A Change of Mind: Thoughts on who Jesus includes in the Kingdom — even Canaanites!

A Change of Mind

Starting in 2015, members of JMPC have been making an annual pilgrimage to Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico.

Twenty one members of JMPC have gone and three have gone every year.

We go there in partnership with Hebron USA.

Hebron USA works closely with its sister organization in Mexico, Hebron de Desarrollo Tzeltal AC as well as several presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

We have helped local communities build churches and schools and offered activity packed Bible school for the children.

I think I can speak for those who have gone that the trip is pretty cool, fun, educational and something to look forward to every year.

COVID 19 prevented us from going this year, but we will be planning on a trip next year.

Sadly, we have lost at least one pastor whose church we served two years ago.

I want to share with you how and why this ministry relationship between the two Hebrons got started.

A fairly large ethnic group in Chiapas is the Tzeltal people.

They are of Mayan descent.

Yes, Mayan.

Most are farmers from the mountains.

A good many of them are Presbyterians!

And they are discriminated against.

The cause of their discrimination is primarily ethnic.

They are shunned by those who look at them as inferior simply because they are of Mayan descent.

And also because they don’t speak Spanish.

They speak almost exclusively the Tzeltal language which is unknown to the “Spanish medical community”.

So, on those rare occasions when they go to the towns or cities to get medical care (which is quite a task) they are not well received if not outright ignored.

When they are able to access health services, language differences and prejudice often prevent them from receiving appropriate and adequate care.

To the Tzeltal people, a hospital is where you go to die.

Here is an example.

Around 2005, there was a gathering of the Presbyterian Senate in Ocosingo.

One of the Tzeltal pastors traveled with his wife who was pregnant with her 4th child.

While in Ocosingo, she went into labor.

They went to the local hospital where both she and the baby died.

No one at the hospital spoke Tzeltal and so could not communicate with her and when she died, could not communicate with the pastor.

To this day, he does not know what happened to his wife and child.

When word of this tragedy got back to the Senate, they immediately started to plan for the building of a clinic for these ethnic folks.

So, Hebron USA helped their Mexican partners to build that clinic.

The Manos de Cristo (Hands of Christ) Clinic was finished in 2012 in the town of Ocosingo.

The clinic is now open all year in an effort to provide care for the Tzeltal community, along with other ethnic minorities. 

Why do I tell you this story?

First, to recruit for future Chiapas trips.

Second, because I hope it troubles you that a particular group of people are so looked down on that they receive poor medical care, if they get any at all.

And lastly, I thought of the Tzeltal people when I read this week’s scripture passage.

It’s a passage about someone seeking medical help and being refused because of who she was by someone who should surprise you.

Here it is.

Matthew 15: 21-28

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

The most important reason we are all here is because we love Jesus.

We worship Jesus.

Because of who he is.

And because of what he does.

The preaching.

The healings.

The feedings.

The standing up to authority.

The announcing of the coming Kingdom of God.

That’s our Jesus!

That’s why we love and worship him.

But then there is today’s text.

Jesus has just fed 5,000 folks with a couple loaves and fish.

He has calmed a storm and walked on water.

He has just told off the Pharisees and scribes for holding tradition above mercy.

Jesus has moved on into the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Gentile territory.

So, Jesus’ audience includes gentiles.

As Jesus walks along, a Canaanite woman started shouting at him.

Think about that for a moment.

A woman!

Shouting!

At a man!

That’s bad enough in those days.

But she is also of the wrong race.

A Canaanite!

Ancient enemy of Israel and pagan to boot.

Shouting at this Jewish Rabbi.

Shameful!

Unthinkable!

Infuriating!

She is, in the eyes of the Jews, a non-person.

She is nothing.

Yet she cries out to Jesus.

She has a daughter who is possessed.

Certainly a medical emergency.

She has heard great things about Jesus.

She calls him Lord.

Son of David.

That is what his followers call him, so she does, too.

She believes he can help.

In fact, she believes that Jesus is her only hope.

She screams for his help.

‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’

But what happens?

She is treated like a Tzeltal in a Spanish hospital.

Jesus ignores her.

But she keeps shouting.

This goes on long enough that the disciples seem to ask Jesus to just do what she asks so she will just go away.

Jesus turns to the disciples and says he has only come for the lost sheep of Israel … still ignoring the woman.

Finally, she throws herself at his feet and cries out, “Lord, help me!”

And then Jesus says something so un-Jesus-like it makes us cringe.

‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’

Everyone knows that the children are the Jews and the dogs are … well … everyone like her.

The food she wants, and what Jesus refuses her, is his ability to heal her daughter.

Jesus seems not to care.

This is both insult and injury.

Preachers hate this passage.

Every time I read it; I cringe.

Did you?

I mean Jesus is supposed to love everyone, care for everyone, be compassionate to everyone, and invite everyone into the Kingdom, right?

But here, Jesus is uncaring, dismissive and, dare I say, racist?

If this offends you … good.

It should.

It is offensive.

Just like the medical care, or lack of it, for the Tzeltal people in Chiapas.

So, what is going on here?

Why would Jesus say such a thing?

Many try to put different spins on this text to explain it.

Some have said that Jesus is being sarcastic.

His tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

“Just kidding!”

Others say that Jesus is just being his human self.

He snaps at this woman for her unwomanly behavior.

Some say this is a kind of test of the woman’s faith.

Does she have faith despite her foreignness?

“What makes you think I will do something for someone like you?”

The difficulty here is that Matthew does not say what is going on here.

But then the woman takes Jesus to task.

She uses Jesus words to argue that she should get help anyway.

‘OK, you say I am a dog”, she shouts.

“That might be so, but I have heard that you folks give your leftovers to the dogs.”

“That is all I want.”

“I’m not asking for much.”

“A bit of compassion.”

“A bit of hope.”

“A little bit of healing for my daughter.”

“I have heard that can do that.”

“And I believe it.”

“Or did I hear wrong?”

“Maybe you are unwilling?”

“But I believe you can help me.”

Jesus is impressed with the argument.

This changes everything.

‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’

And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This is quite a turnaround.

Which brings us to another possibility of what happened here.

Did Jesus change his mind?

Did that moment change the course of Jesus’ task?

Not only does he come for the Jews, but also the gentile dogs?

The thought that Jesus could change his mind is a bit unnerving; perhaps troubling; maybe frightening.

So, what is going on here?

Sarcasm?

Human irritability?

A test of faith?

A change of mind?

I think none of these things.

Maybe Jesus was using this woman as a teaching opportunity.

I think Jesus saw this marginalized woman as an opportunity to make an important point.

Jesus might be holding up a mirror in front of all those who heard his remark and basically said, “This is what you sound like!”

Ostracizing this Canaanite, pagan, single mom with a sick kid.

She is Tzeltal in a Spanish world.

“This is the way you treat her.”

“You classify her and her daughter as sub-human.”

“Unworthy of help.”

“Unworthy of hope.”

“And if it offends you … good!”

“It is offensive.”

“How would you like it if I treated everyone this way?”

“How would you like it if God treated you this way?”

“How far from the Kingdom of God such are!”

“This woman – a Canaanite – recognizes the Kingdom.”

“I am right here in front of her.”

“She is on her knees because she knows – knows – I can help.”

“Not her, but her daughter.”

“And I choose to do so.”

Not because of who she is, but because of who I am.

Which brings us to a second possible lesson.

Jesus only heals someone who believes he can.

It is the faith that heals.

Jesus understands this woman’s response to his surly comment as faith that Jesus will be … well … Jesus-like.

Like the Jesus she heard about.

Like the Jesus who has demonstrated enough mercy to heal her daughter.

Jesus responds.

“What you asked for has happened.”

The girl is healed.

So, the lesson does end well.

Why do I think this was a lesson to those who would not have helped her?

Because this is not the first time Jesus has healed someone at the request of a gentile.

He has healed the Centurion’s servant because the Centurion believes he can.

So, this was not a moment where Jesus changed his mind.

This was a moment when Jesus changed the minds of his followers.

And whose mind was changed?

The disciples.

Ours?

The lesson?

The Kingdom is for all of us.

Even Canaanites.

Even the Tzeltal.

There is enough mercy for everyone in the Kingdom of God.

That is good news indeed.

So, what does that mean for us in 2020?

Who are the folks we think of as non-persons these days?

Who are the dogs?

Who are our Tzeltal people?

Who are the people we reject?

Who are the people we ignore?

Who are the people we look down on?

Who are the people who don’t look like us, sound like us, believe what we believe, or come from another community?

Sometimes we need to change our minds.

Maybe do a 180.

And that is what Jesus teaches us today.

Today, with the help of this Canaanite woman, Jesus tells us that we need to change our ways.

If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we need to act like Jesus.

We need to open our hearts and minds to the people who cry out to us for help.

And when we do help, in whatever ways we can, they are blessed by what we do – and so are we.

Our change of mind can change everything.

Not because of who we, or they, are, but because of who Jesus is.

If we are his disciples we need d to act like it.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church; August 16, 2020

Was there ever a time in your life when you changed your mind about something. I mean, really did a “180”? Some people readily admit that they change their minds on things often. Listen to Malcolm Gladwell: “I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.” Others take the position that to change your mind about something means you were previously wrong, and so, shall we say, are less willing to admit a mind change. But we all do, don’t we, whether we are willing to admit it or not, right? I read an article this week on “presidential changes of mind”. Lincoln changed his mind on what to do about freeing the slaves. Herbert Hoover changed his mind on using federal dollars to intervene in the depression (too late to save his re-election bid). George H. W. Bush changed his mind on raising taxes to reduce a skyrocketing deficit (essentially resulting in his re-election loss to Bill Clinton). Barak Obama changed his mind on the issue of same sex marriage. With the exception of President Obama, these “presidential changes of mind” were not well received by the general public. Why? Because the view the view of the general public is that a change of mind is not allowed. It is a sign of inconsistency and untrustworthiness. And we certainly don’t want Jesus to change his mind on anything. Our view is that the author of Hebrews is correct in saying: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. But what exactly does that mean? What is the “same”? Log on and hear what Pastor Jeff has to say about it this Sunday, August 9 of the John McMillan Presbyterian Church Facebook page for the Facebook Live worship where he will preach “A Change of Mind?” Check it out.

Proof: Thoughts on the “Sign of Jonah” and what it means for us.

Proof!

I have always been a fan of those crime scene investigation shows.

CSI, CSI New York, CSI Miami, NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, NCIS New Orleans and the list goes on.

My favorite was the original but its hard not to love Gibbs and the original NCIS.

In every one of those shows, the proof of guilt comes out of the lab.

Fingerprints identified in a moment.

DNA analysis returns within the hour.

Everything is recorded on a camera somewhere.

Paint chips, tire tracks, footprints, hair samples, pollen, bugs, blood spatter among many other things are all analyzed with super high-tech equipment.

So, when all the lab work is done, the proof is absolute.

We know who did it.

No doubt.

This portrayal of crime investigation is, of course, highly exaggerated.

Which causes problems for real life prosecutors in court.

Juries, primed by these high-tech procedurals, expect to see evidence of guilt demonstrated by absolute scientific proof.

And when there is no scientific proof, which is pretty common, the jury gets confused.

Wait!

Where are those CSI lab folks?

Where is Abby Scuito?

When the jury does not see Abby, or someone like her, they have concerns.

How do we decide?

How do we know for sure?

They want Abby to tell them what to do.

It doesn’t matter that all the evidence the prosecution offers leaves no reasonable doubt about the guilt of the defendant.

Yet, often the jury has trouble making a decision based on what is clearly right in front of them.

What the jury wants is a “sign” from somewhere or someone that tells them what they should believe.

Where is the DNA?

Where is the video?

Where are the fingerprints?

Where is the tire tread match?

And if we go back to our old friend, Perry Mason (Raymond Burr, not the new one), where is the witness stand confession?

That would make it pretty easy.

Jesus had to deal with such things.

That is what we see in our brief scripture reading today.

Matthew 16: 1-4

16The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” 3And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ Then he left them and went away.

The Pharisees and Sadducees want a “sign”.

A “sign” from heaven, invoked by Jesus, that proves Jesus is sent by God.

Jesus is … annoyed.

To understand Jesus annoyance, let me set the stage for this brief encounter.

What has Jesus been up to?

He has healed a multitude of sick people.

He has fed thousands of people with a few fish and loaves – twice!

And of these things the Pharisees and Sadducees seem well aware.

They have seen the sick healed and the multitudes fed.

All at the commands of Jesus.

His words clearly cause things to happen.

He exercises authority over things only God has authority over.

All this to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

Looks and sounds like Messiah stuff.

Seems pretty clear.

It’s right there in front of them.

But all that isn’t enough for these religious leaders.

That is not the proof they want.

They wanted something more certain.

They want a “sign” from heaven!

They won’t believe who Jesus is until … what?

They want Jesus to perform some sort of spectacular event that would prove Jesus was Messiah.

That God approved of Jesus.

What might that look like?

We aren’t told.

But if their view of the Messiah was one who would free Israel from Rome, maybe they wanted Jesus to do the things Moses did.

Turn a rod into a snake.

Maybe a couple of plagues.

Turn the River Jordan into a river of blood?

Maybe Abby Scuito shows up with a DNA match between Jesus and God?

But Jesus is unwilling to play that game.

His response?

“You predict what the weather will be by looking at the clouds.

You know how to use your experience and intelligence to analyze what you see and understand what it means.

So, look at what I have done.

You need no more to decide.

You want a sign?

Look at the ‘sign of Jonah’.”

And then he just walks away.

He will not debate with those who simply refuse to see what is right there in front of them.

Healings, feedings and the sign of Jonah.

OK, we know about those healings and feedings, but what exactly is this “sign of Jonah”?

We find it in the short Book of Jonah, one of the 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament.

We all kind of know the story.

Devon Serena and her kids acted it out in a video for SBS this past June that is absolutely delightful.

Check it out.

Jonah is a prophet who, like everyone in Israel, hates the Ninevites.

He hates them because they are gentiles, part of Assyria, ancient enemy and conqueror of Israel.

Like all Jews, Jonah prefers they cease to exist.

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them that they must repent or be destroyed by God.

Jonah wants nothing to do with this because he prefers Nineveh be destroyed.

So, he flees on a ship in the other direction.

A storm rises and the boat is battered.

Jonah concludes the storm is God’s punishment for his disobedience and in order to save his shipmates, volunteers to be thrown into the sea.

The sailors take him up on it and over the side he goes only to be swallowed by a big fish.

Inside the fish Jonah repents his disobedience and the fish vomits him up onto dry land.

Jonah now decides its best to obey God and heads off to Nineveh.

There he proclaims to the Ninevites, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”

That seems pretty vague.

Maybe they won’t understand or listen.

But much to Jonah’s chagrin, the Ninevites repent.

The Lord has compassion and Nineveh is not destroyed.

Jonah doesn’t like that result and sits outside the city walls and grumbling in the scorching heat.

God grows a plant beside Jonah to give him some shade, but then has the plant destroyed by a worm.

His comfort has been destroyed.

That only made Jonah angrier.

Finally, God asks Jonah why it is so terrible for Jonah to lose the plant that gave him a bit of joy, but it wouldn’t be even more terrible for God to lose the Ninevites who, for whatever reason, Give God a bit of joy?

In other words, God finds joy in all God’s creation and wants all the people, to be rescued from destruction.

Even the Ninevites …

That’s the story.

So, what is the “sign” from this story that Jesus expects the Sadducees and Pharisees to understand?

The most common option is that Jonah was in the belly of the big fish for three days and was then returned to life on dry land.

Sounds like death and resurrection.

That would be Jesus, right?

That is what the Sadducees and Pharisees need to look for.

That’s the sign Jesus offers.

What will that sign tell the Sadducees and Pharissees?

If not that, what might the sign of Jonah have been?

How our Jewish brothers and sisters understand the Story of Jonah might give us a clue.

The Book of Jonah is the only book read in its entirety in a synagogue service and that happens on Yom Kippur the most solemn religious fast of the Jewish year when forgiveness of sins is also of God.

So, to the Jews, the story of Jonah has something to do with the forgiveness of sins in response to repentance.

To me, that seems to make sense.

Jonah and the Ninevites are in conflict with God.

Both repent, Jonah in response to the events that landed him in the fish and the Ninevites in response to Jonah.

After Jonah repents, he is saved from destruction in the belly of the big fish.

After the Ninevites repent, they are saved from destruction as well.

There is an overarching message here.

Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik is Associate Rabbi at Kehilat Jeshurun in New York and an Associate Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and he puts it this way:

God is to be found anywhere, at any time. In the words of the American founder John Adams, this doctrine—”of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe,” which Adams took to be “the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization”—constituted the gift of the ancient Hebrews, who alone “had preserved and propagated [it] to all mankind.” It is the lesson taught by the book of Jonah, and its message to all who hear it on Yom Kippur is that we must live our lives accordingly.

In other words, the knowledge of God was given to the Hebrews to be shared with all people as a gift, even gentiles.

Why does Jesus think that the story identifies him?

Why should the Pharisees and Sadducees recognize Jesus in that story?

The Hebrews are to be God’s messengers to the gentiles.

Jonah is the personification of that.  

The Hebrews, for a time, disobeyed and did not pass this gift along.

Again, that’s Jonah.

But God would not be refused and sent Jesus, a Hebrew, to complete the task.

Jesus volunteers to die.

Like Jonah getting thrown into the sea.

But Jesus is resurrected.

Like Jonah getting vomited up onto the land.

And all people are rescued from destruction.

Even Ninevites.

Even us.

The kind of thing Jesus was doing.

Proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all people.

And that is what we are to do, as well.

We can’t be Jesus.

But we can be Jonah.

So, Jesus seems to be saying that he Pharisees and Sadducees they will know who Jesus was and what Jesus when they see that “sign of Jonah”.

But Jesus seems to have noticed something a bit more subtle going on here.

The Pharisees and Sadducees are really not seeking proof.

They are trying to take charge.

I have an image of them smirking and saying, “Look, if you’re such a big deal, why don’t you just call down a plague or something on the Romans to get rid of them?”

“Or maybe just a bolt of lightning on Herod’s head?”

Kind of like what Herod did at Jesus trial, right?

Or what Satan was ding in the wilderness temptations of Jesus.

But Jesus does not take orders from such folks.

Jesus does not do their will

Jesus does God’s will.

Which brings us back to the “sign of Jonah” as an illustration of the resurrection.

Jesus will go through that voluntarily.

And that will be the undeniable proof.

Proof enough for all time.

Don’t need Abby for that.

Well, what do we make of this in 2020?

Like I said before, we can’t be Jesus, but we can be Jonah.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called by God to be Jonah.

We are to go proclaim to the world that God so loved everyone that God sent Jesus here to rescue us from destruction.

And that we are to love God and love each other the same way.

We might not particularly like some of those folks we proclaim that to, and they might not particularly like us.

We are all Ninevites to someone.

But we still do it.

Like Jonah.

Like Jesus.

So, don’t ask for a sign.

We have been given the only sign we need.

Ask for Jesus.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church; August 9, 2020.

How do we prove things to be true? In court, there are basically two ways. Direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is what people see, hear, feel, smell or taste. Circumstantial evidence is what can be reasonably inferred from what people see, hear, feel, smell or taste. Both are valid. But while direct evidence has always been preferred, it is extremely rare. You can’t take a jury back int time to observe the event under scrutiny. Yet, we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, I wasn’t there so how can I know?” There was a time when judges of disputes wanted a “sign” that proved who was in the right. A trial by ordeal, perhaps. A duel, perhaps. God would reward the righteous, it was thought, and so the winner or survivor must be in the right. That was accepted as direct evidence. Happily, we don’t do it that way anymore. We are satisfied with circumstantial evidence that a party’s claim in a case was true. What evidence? Witness testimony, documents, opinions of experts and so forth. The jury’s job is then to look at the evidence and make a decision on what the evidence proves. The jury is to use its collective common sense, experience and general knowledge to analyze the evidence in order to decide. The jury might want a “sign”, but must, instead, used their brains. In this week’s text, some fairly smart folks refuse to look at the evidence and instead ask for a “sign” from Jesus to confirm his identity. Jesus’ response is not what they wanted to hear – or was it? Log on Sunday, August 9 at 9:30am to the John McMillan Presbyterian Church Facebook page to hear Pastor Jeff preach “Proof!” You can also watch te recording later on Facebook or YouTube. See you (virtually) then!

Ready for the Storm: Thoughts on not being so afraid.

Ready for the Storm

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on our back porch when the wind started picking up.

I thought maybe one of those summer storms might pop up.

What made me sure of it was what my dogs, Lucy and Roxy did.

They got ready.

They don’t like thunderstorms.

Lucy and Roxy respond to thunderstorms differently.

Lucy paces and pants.

She seems unable to settle herself, so she sits at our feet and paws at us until we start to pet her – comfort her – until the storm passes.

Roxy has a different plan.

For Roxy, there is only one place that is safe in a thunderstorm.

At the first flash of lightning or rumble of thunder, she trots into the first-floor powder room and crawls behind the toilet.

There she stays until the storm passes.

That’s what they did that evening.

As soon as the wind started blowing, Lucy was at my feet, panting and pleading for comfort.

Roxy was trotting into the bathroom.

They were getting ready for the storm.

Our scripture reading is about a storm.

It makes me think of a song recorded by the late Rich Mullins.

Some of you might know of him.

He was what many called a “contemporary Christian musician”.

If you have not heard any of his music, you really should.

On one of his CDs, he recorded a song written by Scottish songwriter Dougie MacLean called “Ready for the Storm”.

Mullins did not cover many songs written by others, but I can see why he did this one.

Mullins made one small tweak to the lyrics that made me think that the story of Jesus calming a storm was on his mind when he sang.

It certainly comes to my mind when I hear it.

Here are the lyrics:

The waves crash in
The tide rolls out
It’s an angry sea
But there is no doubt
That the lighthouse
Will keep shining out
To warn a lonely sailor

And the lightning strikes
And the wind cuts cold
Through the sailor’s bones
Through the sailor’s soul
‘Til there’s nothing left
That he can hold
Except a rolling ocean

Oh, I am ready for the storm
Yes, sir, ready
I am ready for the storm
I’m ready for the storm

Oh, give me mercy
For my dreams
‘Cause every confrontation seems
To tell me
What it really means
To be this lonely sailor

And when the sky begins to clear
The sun it melts away my fear
And I cry a silent weary tear
For those who mean to love me

Oh, I am ready for the storm
Yes, sir, ready
I am ready for the storm
I’m ready for the storm

The distance it is no real friend
And time will take its time
And you will find that in the end
It brings you me
This lonely sailor

And when You take me by the hand
And You love me, Lord, You love me
And I should have realized
I had no reasons to be frightened

Oh, I am ready for the storm
Yes, sir, ready
I am ready for the storm
Yes, sir, ready
I am ready for the storm
Yes, sir, ready
I am ready for the storm
I’m ready for the storm

In our text today, Jesus calms a storm his disciples seemed unready for.

Mark 4: 35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

Did you hear the lyrics to “Ready for the Storm”?

The song is about a sailor who is sailing on a stormy sea.

And he is ready for the storm.

Ready because:

… the lighthouse
Will keep shining out
To warn a lonely sailor

And you will find that in the end
It brings you me
This lonely sailor

And when You take me by the hand
And You love me, Lord, You love me
And I should have realized
I had no reasons to be frightened

This lonely storm-surrounded sailor is ready because he is loved, by God and all those others who love him.

It’s a kind of faith, right?

Seemingly alone in the middle of a storm, we have faith that we are not alone.

That we are loved.

By God.

By others.

But there’s something else interesting about those lyrics.

MacLean does not say the sailor is not afraid.

The sailor is just ready.

Ready to hang on to the light from the lighthouse and the love of God and all those who love him.

That’s what gets him through.

And only when the storm is over does he realize that regardless of the outcome, he continues to be loved, and there was, if only in retrospect, no reason to be frightened.

I think that is what Jesus was getting to in our text today.

The disciples were justifiably afraid when the storm came up on the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is a fairly shallow body of water that sits in the basin of hill country.

When the wind gets cranked up, the water turns into a torrent of waves and spray.

These storms usually come up in the afternoon, so the fishermen went out in the early morning, evening or during the night.

These storms were fearsome.

And here we have a storm that came up unexpectedly late in the day.

It was a fierce one.

The waves were crashing over the boat and it looked like the boat might sink.

In a storm like that, there was little hope the disciples could swim for long.

But there was something even more fearsome for the disciples.

To them, this wasn’t just a storm.

This was a demonic attack.

They were being attacked by the sea.

In the view of the disciples, water was the home of chaos.

The “deep” was where bedlam and anarchy reigned.

The stormy sea was a spiritual battle.

That’s the way the disciples would have thought about the gale on the Sea of Galilee.

That’s what the Psalmist would have thought, too.

The Psalmist repeatedly calls on God to calm the waters that are threatening the people.

Listen to Psalm 93 from the NIV.

3 The seas have lifted up, O Lord,
   the seas have lifted up their voice;
   the seas lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
   more majestic than the waves of the sea,
   majestic on high is the Lord!

It is only God who can save us from the chaos of the seas.

But the disciples aren’t prepared.

They could have gathered around in a circle and chanted Psalm 67.

5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
   O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
   and of the farthest seas.
6 By your strength you established the mountains;
   you are girded with might.
7 You silence the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   the tumult of the peoples.

But that is not what they did.

They panicked.

They looked to Jesus and cried out the words of Psalm 44:

23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
   Awake, do not cast us off for ever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
   Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

26 Rise up, come to our help.
   Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

“What the heck, Jesus?

You are the guy whose very words made things happen.

Don’t you care?

Get up and do something!”

And Jesus says nothing to them.

He gets up and speaks.

“Quiet. Be still.”

He’s not talking to the disciples.

He’s talking to the roaring and foamy waves and wind.

And the roaring and foamy waves and wind stopped.

It became dead calm.

Then Jesus finally speaks to the disciples.

“Why are you so afraid?

Do you still have no faith?”

Note an important point here.

Jesus does not ask them why they were afraid.

He knows that it was normal and reasonable for the disciples to be afraid.

He asks them why they are “so” afraid.

Why they despaired.

Why they had no hope.

Why they had no faith.

Why weren’t they looking to the lighthouse.

Why not focused on the love of God.

The love of others?

They should have known that they were not alone.

They were with Jesus.

In his kingdom.

Which is what he had been teaching them for a while.

And now the disciples were now afraid for a different reason.

“Who is this guy?

We just wanted a bit of encouragement.

A bit of help.

But we did not expect this!

He speaks and the seas listen.

He does things only God can do.”

Maybe then they realized that, like the sailor in MacLean’s song, there was no reason to be frightened – because they should have realized they were ready for that storm.

They had Jesus.

The one they had perhaps inadvertently ccall on with the words of Psalm 44.

They were not alone.

So what is really happening here?

What does this all mean?

I think it is something like this.

When the storms come, I get Roxy from the behind the toilet and hold her.

I keep my hand on Lucy.

I comfort them and let them know there is no reason for them to be so afraid.

I let them know that I am with them.

It’s kind of like when your child is scared.

You hold him.

Tell her you are with her.

Let them know that they are not alone.

That there is no reason for them to be so afraid.

Jesus is doing the same thing.

He is telling his disciples to have a little faith with their fear.

Faith that they are not alone.

Jesus is right there.

He can still the storm with a word.

And he will, if and when necessary.

I find this story important in July of 2020.

We are in stormy times aren’t we.

We are in the middle of a pandemic.

We are in the middle of a cultural upheaval about racism and governmental powers.

We are in the middle of a highly charged and polarizing political campaign.

We are in the middle of an economic crisis for many.

Some are in the middle of difficult and even tragic family circumstances.

We cannot be with our family.

We cannot assemble for celebrations.

We cannot gather to mourn.

And none of us knows how any of this is going to turn out.

We are like sailors trying to survive the storm.

Battening down the hatches.

Securing the sails.

Hanging on for dear life in the wind and waves.

We are like the disciples in the middle of the stormy sea screaming, “God, I’m sinking! Don’t you care?”

What does Jesus say?

Not that we should not be afraid.

We can’t help that!

He says don’t despair.

Don’t lose hope.

There is no reason for you to be so afraid.

Jesus says have faith that you are not alone.

“I am with you,” Jesus says.

And so are all those who love you.

That is what I think Jesus is telling his disciples.

I like the way Gary W. Charles puts it in his essay, “No More the Sea”.

He describes the sea as an enemy whose presence seems constant.

He writes this as the lesson from today’s text.

No more the sea. God does not sleep. No more the sea. God hears us. No more the sea. God cares about us. No more the sea. God loves us. No more the sea. God leads us beside the still waters. No more the sea. “He is not here. He is risen. He is going ahead of you.” Trust, then, in this world and in the world to come – there is no more the sea.

How do we make ourselves ready for the storm?

He is risen.

He will be with you till the end of time.