In the stories of Jesus, recorded in all four gospels, there are two kinds of people who follow him about who aren’t out to get him from beginning to end—there are the crowds and there are the disciples. The crowds come out to listen to his teaching, seemingly curious about this guy who’s challenging the status quo and proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near. The crowds are just that—crowds. They’re not people who are committed to following Jesus everywhere he goes, nor are they the ones who are steeped in his teaching. That’s the disciples. The disciples go with him and listen to all his teachings. They’re his intimates. In John’s gospel, before he goes to his passion and death, we’re told that Jesus considers his disciples his friends. These are the ones who know him best, who when asked could probably tell you what kind of jokes Jesus liked best, what whether he preferred fried, broiled, or baked fish, or if his preferred wine came from Italy, Greece, or Palestine.
Put another way, the disciples were the ones who not only heard the message Jesus came proclaiming—namely, that the kingdom of God had come near—but they were the ones who committed their lives to living in that already-but-not-yet reality. They were the ones who committed to living lives in relationship with God, quite literally, in Jesus. The crowds were those who listened, were acquainted, got something out of it maybe, and went about their lives, but did it make a difference? The to disciples on the other hand—life in relationship with God, life living in the already-but-not-yet kingdom of God was supposed to matter.
And so what does that mean for us today, for us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus? What does the message of the kingdom of God mean for us today, in the midst of our busy lives? What does it mean that you call yourself Jesus’ disciple, not merely a follower?
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Today’s gospel story comes to us at the end of a long day for Jesus. He’s been teaching about the kingdom of God all day, using parables. Remember—a parable is a kind of comparison between two things, thrown down beside each other for us to see the similarities and differences. Jesus has been throwing down parables all day in order to teach his disciples and the crowds who’ve gathered about the kingdom of God. All sorts of parables. A sower goes out to sow on different kinds of soil. A lamp under the bushel basket. A sower who sows seed but doesn’t know how it grows. A mustard seed that grows into a great bush.
It’s been a long day for him. We can almost sense how tired he is as he repeats, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” in some variation or another, in Mark 4 alone. Are you listening to this? Really listening? Listen…“Listen carefully to what I am saying,” he says.
And so Jesus is at this all day, and finally he tells us his disciples to go to the boat, presumably to go to the other side of the lake. After a long day of teaching, after a long day of trying to get the message through about the kingdom of God, Jesus takes a nap. Seems like a good idea, and makes sense after he’s been working so hard trying to open people’s eyes—or should I say, open their ears—to understanding what the kingdom of God is really all about.
While he’s sleeping, we’re told a windstorm arises. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. The disciples are overcome with fear. They wake Jesus up, asking him if he cares about them, and he calms the storm—“Peace! Be still!” Immediately the storm ceases its tumult. The wind dies down. The sea smooths out like a mirror. Picture a full white moon glistening off the glassy, inky water. Jesus looks at the disciples, face illumined by the moonlight, and asks, simply, “Why so cowardly? Didn’t you listen to me at all?”
Those of us here today—those of us who come regularly church, participate regularly in the life of the parish, take part in Bible study, serve on committees, come to the events, go on fellowship outings like we did last night—we’re the ones who hear the message of Jesus and his love for us all the time. Over and over again during worship, we hear those words—“In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, God does forgive us all our sins.” Over and over again during worship, we hear, “This is my body, broken for you,” and “This cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.” In Bible study we wrestle with what it means to be completely and utterly loved with God and what that means for our lives. In our work and fun together as a parish, as God’s family, we experience the joy of community that mimics the communal life of God’s very own self—a life rooted in relationship so bound up with itself that not even death can destroy it.
And so those of us here today, those of us who are actively engaged in our Christian life, those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus—who worship regularly, study diligently, give faithfully, serve cheerfully, and pray earnestly—we are the ones who hear the message of Jesus and his love for us all the time. It’s good news, but it’s not new news. It’s the old, old story.
And yet…we, like the first disciples, no matter how much we hear it, how clearly we “get it” or understand what the kingdom of God is really all about—we sometimes are swamped with the cares of life. Sometimes the worries, anxieties, stressors, fears, panic, and general melancholy of life can swell up around us like a great storm, with waves that beat against us, threatening to flood us.
We worry about our kids, or our grandkids. We worry about our health. Our jobs. Our parents—their health, their emotional and spiritual wellbeing, their homes. We worry about our own homes. We worry about the world around us. We worry about everything we have to do. We have this exam to study for. We have this essay to write. College applications and financial aid packages to accept. We have all sorts of things going on. We have organizations that rely on us. Meetings, virtual and in-person, to attend. There are so many competing voices in our head, shouting at us, demanding our attention. When we get caught up in all, as we sometimes do, it’s like we’re in a tiny dinghy caught in the midst of a storm on the ocean, tossed to and fro. All we can hear is the howling of the storm, the crash of the waves, and the pounding of the rain against our temples. We’re in peril—in peril on the sea of disbelief.
In moments like those, we like the disciples in the boat with Jesus, we can become overcome. Don’t misunderstand me. A certain level of concern for the day-to-day dealings of life is important. But that concern can grow to overshadow the hope that is within us, the hope that gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The concern that we have for the countless things in our lives that are important can grow so daunting that we forget our relationship with God and what it means for us. We like the disciples, when we find ourselves in times like those, cry out to God, like the psalmist, “Deliver me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck!” We’re overwhelmed—in peril on the sea of disbelief.
Why disbelief? When we speak of believing in God, or having faith in God, what we’re really speaking of is our relationship with God. Living in meaningful, purposeful relationship with God is one that believes God’s promise—a promise never to abandon us, even in the face of all sorts of calamity. Too often we think of faith or believing as something that we do, as something we must do, in order to please God. Believe or else! But that’s not what it’s about.
Belief is what comes after we understand, after we’ve listened to God’s promise that nothing can separate us from his love for us in Christ Jesus. Believing is living in God’s promise—knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that all things work together for good for those who love God. Knowing that all things work together for good for us because God loves us.
This is the message of the kingdom of God.
It’s the message that Jesus tirelessly proclaimed, and it’s the message that can easily be drowned out by the storms that rage within our lives.
But did you notice what happens even as Jesus asks the disciples why they are afraid? Did you notice what happens when they call out to him, in the midst of their panic and ask him if he even cares what’s going on? Did you hear what happened when they, more or less asked, as the storm raged and the sea pummeled, “Why me Lord?”
Even though it was the wrong question, Jesus rose up, spoke the storm into submission, literally with a word of peace, and then, and only then, asked, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Then, and only then, after Jesus had restored peace to their lives, did he say, “Why so cowardly? Didn’t you listen to me at all?” First Jesus acted, first Jesus restored what was awry, before he confronts the disciples. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying to the disciples, even in the midst of their terror, “Why not you?”
For us that’s the real question—why not us? Jesus doesn’t promise us a life in the kingdom of God free of problems, concerns, worries, or troubles. Instead, he tells us that the kingdom of God is like a ship captain and a crew who go out to sea and a storm arises, battering their boat with waves and wind. Yet that boat doesn’t capsize or founder because the captain trusts the crew is prepared and ready to support each other in their shared endeavor.
And so it is with us who’ve heard the message of Jesus and his love—we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus. We’ve heard time and again that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Why not us? Why not us who understand, who have been comforted in God’s promise? We have been equipped, readied, and prepared to face the challenges of life and make sense of them in light of our relationship with God in Jesus—and not only that, but we’ve been equipped, readied, and prepared to support one another when storms arise in one another’s lives, when our brothers and sisters find themselves in peril on the sea of disbelief.
God who loves us so completely to give up everything it means to be God and enters into the stormy, chaotic mortal life has equipped, readied, and prepared us to face each new day with a sense of conviction that we are not alone, that we like him are sent to make peace in those places where competing voices threaten to drown out God’s promise of eternal and abundant life. In worship, in prayer, in studying, in giving, and in serving we have been equipped, readied, and prepared to more fully understand, to more fully get what the kingdom of God is really all about. We have been equipped, readied, and prepared to find meaning in the chaos and calm amidst the storm, to live at peace and to make peace, knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God.
And so as the storms of life around us rage, as the peril of the sea of disbelief threatens to overtake us, as worries, anxieties, concerns, fears, and general emptiness swirl about us, robbing us of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, as we ask ourselves in those moments, “God, why me?”—I ask you, “Why not you?” Why not you who’s heard God’s promise over and over? Why not you who’s been equipped, readied, and prepared by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that tamed the chaos of the sea before creation began? Why not you whom God so loved to send his Son to live with you, to be with you, so that you would never be alone? If not you who have ears, who have heard, who have believed—if not you, then who?
Why not you?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.