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In our epistle lesson this morning from 2ndCorinthians, inner strife was hindering the growth of the early church. Paul was writing to solve disagreements and restore unity to the congregations of Corinth. Sometimes it is easy to forget that Paul’s writings were letters because oftentimes they seem more like an essay. Paul kept coming back to subjects he had written about before. He did this to either repeat what he had said or to add additional commentary. Paul shares in verses four and five some of the trials that these servants of God had gone through. Paul writes:
But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distress, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings…
In following God’s call to serve others we learn from the apostle Paul that there will be struggles. Like the Corinthians, churches today struggle constantly on how best to live faithfully. Sometimes this struggle produces strain in the very relationships that are meant to help church members live faithfully. Here in 2nd Corinthians, Paul puts those relationships in the proper perspective. For Paul, failing to love one another is a sign of accepting the grace of God “in vain.” As Paul encouraged his followers, we too are encouraged to exhibit faithfulness, not simply through our words, but through our actions as well. When things get difficult, when there are storms brewing in our lives and churches, we can learn a lot from our Lord and Savior on how best to approach those storms. In our gospel lesson this morning from Mark we see that Jesus remained cool, calm and collected as he and the disciples were able to ride out a storm safely. Jesus had taught all day along the shore. The crowd was so large that Jesus actually got into a boat and taught in this boat a short distance away from his audience along the shore. When I traveled to Israel I learned that teaching inside a boat on the water created a natural amphitheater and provided better acoustics for those gathered to hear Jesus. At the end of the day, Jesus was tired and he asked his disciples to take him to the other side of the shore.
It is easy to understand why Jesus was tired. Throughout Scripture we are witness to the busy pace of Jesus’ life. Jesus was always on the move to another place, to another group of people where Jesus would minister among those gathered. Jesus it could be said was someone who was never satisfied or complacent in ministry. Jesus always felt the need to share his message across Israel and this required him to move around a lot. We see in our passage from Mark that upon the dismissal of the crowds, Jesus simply directs the disciples to set out for the other side of the shore. For Jesus, this was time for him to recharge his batteries which is why as they traveled, Jesus took a nap, to rest and regain his strength before a new day of ministry began. Jesus was always obedient to God’s call to love and serve all people. Jesus was always moving forward to the next place and the next challenge no matter what obstacles might be in the way. As we learn, a rather big obstacle in the eyes of the disciples came for a sudden storm swept across the Sea of Galilee. What is so easy to forget is that many in the boat with Jesus were actual fishermen. They were accustomed to the wind and the waves. However, this night was different. The storm was fierce, the waves were high and their fear was great. Through this experience they learned a very important lesson. In the face of the storm they forgot to keep their focus upon one thing.
In thinking of focus, I am reminded of a track race that took place many years ago. This track race featured Eamon Coghlan, who was the Irish world record holder at 1500 meters. He was running in a qualifying heat at the World Indoor Track Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana. Two and a half laps left into the race, he was tripped. He fell, but he got up and with great effort managed to catch the leaders. With only 20 yards left in the race, he was in third place, which was good enough to qualify for the finals. He looked over his shoulder to the inside, and, seeing no one, he began to ease up at the finish line. Just as he began to ease up, another runner, charging hard on the outside, passed Coughlan a yard before the finish beating him out for third place and a spot in the finals. Taking his eyes off the finish line thwarted Coughlan’s great comeback effort.
In relationship to our spiritual lives, it’s tempting to ease up when things are going well in our lives. It’s also tempting to ease up when things around us become more challenging. We look at the waves of misfortune, distress, misery, distrust, and anger and wonder how we can still those waves. We feel the pressures of power and fear flooding into our lives, threatening to drown us and wonder where God might be. When our spiritual lives feel threatened by challenges in life, which seem impossible to overcome, we often forget that our spiritual lives are in need of nourishment. If we become complacent in our spiritual lives, like the disciples in our gospel lesson, we can lose focus and forget to trust in Jesus. When we do this that is when we are least prepared for those oncoming storms in life. We must remember those words Jesus spoke to his disciples here in Mark. These words are a reminder that we are called to follow God’s direction, wherever this might lead us. In verse 35 Jesus offers these words:
He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.”
We as followers of God must always be ready to cross over to new challenges, new places and new possibilities despite those uncertainties and fears we might have. We run the race of life best when we fix our eyes upon our goal. Our goal should focus upon the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross for each of us. Through Christ’s life, sufferings, death and resurrection we are given the hope and assurance that we can handle any storms that approach in our lives.This passage from Mark is one I have discovered to be very symbolic of faith. Many people find comfort and strength in these verses. People often see their own situations in this story. Sometimes we are like the disciples in this boat.
There are storms we must go through in life. A storm in life may be coping with the loss of a loved one. Another storm may be balancing the demands of work and family. Another storm may be caring for parents who are elderly and whose health continues to decline. For our recent high school graduates who were recognized last week in worship, perhaps a brewing storm in life is simply what does the rest of our life have in store for each of us? Sometimes these storms frighten and overwhelm us. There are those storms in life where we might prefer to ask God to bail us out of what we perceive as a sinking ship. Whatever we are feeling, we are reminded here in Mark that even with God’s presence that God does not always shield us from difficult times and storms in our lives. Yet in battling those storms in our lives whatever they might be, we have the power to do these following things:
- We have the power to confront our fears.
- We have the power to confess our fears to God.
- We have the power to humble ourselves and ask God and others to help us in overcoming our fears.
The late Harry Emerson Fosdick, an author and minister of Riverside Church in New York City once wrote concerning fear and faith: “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable—and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.” When we become afraid of those storms around us, we are to never lose faith because God is always present, even if God feels absent. In Jesus calming the storm, we are taught that God’s power and grace is greater than whatever challenges we are facing. God is always in control. We must simply have faith that God is continuing to guide us in life, whether or not those seas provide smooth sailing or not.
Having faith is indeed a lot like sailing. If you have spent time in a sailboat one first recognizes the need to have a firm foundation, that is we must have a boat that will remain afloat. Relying upon this boat to stay afloat, we recognize that we often slide across the waters propelled by a gentle breeze. Within the confines of these parameters, we recognize we have an opportunity and responsibility of guiding the rudder to determine our direction of travel. Likewise in life, we each have an opportunity to determine our course of direction. God may start us one way and we may eventually end up going in another direction. Only after we take time to reflect upon these moments do we experience the wonderful feeling of having been led without knowing, that indescribable feeling that God has mysteriously guided us through our faith and trust in God.
Indeed God has a picture for our lives. Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Other times the Lord lets the storm rage and calms us. In either situation may we find comfort in the fact that God will be with us, and God willing, we can overcome those storms in our lives.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
June 24, 2018