“Asleep On The Job”
Chilmark Community Church
June 26, 2012
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
We had a dear niece and her son visiting with us this week. At breakfast on Thursday morning, Cynthia asked Armen if he woke up crabby. He quickly replied, “No – I just let her sleep in.”
Jesus had been teaching from a boat on the shore of the Galilee. At the end of the day he expressed a desire to go to the other side of the lake to expand his ministry to the towns on the opposite shore. His disciples climbed into the boat with him and set sail with him.
The Galilee is subject to sudden and swift storms that seem to come up out of nowhere because of shifts in the winds coming down from the Golan heights. Years ago, we sailed with a tour group across the Galilee and the water was as smooth as glass. There was hardly any rocking at all when the boat was anchored and we stopped for a time of prayer before proceeding to the shore. A half hour later we were at the lakeside, exploring for shells and stones to take home. The sky had turned slate grey. The wind had come up and we were soaked by waves splashing around us. Our return trip had to be delayed until the storm cleared – as quickly as it had come.
Without warning, the crew on Jesus’ boat is caught in a storm – – vigorous enough that the waves were filling the boat. In the midst of their panic, the 12 men notice that Jesus is asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat. Over the crashing of the waves and the roar of the wind, they yell at him to wake up –
“Jesus – we’re going under! don’t you care? – – wake up and do something!”
It isn’t immediately clear just what it is that they expect him to do unless we stop to notice that the cushion Jesus sleeps on is in the stern where the pilot of the boat sits – – and Jesus, the pilot – has fallen asleep on the job. His hand has slipped off the tiller! The disciples yell at him to wake up.
Without hesitation, Jesus gets up and exercises his authority – speaks to the wind and the sea -“Peace Be Still!” and the storm is calmed. A miracle? Perhaps. We don’t know and we can’t explain. Indeed, if we try to figure it out rationally, we get bogged down in trying to prove or disprove and then we are in danger of missing the point of the story.
And what we tend to miss is that Jesus woke up crabby! After he calms the chaos of the storm, and the wind and the water become still, Jesus turns around to his disciples and scolds them for being cowards and having no faith! He doesn’t comfort them -he doesn’t say “There, there, I’m here, no need to be afraid, I’ll take care of things.” He asks them what on earth are they afraid of? He asks them why they still don’t have any faith?
What was Jesus doing?? The story doesn’t fit our expectations of a savior who makes our lives right – who uses all his power to save us. I wonder how the disciples felt. After all, weren’t they showing their trust in Jesus? They believed in his power to save them. He acted in their behalf – kept them from sinking – but then he got all bent out of shape and called them cowards – faithless cowards!
So -maybe a closer look at the story is warranted. Maybe this story is not so much about what the disciples expect of Jesus as it is about what Jesus expects of the disciples. But it seems like turning to him in childlike dependency for relief in the midst of adversity and misfortune is not exactly considered an act of faith for these disciples – at least as Mark tells it.
Mark’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ entry into history in a time not unlike our own. Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry reveals a society and culture in which the use of control of power by a ruling elite – in this case the over arching rule of Rome – served to keep the ruling class in control. The masses had no voice. Those who governed had no concept that they were supposed to serve the people. The ones with the power were more invested in protecting their privilege than in building mutuality in the structures that held society together. The systems which governed life had no integrity. Economic, political and social conditions caused greater and greater poverty among the people. The gap between those who “had” and those who didn’t grew wider and wider.
In the midst of this social and political milieu, Jesus went up on a mountain, taking a few people with him. He appointed 12 to be his apostles. In the 3rd chapter of Mark, the story says that Jesus appointed the people to be with him – to be sent out to proclaim his message – – and to have the authority to cast out demons.
In this action we see something new and different in the person of Jesus. As an authority figure, he creates a relationship with his disciples in which he shares his power and authority with them. He does not call them to the mountaintop to tell them about his power so they can tell every one else so that lots of people will come and chase after him. He takes them aside to teach them and to give them authority to do the same work in the world that he does. Jesus creates a mutual relationship between himself and his disciples. His expectation is that they will exercise the authority that he has given to them. This is so foreign to the ethos of the time in which Jesus lived that it is no wonder we read in the next few verses that his family thought he was crazy.
It is pretty radical thinking even today – – shared power??? That’s crazy. Power from the top is the only way to keep things in order and under control. The masses are not to be trusted with too much power. Even in democratic structures, this kind of thinking still weaves itself in and out of our social, economic, political and even our religious structures.
But – -let’s get back into the boat. What were Jesus’ expectations of his disciples
such that he turned to them and called them “faithless cowards?”
Look at these men. They were strong muscular people. They spent every day of their lives on the unpredictable waters of the Galilee – hauling heavy nets, repairing boats, rowing when there was no wind. They knew the sea. They were accustomed to dealing with storms. Any one of them could have assumed responsibility for the boat – – grabbed the tiller – – and weathered the storm.
But they had not yet learned the critical lessons Jesus had been teaching them. His work was to bring about a kind of re-ordering of power so that the disciples and all the people who embraced the teachings of Jesus would be able to participate in the building of a new age – the Kingdom of God, as Jesus called it. The vision was one of a community built on the shared power of Jesus. (Drawn from A Re-Ordering of Power by Mark Waetjen) The disciples’ lack of faith had to do with their inability or their unwillingness to take action by taking the tiller and guiding the boat through the storm. Instead of acting on the teachings and the examples and the experiences they had had with Jesus, they lost it! All the authority Jesus had given to them – – they turned it all back in a moment of panic. “Jesus – -don’t you care if we are perishing?”
So, Jesus rescues them – but he doesn’t seem thrilled by it. And when he confronts them – their response is a bit curious. In their awe they ask “Who is this? – – even the wind and the sea obey him!”
These men have been Jesus’ friends pretty much from the beginning of his public ministry and yet they ask the question : “Who is this?”
We could understand this question if it happened at the beginning of their time together with Jesus – but when they have to ask this question of someone they have known intimately, someone with whom they have shared meals, someone with whom they have slept out under the stars – recognizing that they do not really know who he is – – their own identity is suddenly thrown into question. If they don’t know who Jesus is, how can they possibly know who they are in relationship with Jesus?
Mark’s gospel was written somewhere around 70 CE, maybe 30 – 35 years after the crucifixion, for the early community of Jews who embraced the leadership of Jesus. The thinking was prevalent at the time that Jesus would return immediately to bring in the kingdom of God. As we know from earlier sermons, the Jewish world was in collapse with the destruction of the temple and Roman determination to eliminate the Jews. Life was as chaotic as any storm on the Galilee. How tempting and comforting it must have been for the early church to faithfully await the return of Jesus to lead them out of the storm.
But the gospel writer seems to think otherwise. He portrays Jesus as annoyed, perhaps frustrated, maybe even crabby, about the passive dependence on him displayed by the disciples in the boat. The message of Mark for that early community of believers was that while they awaited the return of Jesus, they were not to let go of the tiller themselves. They were, after all, authorized to preach and teach and heal and cast out demons. Jesus had shared his authority with them. They were not to simply sit around and wait for him to return before they began to use their authority.
So I wonder what we, as a small church community, might take from the story for our life together today? Are we the ones in the bow of the boat who ask “Who is he – such that the wind and the sea obey him?” Are we prone, at times, to forgetting that Jesus has shared his authority with us? Do we realize that any one of us has the power to take up the tiller and help steer this tiny boat into clear, safe waters? Is our sense of our identity as authorized followers of Jesus as complete as it could be?
In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: The Christ you have to deal with is not a weak person outside you, but a tremendous power inside you. (Phillips translation)
It is this tremendous power, shared by God with us in the person of Jesus – – shared with us by Jesus through the person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us and among us as a body of the faithful – it is this tremendous power which often lies asleep on the job. It is this power that Jesus wanted his disciples to trust.
Jesus could demonstrate it to them – – but he could not make them own it. It takes all of us varying amounts of time before we are willing to own and exercise all the power and authority and love we embody as children of God. It takes all of us different amounts of time to test out that power by reaching out to take hold of the tiller to pilot the boat of our lives – to pilot the boat of this lovely gathering of the faithful called the Chilmark Community Church.
We are at the end of our first year together as people and pastors. It has been mostly a year for us to get to know each other better – to learn about trusting and caring for each other, to figure out ways to work together. We have another year to go. We might view that year as a year on the threshold of something new – – a time when we will be guided into greater strength and confidence and well being – – or as a year in a boat about to be sent to the bottom by a huge wave. Wherever we are in our readiness to live into all the power and authority that resides in us by the grace of God, the image of the Pilot, ready to be awakened at a moment’s notice, continues to sustain us as we grow in faith and trust.
Jesus will keep providing the lessons and the scolding until we have fully learned to embrace his power and his loving authority as our own. The challenge to take up the tiller is always before us in Mark’s gospel. The grace of God is always there to assist and guide us as we assume greater and greater responsibility for exercising the tremendous power of Christ which resides dormant in us. As we continue on together to develop our piloting skills, may we each assume our share of the responsibility for working the tiller. May we always know that we can depend on that grace to bring us through the storms. May we share our time together in this boat as people of faith and courage.