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Worship Theme: Why Does God Do That?
Sermon Theme: Jesus, Calm the Storm!
Over fifteen hundred tornadoes have hit Wisconsin since 1950, more than twenty a year, causing nearly a hundred deaths and over sixteen hundred injuries. April 1965, three dead, thirty-five injured west of Ixonia. April 1981, three dead, fifty-three injured at West Bend. April 1984, an outbreak of tornadoes covered nearly the whole state, several killed, many injured, millions in property damage. June 1984, nine dead, two hundred injured, one hundred three homes either damaged or destroyed at Barneveld. July 1996, the costliest tornado of the previous century struck Oakfield. God be praised, no one died, but twelve people were injured, forty million dollars in damage. August 1998, a Door County tornado produced a waterspout over the bay which moved onshore southwest of Egg Harbor, injuring two people and carving a damage path more than a quarter mile wide. August 2005, several tornadoes were documented on a single day, traveling from Dane County into Jefferson County, maximum intensity passing through Stoughton at a width of half a mile, destroying or damaging two hundred forty homes, with forty-four million dollars of damage, killing one, and injuring twenty-three. Debris from the Stoughton area was found as far as two counties to the east. Storms can be terrifying. So, we join the first followers of Jesus and call out: “Jesus, calm the storm!”
Storms on the Outside
Lightning flashed and thunder cracked, jolting you awake. You pulled the covers over your head, rolled over, and tried to sink back into dreamland. But when the howling wind rattled the windows, you grabbed your phone, checked the weather app, saw the storm warning, and hustled into the basement. Ever been in a storm like that? I mean a really big storm.
The Sea of Galilee is an inland lake about the size of Lake Winnebago. It lies seven hundred feet below sea level. Every once in a while, cold air from the mountains to the north clashes with the warm air of the lake, causing unexpected, violent storms to pop up. That is what happened in today’s Gospel account in Mark chapter four. Jesus had been in the bustling commercial and fishing center on the northwestern coast of the Sea of Galilee. He had spent the entire day talking, telling, teaching crowds and crowds of people about God’s love for sinners. By evening the pressure of the crowd and the day-long preaching had taken a toll. He was exhausted. So, he said to his followers, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.
To go “to the other side” meant Jesus intended to cross the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee to the less-inhabited eastern shore. A furious squall came up. Fierce wind began to churn the water. Whitecaps crashed against the boat. Water splashed in. They were nearly swamped. “Hey, Matthew! Grab that rope and pull it!” “You’re the fisherman, James. I’m a finance guy and landlubber. You do it!” “Well, at least grab a bucket and start bailing water, or we’re going down!” The icy fingers of fear gripped their hearts. Their guts got tied in knots as the boat rocked and swayed up and down the swells. Where was Jesus? In the stern, sleeping on a cushion. In the midst of a raging storm, he remained perfectly confident, resting in the protecting arms of his heavenly Father. They turned to Jesus, woke him, and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” “What kind of leader are you if you allow us to plunge into Davy Jones locker?”
When a king orders his servants to prepare a feast, they obey him promptly. When a general gives his troops the command to charge, he needs only one word to start an attack. But no one can speak words which have power like Jesus’ words. He did not jump up and down and wave his arms. He did not recite special chants or any hocus-pocus gibberish. He did not have a magic wand. He stood up, calm, cool, collected, and in control. He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” With just a word from Jesus the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Lots of people concede that there is a God in control of the universe, but they have developed the mistaken notion that God operates from a distance, like some unseen force way up in the stratosphere who occasionally sends out a command or controls the world like a puppeteer. Not so! Our Lord Jesus is real, and he is right here exercising his power on our behalf. Remember what he said as he was about to make himself invisible to be everywhere, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me ... and surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age” (Mathew 28:16,20). Ask the young adult who traveled through Europe for several weeks on a shoe string, “Who brought you home safely?” Ask the young couple who witnessed the birth of their baby, “Who gave you this miracle?” Ask the couple celebrating more than fifty years of marriage, “Who kept you patient and forgiving in spite of struggles and tension?” When Jesus calmed the storm on the sea with just a word, he demonstrated that he has the power to preserve and protect us amid all the storms that whip around us in life. We can call out boldly when any storm of life threatens, “Jesus, calm the storm!” because we know that he has the power and the heart to do just that. When a storm of social injustice affects your sense of safety, when a typhoon of tension hits your relationship, when a gale of social media gossip wrecks your reputation, when a downpour of disappointment drenches your family, sing out with the apostle Paul, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18) because Jesus knows how to answer our cry, “Calm the storm!”
Storms on the Inside
Once Jesus had calmed the storm, we would expect the disciples to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride across the lake. But there was another storm brewing, a storm on the inside. Fear still gripped their hearts. Only this time their fear had nothing to do with wind and waves. Jesus recognized their real problem. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The Bible writer tells us that they were terrified. They realized that they were sitting in the presence of someone so powerful that even the wind and the waves obey him.
We float along on life’s boat, smooth sailing, when all of a sudden, the volume knob gets turned to an ear-splitting decibel level as a family squabble escalates. A common illness you thought would go away with antibiotics doesn’t, and further investigation reveals a tumor. The company that bought out your company is bought out by a still bigger company and suddenly you’re on the outside looking in. Kids become the center of your attention whether you’re praying to have them and haven’t yet or whether you’re making as many trips to the emergency room as to the soccer field. Gas prices and taxes soar higher but the paycheck stays the same. All of those things are storms on the outside that whip up the big storm on the inside.
Like Jesus’ first followers, the big storm on the inside is far worse than any quarrel or illness. It has tornado-like power linked to wide-fire spread-ability. It’s called sin. It’s not a disease which medicine can cure. It’s not a defect that we can overcome. It’s deadly. It howls in the night in our dreams and rattles the windows of our consciences. Worse yet, it deserves the flaming lightning of his anger, the holy thunder of God’s condemning shout, “Guilty,” and the pelting rain of his unending frown from which we cannot bail ourselves out, and which forces us not toward evacuation but damnation. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Be honest. Recognize your sin, and you will sense the real storm on the inside.
But that’s actually a good thing. It’s the beginning of the answer to the big question before us today on why God does what he does, that is, why God allows storms in our life, including big ones on the outside like the sudden death of a loved one, and the huge one on the inside called sin. We need to face reality instead of ignoring it because only then will Jesus’ power to calm storms mean something to us.
The words slipped through your lips too quickly. You know you shouldn’t have been so hurtful, so careless. You know you should have been thinking of your friend’s feelings first, but your perceived need to talk, your need to let your opinions fly took over, and now you sit there with a cyclone of self-criticism, a hailstorm of self-hate, and the tornado of a tortured conscience as your mind spins with, “What am I going to do? How will I make up for what I said? How can repair the damage?” Yes, plan an appropriate and genuine apology, but start by calling out, “Jesus, calm the storm on the inside!” He’ll answer your plea faster than waking in a storm-tossed boat on Galilee’s sea, telling wind and waves, “Quiet! Be still!” The Savior says, “Be of good cheer. Your sins are gone from God’s sight!”
As God in human flesh, Jesus weathered the storms of this sinful world. His purpose was not to be a model of calmness but to point us to what he did about storms, especially the big one on the inside. With his calming word of forgiveness, we have cope-ability both to handle storms on the outside because we know the end goal for all who trust in him is heaven and to deal with storms of sin and guilt on the inside. He whispers in our ear each day, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), giving us confidence to sing amid storms around us and in us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea ... The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1-2,7). Amen.
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