“Jesus Sleeps But Is Always Awake” / Epiphany 4 2017 / Matthew 8:23-27Pr. Christopher Gillespie
January 29th, 2016
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
The disciples, astute fishermen, prepared a boat as a great place for quiet contemplation and rest. They were ready to rest after a long day. Earlier in the day Christ had healed the leper and the Centurion’s servant. He continued teaching and healing throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Peter’s mother-in-law with a fever. Demons sent out. They were told to leave the dead to bury their dead. They were told that there would be no rest for even Jesus. Too many sick. Too many lepers. Too tired.
But one of Peter’s fishing boats would do well to avoid the pressing crowd and get the much-needed shut-eye. The boat is the best place. Water is an escape. Water is calm. A peaceful cruise through the night is the ticket. “When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.” Rest and calm. Finally.
But water isn’t always calm. Sometimes its good but sometimes it kills. “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea.” This is no ordinary storm but a seismos, an earthquake-induced tsunami. No wonder it was so sudden! This isn’t the casual storm but crazy, unannounced, and destructive. “The boat was being swamped by the waves.” Great waves crashed upon the boat, threatening to break it apart. This storm is like a horrible monster, seeking to destroy the boat. St. Matthew conveys this storm as a wicked beast, rising up from the deep, seeking destruction and death. A torment of waves and wind unleashed upon weak fishermen.
“But he was asleep.” Jesus sleeps. It’s been a busy day, after all. He’s like a newborn baby, who can sleep through anything, even an earthquake, tsunami, and panicked disciples. He’s got not a care in the world, just like Rip Van Winkle after one to many drinks. There is no excuse for the savior of the world to go down to the bottom of the sea, with his disciples sinking down after him. It would be a tragic end to the hopes of mankind. The greatest story ever told wouldn’t be so great after all. So, the impending doom seized the disciples.
“And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’” Now there’s faith! They trust the Lord can save them from this storm. They believe he can and will rescue them from the beastly Seismos attacking them. Well… not quite. The disciples doubt the Lord will save them unless He’s awake. Faith in the Lord is bigger than that. Faith isn’t motivated by doubt, fears, and worries. It’s not the panic run to Jesus. Faith is trust in the Lord in all circumstances. Evidence may be lacking but His Word of promise always is true. Even with waves, winds, and a rickety old boat, we ought have nothing to fear.
Our captain Jesus isn’t worried. His eyes may be shut but his divine omniscience sees the situation. Of course, being startled awake, Jesus is a bit grouchy. You just spend the whole day healing, casting out demons, and the like. Your head just hit the pillow, R.E.M. is about to kick in, and then your children/disciples harass you over something they darn well know you’ve got under control.
Its just like when Mom’s nap is interrupted by the child asking “What’s for dinner?” The panicked child wonders if this might be the time when mom sleeps through dinner and forgets to provide for her children. She might be a grouch but yet the good mother. She holds her instinctual tongue and gently rebukes the child. “Don’t worry, dinner will be ready.”
And so [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Faith isn’t just about trusting the Lord when its obvious. They’d seen the obvious miracles all day. It is as if Jesus wanted to say: “How about a little trust that you’re okay, even when I’m sleeping? My flesh may be weak but my spirit is still willing. Do not doubt. I care for you even when all you hear is his loud snoring from the bow of the boat.”
We share the same spiritual failing as these disciples. So Jesus says to us: Think back, O you of little faith. I safely delivered you from the waters of your mother’s womb. Think further back. I brought rain to the people after the drought-parched land when my servant Elijah prayed to me. I led your ancient fathers from exile in Egypt through the depths of the Red Sea, made dry. I led you through the desert for some forty years with water, even after your anxious father insisted upon striking the rock with his staff.
Or think of Jonah, the one of little faith, the doubter cast into the sea. His weakness of faith brought a great storm upon them. The tempest would destroy them. Rightful trust came in this moment of panic. I, the Lord gave Jonah charge to Nineveh, and he disobeyed. He deserved far more than a silly storm. I was merciful and he rose to the challenge. There the great fish would preserve him from the water until he could again preach to the heathen.
Or think even bigger, O you of little faith! Think of Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals in pairs of unclean and seven of the clean. Think how they did not need to fear the rising flood waters but merely trust. Think how they entered into my protection, not knowing rain. They trusted in faith my command despite appearances, despite the ridicule of the nations, despite the absurdity of the suggestion of an ark of that magnitude. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
Don’t doubt the Lord’s providential care. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Our faith is this: we trust His word and so live free and clear of worry. Our Lord is not sleeping but is vigilant. He watches over us, caring for our every need of body and soul. Even when we feel afraid, trust that His eye sees our need and grants it according to His will.
We need not be afraid of the storms. The Lord almighty never tires of caring for his children. His watchful eye was upon those disciples and upon us. “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Water that was once scary is now made safe. The storm is sent back to its dungeon deep at the chastisement of the creator. Jesus manifests, reveals, epiphanies himself not just as the savior but as the Word of creation.
Jesus is the one still speaking, even now. We follow His voice into a different boat, the ark of the holy Christian church. Yes, the ship is tossed to and fro, while great foes seeking to destroy us. Yes, we struggle vainly against our mortal enemies, growing sea sick and weary of the journey. We too are assaulted by the winds of change and the waves of false doctrine, just like the tempest of Jonah and the disciples. The earthquake of a financial crisis has caused a great tempest to roar up against this and most Christian congregations. Great monsters of sickness and death crash upon our fragile wooden bow. It is as St. Paul said, “We ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). We wait with all creation for relief from the storms of this present life.
Yet, those in this boat has nothing to fear. Our trust is in the faith handed over in the book of prophecy, the Holy Scriptures. Our confidence is the Lord and His Word entrusted to her. By faith and obedience, we are being preserved from the storms of heresy and secularism. By trust and forgiveness, we are being given a clear conscience and prepared to die without fear or regret.
“What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” I’ll tell you: He is the author and perfecter of your faith. He is the voice that spoke upon the unformed genetic material with the wonderful breath of life you now enjoy. He is the preserving voice of the angel of Lord, leading his people in pit of exile, through the desert wastes, onto the height of his holy hill. He is the one whom the women followed in grief to the place of the skull, to watch the him give his life as a ransom for many. He is the one who went into the belly of the earth for three days. He is the one who the earthly grave could not hold and spit him out. He is the one whose voice is heeded by the earth, just like the sea.
All those who once dwelled in the shadow of death, now pass through saving waters of baptism into the protection of Christ’s holy ark. Despite the unsafe water surrounding us and the spoilt food in the world, Christ feeds you with precious food of the eternal sacrifice found only in this hull. Even if the great Serpent himself rises up from the deep to destroy this holy vessel, we know and believe the warfare is already ended and the death march over. The horrible beast is toothless and powerless to destroy us. He cannot prevail and the ship will be preserved. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” Jesus is our Lord, our captain, and our preserver.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church