Monday, June 18, 2018

God Is With Us

In this coming Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 4:35-41), there are two statements that to me feel out of place. First, when Jesus and the disciples were going across the sea and a great windstorm arose, threatening to swamp the boat, the disciples went to the stern, found Jesus asleep, and said, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" Then, after Jesus calmed the sea, he said to the disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" Both of these statements seem to have been emotionally connected from the circumstances into which they were uttered, and I think that exactly how it works when we pray to God in a crisis.

Do you not care that we are perishing? Think about those words for a minute. They are the kind of words one might say to a crazy driver allowing a car to drift into oncoming traffic without seeming to care for the consequences. It's what you say to the string quartet still playing on the deck of the Titanic. It's what you say to someone who is going down in flames and taking everyone else with them. But is that what we say to Jesus? Does it make sense to say those words to God?

We say them all the time. Don't you care that we are perishing? Aren't you able to get me out of this? Doesn't it matter to you that my life is falling apart? We say those words to God in the same way that the disciples say them to Jesus--genuinely confused and panicked that the one we thought would keep us out of trouble is watching (or sleeping) while we careen toward the edge of our life's steepest cliff. When we say those words to God, a part of us--maybe most of us--doesn't really know the answer. The disciples really did not know whether Jesus cared that they were all about to die. But, of course, he did care, and so does God.

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? Think about those words for a moment. They are the kind of words that the madman driver says to us after he snaps the car back into the right lane just as the tractor-trailer blows past, not really convincing us that he was always going to do it. Or they are the words that help us realize that, although reasonable, our response was an overreaction, that our faith had been tested and found lacking. Or they are the consoling words of a parent or shepherd or savior that are designed to help us see that we never really had any reason to fear all along. And that sounds like the words God says to us over and over and over.

I don't think "what ifs" are particularly helpful in life except to make one thankful for how everything worked out, but this story invites our hypothetical imagination. What if the boat had capsized? What if half of the disciples drowned? What if Jesus and all of his disciples were killed in the storm and never heard from again? What if? Most likely, Mark's point is to show us that Jesus has power over the wind and the waves--the kind of power that only God has. Or maybe Mark wants us to see the folly of seeing Jesus casting out demons, healing the sick, confronting the religious authorities, and battling the forces of evil only to worry that we might die in a boat on the sea. Or maybe Mark wants us to know that when our own boat feels like it is going under and we cry out to God, "Don't you care that I am perishing?" God's reply is always, "Have you still no faith?"

Even if the boat goes down and we go down with it, we are not alone. If God is with me--and I believe that God is--then whatever peril comes, even if it leads to my death, it is not something I suffer because God has forgotten me or because God does not care about me. Does God care? Yes, absolutely. Because of that, we are never alone, and our trouble is never a lostness or abandonment. It's silly to think that God would not care that we are struggle. Of course God cares. And, if we listen, we can hear his gentle response: have you still no faith? That's an invitation to those of us in the midst of a storm.

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