June 25, 2023

In the Storm

Passage: Mark 4:35-41

Prayer of Illumination:
Draw us close, Holy Spirit, as the Scriptures are read, and the Word is proclaimed.  Let the word of faith be on our lips and in our hearts, and let all other words slip away. May there be one voice we hear today — the voice of truth and grace.  Amen

On December 26, 2004, my family was living in Malaysia. We were sleeping after a late Christmas dinner and woke up to the startling sound of the phone. It was from my sister in Korea. Her voice sounded very worried, asking whether we were okay, not being affected by the tsunami. ‘What tsunami?’ We turned the TV on. We couldn’t believe what happened while we were sleeping.

The undersea megathrust earthquake near Indonesia triggered a series of enormous tsunamis along the coasts of more than 10 countries in Southeast Asia, killing around 250,000 people. The waves were up to 30 meters high. The tsunami was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. You can watch the movie ‘The Impossible’ which was made based on the massive 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.

Not only the 2004 tsunami but also there have been a lot of other natural disasters around us. The 2010 Haiti earthquake; the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami; the 2020 Australia wildfire; the 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake; volcano eruptions, droughts, and wildfires across Canada. You name it. These natural disasters are not predictable.

Sadly, whenever those natural disasters take place, it is God who is blamed. Even the atheists who do not believe in the existence of God blame God for such deadly catastrophes while no “credit” is given to God for years of peaceful weather. Tragedies cause many people to question God’s goodness. Is it really God who has brought all those natural calamities? Or is it by living nature itself or humans who have been ravaging the Earth? I do not know, but I know that our Creator God loves His creations.

From ancient times, people believed that there were gods that had power over nature.  For example, Baal (or Bel) was worshiped as a sun god and storm god; Dagon was a god of water and grain; the Egyptian god, Re was the god of the sun and creator god; Hadad was worshiped as the god of storms who displayed his power in thunder, lightning, and rain.

People worshiped them because they strongly believed that these gods had the power to control the sun, moon, rain, storm, and sea. They feared these gods because they thought if they were angry, they would bring massive disasters. So they not only worshiped them but also offered sacrifices - and often human sacrifices - to please these gods.

Today’s Scripture lesson is from Mark’s gospel. On that day, Jesus was teaching the large crowd by the lake all day. He was teaching in parables: the Parable of the Sower; the Parable of the Lamp; the Parable of the Seed that Grows itself; the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus was planting the seed of the Gospel, the seed of faith in the hearts of all who were listening to His message. When evening came, Jesus told the disciples to sail to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus who had been teaching all day must have been very tired and fell sound asleep on a cushion, probably snoring. Suddenly, a strong wind blew up and the waves got higher. The furious squall came up and the boat was nearly sinking.

At least four of the disciples were fishermen who knew the Sea of Galilee and the dangers of a storm well.

However, the storm must have been some storm to make these seasoned fishermen panic. Despite their best efforts at keeping the boat afloat, it was beginning to sink.  But in that chaotic situation, Jesus was asleep.

Put yourself in one of the disciples’ shoes. The boat is rocking side to side, up and down; the sea water is pouring in; people are screaming, and Jesus is sleeping.

“Teacher, don’t you care if we all drown?” You try to wake Him up and you scream: “Are you serious? We are about to die here, and you’re just sleeping, not caring about us.”  “Can you do something?”

Finally, Jesus got up. He didn’t even seem surprised to see all this mess. He sternly rebuked the wind and the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” It was like, ‘I’m trying to sleep here, Be quiet!’ Immediately, the wind died down and it was completely calm. Just like that.

Do you know that in the water, even after the wind dies, it takes a while for that water to subside? If the wind suddenly stops, the water is still moving and bouncing. But when Jesus commanded “Quiet. Be still,” both the wind and the waves obeyed at once. The Bible says, “There was a dead calm.”

Jesus didn’t have to teach them how to sail in the storm. He didn’t call out other gods of sea and storm. He didn’t throw one of His disciples into the sea as a sacrifice. He didn’t even cry out loud to Jehovah God to save them. He just spoke to the wind and the sea.

Jesus then turned to the disciples and said, “Why are you frightened? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were terribly afraid and began to say to one another, “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We are not told the disciples were filled with wonder. We are not told they asked this question trembling with joy or anticipation, nor with excitement. No, we’re told they were “terrified.”

When they were waking Jesus up when they were calling Him for help, what do you think they expected Jesus would do? They knew Jesus was a great healer and an admired teacher, but maybe they didn’t realize that Jesus was in fact God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and the one who could command the winds and the seas.

They had no idea what He was capable of. That’s why the disciples asked each other in terror, “Who is this man?”

Like the disciples, we are the followers of Christ. We read the Bible, listen to sermons, and pray to Him. We pray the Lord’s Prayer and confess “You are my Lord and my Savior,” but do we really know who Jesus is? Do we truly know that the One we call, “My Lord and my God” is the Almighty and Incomprehensible Creator?

Fred Craddock, a renowned preacher, professor and theologian said, “The presence of God is what everybody wants, and what nobody wants.” His holiness and sovereignty are beyond any measure that we will surely feel unworthy to be in the glorious presence of God.

We think we know enough about God, but do we, from the bottom of our hearts, believe that the God we believe in, the Triune God - the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit - is able to calm the storm - both the natural phenomenon and the storms in our life?

We live in constant threat of chaos from life: unpredictable natural phenomena like all the wildfires throughout Canada, heat waves, ice storms, or unexpected calls from doctors about health issues, unforeseen accidents, unsettled family issues, overwhelming demands, financial difficulties, and our own personal and private struggles that we cannot share with others.

And like the disciples, you ask, “Jesus, don’t you care if I drown?” And you feel like you are sinking in a raging sea, desperately calling out loud; “O God, are you sleeping? Do you even care?” Then you wonder if the God you believe in may be either not as powerful as you thought or doesn’t care as much about you.

But you know what? God never promised us that nothing bad will ever happen to us. God never promised smooth sailing and blue skies every day once we believe in God. It was never a ‘happily ever after’ deal.

Leaving the family and the crowd behind and following Jesus didn’t guarantee the disciples a storm-free life. It was rather a life of hardship and persecution.

But He promised one thing: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What it means is that when bad things happen to us, our faith keeps us from going under - or perhaps we should say, the One in whom we place our faith keeps us from drowning. How little we believe God to be with us in the midst of an overwhelming storm and He would act in His perfect time.

When Jesus said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” I don’t think He was scolding them or disappointed in them. I think He was full of compassion and love. Jesus did not reproach the disciples for fearing a storm. He didn’t expect them to be fearless. He simply wanted them to believe that He was more powerful than any storm and they were safe because He was with them. It’s like, “Do you still have no faith that I am with you?”

Faith is not a magic charm that somehow protects us from fear or loss or hardship or Alzheimer's disease. Faith is a basic trust in God that even in the midst of the fiercest storms of life, the Lord of all nature and the binder of Satan is with us.

In 2004 in Malaysia, a couple of months before the massive tsunami, my family went to Sapi Island, a beautiful island where we could enjoy snorkeling and beaches. The only transportation to and from the island was small old motorboats.

It was a gorgeous day when we were spending time at the island, but when we were on our way back to the main island, the weather condition suddenly changed. Of course, the boat drivers were skilled local people. But even they were screaming at each other and had to stop the boat a few times because the waves were so big.

I was panicked and scared to death. We were wearing life jackets, but our daughters, Joy and Jane were only 5 and 4 years old. All I could think of was how to save my daughters in case the boat flips. Thomas said he would look after Joy and told me to take care of Jane if something would happen. I prayed so hard.

But do you know what our girls were doing? They fell asleep in our arms. They were not worried about the huge waves because they were in our arms. They trusted that their parents would be with them and protect them.

Sometimes, we may feel like the world around us is crashing down and our God doesn’t seem to care about our situations. We doubt His goodness, His promises, His power, and even His existence, asking, “God, don’t you care if we drown?” Then Jesus reassures us calmly, “My child, why are you afraid: Do you still have no faith?” And He carries us under His wings and soars above the storm.

Brothers and sisters, let us remember that Immanuel God is right there with us. Jesus is there with us in the sinking boat. We can act like little children resting unafraid in their parents' protective arms. Know His power in quietness and trust. If we truly know who Jesus is and what He is capable of, we don’t have to be afraid. Why should we?

Let us pray.
Jesus, when we feel lost, anxious, fearful, incapable, or hopeless, You are there, holding us tight. You who can calm the raging sea, speak to our life’s storms, “Peace, be calm.” Help us rest under Your wings of Love and Peace. Amen.