Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 24, 2012

2012.06.24 “Mayday! Mayday!” Mark 4: 35 – 41

Central United Methodist Church

Mayday! Mayday!

Pastor David L. Haley

Mark 4: 35 – 41

June 24, 2012


Late that day Jesus said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”

Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

        They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!” Mark 4: 35 – 41, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


        Thankfully, for most of us landlubbers, it only happens in nightmares. We’re in a boat. A storm comes up, the waves surge, the boat is swamped, and begins to sink. We wake up in a panic to find ourselves – again thankfully – not in a boat but in our bed.

For some, it’s not a nightmare, but reality. After all, we do live on Lake Michigan.

Four years ago, on May 24th, 2008, Ferdinand Soco invited me to go on a fishing trip on Lake Michigan. It was great fun, and we caught so much salmon we ate it for days.  In fact, I ate so much salmon that weekend I’ve hardly wanted to eat any since.

Just six days later, on May 30, 2008, another fishing boat piloted by Capt. Jason Lee took five men and two women out of Waukegan harbor on an almost identical trip. Except, the difference being, instead of catching fish, their boat sank and they almost drowned.

Their morning started out as nice as ours six days earlier, but they got caught in a freak storm the National Weather Service called a “wake effect low pressure,” essentially a mini-tornado packing winds of 65 mph. One foot waves surged to ten foot waves, which took out the windshield and swamped the boat. Just before they went into the water, the Captain grabbed the radio and called the Coast Guard: “Mayday! Mayday! We are in need of rescue, seven people in the water!” providing the boat’s exact coordinates. After floating in the 48 degree water for 30 minutes, just as they were about to succumb to hypothermia, say goodbye and go under, they heard one of the sweetest sounds in their life, the sound of an approaching Coast Guard helicopter. Thanks to the Coast Guard, all seven survived. (Seven Nearly Lost on Lake Michigan, by Jamie Sotonoff, the Daily Herald, June 9, 2008). When Ferdinand and I read that story, we weren’t sure we ever wanted to go fishing again!

For those to whom it does happen, such a life-threatening event can also be life shaping. As United Methodists, we may not know that our own lives and faith have been shaped by such a life-threatening experience at sea.

In 1736, when the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, sailed from England to America as a missionary, it was fear in the midst of such a storm at sea that brought his faith under examination. On Sunday, January 25th, 1736, as Wesley was worshiping with a group of German Moravian Brethren who were on the same ship, he recorded in his Journal what happened:

“In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the          sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and          poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already          swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The   Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterward, “Were you   not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.”  I asked, “But were not    your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No: our women       and children are not afraid to die.”

Two years later, returning to England, with his mission to America a failure, following a similar storm at sea, Wesley reflected in his Journal:

“I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall          convert me?  Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart         of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and    believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the         face, and my spirit is troubled.”

“Let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled,” is the English understatement of saying, “I was scared to death.” Or is that scared to faith? Because that’s also what happened to Jesus’ disciples that day on the Sea of Galilee.

Can you imagine yourself in that boat with them?  Evidently, the Sea of Galilee is as meteorologically unstable as Lake Michigan. Without warning, a storm blew up, and despite the frantic efforts of experienced fishermen, the boat was about to be swamped. And not just that boat, but the small flotilla of boats, filled with the followers of Jesus, that accompanied them. Meanwhile, Jesus – worn out by tending to the needs of others – was passed out in the stern, asleep. Can you imagine Jesus, asleep?  All I can say is, for being the Son of God, he was a sound sleeper.

It wasn’t like they could get on the radio and call “Mayday” to the Galilean Coast Guard, but they could wake up Jesus. Whether or not they hoped for a miracle, at the very least he could help them bail. Which if he had, might give a new meaning to the phrase, “Jesus saves.”

Whether or not we’ve ever experienced such a situation in a boat in a storm – and I’m pretty sure most of us would just as soon not, if we have the choice – I’m equally sure that in one way or another we have experienced cold, visceral, fear.  Some of us may even have come here in it’s grip today.

That’s why the cry of Jesus’ terrified disciples in their frail storm-tossed boat has resonated throughout the centuries, in the lives of Christians, and in congregations and communities. We are afraid of the wind and waves that assail our fragile boats. We fear disapproval, rejection, failure, meaninglessness, illness, and of course we fear death – our own death, the death of those we love, and the potential demise of the communities we cherish.  Because of this, the sea, the storm, and the fragile boat that carry Jesus and his followers across the Sea of Galilee offers evocative images of life’s journey: the peril of passage, the vulnerability of the boat, and our longing for the One who calms both us and the storm.  As someone once wrote, “O Lord, the sea is so vast, and my boat is so small.”

So, don’t you love what the disciples say? Not, “Jesus, will you please wake up and see what’s going on? Not, “Look, we know you’re the Lord and everything, but can we give you a quick course in boats and water, LIKE HOW THEY SINK?” No, what they said was, “Jesus, we’re going down here; don’t you care?”  Which is exactly how we feel, in our worst moments, about God: “God, don’t you care?”

Part of the problem might be that most of us were raised to believe in rescue religion: the belief, that, when we get in a bind we can’t get out of, God will get us out of it. Sometimes it might be that test we didn’t study for, those finances we didn’t manage, our health that we didn’t take care of, or maybe those six beers we probably shouldn’t have drunk before we wrecked the car. And so we pray, “Dear God, save me!”

Then there are those times where – through no fault of our own – life unravels and overwhelms us, and we find ourselves going under.  It is then we feel that unless God smells the coffee and wakes up soon, we might not make it.  What then?

It’s been my pastoral experience, that if we expect God to show up, in the form of a miracle, most of the time we‘ll be disappointed. Having said that, every one of us might be able to tell of a time when our jobs or our fortunes or our lives were saved, in ways that seemed inexplicable, even miraculous. Of course, the people who cried out for rescue and didn’t get saved, are not here to testify.

Sometimes God does try to save us, through means we may not recognize.  Remember the story about the guy in the flood, who climbed onto his roof and prayed to God to save him?  As it began to rain, a rescuer came in a pick-up truck, which the man turned down, because he was waiting for God to save him.  As the waters rose, rescuers came in a boat, but again the man turned them down. Finally, as the waters reached the roof, a helicopter came, but again he turned them down. He drowned.  He stood before God in heaven and said, “God I was waiting for you to save me, how come you let me drown?” God says, “Well, I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter, but you refused them. What could I do?” In other words, God’s answer to our prayer might be right in front of our face, in ways we don’t recognize. Take help wherever you can get it, in whatever shape or form it comes!

In this story, it is notable, however, that the disciples’ fear is not comforted by a sudden burst of courage or resolve on their part. In the course of the storm, they never pull themselves together.  They do not discover inner resources they did not know they had.  Rather, it is Jesus, the Holy One, who calms both them and the storm with the power of his presence, which was even more scary to them than what they had just survived.

Even then, Jesus never says: “There is nothing to be afraid of.” What he said – which may have been even more biting than the rain in their face – was, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

The hard truth is, there are fearsome things in this world to be afraid of.  As we grow in wisdom and discover such things are real, may we also grow in faith to learn that they do not have the last word, nor the ultimate power over us. Because reigning over this world, is a God mightier than they.  Not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days, but rather, because even in these things, God is with us.

Reynolds Price has a book, with the intriguing title, Letter to a Man in a Fire, in which he tells of an 87-year-old woman who wrote to him about one of those moments when the clouds scattered, the darkness lifted, and she learned this lesson. She was facing her own time of difficulty as she was going through exhausting medical tests in preparation for surgery.  One day she had a kind of vision. “I went out along the Galilee hills and came to a crowd gathered around a man, and I stood on the outskirts intending to listen. But he looked over the crowd at me and then said, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘Could you send someone to come with me and help me stand up after the tests because I can’t manage alone?”  He [Jesus] thought for a moment and then said, ‘How would it be if I came?” (Letter to a Man in a Fire, 30 – 31)

“How would it be if I came?” This is what God has done in Jesus Christ. God has come to us in our suffering and pain, in our struggle to be human, in our fear and anxiety, in our doubt and uncertainty. Jesus put off deity and put on humanity, becoming one of us – one with us – one for us. (Quoted in a sermon on by the Rev. Dr. Lewis Galloway, Does Jesus Care? June 24, 2012)

Even the story of how this happened – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is framed by these words: “Do not be afraid.” What were the words the angels spoke to the shepherds in the beginning, at Jesus’ birth? “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” What were the words the angels spoke to the women at the end, upon their discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb? “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

When the life of faith is harder than we thought, may we discover what Jesus’ disciples discovered in that boat (without having to go through that experience), that God is also greater than we think, and will not abandon us.  Jesus comes, stilling wind and wave, calming fearful hearts, telling us that we are God’s beloved children, calling us to faith.

The English novelist Emily Bronte lived and wrote in a rectory set in the bleak moors of Yorkshire. She lived a grim tragedy with a half-demented father and an
alcoholic brother.  In spite of this, she was able to write words like these:

“No coward soul is mine,

no trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere.

I see Heaven’s glories shine,

and faith shines equal, arming me from fear.”

(Emily Bronte, “No Coward Soul is Mine,” January 2, 1846)


Oh, and the Captain of that boat that went down in 2008, Capt. Lee? Though his life was saved, he lost his business, his home, and all his worldly possessions. But he took that experience as a sign from God, re-evaluated his life, and now serves as an energetic, passionate, and award-winning residential manager and activity director at Tanglewood Village in Decatur, IL.  He also does missionary work in the Philippines, with his wife Joy, a special education teacher.

In the article he didn’t explicitly say God saved him (after all it was the Coast Guard), but let me put it this way.  In the picture accompanying the article, he’s standing in front of a sign saying, “Jesus never fails.”

I understand there’s a photo of Jesus’ disciples, in front of a similar sign.  Maybe we can get in the picture.



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