Jesus Never Fails to be With Us!

Jun 23, 2024

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 4:35-41
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Jesus had been preaching and teaching from a boat and, evidently, our Lord was tired. Did you notice the rather odd phrase at the beginning of today’s text? It says that the disciples took Jesus onto the boat “just as we was;” they did not pause to bathe, or eat or rest and he was so tired that he was soon asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat.
     That was when a “great windstorm” blew in and as the storm escalated the issue was not so much that Jesus was tired, but that as the wind whipped the sails and the waves came over the sides of the boat, Jesus kept on sleeping. The disciples thought, “Doesn’t he care?” How could he have kept sleeping when they were dying?
     It must have been a horrific storm since some of these disciples were fishermen who could not become anxious in a minor squall. No doubt they understood the laws of physics; there is no controlling a boat if it heads into a wave that is higher than the boat is long, the boat will almost certainly go end over end to its doom. Or, if a wave hits a boat from the side and it is higher than the boat is wide, the boat will capsize, flipping upside down. (1)
     Perhaps Jesus could sleep because he knew the end of the story, so to speak. He knew that a word or two from him would stop the storm; the “just has he was” included the fact that he had authority over the forces of nature. He was powerful and, also, present with the frightened followers; his command, “Peace! Be still!” created not just quieter conditions, but a dead calm.
     It turned out that this terrified the disciples more than the storm, which seems a bit strange since they have seen Jesus do spectacular healings and witnessed the casting out of demons. They must have known he was no ordinary person, don’t you suppose? Maybe that’s why Jesus asked them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
     It’s interesting that the word translated “afraid” is more closely translated “courage”, as in, “Where is your courage?” Jesus might have said, “Haven’t you seen demons flee and people who were paralyzed their entire lives walk? Why are you terrified that I calmed the storm?” Evidently, this event made it clear to the disciples that Jesus was more than a skilled healer and wise teacher, but was, in fact, God; that overwhelmed them.
     That is who he was as he entered the boat that day. And, it is who he is when we face life’s storms. We all have, to greater or lesser degrees experienced being threatened by the storms of life, wondering if Jesus even cares as we call out to him for help. At such times we need to be reminded who Jesus is. At the end of today’s account the disciples asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” We know the answer to that question even better than they did; Jesus is the one who loves us unconditionally, forgives us, offers us grace and mercy and is present in chaos. Or, as the children learned in Vacation Bible School this week when the focus was on this story, “God is a friend we can trust.”
     There are times when we cannot bring order to our lives and to the world – natural disasters, random violence, debilitating illnesses, to name a few of many examples. The message of today’s story is that Jesus is present with us as we face the extreme challenges of living in an imperfect world with imperfect people, at work in ways that we do not always recognize, but that reveal Divine intervention.
     Jesus also is guiding us when that which must be faced is not so challenging; times when it’s tempting to try and take control rather than listening to and watching for how Jesus may be doing something new among us. That’s the case as we consider the content of today’s yellow insert; that which is new, and which brings about change, can certainly seem overwhelming. So, let’s pause to consider what’s before us. (By the way, this information also is being sent by snail mail to your homes to assure that those who were not here in person today receive it.)
     Since even those who are here have not had a chance to read it yet, I want to offer a summary. The focus is the Lutheran Church of the 21st future, our future and the future of neighboring congregations; this is being addressed in our Synod by Project Isaiah 43, which reminds us that God can do a new thing among us.
     Before I talk about the “new thing” let me note the reason for it, which I have mentioned in worship before now. Two things are happening at the same time that create a storm in the church; one is that congregations are declining in size and many cannot afford a full-time pastor and the second is that there are not enough pastors to fill the need. Look at numbers one and two on the yellow insert.
     So, the “new thing”, called Project 43, is to form collaboratives of 4 to 6 congregations who would be served by a staff of at least 2 pastors and potentially a deacon, as well as other staff. Congregations would maintain their own buildings and worship, as long as they deem it to be feasible for the sake of mission.
     Why is it important for us to consider collaborating? After all, we have a full-time pastor and are a stable congregation. There are three reasons to do so: one is for the sake of the whole church and its outreach; we can no longer function as independent islands of ministry. Second, while we have a stable congregation, we also have an aging congregation, so collaborating is a way to further ministry into the future. And, third is the elephant in the room; I am going to retire. I haven’t set a date yet; I am not planning it to be this year, 2024. However, this is a good time to make decisions about collaborative ministry because it will impact the future call process.
     All of that is the detail concerning the whys and how of collaboration. Now, let’s talk about the “what”! With the Synod-wide focus on collaboration in mind, the leadership of both Faith and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Akron have decided that one way to support collaboration is by building a relationship with each other. And a way to do that is through intentional interaction while waiting for further direction from the NEOS concerning possible broader collaboration.
     So, if you look at the back of your bulletin insert, you’ll see the collaborative events that are planned for our congregations for the next six months. Holy Trinity has been without a called pastor for two years, but are fortunate to have a full-time interim, Pastor Becki Verbridge. They have decided to pause their call process to see how the collaborative possibilities progress.
     I’m hopeful we will participate in these events with Holy Trinity with openness and positivity. This is going to be an unfolding process, and our participation is in our hands; we cannot be required by the Bishop or anyone else to collaborate. But, it certainly seems to be another aspect of risk and change to which we are being called. 
     As we embark on this new adventure, I reflect on all the ways the faithful people of Faith Lutheran Church, including those from St. John/St. Paul Lutheran Church, have faced risk and change in the past. Jesus has never failed to be with us, boosting our courage and faith. So it will be now. AMEN  
  1. “Commentary on Mark 4:35-41” by Scott Hoezee, June 21, 2015,