Jesus Napped // Sara Wolbrecht // July 12, 2015 // Mark 4:35-41
You have in your hand a rock. I want you to experience it for a moment – how heavy it is, the weightiness of it. Its temperature and texture. How solid and dense it feels. And knowing that it was formed over hundreds even thousands of years to become this solidly packed piece of the earth. Feel all that for a moment.
There are two themes throughout scripture that I want to name for us today to set up our experience of reading from Mark 4. Remember, every time we read the Bible there is always more going on, or as the Transformers have taught us, there is always what? More than meets the eye. Here are two themes that point us to that “more” that is there.
The first theme we name is that of the Rock – let me see your rock! Ok. God’s people in the Old Testament, one of the many ways they talked about and named Yahweh, the God of the universe, was to call God their rock. Here are a few examples:
· “God is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Deuteronomy 32:4
“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2
“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me.” 2 Samuel 22:3
“They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.” Psalm 78:35
To choose a name like that, we know that this was an attempt to name, capture something about the character, the qualities of God. So what is underneath that name, that label, that understanding of God? Why would they call God their Rock? What does that capture? Some of my language to capture this: Unmovable, unshakable. Again, a rock has been formed over time, and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. For God’s people, to call God their Rock, was a statement of faith, a statement of trust in God. That God is steadfast. That God is good and present. …You hold all of that in your hand – a rock.
The second theme we’ll name and hold on to today has to do with the Jewish understanding of water particularly the sea. Apart from fishing, the Jews were not a seafaring people (no beach days, water skiing – they mostly stayed away from the sea). The sea actually came to symbolize for them the dark power of evil, the chaos that threatened to destroy God’s good creation, God’s people, God’s purposes. If you’ve ever seen the old movie JAWS and the fear there is of the water – same idea, except instead of a big ol’ people-eating shark, there’s just generally something awful that is in there waiting for you, that is chaotic and evil.
We see this throughout the Old Testament. Just consider a few of the pivotal places where we encounter water.
At the very beginning there are dark waters. God’s new world, emerged from the dark primal sea.
Then in Exodus 14, the central story of God’s people is the Exodus, God leading the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom. And God uses Moses to part the waters of the Red Sea.
Exodus 14:21-22 says: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” God held back the dark waters from his people.
Then our good friend Jonah. Not only water but a large fish in his story. God sent Jonah to Nineveh, but Jonah said, nah, and jumped on a boat headed the other way. Then when the sea rages against that boat and everyone is terrified, Jonah knows the only solution is to throw him overboard. So, The men on the boat took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. Jonah 1:15. This week I noticed that there is some awesome artwork about Jonah out there. Whoa! Whoa!!
So these two themes we hold together – rocks and the chaos of water. Now we’re ready for Mark 4:35-41. Let’s engage our brains, our imaginations as we read of the chaos that stirs up around Jesus and his disciples on the Sea of Galilee.
Mark 4:35-41: That day when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
To take a look at this, let’s start with the disciples. I always love these guys. Consider, how we experience them throughout the gospels. Are they perfect, trusting, articulate? No. They get things wrong, miss the point, stick their foot in their mouths, brag, are afraid. So real and so reassuring for us as we look at the life of Jesus – hey, we’re going to bumble around too, have questions, and that’s all ok.
So what do they do here? First, the storm gets going and they wake up Jesus. You awake? They say: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” So – how are the disciples feeling right here? Scared. Worried. Also, ticked at Jesus for being asleep.
Take a step back and remember with me: before getting to this frightening moment, what have the disciples experienced with Jesus so far in Mark’s gospel? They have seen Jesus heal diseases of all kinds and cast out unclean spirits. Which means they’ve seen Jesus deal with the evil, the chaos present in the lives and bodies of others, right? Jesus’ reputation has spread across a geographical region that has not form of media, a printing press – so incredible are the things he’s said and done that everybody is talking about it. And the disicples – they have seen all of it. Every person is healed. Jesus has a 100% success rate.
Now here. The chaos of the deep, the water, the forces of evil are stirred up and raging around them. But this time, who is threatened by the chaos? They are! They’ve been watching and seeing what Jesus does – awesome stuff for other people. But now it is their lives, their chaos, their safety on the line. And they are terrified.
Hang on, Jesus. This just got personal and close and scary. Teacher, don’t you care if we drown? Doesn’t he care that the boat is about to go to the bottom and take us with it?
Notice Jesus’ response: Jesus quizzically reverses the question, putting them on the spot. Jesus: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
We could easily read Jesus’ response and run with all kinds of conclusions about how Jesus tells us to muster up our faith, to work harder at it and not be afraid. Or. Jesus is wondering, you guys, have you not seen what I’ve done? Have you not seen God at work in the chaos of all these lives that have been healed? Don’t you know that I can do that for you, too? Don’t you have faith in me?
For me, I totally see where the disciples are coming from. It is a different story when it is our own life, our chaos is on the line. Do you know what I mean by that? It’s different when we’re in a storm of our own, when it is personal and close and scary.
And we may be people – like the disciples – who have been close enough to Jesus to have seen some of what God can do in the lives and chaos of others. Maybe we grew up in the church. We may have read the stories and said the prayers and talked about the God who loves you and is always with you. We may have seen friends, family members go through incredible challenges and seen the tangible presence of God taking care of them, calming that storm.
Oh, but it’s a different story when it’s our own chaos, right? Hang on, Jesus, it just got personal and close and scary. Don’t you care if I drown? These disciples. They’re my people, because I would have been right there with them. Wake up, wake up, wake up, Jesus! You too?
Yeah, because we know chaos. …When have you been in the chaos of a storm that has swirled up around you? …Just this week I have held many in our community in prayer for many things like: the threat of miscarriage, the breakup of a dating relationship, a survivor of childhood abuse facing continued challenges, pornography addiction, alcohol addiction, deep loneliness and longing for friendship, the stress of a home renovation project, a broken relationship with a parent, searching for a job, moving to another state, moving away for grad school. We have chaos, the storms that rise up.
And what does Jesus do in the face of a storm and chaos? Get this: Jesus takes a nap. What? Jesus napped. Jesus is so confident of God’s presence and power that he is napping on a pillow in the storm. Why? How can he do that in the face of such chaos? Rest assured, he seems to say – God’s got this. Rest assured – literally. You may know that the shortest verse in the bible is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35. Jesus weeps as he witnesses the death of his dear friend Lazarus. I wish that we had another two-word verse here in Mark, that simply read: “Jesus napped.” Because this is an awesome message for us! Rest assured, Jesus shows us.
Oh, Jesus also gets up and calms the storm. Quiet! Be still! Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Yet in calming the storm I don’t think this is making a point about how, Don’t worry, Jesus takes away all the chaos, or everything will go just as you’d like it to. No.
Instead, remember the Jewish audience who saw this and heard of it in the days following, for whom the sea symbolized all the power of the dark forces of evil. Here, Jesus stops all the forces of evil. This is a bold, declarative statement for Jesus. It echoes of the parables he just spoke earlier in this chapter – naming how the Kingdom of God is here and happening – though different than expected – it is real. The point: Jesus napped because the Kingdom of God is here and is defeating the forces of evil.
What we actually see in this one piece of Mark’s gospel, is a small version of the larger gospel – Jesus goes about his business with the disciples, then the forces of evil stir up around them (madmen shrieking in the synagogue, angry men plotting, powerful men capturing Jesus and putting him to death). Jesus, not just asleep on a pillow Jesus but slumped on the cross. We hear his voice: why are you afraid? Don’t you believe? And on the third day the storm is still, the tomb is empty, and the power of evil and chaos is stilled once and for all.
That Rock – grab hold of it again. In this text, with the chaos, the nap, Jesus’ invitation to his disciples then and now is this invitation to align rest assured with our God, our Rock, who is steadfast in the wind and storms of our lives. Because: there will always be chaos that comes. The question we get to answer is what we’ll do in those times.
How have you responded to the storms that have come? What do we do when we are terrified and tick at Jesus?
My experience of being back in California this past week was so fun, so life-affirming. I was a pastor of Congregational Care for seven years at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Walnut Creek, CA. Jason was the worship and arts leader for a decade. I was one of four pastors and we worshipped about 800 people on Sundays. I had chance to preach last Sunday – helping Saint Matthew celebrate their 50th Anniversary. I got to baptize. And then we had a whole of fun with friends. Beer tasting, reconnecting with our Sunday evening dinner group – which used to have no children.
Preparing for that sermon and being there, grounded me in my experiences of God in that place. I became a pastor there, formed through the privilege and terror of witnessing so much heartache, blood, sweat and tears with folks who were living life and facing all the good and ugly stuff that life can bring. So much chaos and so many storms. But oh my goodness – the overwhelming goodness of God through the ten years we were there. You guys. We never really get how solid our Rock, our God is until it is our own stuff – but I am telling you – it is awesome when we get to live through that storm and see the stillness son the other side.
The invitation for us, that is personal and real and close and scary is whether we’ll look to Jesus to provide refuge when we face those storms. Whether we’ll let him hold us close as we ride out the storm together. Whether we’ll trust that even as we face the broken, ugly, frustrating, painful challenges of our lives that there is a God that rides out the storm with us.
And perhaps the way we step into that response begins with a prayer, in asking, a prayer like this from Psalm 61:
My God, when my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge. Psalm 61:2-3a. (Can you read this out loud with me?).
I invite you to close your eyes. Again, just feel the weight of that rock. Roll it in you hands.
Refuge. How does refuge sound for you right now? A place of restoration, safety, groundedness, provision, rest. I like to think there’s plenty of coffee and chocolate, too. That’s my kind of refuge. As you feel the weight of this rock, the weight of God’s presence. Consider this: is there a storm in your life, chaos that has stirred up around you, at this time in your life? Or maybe a storm in the life of someone close to you? There is power in naming the chaos in our lives. To be honest about it. Authentic about who we are and where we struggle. Not to hide in shadows but to bring all of who we are into the light of day, and the light of God’s love and grace. To name a situation intentionally with God here – this is the way we begin to sail through it with God as our refuge. We invite God in, we exercise our ability to say yes to God and surrender to how God wants to care for us and the situation, the storm we’re in.
There is a bowl of water up here. Symbolizing those waters of chaos that we are all facing – and let’s just be honest about how we‘ve all got something. We are going to take the next few minutes to sing – an incredible song about what it means that we have a God, our Rock who will never be moved no matter what storms we face. And as we do this, you are invited to bring your rock forward and place it in the water. This is our personal ritual, a moment to name that God, our Rock, is in that water, that chaos with us.
And to let our hands get drippy wet, knowing that we’re in that storm. Yet holding all of that in these words we sing.
Let’s pray…God, thank you that Jesus napped. That in the face of chaos and storm Jesus so trusted in your faithfulness with him that he rested with you. Give us courage and grace to nap, to feel our fear yet also to trust, to embrace whatever season we find ourselves in now, knowing that you are our Rock, our refuge. Speak to us in these next moments of intention, as we long to hear you in our storms…