Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.

When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 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?” 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. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 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?”

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


Several years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a very popular book, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People” A few years later, popular Christian writer Phillip Yancey wrote “Where is God When it Hurts?” In almost 20 years of parish ministry, I have encountered many sad or angry people who lost their faith because they went through a very difficult personal crisis and did not feel that God was there for them. A young couple had a son who in his six months of life never was outside the hospital. After all the surgeries had not worked finally the husband says, “If there is a God, he doesn’t care about me and my family” Many people have at least one experience of feeling like there is no God, or if there is a God, the Holy One is “asleep at the wheel.”


In our Gospel lesson, the disciples experienced a “God asleep at the wheel” moment—Jesus is napping while the ship is sinking. Sometimes we have to look at this story and decide it’s about imitating Jesus. We look at the disciples and think, “Well, here they are making things worse by getting upset, allowing their fear and panic to control their actions. Jesus, on the other hand, stays calm in a crisis. And because he keeps himself under control, he exerts control over his surroundings. Therefore, we should be like Jesus.” Makes a relative degree of sense, doesn’t it?

Well, no; it doesn’t. Neither the writer of the book of Job nor the evangelist who wrote Mark is interested in our ability to keep our heads, and stand on our own two feet, and face adversity with calm resolve. As important as all those things might be at times—they are not the message here tonight/today. Vanderbilt Divinity School professor Liston Mills often said that there is only one important theological question, “Can God be trusted?”  Is God awake and alert, or asleep at the wheel? That is the question that the disciples are asking in the gospel lesson. They have seen demonstrations of Jesus’ power to heal and cast out demons, they have left their homes and families and jobs because they think he is the Messiah. But here they are, in danger of losing their very lives, and there he is asleep in the stern, literally “asleep at the wheel.” Of course they cry out, “. . . .do you not care that we are perishing?”


Maybe we can relate to those disciples in this week’s Gospel. The boat is taking on water. We’re sinking. We’ll die out here in the middle of this lake. It was bad back there with the crowds, but we don’t want to perish this way. And so, like the disciples, we call out: “Where are you God? Don’t you care about us, Jesus?”

Look at the response of Jesus in this passage. Many theologians have noted that Jesus doesn’t mock the disciples for their fears. Their fears are real and valid. But he asks them why they’re letting their fears get the best of them. It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m right here. I’m with you. Have you forgotten what is possible when I’m in your boat?” And then, he calms the storm.

Just because we’re believers, that doesn’t mean that we will never experience storms. We will, and we will likely be afraid. But Jesus assures us that even though we might feel alone, we are not alone. The storms will come, and storms will go. But God is always there, with us, in our boats.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us where we should place our loyalties, and it’s not our nation, state, money, or our abilities. Again and again, Jesus tells us how we can save our souls, and it’s not by the ways advocated by politicians. We will be judged by how we treat the poor, the oppressed, the outcast.

In these times when we may be feeling that we’re seeing our societal fabric unravel right before our eyes, it’s good to remember that God is in the boat with us. We may not have the solution. We may have less power than we wish we had. We may not be able to imagine how a just world will emerge from the wreckage. We may despair over how quickly the world seems to want to return to wreckage.

That despair can be as deadly as any storm. God has a vision of a better world, one where the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast finally find a home. Don’t let despair keep us blind to that vision.


Can God be trusted? The Bible says that God can be trusted, that God does most certainly have this situation, and us, well in hand.  The hard part is trusting God’s larger plan for the world and the divine goodwill toward humanity in the midst of our sometimes perilous personal circumstances.

A story is told of St. Teresa of Avila. She had been on a long, overnight journey in an uncomfortable wagon through a drenching rain-storm on a bitterly cold night. When she arrived at the convent, she struggled to get out of the wagon, then slipped on a wet cobblestone, landing on her bottom in a large mud puddle. She sat there a moment or two, then looked up into the sky and said to God, “It is no wonder you have so few friends, you treat them so badly.”

Jesus, in our gospel lesson, asks his disciples, “Why were you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) “Still no faith,” is a call for them to remember what they have seen Jesus do in their time together; to think about the healings, and exorcisms, and teachings. He asks them to consider all that when in trouble and to trust that God is still with them. 

So, when we find ourselves wondering “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “where is God when it hurts?”—or “is God asleep at the wheel” or “does God care that we are perishing, look to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, look to the Cross, look to the empty tomb, look to the lives changed and healed by God in Christ. And trust in God to get us through any situation. It sounds easy, but if it were we would all get through our lives a little better.