He's Everywhere We Need to Be

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Sheridan Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE
June 23-24, 2007
Mark 4:35-41 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you second guess your decision and start to think you made a bad choice?  You know, one of those “what did I get myself into” situations. One of those vacations where you realize you were totally unprepared, everything seems to be going wrong and you just wish you could start it over.  The project that you have already spent hours working on only to realize you did something wrong on the first step?  Or you promise to do something for a friend, and once you get started you realize it requires way more time and energy than you first thought.  Our lesson today is about some of those situations where people end up wondering what they got themselves into.
As Pastor Larry mentioned last week, my wife Michelle and I spent the last three years of our lives living in La Paz, Bolivia and working with street children - children who spend every waking and sleeping moment on the streets with no adult supervision.  They end up living on the streets for a variety of reasons but mostly due to abuse in their homes and/or poverty.  Unfortunately one of the big issues we continually dealt with was police brutality on the streets.  One month we received especially troubling reports from the children that police were coming to their "homes" on a nightly basis demanding money.  If the children did not give them money the police would beat them.  This went on for a few weeks.  My friend Pato and I decided that the best thing to do was to be present with the children and to document what the police did.  What was the best way to do this?  Spend a night on the streets with the kids. 


We knew that this probably wasn't the safest decision we had made, but we did it anyway.  We set out that night with our sleeping bags, a video camera equipped for filming at night, and a very large flashlight for protection - one about the size of a police baton.  We arrived on the streets at about 11:00 at night - too late for anyone in the area to notice we were getting there, and too early for the police to know that we were there.  We climbed down the 15 foot drop from under a bridge down to the area along the feces infested sewer where the children had constructed a shelter out of tarps and cardboard.  This "house" was about 8 feet x 8 feet, and about 4 feet tall with about eight of us crammed in there.  Although uncomfortably small and smelly, the house was the only protection these children had, and at least allowed them to stay warm and mostly dry.  While I could have taken up the entire place to sleep, there were seven more people to fit in there, and it became very crowded rather quickly.  After we got arranged, and got our gear setup, we sat together to share scripture, prayed, and then slept.  I awoke at about 2:00 AM when one of the boys said in a loud and urgent whisper, "Juanito, Juanito, estan aqui!"  They were there.  The police had arrived.  They were standing outside of their SUV, up on the bridge, staring down at us.  What did we get ourselves into?


When we planned to spend the night on the street with those children, we had a good idea of what we were getting ourselves into.  I think the disciples did too.  They were fisherman, and they knew the Sea of Galilee.  I think the disciples had the same thought we did as they fought the storm that night. “What did we get ourselves into?”


Many of us have probably imagined the Sea of Galilee story illustrated as a calm picturesque scene, followed by a surprising storm raging over the disciples’ boat.  We assume the storm caught the disciples by complete surprise, but the Sea of Galilee is known for its storms. The Sea of Galilee is the second lowest body of water on Earth, with a water level 685 feet BELOW sea level and surrounded by hills that are 1200 to 1500 feet high.  The location and surrounding hills of the lake create an environment with abrupt temperature shifts - leading to abrupt weather changes. The Sea of Galilee was known for having sudden and violent storms. 13 miles long and 8 miles wide with a total surface area of 41,000 acres, the Sea of Galilee is about the same size as Lake McConaughy. The disciples would have been crossing the lake on the north side – a distance of about eight miles, and a journey that probably would have taken a couple of hours. The north side has little protection and is subject to high winds.


In addition to these unique characteristics, the Sea of Galilee also serves a political function.  This body of water has four different names in scripture and is known as the sea or lake of Galilee, Chinnereth, Tiberias, and Gennesaret and sometimes referred to in scripture as simply “the lake."  The Sea of Galilee is present in both the Old and New Testament and is first mentioned in Numbers 34:11 as the Sea of Chinnereth and was used to define the borders of Israel. Crossing the Sea of Galilee therefore meant that the disciples were crossing from Jewish territory into Gentile territory.
The Old Testament is clear about the laws of purity and what is clean and unclean. The Gentile territory was definitely an unclean place.  While we might say that cleanliness is next to godliness, for the Jews, and the disciples, ritual cleanliness really is godliness. Mark even highlights the uncleanliness of the Gentile territory by the way he describes what the disciples found on the other side. First, they encounter a man who is possessed by demons.  If that isn’t bad enough, he lives among the tombs, and just when you think it couldn’t get any worse there was a herd of pigs! For a ritualistic Jew, that is about as unclean as you can get. I am sure the disciples were relieved when they crossed back over the lake.
If the danger of the journey and the possibility of contaminating their ritual cleanliness was not enough deterrence for the disciples, think about what they were leaving behind.  In every story of Jesus alongside the sea, he either dismisses a crowd or asks the disciples to prepare a boat so that the crowd does not “crush him.” In this story Jesus was already teaching from the boat and asked the disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee “just as he was”, already in the boat. The fact that verse 36 says that “other boats were with him” tells us that not only was there a crowd on shore, but there was also a crowd in the water; a crowd that actually followed him as he left.  Why not just stay there and teach the crowd that was gathered already?  These were “fields” ripe for the harvest right in front of them.  Why leave now?


It is fair to assume that this was decision that was natural for the disciples to second guess. Jesus asked them to leave a crowd already there for his teaching, to make an eight mile crossing on a body of water that was known for its sudden and violent storms, and on top of it all, it’s evening and will be getting dark soon. To make it even worse asks them to cross the lake into Gentile territory, into the land of the unclean. What would you choose? Given the choice of (a) staying with a crowd already gathered for Jesus’ teaching, staying on the shore of safety, and being assured a good night’s rest, or (b) leaving that attentive crowd, at night, to cross a lake known for its dangerous storms, to go to the unclean Gentile territory? 


But Jesus had called them to "cross over to the other side."  Just as the disciples followed Jesus when he asked them to leave their nets to become fishers of men, so they left the shore that evening, on Christ's command to cross to the other side.  Whether they thought much about the journey before the departure, sometime during that storm, their doubts and fears began to overcome their faith in Christ.  As the waves crashed into the boat, and the boat started to fill, they must have wondered, “What did we get ourselves into?”


There were so many other options – waiting until morning, staying on shore, or not even following Jesus in the first place.  But somewhere on that journey they lost faith that Jesus would complete his will to cross to the other side. "Easy to tell us to cross when you are just going to sleep through the whole thing."  They worried, and they focused on the impossibility of their situation rather than the miraculous nature of Christ. 


When they woke Jesus up they even assumed he didn’t care, saying, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  It wasn't that Christ didn't care that they were perishing; the problem was they weren't perishing to begin with!  The disciples had convinced themselves that the only logical outcome of the situation was death.  Jesus calmed the storms, and the disciples recognized Him for who he was, recognized that in his commanding them to "cross to the other side" he was not merely making a suggestion, but was revealing what was to come.  He saw the journey and the ministry to be done on the other side and called the disciples to share in that ministry. 


That night on the streets of La Paz, the Police drove by at about 2:00, got out of their SUV, stood on the bridge, and watched over the area where the children lived.  They left, and an hour later they came back.  They left again, and came back on foot.  For a period of about two hours they kept leaving and coming back.  Maybe they saw us, and understood why we were there.  Maybe they did not.  What we do know for sure, is for the first time in over three weeks, the police did not come down and beat the children.  For the first time there was peace, and there was rest.


We look at this story of the Sea of Galilee in wonder of Jesus’ power over nature.  Many of us also think to ourselves that God does not work miracles they way he did in the New Testament.  We would be wise to consider Christ's words spoken to the scribes after forgiving the sins of the paralytic in Mark 2:9-11.  Jesus says, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.  I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  Which would have been easier that night in La Paz, for Christ to send a storm keeping the police off the streets and tucked away in an office or a vehicle somewhere, or working in their hearts in a way that not only lead to peace that night, but for the nights and months to come?  Christ did work a miracle that night.  He did it not only for the safety of those children, but so that he might be known and glorified for who He is.


Journeys of faith require us to weather the storms of the unknown, leaving our comfort zone as we leave to cross to the other side.  We know where we are, and we know what is comfortable, but God sees further than that.  As we expect "waves of the Spirit," we cannot expect to remain inside of our comfort zone, and we cannot expect to always understand how God will complete what He calls us to begin.  Scriptures teach us that the nature of faith is “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We cannot hope for what we already have, and we cannot put faith in what we already know.  Faith is what fills that gap between what we know and what we believe.  Faith is what gets us through the journeys the Spirit calls us to start.


As we start our vacation season, we should all think about the journeys that God is calling us to start.  There are journeys of reconciliation in our personal lives, journeys of making Christ known to our friends, to our neighbors, and our coworkers.  There are journeys we are called to start as individuals, and journeys we are called to start as the body of Christ.  We can usually think of a thousand good reasons not to start these journeys, but there is ONE reason to start them – the promise that god completes what he calls us to begin.  As we make these journeys let us not focus on the fears of the unknown, but the assurance of Christ’s presence.  So let’s get ready to start journeys, waiting for the waves of the Spirit to lead us, knowing Christ accompanies us, and that God completes what he calls us to begin.