Do You Trust Jesus When He's Sleeping?
In the NAME of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT.
She'd waited all day for the doctor to arrive. He promised he'd be there first thing in the morning. But here it was, seven o'clock in the evening, and still no sight of him. She couldn't eat. She tossed and turned. The television irritated her. She couldn't concentrate enough to read. The surgical dressing tugged against her skin. The wound of her surgery ached. The pain medication must be wearing off. Finally the surgeon shuffled through the door. He looked hurried and distracted, as though he had to be somewhere else. He wasn't known for his bedside manner. His skills were tuned for the operating room. He barely lifted his eyes from the three-ring binder that held her charts. He opened his mouth and began to speak. She heard words instead of whole sentences. Bits of sound, each delivering a crumb of dreaded, terrible information.
"… not as good as we'd hoped … malignant tumor … couldn't get to all of it … chemotherapy … possibly radiation … not sure how long … twenty percent … live at least five years … don't worry …"
Then he shuffled out again. So that's how it is, she thought. One day a wife and mother of two in perfect health. Aerobics three times a week at the health club. Tennis and bicycling on the weekends. A deliberate diet. A finely tuned lifestyle, according to all the latest research. Then one day a funny lump and a dull ache and a doctor's visit and surgery and a hospital bed. And now who knows?
She shut her eyes tightly and clenched her fists. She struggled to gain control. To breathe. She wanted to scream, to cry, to curse, but everything hurt too much. She felt out of control, lost, angry, sad, alone, drowning. She took a deep breath and tried to pray. "Lord God in heaven." "Our Father." "O Jesus, where are you? Don't you care? About me? About my children? Why?" Our readings this morning are filled with questions. The disciples ask Jesus, "Don't you care if we die?" Jesus asks His disciples, "Why are you afraid? Don't you believe?" The disciples ask each other, "Who is this, whom the wind and sea obey?"
It was Jesus' idea to go across the Sea of Galilee night. The fishermen wouldn't have done it. He was tired, exhausted from preaching and healing. He needed some rest. The crowds followed him everywhere. Even on the water, they followed Him in boats. At least in the boat they could be by themselves - Jesus and His Twelve. Time to breathe. The quiet was welcome. The boat gently rocked in the waves. The sun set behind the mountains. Jesus quickly fell sleep. The Sea of Galilee was known for its windstorms. Storms could kick up in an instant, without warning, turning a gentle boat ride into a deadly disaster. Without warning a strong wind howled down the mountainside and stirred up whitecaps on the water. It buffeted the little boat and threatened to blow the disciples overboard. The waves crashed hard against the little boat. Each wave added its dose of water. The disciples looked anxiously at one another. Fear gleamed in their eyes. These were not cowardly landlubbers. At least four of them were seasoned fishermen. They knew the sea and its storms; they knew how much a boat could take. They were bailing as fast they could. "All hands on deck! We're sinking!" Meanwhile Jesus was sound asleep on the captain's cushion in the back of the boat. He was completely at peace, without a care in the world. The wind and the waves posed no threat. He is their Master, the Lord of heaven and earth, the ruler of wind and wave. Of all the boats out on the sea that night, this one was the safest of them all. Who would you want to be in your boat in a storm? Twelve seasick disciples? Four fishermen? One sleeping Jesus?
Perhaps we miss the point just a bit. Boating is recreational activity for us. Instead of a boat on the Sea of Galilee let's make it a little twin-engine commuter airplane at twenty thousand feet. A total of twelve passengers on board. The plane has hit an unexpected storm front. It's been struck by lightning, the instrument panel has gone haywire, the engines are sputtering, and the plane is veering out of control. And while all of this is going on, Jesus is sleeping in the pilot's seat.
Get the picture? The question is, "How far do we trust Jesus? Do we trust Him when He seems oblivious to our situation? When our lives in danger? Do we trust Him with our lives, when chaos threatens to sink us? Do we trust a sleeping Jesus?" The disciples didn't. For the Twelve, a sleeping Jesus was as good as no Jesus at all. They trusted Him enough to grab him by the shoulders and shake him and wake him up. They trusted him enough to say, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" But they didn't trust him enough to let him sleep through the storm. Jesus calls them "ones of little faith." At least they had little faith. Faith enough to wake him. Big faith would have trusted a sleeping Jesus. Big faith would have rested with Jesus. There wasn't a safer place in the world at the moment. "If the boat goes down, Jesus goes down with us."
Where Jesus is, there the storms are sure to come. A congregation that is blessed by the presence of Jesus in the Sermon and the Supper is sure to have trouble. You never know when and where the storms will come. When Jesus enters a life, when He baptizes a person and forgives them and feeds them and grants them faith, when He lords His saving death and resurrection over them, watch out. The winds of temptations and the waves of trouble are sure to follow. Jesus warned his disciples. "Don't think that I've come to bring peace; not peace but a sword."
His disciples learned the discipline of what it means to pray, "thy will be done," trusting that God's will is truly a good and gracious will. They needed to learn, not by words but also through experience, that Jesus is Lord even when He is asleep, even when He hangs dead on a cross, even when He's buried in a tomb, even when it appears as though He's lost control. And he is Lord not only over the devil and his demons and diseases. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, the One through whom everything was made and in whom everything holds together. He is the One who commanded the proud waves and said, "This far you may come and not one inch farther." There isn't anything outside of Jesus' lordship. His disciples needed to learn that. And so Jesus sends His disciples out into a storm in a little boat with no protection but Himself. Their boat can't save them. Their strength can't save them. Their knowledge and ingenuity can't save them. Their swimming ability can't save them. Only Jesus can save them, and He appears weak and weary, asleep on the pilot's pillow.
"Don't you care?" the disciples ask him. "If you cared, you would do something. Bail, at least. Don't just sit there. Do something, if you care." Of course Jesus cares. He cares that they were in danger of perishing, though death isn't the worst that can happen to us. Jesus entered our world because he cares. He became a flesh and blood human being because he cares. He preached the good news of God's reign because he cares. He healed the sick and cast out the demons and absolved sinners because he cares. He hung on a cross and died because he cares. He speaks His Word because He cares. He stood up in the sinking boat, and rebuked the wind and the waves. "Be quiet! Be still!" Those are the very same words he used to silence the demons. "Be quiet! Be still!" And like the devils, the wind and the waves obeyed him. The wind died down. There was a great calm. All it took was two words from Jesus' mouth. "Be quiet! Be still!" He speaks His Word and it is.
We hear echoes of a couple of other great water events in the Bible. We hear echoes of the creation story - where the Spirit-wind of God blew over the chaotic waters of the deep, and God spoke order and light out of chaos and darkness. We hear echoes of Noah and the Flood - in which the life of the whole world was protected in a little boat bobbing on the waves.
Out of chaos, God creates. Out of the storm, God speaks. Through testing and trouble God forges faith, the way steel is forged in fire. We think that things are going well with God when everything is peaceful and quiet, when our lives are in order, health is good, the marriage is strong, the family is at peace, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. But the Spirit's faith - work goes on in the storm, in the chaos of suffering, testing, temptation, in the unexpected hurricanes and tornadoes of life, when we suddenly realize we have no control over our lives. "Why were you so afraid," Jesus asks his disciples. "Why do you let wind and waves scare you when I'm with you? Do you still have no faith?" Good question. Why are we afraid when our safety is threatened? When our health fails? When the doctor brings bad news? When our lives are thrown into chaos and disorder? When the winds howl and the waves threaten? It's because we don't believe. We don't trust Jesus, at least not fully, not with our whole heart, soul, and strength. We reserve a bit of control for ourselves. We keep one hand on the rudder, just in case God doesn't know where he's going.
We're afraid because we think we're in control. We think we can save ourselves. We think God needs a wake up call to get him moving. We think it all hangs on us. That would be frightening! The good news is that we aren't in control. Jesus is. We weren't there when the foundations of the world were laid. But Jesus was. We weren't there when the sea and dry land were separated. But Jesus was. We didn't set the boundaries for the sea, or tell the waves where to break. But Jesus did. We are not God. We aren't qualified for the job anyway, much as we like playing God, much as we want to be "like God." God is God. Jesus is God in the flesh. He hung on a cross to save us. Think of it. The Lord of heaven and earth, the One who tamed the wind and quiets the waves with His Word, He's the One who died for you. He commands the wind of His Spirit to breathe life into you. He commands the water of Baptism to save you. He's invested heavily in you. Your life is precious to him. He is with us, and we are with Him in His little boat, His church. In Christian art, the church is often pictured as a little boat riding on top of the waves. Look closely at that drawing on the front of the service folder. That's what the church looks like in the world. Dangerous, precarious, always on the verge of sinking. But things couldn't be better. Jesus is there in the back of the boat, guiding us through the storm.
What's left to fear with Jesus at the helm? Wind and water? Flood? Famine? Fire? Earthquake? Disease? Devil? Death? St. Paul says, "No. In all these things we more than conquer through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." It takes a lifetime to learn that and to live in that freedom. The disciples learned it in a boat in a storm. St. Paul learned it through failure and frustration. Each of us must learn it through the unexpected storms, the times we lose control and feel as though we are going under.
Recall the little boat, the wind and the waves, and Jesus sleeping at the helm. No need to fear or panic when God causes the wind to blow and the waters to rage and foam. Jesus is in it with us. He is in charge of things, in control, in His own quiet, humble, and hidden way. Don't be fooled by what you see. His strength looks like weakness. The power of God is hidden behind the exhausted man asleep in the boat, the broken man hanging dead on a cross. His powerful Word that stills the storm is there to save us, submerged in baptismal water, spoken in the quieting word of forgiveness, given in the bread that is His body, the wine that is His blood.
Jesus wants our fears, our deepest dreads, whatever troubles us, terrifies us, keeps us up at night, causes us to panic. He absorbs them all into His death. He nails them to His cross. He buries them in His tomb. He speaks an ordering Word, a creative Word into the chaos, into the death, into the darkness of our lives - "Be still, be quiet."
Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey? Jesus. The Son of God. The Lord of creation. Our Savior and Redeemer. Trust him when it looks as if your boat is about to go under. Trust Him even when He seems to be asleep. Trust Him with your life and with your death. He cares for you. He died for you. He rose and reigns for you. He is strong to save you. Stronger than your sin. Stronger than your death. Stronger than the wind and the sea that do His bidding.
In the NAME of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT.