Seaside With Jesus: Sleeping Through The Storms - Matthew 8:23-27
One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, "Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?"
The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. "I can't, dear," she said. "I have to sleep in Daddy's room."
A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice: "The big sissy."
John Wesley, one of the founding brothers, along with his brother Charles, of the Methodist movement that began as a reform within the Church of England and now has grown to be what we know as the United Methodist Church, was not known as a cowardly person. In fact, there were times that he placed himself in situations that we might have avoided if we were in that time frame. However, on a cross-Atlantic journey, a massive storm came upon the ship transporting Wesley and other passengers. The storm tossed the ship around like a boat in a swimming pool after someone has done a “cannonball.” Wesley found himself, like many passengers, clinging to anything he could, worried that the ship would be overwhelmed by the storm. However, there was a group on that ship that carried on as if nothing major was happening, and it was not the crew. It was a group of Moravians. Rather than cowering in fear, the Moravians gathered for their daily worship and sang praises to God. Wesley was amazed at their faith…the faith of the Moravians blazed like a fire that no storm could douse. John Wesley prayed to God for an unwavering faith like that of his brothers and sisters in Christ, so that he might ride out the storms of life in the same manner.
Jesus and the Disciples had been going almost non-stop. They had been up on the mountain as Jesus taught the crowds that gathered around. After all the teaching, Jesus had come down from the mountain and had encountered one person after another who needed healing: a leper, the Centurion’s daughter, Peter’s mother-in-law, and so many others. Finally, they headed out of Capernaum and took a boat across the Sea of Galilee, which is actually more of a lake (8 miles across at its widest point from east to west and 13 miles across at the widest point from north to south). Jesus, exhausted from all the teaching and healing found a corner of the boat to curl up and get some sleep, while the others guided the boat eleven miles to the other side of the lake. Suddenly, as they were in the middle of the lake, a sudden storm came up. For us, we would say that any one that got caught out in the open water like that had forgotten to check the radar or weather forecast before they left, on this island they might clearly be seen as dingbatters—like the preacher and his family out riding bikes as a dark storm approached. However, this was nothing unusual on the Sea of Galilee. The geography of the deep valley in which the water located is such that when a wind begins blowing from the west, it is compressed and then forced out upon the lake with a vengeance that can turn a peaceful, serene moment into a sudden and violent storm. This is the situation that the disciples find themselves in…their quiet little boat ride across the ocean became a nightmarish occasion… for you see, these were not little wind-driven waves…the Greek word used is “seismos,” which is the same word for “earthquake”, these were violent, towering waves, crashing against and upon their boat…
Picture, it if you will, sometimes the tiny boat would rise up on the swells and then race quickly down the other side; other times the crew would be hanging on to whatever they could as giant waves crashed over the boat. And in between each wave, they would try and do whatever they could to help the boat weather the storm. If any of you have seen the movie, The Perfect Storm, this is exactly how I picture the storm that came upon Jesus and the disciples out upon the sea. Suddenly, as the disciples were scrambling about, they realized that Jesus was nowhere to be seen amongst their frantic struggles. They turned toward the stern of the ship where they had last seen Jesus resting, and there he was, fast asleep. The disciples rushed over to wake him, saying, “Jesus. Are you crazy? How can you be sleeping at a time like this? Don’t you care that we are about to die? What’s the matter with you?” Jesus woke up, questioned the fear and faith of the disciples, then turned and rebuked the wind and demanded that the sea become calm, and everything was still and quiet.
“Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” To our ears, those are kind of harsh words coming from Jesus to his disciples that have left everything behind to follow him. What does being afraid of a storm have to do with our faith? Let me offer an illustration that might be able to get at what Jesus was talking about…
While we are used to storms like hurricanes here, living in one of the two south-eastern states hit most frequently by the named storms, in the northwest, only about one storm in a generation, like the Columbus Day storm of 1962, reaches hurricane proportions.
The setting: a dairy farm in Southwest Washington, in the Gray's River country. With military service and urban industry pulling young men away, it was so hard to get help on the farms that many dairymen in desperation were selling their herds. But one pioneer dairyman was determined to keep going. He had advertised everywhere for help but to no avail.
Then one day, a hulking, big-boned young fellow wanted work. The dairyman could scarcely believe his good fortune. Eagerly, he plied the young man with questions. Had he worked on a farm? Could he drive a tractor? Operate a hay bailer? Milk cows? To each of these, the young man nodded assent. Obviously, he was no talker. The dairyman pushed him with two or three more quick questions. The young fellow stood blinking his eyes, trying to form an answer. Finally, he blurted out, “Mister, I know how to sleep well on a windy night!” What a strange answer!
But the dairyman was desperate for help so, despite his misgivings, he hired the young man. The newly hired man proved to be a steady worker who did his work well. The weeks stretched into months. The dairyman came to take his big, quiet hired hand for granted.
Then came the night of the big storm. The wind banged on the shutters; the rain stung the windows; the great trees swayed and groaned. The dairyman, with an instinct for danger, awoke with a start. The storm was rising--a bad one! He lay in his bed for a few minutes, listening for the sound of the hired man to come down from his attic bedroom to check things out. But inside the house, all was quiet.
The farmer waited a few minutes more. Then, in disgust, he arose, dressed quickly and hurried upstairs. Through the closed door, he could hear the snoring of a contented sleeper.
“Well, I might as well go out myself,” grumbled the dairyman. He'd be too sleepy to know what he was doing! So, he pulled on his boots and slicker, lit the lantern, and went out into the storm. He checked out the barn first. Every door secure. Then the milk shed. Doors carefully bolted. The machine shed. In good shape. What about the big tarp over the haystack; surely by now that was blowing away! But no, the lantern light revealed every weight in place. He noted the hired man had even tied the tarp with extra ropes and stakes.
Suddenly, there in the darkness, the farmer stopped dead in his tracks. Why that young fellow wasn't so dumb after all, even if he couldn't express himself very well. He had really been telling that he knew his job, and he could be trusted to do it well, when he had nodded his head so awkwardly and then blurted out, “I know how to sleep well on a windy night!”
Friends, we are going to have storms in this life and some of those storms are going to rock our world like a boat on the high seas in a hurricane. Last week we called them interruptions… those unexpected events that stop us in our tracks and force us to recalculate. We realized last week that we can embrace those interruptions because we know that God will bring something good, bring a blessing out of whatever has sprung into our lives and that He will be glorified. Wednesday night we moved from considering them as interruptions, to calling them storms. We heard Jesus’ warnings that storms will come and so we should strive to build our homes on the solid rock that is found by hearing Jesus’ words and acting on them…to do anything less is to build our homes on sand that quickly washes away leaving nothing behind.
The question becomes, how do we survive the storms in one piece? How do we keep from being like the farmer, the disciples, or from being called a big sissy by our kid? How do we have the peace of the Moravians, or of the big farmhand, or of Jesus?
We can survive in one piece because there is only One Peace…and that Peace is Jesus Christ. The Moravians had this peace because they knew they worshiped the One who created the earth and sea and skies and wind. The farmhand could sleep well on a windy night, as the farmer found out, because he knew he had already made preparation for the storm…he was ready.
Have we made preparations for the storm…are we prepared to survive the storm in One Peace. Do we truly understand what it means to have Christ as our Lord and Savior? Do we spend time each day with Christ, and I’m talking about more than simply the blessing over the meal, but time in God’s Word and in conversation with Him? Have we confessed our sins before Him and sought to live repentant lives? Do we put our whole trust in Him rather than in cash, job security, physical strength, health, drugs, tobacco, or alcohol? The peace comes from knowing that if we have turned our lives over to Jesus Christ, then we are already in the midst of Eternal Life. It is knowing that nothing in this world will have the final say so about our existence…only God has that say so…and that no matter what happens, whether we gain riches or become dirt poor, whether we become popular or become outcasts, whether we physically live or die, that Christ is with us…that He will never leave us…and that one day, He will carry us before our Father’s throne and verbally express His love for us. Christ is the only true source of peace…and while He may not come in and make the wind and water become peaceful in every storm we encounter…but He is the one, if we put our whole trust in His grace, that will still us…that will give us peace…so that we can sleep on a windy night…so that we can nap in the bow of a ship…so that we can survive the storms in His True Peace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.