Calming Storms?

Matthew 8:18-27

This is not a story about how Jesus calms our storms.

rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)

It is very much a story about how Jesus calmed a storm.  On this day he and his disciples got into a boat to cross the sea of Galilee.  Jesus had been teaching and healing and answering questions, and he was tired.  He curled up in the front of the boat, with old fishing nets as a makeshift mattress.  Jesus continued to snooze as a storm gathered.  He snoozed as waves rocked the boat.  He snoozed as the wind got so strong, it looked like they might tip.  He kept right on snoozing as the water poured in over the sides of the boat.  Finally, the disciples couldn’t take it anymore; they woke the Son of Man up from his well-deserved rest:

“SAVE US, JESUS!  WE’RE GONNA DIE!”

I don’t know about Jesus, but I’m really grumpy if my nap is cut short.  Maybe he took a moment to throw the disciples a stern look before responding.  Then he stood up and directed a few short words at the wind and the waves.  It was like a switch had been flipped; the water turned to an early-morning stillness and the wind dropped so dead, it wouldn’t even ripple a flag.  Everything was still.

I picture Jesus rolling back to sleep as he mutters something like, “Didn’t you have any faith at all, scaredy-cats?”

Isn’t this a great story, the day when Jesus calmed a storm?  It’s so powerful that it tempts us to make it about our storms.  I want it to be about how Jesus will say those words and flip that switch for us when life gets too rough.  But I don’t think that’s the point, and here’s why.

First, there are these two quick interactions right beforehand, moments where people make a reasonable request but Jesus’ answer indicates otherwise.  One was with a “scribe,” an expert in the Jewish law, who volunteered to follow Jesus anywhere.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John had to be asked to follow, and here was this guy ready to join in!  But Jesus wasn’t taking applications, apparently.  His answer is odd:  “All of creation has a place to call home, but not me – and I’m the Son of man himself.”

We aren’t told what happened to that would-be follower.  Did he just stand there, confused?

Next one of Jesus’ existing disciples requested a leave of absence.  His dad died, and he needed to arrange the services and catch up later.  Unlike the congregation I serve – which gave me plenty of time and space when my mom died – Jesus had no patience for this.  “Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead,” he said.

Where’s the compassionate Jesus?

Right after that comes the storm-calming miracle.  Yet again, a request is made that seems reasonable:  “Jesus, save us, we’re gonna die!”  And yet again, Jesus’ answer is as though the request was all wrong:  “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?”

Didn’t they have faith?  They knew to wake Jesus up.  They knew he could do something about the storm.  That looks like faith to me.

So look at the pattern here:  the scribe wanted to follow Jesus… but Jesus says it’s not that simple.  The disciple wanted to bury his dad… but Jesus says coming with him is more important.  The 12 disciples wake Jesus up to calm the storm… but Jesus says real faith is trusting even when the boat looks like it’s going to sink.  In all three cases, Jesus wants more faith – like these guys are just hitting the baseline mark, and Jesus is looking for something much, much bigger.

All that makes me pretty sure that this story is not about Jesus calming all our storms, instead it’s about our faith in the storm.  And here’s another reason for that:  We live in storms, all the time.

Haven’t you noticed?

There are storms all around that remain un-calmed.  In other words, if Jesus is supposed to calm our storms, he’s just not doing it.  We have our own personal rain clouds:  toxic relationships, drained bank accounts, bad mistakes, hard decisions, poor health.  We also have storms we share, big, dark ones gathering over our towns, our nation, our world:  Controversial decisions.  Unpopular leaders.  Growing protests.  Arson.  Unnecessary death.  Prejudice.  Hate.  Fear.

Like the disciples, we begin to panic.  Is Jesus sleeping?  Where is he?  Somebody go wake him up!  Someone tell him, “JESUS, SAVE US!  WE’RE GONNA DIE!”

And what is Jesus’ answer to us?

“Don’t you have any faith at all, scaredy-cats?” 
“You’re worried about dying?  Didn’t I take care of that?
“You’re worried about who’s in power?  Aren’t I the real King?
“You’re worried about what you should do?  Didn’t I set you an example?
“Where is your faith?”

This isn’t a story about how Jesus calms our storms.  But it is a story about how Jesus is stronger than any storm.  And real faith remembers that fact, even when it looks like the ship is sinking.

If we live each day hoping for Jesus to calm our storms for smooth sailing, we’ll drive ourselves insane with disappointment.  There is always some problem.   Always there’s a storm.  But we’ve got Jesus is the boat.  As Paul put it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

This is not a story about how Jesus will calm every storm… because the gospel message is not about how Jesus makes our lives easier.  Instead, Jesus makes our lives better. 

So get a grip.  Hang on.  Hold tight.  Get ready.

A storm’s coming.  Will you be scared stiff?  Or will you have faith?

Go, and make it so.

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