Sermon on Mark 4.35-41
what ship plays with icebergs
and plays soft music as it sinks into the ocean?
what ship on the throw of a dice
feeds a prophet to his fishy destination?
what ship breaks its spine on the rocks
and turns the waves black with lubrication?
a ship of fools
but there are fools and
those who seem to be
what ship is built on a dry highland
is launched in a downpour
and flies on watery wings to the peak of a mountain?
what ship has a crew
of taxmen thieves and fishermen
who decide in the howling storm
to make a small sleeping carpenter
a ship of fools
but there are fools and
those who only appear to be.
This poem by Simon Jenkins suggests that living the Christian life is a bit like travelling on a ship of fools. This talk is about being on a boat with Jesus, and what you might expect to happen on that watery journey.
Our gospel story shows that if you’re on a boat with Jesus on the Lake of Galilee then you should expect storms.
Galilee is notorious for its storms. They come out of clear blue skies with shattering and terrifying suddenness.
If you’re on a boat with Jesus, voyaging across that lake, you might expect to encounter just such sudden storms.
And of course, that boat, that lake, those storms, can be seen as metaphors about us and the bumpy ride that we often find ourselves on.
We can put ourselves onto that tiny Galilean boat, into the story of that stormy day.
So, in your life, if you’re on a boat with Jesus, you might expect confrontation.
You’ll be confronted with uncomfortable truths about yourself. You might not be a fisherman, accustomed to travelling this way. You may be a tax collector, a civil servant, a landlubber. Sickly and shaken, out of your depth, you may have to face your weaknesses, on a boat with Jesus.
You’ll be confronted with uncomfortable truths about God, too. Things like, when there’s a crisis, when there’s a storm, finding that God seems to be asleep. You’re panicking, you’re fearful, you’re being tossed and blown by the most awful winds of change. And though you know that God’s there with you, God doesn’t seem to be paying any attention. Just when you need him most, if you go looking for Jesus’s help, you may find him asleep.
And when you wake him – it’s up to you to wake him – if you’re on a boat with Jesus you might expect to find more questions than answers.
Questions like, how do I wake up God? Do I have to tiptoe around, give a little nervous cough, in the hope that the Almighty will stir and notice me waiting there? Can I shout at God, when the storm is loud, can I scream to get God’s urgent attention? Is it ok to pray that way?
Questions like, can I argue with God? Call God to account: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”.
And if I do get into an argument with God, many many more questions:
Why is this happening to me?
Why do innocent people suffer?
If you’re a God of love, why all this horror?
If you’re a God of order, why all this chaos?
If you’re so powerful, why do you seem so impotent?
What does the future hold for us?
If you’re on a boat with Jesus, you might feel like you’re on a ship of fools.
Why put ourselves through all this when we could stay calmly on the shore?
But some only appear to be fools.
Jesus spoke, and calmed the storm. Overcame the evil in the wind and waves. Let the waters become the sailors’ friend again, no longer their enemy. He restored order to creation. He encouraged the amazed disciples to look deep inside themselves to see if there was any faith there, that might liberate and awaken them to see beyond fear to the loving eyes and strong arms of God.
If you’re on a boat with Jesus, you should expect storms, and many questions.
But you should also expect God to turn your eyes to another view of the world, one in which storms will be stilled, even if not when you expect. One in which questions will be answered, but maybe not how you imagine.
The story of this little boat which Mark told is a metaphor for our spiritual lives. But it’s also something the Bible says happened in time and space. We mustn’t forget that Jesus lived this, in the physical, because that awakens us to expect that, in a mysterious way, he lives with us in the physical here and now, with all its storms and chaos.
Jesus is with us in the storms of life as he was with his disciples on Galilee that day. So, when those times come yes, we can shout at God to wake up, we can argue, we can ask questions.
And in return we can expect Jesus to ask us to let our fear go the way of the wind, to embrace faith.
For storms are real, and so are doubt, fear and despair, but within them stands God, reaching out to pull us to safety.
It may look foolish to get into a boat with Jesus, but some only appear to be fools.