear. And that is his seeming lack of concern. “Teacher, do you not care?” They cry. When we are under threat, that we are alone in it, that no one minds and that no one can help, makes the situation all the worst. Their fear is of physical threat and of being alone in it.

Jesus, though, is not afraid. The storm at sea does not seem to frighten him. That he can sleep through it makes him all the more puzzling to them.

There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear.

Michael Leunig says. Jesus’ framework is love. He seems to know himself so close to God who he names “Abba” – a name that shows the trust that a little child has – that fear has no place, even in the midst of this storm at sea and his calming of the sea comes from his calm, his lack of fear. He seems to expect that the disciples will come to know a faith in him just like his faith in God. That the presence of love will overcome the presence of fear. And we might wonder about that.

The writer John Shea, reflecting on the disciples’ response to the storm at sea wrote the following:

“When we are in the midst of [dangers] our minds identify with what threatens us. They mirror the wind and the waves, making us as driven and tossed as we are. In this state we cannot receive from God. We cannot make the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings work. However, Jesus’ mind is not storm tossed. He sleeps … a picture of abiding peace in turbulence. …”[1]

For Jesus, love is his framework.

This morning’s psalm, Psalm 133, speaks of a place where love might be the framework, to use Michael Leunig’s words, where fear has no place. The psalm goes like this:

Behold how good and how lovely it is:
when families live together in unity.
It is fragrant as oil upon the head,
…It is like a dew of Hermon:
like the dew that falls upon the hill of Zion.
For there the Lord has commanded his blessing:
which is life for evermore.

It is good and lovely when families live together in unity. But we know that families are not always like this. In some families, fear and violence have taken the place of love, in fact may even be enacted in the name of love. A recent report, in the context of the Anglican Church, among many other reports on domestic violence, has revealed that scripture is at times used to justify family structures where violence and abuse take place in a home, or in a community.

Two weeks ago we pondered the idea of the sin against the Holy Spirit, a sin where a person would look on an act and knowing it to be of God, would name it to be evil. Family or community structures, justified by scripture, where violence and abuse take place are signs of a different form of sin, but one we might think just as serious. There are two frameworks love and fear, and fear has no place in a family or a community grounded in the love of God, guided by the scriptures that are the word of God.

And we might cry out as the disciples did in the storm, when there is violence and abuse, we might cry out wondering where God is, when God’s word is being so missused. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote a book on Jesus’ crucifixion and he entitled it “The Crucified God”. Where is God in the situation of violence and abuse, in homes and in other places? God is with the abused. God is in solidarity with the abused. Another theologian, James Alison, writes of Jesus having “the intelligence of the victim”. He means that Jesus knows the victim’s reality, stands in the midst of the victim’s truth. Violence is never justified by God. Fear is never justified by love. Fear is never grounded in God.

Love is grounded in God.

But when the storm rose at sea and the disciples were in the boat and Jesus was asleep, all they felt was fear. Fear for their safety. Fear that no one minded about whether they lived or died. Their minds “mirrored the wind and the waves” as John Shea said. And we can, I think, understand them. The life of faith seems to move between love and fear, faith and fear.

We might glimpse something of the presence of God, one day, walking by the sea, perhaps, reading some words of insight from a writer in whom we have faith, knowing the loyalty of a friend when we are fed up with ourselves and we wonder if all who love us won’t be fed up with us. We might glimpse the presence of God one day. And we often think at those moments. “Ah I get it now. God is with me. Love is with me. I need never be afraid again, whatever life holds. I’ll remember this moment. The memory of it will sustain me, will help me trust in God.”

Until we find ourselves again on a stormy sea.  And the struggle of being a faithful child of God returns. Love and fear. Faith and fear. And the longing to know God so close that we might be calm in the storm, trusting when we are at risk.

I guess what matters is that we do cry out to him. We do express our fear. We know that God cannot always calm the storms around us, the threats that living in a physical world brings.  But perhaps what this story from Mark’s Gospel is helping us glimpse is that God reaches out always to calm the storm within us, God always speaks, kindly, I suspect, to us saying, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Always inviting us to know Jesus’ mind that is not “storm tossed”. His presence, so trusting in God’s presence, that he can sleep even in the midst of a storm.

[1] John Shea Eating with the Bridegroom p156.