Jesus Pilots the Boat, so Keep Calm!
Jun 20, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Mark 4:35-41
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
As I prepared for today’s sermon, the hymn, “Jesus Savior, Pilot Me,” had burrowed its way into my consciousness and would not leave me alone. We will be singing it soon. It’s an old-fashioned hymn, written in the mid-1800’s, and the first line is: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal; chart and compass come from thee, Jesus Savior, pilot me.”
Those lyrics fit our traditional, or should I say surface, understanding of today’s Gospel lesson. This might be summed up, as Pastor Charles Henrickson did in his sermon. He wrote, “Keep calm, Jesus is in the boat,” imitating other “Keep Calm” sayings like, “Keep Calm and Pretend it is not Monday,” or “Keep Calm and Go Change the World.”
You may be interested to know that the “Keep Calm” fad began with “Keep Calm and Carry On.” A motivational poster featuring a royal crown was produced by the British government in 1939 to prepare for World War II. It was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. The poster was rediscovered in 2000 at a book shop in Great Britain. After that, it took off as a message for the 21st century.
ANYWAY … “Keep Calm, Jesus is in the Boat” conveys the message that during life’s storms, which may be overwhelming. As was the case of the great windstorm that rocked the boat in which Jesus and his disciples rode. Jesus is with us. And, although at times, we may feel as if he is not paying attention. Which certainly was true for the disciples as Jesus slept on a cushion in the stern. He is our source of hope and peace.
That is a significant and comforting message, BUT it is not the whole story of today’s Gospel reading. This becomes clearer when we pay attention to … you guessed it … the context. First, let’s recall that the fourth chapter of Mark is filled with parables about the Kingdom of God. Conveying the message that it will grow mysteriously and spread unbidden, like a mustard weed (that was last week’s focus). Remember too that the Kingdom of God is a future and present reality that, in either time frame, arrives when the world is transformed by God’s will, ways, and word. On that night, on the Sea of Galilee, the Kingdom of God came.
It is good to keep that “big picture” in mind, because this account is about much more than a boat ride. A miracle is thrown in for good measure; it is about much more than Jesus’ calming presence during difficult times. Sometimes we forget that the challenges Jesus faced were cosmic in scope – the power of evil, sin, and death; these destructive forces were represented in that life-threatening storm. Jesus’ identity was revealed, the Kingdom of God came powerfully as he faced down the storm and rebuked it.
As commentator David Schnasa Jacobsen writes, “The storm is verses 35-41 is cosmic, demonic and worthy of Jesus’ scaled up efforts. As strange as it sounds, Jesus is not offering (in this account) therapy for our fears but an exorcism for a world out of whack.” (1)
A world out of whack – no kidding. When Mark’s gospel was being recorded (written down) in approximately 70 CE, it was the time when the Temple and the Holy City, Jerusalem, were overrun and destroyed. Now, that is a storm; the cultural and religious center of the people was demolished. The Jews, and also Jewish Christians, are overwhelmed, lost, afraid. But, those who are preserving the story of Jesus are sure to remind Jesus’ followers who Jesus is, in part by including the account we read today.
Reflecting on that time, Dr. Jacobsen writes, “In the midst of chaos, when the world-as-known is ending, Jesus is revealed not as one more (therapist or) miracle worker but as a revelation of God’s extraordinary cosmic purpose….” (2)
That night, on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ identity was uncovered. You’ll note the disciples’ response; the NRSV uses the phrase, “they were filled with great awe,” but the closest translation is that they “feared a great fear;” we might say they were terrified. They knew that the power of God was at work in Jesus due to the miracles he had performed, but this, well, this is terrifying.
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” they ask. I would guess they did not want to say the answer out loud. Who but God, the Creator, could control the creation? Perhaps they are wondering if this is good news or bad news.
We know, of course, that it is good news. But, my favorite part of this story is this: “The wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” A dead calm – a complete peace, an unchangeable serenity – compliments of Jesus, God’s Son, the Word made flesh.
Jesus is in the day-to-day boat with us as we face smooth-as-glass waters but also treacherous sailing. Each of us could look back on the past week, month, or year and assess the sailing conditions. Perhaps they changed often. Maybe there were times when it seemed Jesus was napping and oblivious to the turmoil. Which, you will recall, is precisely what his disciples not only felt but said as they shook him awake. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Their previous experience would have indicated otherwise, but they forgot to keep calm.
More importantly, Jesus also is in the cosmic boat in a world pummeled by destructive powers. We, too, are in this boat. Often with many unanswered questions that begin with “Why” and list the suffering and injustices that plague our planet. Ultimately, those forces will not win because Jesus conquered the power of sin, evil, and death.
Therefore, my sisters and brothers in Christ, Keep Calm; Jesus not only is in the boat, but pilots it. AMEN
(1) “Commentary on Mark 4:35-41” by David Schnasa Jacobsen, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) Same as #1