Sunday, July 14
Scripture: Psalm 9:9-20 & Mark 4:35-41
“I Wonder… ” Summer Sermon Series
Rev. Jess Hauser Brydon

I Wonder… what God is doing when life gets hard?


Our question today is one that I would imagine has kicked around many of our heads at one point or another. It’s easy to see God when life is going our way, when things make sense. It seems that it is more difficult to find God when things get hard.  When I was in seminary, I had a preaching professor tell each of us that our responsibility in every message, every sermon was to find the Good News of the Gospel. Our charge was to share that Good News with our congregation and those who would hear our words. I will admit that it isn’t easy to preach God’s Word in our world today.  How can I proclaim the Gospel, the good news, when it seems that all of the news both here and around the world is a swirl of troubled waters. I can’t turn on the radio or t.v. or social media or speak with work colleagues or families and not hear of extreme suffering happening in our communities or seemingly extreme indifference by those who have been tasked to lead us. Where is God when life is hard? What is God up to? That is what we are going to explore this morning.

And as we face this difficult question, I want to give an assurance of Good News that when two or more are gathering in God’s name, God is here, working on this with us.

So with that promise, let us cross over into God’s Word for us today. Our text in Mark is a relatively well known one of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples during a storm. As with all of our readings in scripture, it is important to know the location of the text, what comes before and what comes after. Before we get to our passage today, Jesus has spent the entire day teaching to crowds of people. The beginning of Mark says that there were so many people present, Jesus got on to the disciples’ boat and he taught from the boat while people watched from the shore. Mark 4 tells us that Jesus packs it in with the parable of the Sower, the Lamp on a Stand, the Growing Seed, and the Mustard Seed. And then in verse 33, Mark says with many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them as much as they could understand.

I have a couple of takeaways from the beginning of Mark. First, Jesus had a really, really long physically and emotionally draining day. The physical act of public speaking is taxing on one’s body. I know for myself, even engaging in our relatively brief Presbyterian sermons, that I am quite tired the afternoon after worship. From Mark 4, we get the sense that Jesus taught at length that day, in the sun, in the elements. And second, emotionally, Mark shares with us more than once that the people in the crowds and the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying. I’m sure all of us can think of a time when we were sharing a thought or idea with someone and we are met with blank stares or confused expressions. I can only wonder what the sea of faces looked like that day and how that felt for Jesus. So when we pick up in our reading today and learn that Jesus is fast asleep in the boat, in the middle of a storm, can we blame him? While we have the inside scoop and know he is fully divine, he is also fully human, and after a day like that day, a person needs to sleep!

It does make me wonder though, when did the disciples figure out Jesus was asleep? Remember, the disciples are trained fishermen. They are no strangers to the way of the sea. I am sure they had experienced many expected and unexpected storms. Perhaps when we enter the scene, the disciples had been hard at work weathering the storm for some time. We don’t know. What we do know is that the storm was fierce and that the disciples were getting concerned. In a particularly violent storm, I am sure it was “all hands on deck.” I’d like to think that one of the disciples did a head count and said, “Hey wait a minute here. Not all the hands are on deck.” Since the boat was beginning to be “swamped” I’m sure there was an “oh no!” moment wondering if maybe Jesus had been overcome by a wave.

So they go looking for Jesus and they find him, of all places in the stern of the boat, asleep, curled up on a cushion. It’s like a scene out of a movie. Waves crashing, men struggling, and cut to Jesus sleeping on I imagine a fluffy comfy cushion tucked away in a corner of the boat.

And the disciples are dumbfounded. A. How in the world is Jesus asleep? and B. Why in the world is Jesus asleep? How can he not know that they are all one big wave away from sleeping with the fishes?

Isn’t it interesting what the disciples say to Jesus? They don’t say, “wake up! Dude, get to work!” Or “hey, we could use a little extra man power here.”

They say, “Don’t you CARE?! Teacher, don’t you CARE if we drown?”

They interpret Jesus’ sleep as lack of caring, lack of understanding the situation at hand.

Isn’t that how we respond to Jesus when we are faced with a situation with no way out? When we get the diagnosis that doesn’t have a cure. When we have a broken relationship that is unmendable. When we see the horrors of domestic and global suffering that have been cycling in our news feeds, we ask Jesus “Don’t you CARE?!” Jesus, don’t you CARE about what is happening?

What is Jesus’ response in our passage today? Mark says, “He got up. He rebuked the wind. He said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still.'” And instantly, it was calm.

Well, that was one way to handle it. Problem solved. They were once again physically safe. The storm was gone. But as I was studying this passage, one scholar pointed out that instead of being relieved by the calm, the disciples were terrified. He explained that the disciples had seen Jesus do miracles and heal the sick, but “for whatever the reason, this incident tipped the disciples off that Jesus was not just a skilled healer but was God, the one who commands the elements” (Hoezee).

Do why did Jesus do it? Why did he command the elements to calm while they were out on the sea?

I believe that the reason Jesus did this, the reason he revealed his power in this is answered in what follows our passage today. Prior to heading out to sea that evening, Jesus had been teaching to and healing the Jewish people in Galilee. He had been ministering to God’s people in the way the disciples expected. Of course, Jesus would be preaching Good News to God’s chosen ones.

But when Jesus and the disciples get on the boat and Jesus instructs them to “go over to the other side” this is significant. For going to the “other side” and “crossing the sea” meant that Jesus and the disciples were journeying to minister to Geresene, to a place and a people outside of the Jewish community.

I believe that Jesus needed to get the disciples’ attention. The storm, the troubled waters provided both an opportunity for Jesus to reveal his power but also a preparation for the disciples to be ready to see what was to come in Geresene.

What is more difficult? For Jesus to command the wind and the waves OR to bring healing and Good News to those outside the Jewish community, to the other, to those outside the Covenant.

What is more difficult for us to accept? When Jesus saves US from the storm or when he rescues people we don’t expect.

Perhaps one of many things we can learn from this text that sometimes it isn’t the storm itself that we are afraid of, but rather the crossing over. The unknown of what to expect when we are vulnerable and entering the unknown.

The HB family has been here in Grand Haven for a little while now and you all are learning more about us. Something you may not know about me, is that this isn’t the first time I’ve lived within walking distance of a large body of water. For six years, I lived in Southeast Georgia, on a barrier island. Perhaps some of you didn’t even know that Georgia had a coast, and islands to boot! We lived on St. Simons Island, which is about 90 mins south of Savannah GA and 90 minutes north of Jacksonville FL. One of the many interesting things about the series of barrier islands is that there are different ways to access them. The island we lived on and the one next to it are accessed by a combination of land and raised bridges. For both islands, there is only one way in and one way out by car and it is over those bridges. One year, I took my mother and my kids to a water park on the neighboring island. It was a little cloudy but nothing of much concern so we drove over, arrived at the water park, paid for entry, and got ready to enjoy our time. I had not as much put one toe in the kiddy pool area when I noticed that there were a lot of guests pointing and staring out toward the waters between the island and the mainland. Smart phones were a relatively new phenomenon, but imagine about a dozen or so phones pointed in the same direction as the stares. I craned my neck to see what they were looking at and in the distance, I saw a fully formed water spout, aka a water tornado, which had formed on the water to the left of the land bridge and seemed to be heading toward the water park. In addition to the water spout, large dark clouds had formed and it was clear it was going to storm and it was going to be big.

Well, you can imagine what happened next. The park was closed and everyone went to their cars. But that is where it got tricky. Where were we supposed to go? Being a born and raised Midwesterner, I knew what I should do. I should find the nearest basement or bathroom shower below ground and get my kids and my mom in it. But we were on an island, in Coastal Georgia. Basements don’t exist on barrier islands. You dig into the sand long enough and you get water.

So then I thought, maybe I would drive to the other end of the island away from the water spout. We did for a little while, but realized that the storm wasn’t going anywhere any time soon and we could be stuck on the island for quite some time. But we knew, if we wanted to get to the mainland, to safer ground, we needed to leave the island, to cross over the very place where the storm was happening.

We made the decision to go for it and began to cross. But then the storm picked up. It was raining heavily. So heavy that no matter how fast your wipers were going, it doesn’t seem to be cutting it – kind of rain. We were about one-third into the trip and like the disciples, I got scared. We pulled off on one of the land bridge portions, near a welcome center, and sat there for a few minutes. What should we do?

I remember vividly thinking that we were at a crossroads. We could go back to the island and be out of the intense rain, but still stuck, or we could go forward, move through the storm and get literally to “dry land.”  Now at the time, I wasn’t thinking, “oh this could be a great story to share during a sermon someday.” I was concerned. I was unnerved. I was vulnerable.

But I realized that in order to get to true safety, we were going to have to go through the storm. We were going to have to cross over.

Good news, as you can tell, we made it. I’m here today to tell the tale. And yes, as soon as we were over the bridge, on the mainland, the storm was behind us.

While that was but one example of a physical crossing over, what are ways that God is calling each one of us to cross over with Jesus? I stand before you this morning and of one thing I am confident, we are a people, we are a country navigating troubled waters. I also am confident that we all do not agree on what is causing these troubled waters. But I would urge you of two things: First, discern the way or ways that Jesus might be calling you to cross over troubled waters with him to share the love of Christ with those who might be outside your community, your comfort zone.

What might that look like here in West Michigan, in the Tri-Cities specifically? What might that look like in your interactions on social media? How might each of us be a bridge builder in a culture that would rather wall others out and where “might makes right?” Jesus call us to something different. We are called to stand with those who are suffering and who are vulnerable…whether or not our culture, our nation, or even our religious practices deem them worthy. This is difficult. This is uncomfortable. But it is needed more than ever.

But what if we are the ones in troubled waters. The second thing I want to share with you is that in the midst of the troubled waters, in a time where we struggle to understand or hold onto truth, we must remember that God offers us truth in God’s Word. Psalm 9 that was read today reminds us that the nations are only mortal, that true power belongs to God. Verse 16 says:

16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.

I don’t know about you but in our world today, it can be easy to despair and think that there is no justice…that the problems of the world are too big and that those who commit evil acts seem to just get away with it time and again. When I begin to feel that way, I am drawn to verse 18

18 But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

It is God through Jesus who promises to cross the waters with us. The one who prepares us to risk being agents of peace, justice, and hope in a conflicted world. Mark 4 reminds that there will be times where we are struggling against the winds and the waves and we will call out to Jesus, “Do you even Care?” And Jesus will reply, “Quiet. Be Still. It’s time to cross over together.” Amen.