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2 Corinthians 6.1-13
In 4:1-34 Jesus teaches in parables, which keeps those "outside" from understanding (4:11-12), but Jesus "explains everything in private to his disciples" (4:34). However, we will see that even with the special instructions, the disciples don't get it.
In 4:35-5:43 Jesus teaches with miracles -- stilling the storm (4:35-41); the demonic legion (5:1-20); raising Jairus' daughter and healing the woman with a flow of blood (5:21-43 -- the text for next week). However, following these displays of Jesus' power, the responses are not positive:
Following these powerful miracles, Jesus enters his hometown where the people "take offense" at him and he is unable to any "deeds of power" except a few healings. Jesus is amazed at their unbelief (6:1-6a).
One simple message conveyed by Mark's narrative is that the miracles do not produce faith, but faith sometimes has a role in the miracles.
Our text has many possible themes and approaches, I will briefly highlight a few that I find preachable.
Why do the disciples cross the lake?
Expanding on the chicken joke: What's on the other side?
I believe that the trip across the lake represents the Gentile mission for Mark. The storm at sea represents the storms in the early church as they sought to carry out Jesus' command "to go to the other side" or "to make disciples of all nations." It may be noted that the area where the congregation is sitting is properly called the "nave," from the Latin "navis" = ship. ("Navy" comes from the same root.)
For most of our congregations, we don't have to go anywhere to "get to the other side." The "Gentiles" have moved into our neighborhoods -- but what a storm it usually creates when a congregation makes an intentional effort to reach out to the unchurched -- to the people who are "different" than they.
Following the exorcism (5:1-20), they cross back over the lake to the Jewish side (5:21) and the Jewishness of the next miracle his highlighted with the character of a synagogue leader.
The next time Jesus makes his disciples get into a boat to cross over the lake to Bethsaida, which is in Gentile territory; there is another storm and the disciples are unable to go anywhere by themselves.
Both stormy crossing are commanded by Jesus. Crossing to the other side is not an option for those who want to obey/follow Jesus. The only safe way to "cross over to the other side" is to trust Jesus to calm the storms that will arise because of the missionary effort to "Gentiles".
Often, the alternative to risking the dangerous, stormy crossing, is to stay tied up on the shore. Unfortunately, that is the picture of many churches -- a peaceful, restful club house on the shore rather than a boat following Jesus' command to take the fearful risk to cross the lake. We are often more willing to be safe than to answer Jesus' call to go to the other side.
A quote that is in my notes from many years ago ties in with this image: "The church is 'not a luxury liner, granting passage and comfort to all who qualify and clamber aboard' but rather 'like a rescuing lifeboat, sometimes listing, or even leaking, but always guided by the captain, Jesus, at the helm.'" (Bishop Lyle G. Miller in opening worship at the Sierra Pacific Synod assembly, 1991, quoted in "The Lutheran," June 19, 1991, page 38)
The following story remotely relates to the above theme. I've had it in the book listed below, but I've also seen in posted in ecunet.
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their life and money and effort for the support of the work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club's decoration, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick and some of them and black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
Adapted by James A. Moak for Commission on Brotherhood Restructure of the Christian Church. Included by James L. Christensen in Creative Ways to Worship, 1974
In many ancient myths, the god of the sea is the god of chaos. Most bodies of water can almost instantly turn from calm waters into deadly waves. We cannot control the water.
A hint of this ancient myth of the chaotic sea is indicated in the RCL's thematic First Lesson, Job 38:1-11. God's creative power is pictured as controlling the sea with doors and boundaries. This same power to control the sea is in the thematic Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, (see also Ps 74:13-14).
The word used of Jesus "rebuking" the wind is commonly used of "rebuking" demonic spirits (1:25; 3:12; 9:25; and of Peter when he became "satanic" 8:33).
The background of these myths provides the answer to the disciples' closing question: "Who then is this?" This can be no other than God who has the power to tame the chaotic waters. Once again the readers know that Jesus is more than just a human being. He is Son of God (1:1, 11, 24), yet the disciples are unable to decipher the significance of Jesus' identity.
This theme can also lead to the idea that sometimes the storms in our lives are beyond our control. The chaos in our lives may be caused by people or situations or evil powers which we can do nothing about. Sometimes it is not our fault. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes even the world of faithful Christians comes crashing down. (Job might be brought in as an illustration that sometimes good people suffer unjustly.)
A contrast to the storms of life that are out of our control, one could also indicate that the reason the disciples are in such a mess is because they did what Jesus asked them to do: "Let's cross the lake"!
A word of hope in this text (and Job and the Psalm) is that God has the power to control the chaos. God may not always do it according to our schedule. Sometimes God may appear to be sleeping in the boat while our world is falling apart, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't have the power to calm the storm.
The disciples' question of Jesus is interesting. They do not ask for a miracle. It appears that they wake him up to tell him that they are all going to die. Literally their question reads: "Teacher, is it not a care (or concern) to you that we are dying?" (v. 38). (The verb, "melei," can also carry the idea of "to be anxious about.")
The disciples' question can lead to a number of themes.
Do we ever accuse God of not caring for us? What does it do to our faith and trust when we think that God no longer cares? How does God show that he cares for us? Must God always perform miracles -- remove us from dangerous storms for us to believe that God cares for us?
Using another definition of "melei," and Edwin Friedman's phrase ("Generation to Generation"), could Jesus become an example of a "non-anxious presence?" To paraphrase the disciples' question: "Why aren't you as anxious about dying as we are?" Pheme Perkins in "Mark" (New Interpreters' Bible) writes: "On the human level, we often act like the disciples. We expect others to share our panic or distress. If they seem detached from the situation, we accuse them of not caring about our suffering. Panic reactions can divide us from others who might help just as they can cause us to doubt God's love for us" [p. 581]
While we are more likely to picture ourselves as the scared disciples, I also think that we need to consider ourselves -- perhaps not individually, but as the church -- to be Christ. When does the church in the midst of chaotic times need to curl up and take a nap, be non-anxious, exhibit supreme trust in God -- which others are likely to interpreted as not caring? Some of the radical Christian stuff I receive in the mail comes from people who can't seem to "rest" until they have converted the whole nation to their way of thinking/believing.
The following is part of a short article called "Why Worry?" from a business (not church) resource.
Stress management experts say that only two percent of our "worrying time" is spent on things that might actually be helped by worrying. The figures below illustrate how the other 98 percent of this time is spent:
- 40% on things that never happen
- 35% on things that can't be changed
- 15% on things that turn out better than expected
- 8% on useless, petty worries
They are times in our lives where trusting God means that we can take naps in a stormy boat. Sometimes we may need to convey the fact that we don't have to worry about driving out the evil that is all around me. We can act like little children resting comfortably in their parent's protective arms.
Another approach related to this theme could be the question: How do we show that we care for others? Sometimes it can be speaking an authoritative word to bring stability to chaos. Sometimes it can be doing nothing, hoping that the other will find the power within themselves to defeat the storms around them.
What does Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat indicate? The disciples read it as if Jesus' doesn't care that they are all going to die. Could Jesus' sleep be a sign of his complete trust in God?
The fact that at least four of Jesus' disciples were professional fishermen hightens the severity of the storm. We might easily understand the fear of a tax collector (or accountant) at sea; but the fishermen! It was a bad storm.
Jesus responds to the disciples: "Why are you cowardly (or fearful or timid)? Do you not yet have faith?"
The disciples response to Jesus' question was to "be afraid with great fear" and to question among themselves "Who then is this one that the wind and the sea obey him?"
Two different word groups are used in these verses (40-41) that relate to "fear".
The word "deilos" is used in Jesus' question. The words "phobeo" and "phobos" are used of the disciples' state. A difference I see in the two word groups is that the "fear" depicted by "deilos" and related words generally comes as a result of inner defects. One is afraid because one lacks courage. One is cowardly or timid. Jesus indicates that there is something defective about the disciples -- they are fearful, cowardly, timid, and lacking in faith.
The "fear" depicted by "phobos" and related words generally comes as a result of external circumstances. One is concerned about impending pain, danger, evil, etc., or possibly by the illusion of such circumstances and so is fearful. The word group can have a more positive meaning of "reverence" or "awe" when one is in the presence of a deity -- but still the emotion comes from that which is external to the person.
The disciples' eyes are centered on the externals -- first the storm at sea and then what they had seen Jesus do. Both produce fear within. How often do we -- both as individuals or congregations -- look at the externals and become fearful or discouraged, e.g., our community is declining in population. Should we not also look within to see whether or not our fear stems from our own cowardice or timidity -- our inability to believe or trust God?
A slightly different application of this is presented by Arthur Boers ("Never Call them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behavior"). He writes: "This is also my greatest learning on dealing with difficult behavior in church: Pay attention to yourself first. If you perceive and treat others as enemies, they will look more and more like enemies" [p. 39].
Up to this point in Mark, the only characters who have exhibited faith are those who carried the paralytic (2:5). The disciples have not been described as people having faith. Part of the sad irony in their lack of faith is the fact that just before our text, we are told that Jesus explained everything in private to his disciples. They had special catechetical classes -- and they still don't get it! In fact, the disciples are never described in Mark as having faith ("pistis")! Maybe we pastors shouldn't be too discouraged with confirmation students "drop out" of church after all of the wonderful instruction we have given them or that they don't seem to "get it".
In spite of the disciples lack of faith, the miracle still happens for them. In contrast to this, Jesus tells the woman with a flow of blood: "Daughter, your faith ("pistis") has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease" (5:34). Two verses later, Jesus tells Jairus: "Do not fear ("phobos"), only believe" ("pisteuo") (5:36). "Faith" or "believing" is involved with the healing of the demon-possessed boy (9:23-24) and the blind man (10:52) who sees and follows Jesus on the way.
I wonder, if the disciples had had "faith," what would they have done differently? Should they have gone to sleep with Jesus, trusting that God would see them through the storm? (Or trusting that if they should die, God has a room prepared for them in heaven?) Should they have rebuked the wind and waves as Jesus did, believing that if they "do not doubt and believe in their hearts" it will be done for them as they ask (Mk 11:23-24)? How should faithful people deal with inner fears and outer difficulties?
While this story gives us an illustration of the lack of faith of disciples, I'm not sure that it gives us a very clear picture of what faithful disciples would look like. Perhaps the only kind of disciples that we will be are those who are cowardly, timid, fearful, and lacking in faith -- but that doesn't mean that Jesus gives up on us.
Somewhere in my past, it was pointed out to me that having the wind stop is disastrous for sail boats. It means that the sailors have to do hard, manual labor to move the boat to where it is going. Even the presence of Christ and his great miracles may still mean a lot of hard work on our part to get where Christ wants us to go. If Jesus wanted the disciples on the other side of the lake, why not just "beam them over," rather than have them go through a storm and then to row the boat to shore?
While we may pray that Jesus would work miracles in our lives and in our world and in our neighborhoods; the miracles that come probably won't let us off the hook from doing some of the hard work required to do what Jesus has called us to do.
Brian Stoffregen, Rock Springs, WY