Charles Smith, is a Professor at the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. He is the author of Raising Courageous Kids. He tells this story of a courageous kid on www. scholastic.com.
“It was early in the morning, on an isolated rural road in Colorado. A furious storm raged, with heavy rain and wind. A 9-year-old boy was in the car with his mother, who was driving him to school. Treacherous road conditions sent the car into a skid. The vehicle spun out of control, went off the road, rolled several times, and came to rest upside down in a ditch filled with water.
Fortunately, both the mother and son were wearing seatbelts. The mother suffered a blow to her head. She was conscious, but temporarily unable to move a muscle. The boy was stunned but unhurt. As water poured through broken windows in the car, he unbuckled himself, crawled out of the passenger window, made his way around to the driver’s side, and reached inside the car to undo his trapped mother’s seatbelt. With great effort, he managed to free her, pull her through the window, and drag her through the water and up the embankment to the road, where they were soon rescued.
His mother later recounted her experience of the accident. Frustrated at being unable to move or even speak to offer instructions or encouragement to her son, she was amazed by his resourcefulness. She recalled hearing her boy saying out loud as he dragged her through the water, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”
It seemed clear that this little boy’s act of courage was bolstered by one of his favorite books: The Little Engine That Could. In that story, when everyone else had given up hope, the Little Engine carried the heavy load of toys and good things to eat over the hill to the children waiting on the other side. He had courage and took action.”
It seems in our lectionary passage today that the disciples could use some little train engine courage. A great storm has arisen. The waves are filling up the boat with water and they fear that all hope is lost. Archeologists have actually recovered ancient fishing boats from the Sea of Galilee. And I got to see a replica of one while I was in the middle east on a travel seminar in seminary. The boats are 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet deep (Baker Exegetical Commentary, 242). So it would be like the disciples are wadding in the shallow end of a pool. Except the pool is a boat, in the middle of a lake, and they are about to sink. Sudden storms are very common on the Sea of Galilee and these guys are experienced fisherman. So to have them freaking out is a big deal. And yet Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples awake Jesus in a panic. Don’t you care that we are about to drown Jesus? Not only does Jesus care. Jesus did something about it. Most translations tone down the language here. Basically he told the wind to, “shut up”, and he told the waves to be bound or tied up. In our common language we might say that he said to the waves “zip it!!!!” And instantly there was calm.
There are two words for fear in this passage. When Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid?” most of our modern translations tone down the language. In English a better translation might be, “ why are you guys being a bunch of cowards? Have you still no faith?” In response to Jesus’ miracle the disciple are filled with fear. But this is a positive fear. It is more like awe, wonder, respect, amazement. “Who is this that event the winds and the sea obey him?” Who is This? That is the central question when we meet someone new. We want to know their character, if there trustworthy, what they are about? Who is this? This is the central question of the Christian life.
John Calvin, the theologian whom this church is named after said this in his Institutes of the Christian religion, “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. “ Many in this life are concerned with the question of why? Why does it seem like God is asleep? Why let the boat flood? Why not calm the storm before the boat flooded? I have found God rarely answers questions of why. But he is more than willing to answer questions of who.
The Good News: When we know who Jesus is and who we are we will have courage to rebuke the wind and the waves.
First, to have courage to rebuke the waves we must know who God is. This passage teaches us two principles about God.
- God is able
- God Cares
For thousands of years people have argued that if one of these statements is true the other can’t be. If God cares, if God is love, than He must not be all powerful, because look at all the suffering in the world. And if God is all powerful, he must not care all that much, because look at all the suffering in the world. But Jesus shows in this passage that God does care and he is all powerful. Jesus is asleep, not because he doesn’t care about the disciples, he is asleep because he knows without a doubt that His Father loves Him and the disciples. He is asleep because he is carefree. He trusts that God is Sovereign, that God is in control of everything, even a raging storm. Jesus tells us that God cares for the lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, he cares for the sparrow, he knows every hair on our head, he knit us together in our mother’s womb, his provision and power are all around us if we would have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
But some believe that if God is all powerful than everything that happens is the perfect will of God. And for God to use his power to change our circumstances would be to admit fault on God’s part. But that is not Jesus’ perspective in this passage. He rebukes the wind and the waves as if they are an enemy force, disobeying God. When the disciples cry out in fear at the storm he says, “ you cowards where is your faith?” Faith in the Gospel of Mark is believing that nothing is impossible with God (Mark 10:27). God’s Will is not determined by the circumstances we see but what God wants to do through us in those circumstances.
Perhaps many of you have not seen the power of the Holy Spirit in your lives. It is strange, scary, and awe inspiring, to have something change instantaneously. I have seen God move in powerful and profound ways. Once at a prayer conference in Virginia Beach I stood behind a woman with a fused spinal column. She had been injured in a car accident and for years had not been able to bend over due to excruciating pain. When the time for prayer came I laid my hand on her back and I felt a flow of power through my arm. I could not feel my arm, it was like a sea of fire had consumed my arm as the Holy Spirit passed like a river into her spine. By the end of it this woman whom I had never met, could bend over and touch her toes without pain, and I was seized with awe, wonder, and fear as the disciples were in this passage.
In some ways it is harder to believe that God still does such miracles today. Because for some reason God doesn’t always do so. Our text today notes that several boats followed Jesus’ boat. We are not told what happened to them during the storm. Perhaps they drowned. Mark leaves the question open as he often does. Why does God intervene for some and not others? I don’t know why. I know it isn’t because God isn’t able. I know it isn’t because God doesn’t care. Jesus tells us God is able and does care. We will not always understand why God does things. But we are told who God is. God is able and God cares.
Once we come to know who God is that He is All Love and All Powerful, we must then discover who we are in relation to God. Here I have three points.
- We are powerless
- We are loved
- This gives us courage to be filled with power.
First, we must come to see that in relation to God, we are powerless, and so is everything else. In Matthew 10:38 Jesus tells us to not fear those who can destroy the body but to fear the one who can destroy body and soul in hell. The point here is not to say that God delights in punishment. This world is far more cruel and unfair than our heavenly Father is. The point is who has more power. And often we fear people because they have more power than us. They can do things to us that we cannot control and that causes us fear. But God is more powerful than any of our enemies and trials. Everything done in darkness will one day be brought into light. No one gets away with anything.
And yet, just knowing God’s power doesn’t calm our fears completely, because we are not convinced that God will use that power for our good. We need to know that we are loved. To quote the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father”. (Romans 8:15).
I am not a parent. I cannot fully understand the immensity of the love a father or a mother has for their child. But I am son. Recently, I was struck during a conversation with my father when he called me his son. It isn’t that I didn’t logically know I was his son, it is just that in our conversations he mostly calls me by my name. And I was surprised how deeply I was affected by my father addressing me as His Son. It grabbed me at the center of my being. It made me feel loved in a secret and quiet place where few have been. When someone calls us by name we turn around from the direction we were going and we head towards them. When someone calls us a son or a daughter we find that not only are we known, we find that we are loved. That we don’t have to do anything, we don’t have to achieve anything, be good at anything, to justify our existence. Perfect love comes into our hearts and casts out fear.
We can’t be free of fear by trying not to be afraid. If our hearts are empty of love eventually fear will find a way in. But when we let God’s love into our hearts there is no room for fear. The Father tore open the heavens at Jesus’ Baptism and said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” That is what he does when we come to believe in his Son Jesus Christ. He tears open the heavens and sends His Holy Spirit to fill our emptiness and introduce us to our true Father. It is an act of Grace, something what we don’t deserve. And in Baptism we show the world a miracle. A sign and seal of God’s grace. A sign that God has claimed our lives. He claims us even before we have faith, he calls us into the family of Faith even before we believe.
Our passage today is both reassuring and challenging. It is reassuring in the sense that it shows us that not everything depends on us. Even when we are freaking out, and the boat is sinking, God is able and willing to right the ship without our help. But Jesus’ statement, “you cowards where is your faith?” also shows a level of responsibility on the disciples part. Jesus’ desire was for them to get involved in the work of their Father, to speak to the waves and say, zip it. Strangely, when we realize that we are powerless and we are loved, we find a new strength. God is powerful and God is love. God always uses his power in service of his love. And when we live not for ourselves but in the service of love we will find a new power at work within us. We will find new courage. Courage to pray, courage to love, courage to overcome, courage to endure, courage to let the momentum of the Spirit carry us into a place where miracles are made.
Today we baptized Braelynn Elizabeth Murray. I wanted to do the Baptism part of the service first so you all would get to witness a miracle without even realizing it. Because we as Presbyterians believe that when we baptize with common water, when we partake in communion with common bread and juice, that God’s Spirit is at work. When we act, when we have the courage to show the world our faith, the Spirit makes complete our faith. Sometimes the miracle doesn’t come instantaneously. It will be many years before Braelynn finds her own faith and walks in it. But we believe when we baptize her we are calling on the Lord to bring us to her and her to us. We are changing the atmosphere and calling into existence the blessings that God has for Braelynn and the Murray family. The promises we have made today in Braelynn’s baptism, will require more than just words on our part. They will require action, they will require courage, they will require sacrifice.
Who is this? The disciples ask this question of Jesus in this passage. And perhaps that is a good question to ask of Braelynn as well. Who is this? This child we have baptized today? What blessings and trials await her in her life? We don’t know. And not knowing can provoke a lot of fear within us. But in the scriptures parents would name their children names that expressed their hope for their children. And I found it interesting that courage is a big theme of our lectionary passage and Braelynn is derived from an old welsh name which means strength or courage. And that is my prayer for her today that she would live up to her name and be a woman of courage. That she would be a little engine that could. That she would say, “I think I can, I think I can,” because she has a childlike faith to see wonder in this world. That she would walk upon waves of fear as Jesus Christ leads her and not turn back. That she would be filled with living waters, courageous waters, the water of the Holy Spirit. That she would speak to the wind and the waves, tell them to zip it, and the storm would be still.
In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.