Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Still In The Storm"

Text:  Mark 4:35-41

1 Kings 19:9-15a

This morning, we begin with the question which is asked at the end of the story:  “Who then is

this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  At first blush, the story seems to center on a

power which is so great that it controls even the very forces of nature.  And the climax of the story

rises upon the swell of Jesus’ command to the turbulent sea: “Peace!  Be still!” This is a common

translation of the Greek words piopa pephimoso which literally mean: “Stop speaking, and be

muzzled!”  In the Greek language of the day, this term was often used in exorcism when evil

spirits were bound by the healer’s word of authority.  Here, Jesus wields the same verbal auth-

ority over the wind that He rebukes and the sea that He calms.  How Jesus pulled this off, we do

not know.  What we do know is that the power Jesus possesses is beyond any and all explanation. 

     My thesis this morning is that the thrust of the story is about more than the storm that was

swirling on the outside around the disciples.  It is more about the turbulence that was churning

on the inside of those disciples who were crying out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are

perishing?”  They must have been extremely agitated and extremely frightened to accuse Jesus -

of all people - of not caring.  So they aim this rebuke at their Lord for seeming so nonchalant to

be napping in the middle of this catastrophe.  Instead of taking His relaxation as a sign of His having

such an absolute trust in God, they interpret it as a sign of indifference.

      Have you ever known that person – maybe a Christian person; maybe not – who didn’t seem

to get flapped or flustered by anything life brought his or her way.  And I say “seem” because we

never see the full picture of another’s life.  From my youth at Mt. Calvary Presbyterian Church, I

was privileged to know a saint of a woman – and one of my earliest Sunday School teachers – by

the name of Dorthea Chesney.  Everyone called her “Dottie.” As an aside, I had a wicked crush on

her daughter Betsy.  Among her areas of involvement in the church, Dottie Chesney was much

beloved as the tiny woman with the big, gorgeous soprano voice.  When Dottie was diagnosed with

lung cancer in the late 1980’s, there wasn’t much that could be done to slow down the progression

of her disease.  Yet Sunday after Sunday, she would faithfully sing with the choir in church; for

many months with a turban wrapped around her head.  I’ll never forget her last solo just weeks be-

fore she passed, bringing what little breath she had to bear on a beautiful piece called “Soft Are

Your Hands, Dear Jesus.”  Through it all, I never once saw Dottie with a frown on her face.  Nor did I

ever hear a negative or bitter word pass her lips.  In fact, she carried upon her a peace which was

beyond description.  And I will admit that there were times I felt uncomfortable with, and even

envious of, her unshakeable faith; so much more solid than my own.  It was almost like Dottie

leaned back into those strong arms and soft hands as the storm of cancer swirled around her. 

      When Jesus awoke to tame the elements, were His words directed only at the wind and the

sea?  Or were they perhaps directed even more so toward the disciples ?  “Peace!  Be still!”  And

the violent forces of nature were muzzled and silenced.  To the disciples:  “Peace!  Be still!”  Fellas,

pack in this foolish talk about my not caring or your perishing.  You should know better.  I’m right

here with you.  Do you think I’m going to let anything happen to you?  Then as the mist rises from

the calmed water, in that moment of stunned silence broken only by the panting of the hands on

deck“Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?” 

      As we read this Scripture – this “Jesus at Sea” story – from the perspective of my thesis, we

may very well discover that this Scripture is reading us, as the questions of Jesus become very

personal.  Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?  These words are addressed to me and to

you; we who have been known to complain – maybe are even complaining today – “Lord, do you

not care that I am perishing?”  Let’s pause at this point to let that doubt which might be living

within us surface………. just long enough to admit how uncared for we may sometimes feel, espe-

cially when the storms of life hit us square; so unexpectedly; with such ferocity.  Have we ever

felt abandoned by the Lord, as if God’s asleep at the oars while our boat is taking on water and

beginning to sink? 

      There’s probably not a storm that someone in this room hasn’t faced at one time or another.

The storm may have been one of the elements; our suffering the consequences of natural disaster,

what some people call “acts of God.”  The storm may be health-related when for no good reason,

and out of the clear blue, there comes the threat or the reality of devastating illness.  It might be

work-related when a threat comes against our very livelihood – plant closings; layoffs; manage-

ment shake-up’s; relocation.  Many storms are family-related, when what once seemed so placid

and serene proved only to be a calm before the storm – separation; divorce; an affair; child on

drugs; problems at school; issues of money; aging parents; fights over inheritance.  In this day,

there are gathering storm clouds on the national and global front with proverbial wars and rumors

of war, portending something coming on the horizon for all nations, religions and cultures.  All

these storms swirl on the outside of us, and churn on the inside of us.  And it’s not unusual for even

the most committed followers of Christ – no less the first disciples – to feel, and to fear, that the

Lord doesn’t care that we are perishing; Him just snoozing away as we fight to control the vessel.

      But I believe Jesus makes it clear that, out of God’s love, there is a choice before us.  The deci-

sion is built into the very question Jesus poses:  “Have you still no faith?”  It’s only after we’ve

been cared for in so many ways before the storm hits that we can be brought up short by the use

of that word “still.”  Just as all of us have had our share of storms – some of us more than our fair

share – all of us have received our blessings.  At the heart of Jesus’ question is:  do we remember

the storms Jesus has already brought us through, some of which we were certain we’d never

survive?  Why then do we doubt that the Lord remains able and willing to bring us through the

next?  Do we not remember the blessing Jesus has brought us along the way, sometimes when the

storm was at its height, at a time when there’s wasn’t a break to be seen?  Why then do we doubt

that the Lord is able and willing to bless us yet again?  What do we choose to believe about our

Lord and His care for us?  “Have (we) still no faith?”  In a beloved hymn, John Newton makes this

observation:  “Through many danger, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace has brought

me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.”

      Interesting that Jesus is the one to awaken in this story from Mark’s Gospel, while at the core

of the story is the disciples waking up to the voice that speaks in the stillness following the storm;

in “dead calm; the very same voice that declares “Peace!  Be still!”  We can’t help but be reminded

of a classic story of the prophet Elijah from 1st Kings which _____________ read earlier.

      Elijah was in the midst of quite a storm himself.  Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, had it out for Elijah

after he had called on God’s power to disgrace the priests of a foreign god.  She had sworn an oath

that Elijah would not live another day.  In a deep depression, feeling very much abandoned by God

while his ship was figuratively sinking, Elijah received a word from the Lord.  The word, as we read,

did not come upon the wind, or in the quake, or in the fire.  In fact, after all that had passed, as on

the sea that day, there was “sheer silence” – “dead calm.”  Then came the Lord’s voice in the

stillness saying to Elijah as the storm churned inside him“What are you doing here Elijah?”

“Peace!  Be still!”  “Have you still no faith?”  “Go, return to your way….”  Elijah, I have work for

you.  Now I’ve brought you through storms before, and even blessed you along the way.  Why do

you doubt my ability and willingness to bring you through the next?  Recollection of this story

inspired John Greenleaf Whittier’s lyrics which we shall sing in our last hymn:  “Let sense be dumb,

let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm!”

      Whatever storms might be buffeting us this day, we can rest assured that the Lord is not going

to allow us to perish.  Storms swirl on the outside of us.  A word from Jesus can calm the storm. 

Even more, storms swirl on the inside of us.  Jesus is able to calm those storms as well.  His still

voice of calm calls us to muzzle our fears; to pack in those foolish assumptions that the Lord has

abandoned us.  God is not sleeping at the oars.  Nor is God indifferent to the turbulence which

threatens us.  Moreover, the still, calm voice of the Lord calls us to remember; to remember the

storms the Lord has already brought us through; to remember the blessings we’ve received along

the way.  It’s like the person who once said, “Although I’ve never seen the mighty ocean, I believe in

it, because I’ve seen the gentle stream.”  That is to say, we believe in the vastness of God’s care and

provision because we’ve seen the caring things God has provided in our own lives.  How can we not

then have faith in the even greater things God can and will yet do?  “Peace!  Be still!” Jesus says to

all of us, even as we are Still in the Storm.  Amen.