The three trusts
How frightened have you been in your life?
Taxiing along the runway of an airfield in California 30 years ago, for the first time, with six other people all togged up with parachutes, it dawned on me that I was not coming down in this plane. That was pretty frightening…but I don’t mean something like that.
Or being nervous about taking an exam or performing in a concert; giving your first speech…all of these things should go OK provided we have rehearsed; provided we do what the instructor has said we should do.
I don’t even mean the fear that pilot Tammy Jo Schultz must have felt when an engine exploded on her Southwest airline flight over the US and the aircraft started shaking and a passenger was sucked out of the window, when she was reminded of her days of pretty hairy flying as a US Navy fighter pilot and she turned back to her experience and she said to herself “Oh here we go again”!
All these are events of, if you like, ‘controlled fear’. We turn to our training or experience to cope. We have good reason that things are going to be OK. We still feel fear, but we are on top of it. Some would call this sensation ‘excitement’. It’s going to be fine.
No, I mean the totally terrifying fear which grips us when a situation is completely beyond our control and where the result could easily end in our death or the death of someone we love.
It is this sort of situation that Mark is describing in the passage just read to us.
The disciples have set out on to the Sea of Galilee. They are for the most part experienced fishermen. They have seen storms. They know how to reef the sail; batten down the hatches and ride it out. But they also know when they are completely out of their control; where all their experience is telling them that this is not going to end well. When the water is so cascading into the boat that bailing it out will no longer help: the boat is sinking and they are going to drown.
Meanwhile Jesus is asleep ‘on a cushion’.
Why did Mark put in that little detail about the cushion? Perhaps to indicate the contrast between the work that the disciples were doing bailing out the sinking boat, and Jesus relaxed snoozing in the stern.
I can well imagine the sense of frustration which they felt.
Again, in the 1980s, I was driving with four friends in a suzuki jimni (designed for two people) the 200 miles from Lake Turkana in Kenya along the dirt track which passes as a road to the Samburu Game lodge; a journey in which we passed almost no villages and almost no other traffic.
We had three punctures in as few hours. We had replaced our spare tyre. The second was a slow puncture and we could not find a way to repair the third flat.
It was getting dark we were in the bush with all sorts of wild animals around and we had recently past in the dusk the worrying sight of a huge bonfire surrounded by local tribesmen….holding spears.
We were not about to take the risk of that particular bit of cross cultural engagement!
Whilst my friend Piers and I and two of the girls with us were desperately trying to work out how to fix the tyre, the remaining girl, a Rhodesian, was asleep in the back of the car.
Finally, as we were descending into panic, the girl in the car woke up and observed how the mechanics on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe used to stand the wheels up on one end to get the tyres off to mend them. I said ‘if you have any more helpful suggestions perhaps you would get out of the car and make them’. I was furious that she didn’t seem to care enough about our situation to get out of the car to help…
Not surprisingly, we all ended up shouting at each other!
I feel sure that many of us can think of similar incidents in our lives where life has got out of control and all our emotions have overspilled.
I was so reminded of this story when reading this Bible passage. Everything can easily deteriorate when life seems in danger. Anger is often the result of panic, as it was for me on that dusty road in Africa; as it was on the Sea of Galilee for the disciples. They were cross that Jesus was asleep on a cushion! While everyone else was doing what they could to stop the boat from sinking…..
They woke him up and used some very emotionally charged words 38 “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
When we are suffering we can often feel that either God does not care about us, that he is asleep or he is far away or doubt whether he exists at all. But Jesus’ response is so astonishing to the disciples. He speaks to the wind; he rebukes it; he tells it off and says to the sea ‘Peace! be still!’ Incredible.
Then Mark continues ‘Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm’.
Then Jesus tells the disciples off: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’
So what’s going on here? Why is Jesus telling them off?
There’s a crisis. They call on him but that’ s what we are meant to do isn’t it?
Is it that he is telling them off for being frightened; that as a Christian we shouldn’t be frightened in any situation, just believe in Jesus? Have faith! It’ll be fine!
How hollow that sounds in a crisis! Don’t ever say that to people, by the way, to people who are suffering.
It can’t mean that we are not allowed to be frightened; not allowed to complain to him about our suffering. How often are the Psalms full of complaints about suffering? Even Jesus on the Cross says to God ‘why have you forsaken me’?
What is this all about Jesus?
In this incident we see the crux of discipleship so clearly. Whenever we are suffering; whenever we are frightened, we, the disciples need Jesus to do things for us and to do them now. He, on the other hand, wants us to trust him.
Like so many of the witness stories about Jesus told to us in the gospels, this is a story which opens up for us something about Jesus’ character; about God’s character. Only when we know someone’s character can we trust them. We cannot trust Jesus, if we don’t know him; know that he is trustworthy.
When we say to someone ‘Don’t you have faith in me?’ We mean ‘Don’t you know my character yet?’
I think the reason that he is telling off the disciples is because his character, God’s character, has been maligned when they say ‘Don’t you care that we are perishing?’ He replies ‘Have you still no faith?’.
There are three trusts involved;
Firstly, to trust that Jesus, that God is present and active; even though he may appear to be asleep in the stern.
Some churchgoers don’t really believe that God is present and active. They may think that God, once upon a time created the universe and has now gone off somewhere else, but he is not present here and now; not active in our daily lives, changing our situation when we appeal to him. That sort of belief is called ‘Deism’.
But Jesus is calling us to trust that he is present and active.
Secondly, to trust that Jesus, that God has the power to change our situation.
Perhaps even the disciples were still thinking that Jesus was a great religious leader, a wonderful rabbi but not the Son of God. Or perhaps they believe that he is only as powerful as the forces of evil stacked against them.
But then Jesus stills the wind and waves and the disciples say “who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?”
But who else speaks to the elements; speaks them into existence? Only God the Creator. There is no one who has more power in the universe.
Jesus is calling us to trust that he does have the power to change our situation.
Thirdly, to trust that Jesus, to trust that God cares about us.
Some people believe that God needs to be submitted to but does not necessarily care, does not necessarily love us.
Sometimes when we are suffering, when we are in a situation beyond our control, we can easily think that God does not care about us, when he doesn’t heal us immediately.
We may think this because we have taken on board a false myth that Christianity promises a life of continued success, excitement and growth. We can end up with a sense of entitlement.
When I was at theological college, we were all shown a cartoon. It was a Roman arena with a group of Christians being pushed by soldiers with spears into the centre with crowds baying for blood and a couple of lions padding slowly and malevolently towards them, licking their lips.
The caption underneath the cartoon read “Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life”
Life is going to get tough. There is going to be suffering. Its the human condition, but we should not judge his care for us, nor the state of our discipleship by whether we are facing a storm, even by whether he immediately stills that storm.
The question is do we trust that Jesus does care for us and will give us the wherewithal to cope in that moment with whatever the enemy throws at us?
So what do we do, when the situation is out of control? When the panic is beginning to rise as it did for the disciples in the boat?
We call out to the one who can help; we trust that he is present and active; we trust that he has the power to help us, and we trust that he cares about us.
I remember reading a witness account of people in one of the twin towers trying to escape down the staircase on 9/11; knowing that the plane had hit; knowing that the tower could collapse at any moment; calling out ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’!
Jesus does not promise that there won’t be disasters; that we wont suffer. But he does promise to be with us throughout; caring for us. He doesn’t promise that we won’t be frightened but that, because we trust him, the fear we have can be controlled fear.
Trusting the one we know so well; the one who we know cares for us and has never let us down; even if it involves our death, so that we are brought to be with him for eternity
Jesus Stills a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But 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?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”