Proper #7…Series B
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (June 23 and 24-2018)
Text: Mark 4:35-41
Title: Asleep at the Tiller!!
One of the highlights of our recent Holy Land pilgrimage was a delightful cruise on the Sea of Galilee. During our cruise we learned that the Sea of Galilee is 12 miles long, 7 miles wide and about 700 feet deep…a beautiful, but relatively small and insignificant body of water, and yet over the waters of the Sea of Galilee some of the most vicious/violent storms in the entire Middle East are known to rage. Often, in a matter of minutes, the calm surface of the Sea of Galilee is transformed into a raging, churning caldron with waves of 15-20 feet high. It was just such a storm that provided the context for our Gospel reading for this 5th Sunday after the great feast of Pentecost.
The story of Jesus silencing the winds and calming the sea of Galilee…like the parable of the Mustard Seed from last Sunday’s Gospel, appears in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew Mark and Luke). And if you read all three accounts you will discover that they are virtually identical…but you will also discover that Mark adds several details not found in Matthew or Luke. For instance, Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep in the stern of the ship…the back of the ship…the place where the steering apparatus was located (the tiller and the rudder)…the domain of the captain of the ship! Mark also tells us in verse 38 that Jesus was asleep on “the cushion”…notice Mark doesn’t say that Jesus was asleep on a cushion…Jesus was asleep on THE CUSHION. So, here is the question that I have been pondering this week: are these facts (that Jesus was in the stern and he was asleep on THE CUSHION) just an insignificant/inconsequential details that Mark mentions (and Matthew and Luke fail to mention)…or are they the key which unlocks the deepest spiritual meaning in this wonderful story?
I did a little research and discovered that the Greek noun which is translated CUSHION is the word proskapalaion, and this word only appears once in the entire NT! I also learned that this word (when it appears with the definite article THE) is usually translated: The SAILOR’S CUSHION…and the sailor’s cushion is located in the stern, and it is reserved for the captain of the ship! Could it be that what the evangelist Mark is telling us is that Jesus was at the tiller…he was at the helm…sleeping on the SAILOR’S CUSHION…that Jesus was actually the captain of the ship…in the middle of the night…in the middle of a vicious storm…in the middle of the Sea of Galilee?
If this is true…if Jesus was the Captain and he was asleep at the tiller…then what does it mean and how should we understand this rather surprising reality? It seems to me that there are two possible interpretations. The first and the most obvious interpretation is that Jesus, in his humanity (and we must never forget that he was “fully human”) he was exhausted…worn out…physically and emotionally drained following a long and demanding day of ministry activities and, he did what most of us would do under similar circumstances…(what I do almost every Sunday afternoon) he took a nap! And, on the surface, it appeared that he didn’t really care about the welfare and safety of his beloved disciples. This is exactly how the disciples chose to interpret Jesus asleep at the tiller…they were angry and they woke him and shouted, “Don’t you give a damn that we are perishing in this storm??”. And isn’t that exactly how we sometimes interpret the deafening silence of God in the midst of the storms of our lives. We wonder if there is a God, is God asleep at the tiller… we wonder if God knows or even cares that we are struggling!
But, my friends, there is another interpretation…another way of understanding Jesus asleep on the sailor’s cushion. Could it be that he actually wanted the disciples to experience the full fury of that storm…because he wanted them to know that, after he was gone, they would experience storms…storms of persecution and hostility…storms of doubt and unbelief…storms of discouragement and failure…
* Could it be that Jesus wanted his beloved disciples to experience the full fury of that storm because he wanted them to know that in the midst of the storms of life that they had a reliable resource that they could count on.
* Could it be that Jesus wanted his disciples to experience the full fury of that storm because he wanted them to know that he was not just a rabbi/preacher/teacher/healer but that he was God in the flesh…so the captain of the ship took a nap on the Sailor’s Cushion!!
Friends, here is the point of the story…here is where this ancient story intersects with our lives today: disciples of Jesus will experience storms…we are not immune from storms…Jesus never promised us a “storm-free” existence. Make no mistake about it…there will be storms, and it is in the middle of the storms when our faith is most severely tested (just as the disciples faith was tested that night on the Sea of Galilee). So here is a simple truth that I have learned in my journey with Jesus: Christian faith is like a muscle in the human body, and muscles which are not regularly exercised soon grow weak and flabby…they atrophy and they aren’t good for much of anything. But muscles which are regularly exercised grow strong and resilient and ready for action. So, my friends, here is the Good News about storms: it is precisely in the midst of the storms of life, that our faith is exercised…our faith in a God grows stronger and more resilient. It is in the midst of the storms of our lives…that we experience the “inescapable nearness” of God…it is in the midst of the storms of life…when the winds howl and the waves crash and we feel alone and helpless…vulnerable and immobilized by fear, that we learn how to trust in God…because trusting in God does not come naturally for us humans…trusting in God is a “learned behavior” and the storms of life are our best teachers…they teach us how to trust in the God who saves thru Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit…
And Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace…Be Still”…then the wind ceased and there was a great calm!!