Our gospel reading today reminds me of the story of Chippie. Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. But the phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” Chippie got sucked in. The bird’s owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum cleaner, and opened the bag. There was Chippie – still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust, hair and all the stuff you find in a vacuum cleaner bag, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and held Chippie under the running water and rinsed him off. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted poor Chippie with hot air. The little parakeet never knew what hit him. A few days after the trauma, a friend who had heard about Chippie’s troubles contacted his owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore – he just sits and stares.” Who can blame him? Sucked in, washed up, and blown over; why that’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.
In the gospel reading we are told a great storm arose. It wasn’t a small one or a middling size it was a great one. The disciples, a number of whom were professional sailors who had sailed on this lake all their lives were afraid for their lives. Climatologists who have studied the region, say because of the particular geography around that lake, a severe storm can indeed come with no warning. A severe storm would comprise of great gusting winds and waves up to 20 feet. The fishing boats of Jesus’ day were only 20 feet in length and 7 feet in wide at their widest point. So these 13 men were out in a boat being swamped by waves perhaps as high as the boat was long. It is no wonder they were terrified. They were certain they were going to die. They wake Jesus with “Don’t you care we are going to die?” Jesus wakes up, looks around, then he gets up and Scripture says he rebuked the winds. This is like when I was a teacher and there were times I would be called out of the classroom. When I came back sometimes the students had gotten loud and rambunctious. I would come back in and say, “Get quiet! Settle down!” Jesus used this same sort of voice says to wind “Stop it!” And then tells the waves to “Settle down!” and just my kids it suddenly got quiet.
When this happened his disciples were awestruck. What kind of man can do this? That is what Mark, the Gospel writer is pointing out, no man can, only God can. And then Jesus turns the disciples and says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” What kind of questions are those? These men have just gone through a near-death experience. Of course they have been afraid. What is Jesus thinking? Jesus expected his disciples to believe, to have faith in him. He was expected them to have enough faith in him so that even when facing death they will be able to trust in him and not fear. The disciples had this point seen Jesus heal the sick, they have seen him cast out demons, they have seen him cleanse the leper and heal a paralytic. The reason Jesus asked them “Why are so afraid and have you still no faith” is because they HAVE been with him. They should have known his power. That they had fear was not a surprise, in fact, it was a logical reaction. But what Jesus had expected his disciples would turn to him in this time of great need.
I want you to remember the people who first heard the Gospel of Mark. Scholars believe Mark wrote it in the early 60’s (30 some years after Christ’s resurrection). It was written in Rome during the persecution under Nero. At this time Nero was killing Christians. He was beheading them, like he did St. Paul. He was crucifying them, like he did St. Peter. He was sending them to lions; he was tying them to posts, drenching them in oil, and then hoisting them up and setting them on fire to burn them alive in his gardens at night. Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid; have you still no faith” as they faced their own deaths burned in their hearts.
The application for this story is obvious isn’t it? We are to trust Jesus in the midst of life’s most trying storms and he has the power to deliver us. There are times when Jesus tells the wind to be quiet and the waves to be still; and our lives are spared and he delivers us; he is God; he can do this. However when this gospel story was first read aloud in Rome those believers realized something else as well. There are times when Jesus does not calm the storm. There are the times when the wicked men like Nero are allowed to cruelly kill Christ’s followers. Christians are still being killed in modern times. Just last Sunday as a matter of fact, in central Nigeria Muslim Fulani herdsmen ambushed and killed two Christian men Ibrahim Weyi and Larry More and seriously wounded another as they made their way home from a church service. The Christians were hacked to death with machetes.
Why does God allow these things to occur? Job wondered the same thing. He got really angry with God and questioned the justice of God because of the suffering he went through. God’s response which we heard in the OT reading was basically ‘Who are you to question what I do? You do not know enough to question why I do what I do.” In the Epistle reading we heard Paul tell the Corinthians, that he and those with him had served God with great endurance in afflictions, in hardships, in beatings, in sleepless nights, in hunger. Clearly Jesus had not always calmed the storms for Paul either. Yet, Paul trusted God. Why and how? Because Paul knew as now we know that God loves us and since we know his love for us we are to trust him. There we are. We are in the boat. Jesus never promised we would not go through storms—but he did promise to stay in the boat with us. Speaking of boats, did you know the boat is a symbol for the church? In fact it has always been a symbol for the church. Architecturally, that part of the church building in which all of you sit is called the “nave.” Up front is the chancel. Out beyond the baptism font we have the narthex. But where you are is the nave. The word “nave” is linked, linguistically, to our word “naval.” Literally, “nave” is the Latin word for “ship.” Symbolically, as we sit here in church, we are in the boat with the disciples. And, if you look up at the ceiling, you can see the bottom of the boat. And every Sunday in church we are reminded we are in the boat with Jesus.
This brings us back to Chippie our little parakeet. Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore, he just sits and stares, his owner said. You know that is what happens with some of us. We go through great traumatic times and the song goes from our hearts. So let us look at St. Paul again, he says we are treated as dying, and see, we are alive; as punished and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. How can Paul say these things? Paul was looking at the whole picture. Life is not just now with its pain and problems; life includes tomorrow; life includes heaven. Life includes God’s great and mighty love for us! Life includes yesterday with its blessings and good memories! So let’s not let the storms of today steal the songs and hope from our hearts. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. He is in the boat with us! And he will bring us through the storm and safely home. Amen