Sermons That Work

The Sea of Galilee…, Proper 7 (B) – 2006

June 25, 2006

The Sea of Galilee, or more accurately, the lake of Galilee, is situated on an ancient trade route that linked Egypt with Syria and Mesopotamia. Towns founded by Greeks, Romans, and many others flourished in the region, and there was a thriving fishing industry on the lake. Although the lake continues to provide an abundance of fish, most of the ancient towns have long since been abandoned. But in Jesus’ time, people from all over the Roman world would have passed through the area on their way to other parts of the known world. It figures prominently in the stories of Jesus that have been handed down to us in the Gospels. By its shores he recruited his first disciples, gave the Sermon on the Mount, and fed the five thousand. He and his disciples crossed its waters many times as they traveled through the region, and on it was while on those waters that the story we heard today took place.

At thirteen miles long and eight miles wide, the lake appears rather small to experience a storm as violent as the one Mark tells us about. However, because of its unique geography—a low-lying area surrounded by hills—it is prone to sudden and sometimes violent storms. According to Wikpedia encyclopedia Web site, the only constant on the lake is its changing weather. As local fishermen, Peter, James, John, and Andrew were intimately familiar with the unpredictable weather, including violent storms, and how to handle it. That they panic and wake Jesus up from what was probably a much-needed nap shows that this particular storm was extraordinarily severe.

The storm has pushed the disciples to their limit. In spite of their knowledge of boats and the Galilean weather, their boat is sinking. In desperation, they wake Jesus, not simply to warn him that his own life is in danger, but because they had nowhere else to turn. “Don’t you care that we’re drowning?” isn’t so much a question as a desperate cry for help. They wanted to be out of the situation, which seemed hopeless, and did the only thing left for them to do. They called out to Jesus.

His response is not what they expected, or they would not have reacted the way they did. They saw Jesus perform miracles of healing and casting out demons, yet this act of control over the elements of sea and sky stunned them. In an instant they are removed from the life-threatening situation and brought to a new place—not just of safety, but also of understanding, even if they can not yet fully comprehend the circumstances or the place itself.

How often throughout the Gospels does Jesus do the unexpected? When faced with a hungry crowd and almost no food on hand, he sits the people down and feeds them. When teaching his followers who their neighbor is, the hero of his story is a despised Samaritan. When the disciples are faced with another dangerous storm on the lake, Jesus walks to them on the water.

To the modern Christian, these stories, passed down over the generations, have become part of the familiar fabric of our lives. We may question the mechanics of the miracles, or even the thinking of the observers, but more often than not, we are not startled by Jesus’ actions in the way his disciples and the others in these stories are. No matter how cynical one may be, or how little one believes that miracles like those in the Gospels can happen, deep down we expect Jesus to do something.

How many times in life do we find ourselves in a “storm” beyond our ability to handle? When we reach our limits trying to handle the situation, we simply want out of it. And when it becomes desperate enough, we often find ourselves crying out to Jesus, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?”

Jesus’ response can, and does, still take us by surprise.

In one young family, the husband lost his job, and they were barely surviving on the wife’s income from a low-paying church job. The husband’s job search stretched from months to a year, and then two. They prayed that the right job would come along and hoped that the seemingly endless string of rejections meant that he just hadn’t looked in the right place yet, or maybe the time wasn’t right. Then one day the husband had a sudden thought. He turned to his wife and said, “We’ve been praying for the right job to come along, but maybe it’s the right job for you and not me.” It was a something neither of them had considered before, and the inspiration shed new light on their situation and brought them to an unexpected place.

There was a man who found himself in financial trouble after some poor planning and decision-making. He was on the verge of losing what little he had left and prayed desperately for help in finding his way through the mess. He was on the verge of giving up a job he loved for a more lucrative job that he knew he would hate in order to pay the bills. Just as it seemed all was lost, a former employer called and asked if he could possibly come and work through some critical projects for his former company. The former employer was willing to work around the unpredictable travel schedule of his current job. Although it has taken some adjustments to work two jobs, he is clearing up his debts. He, too, has come to an unexpected place.

Neither of these stories is as dramatic as the calming of the storm on the lake of Galilee. They are not what we would consider “miracles.” Yet these people cried out in their time trouble, and they came to that unexpected place where Jesus can bring us.

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks. Because we are human, we struggle with our fears and our limits just as the disciples did. Yet, if we remain open to the unexpected, Jesus will see us through, in spite of our doubts, fears, and lack of faith.


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Christopher Sikkema