Week 1: READ: Mark 4:35-41
I had an epiphany today. Perhaps you have uttered those words. By epiphany we mean we had a revelation, a new understanding, or an “aha” moment. Oftentimes, these epiphanies are small fish in the sea of historic epiphanies. Take for example the four epiphanies in Mark’s gospel revealing the identity of Jesus (4:35-41 – 5:43). These four manifestation stories are: the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee – 4:25-41; the liberation of the Gerasene demoniac of his demons – 5:1-20; and two interwoven healing stories of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman – 5:21-43. Each of these stories reveal something about God’s capacity to work through Jesus and among people of faith.
Mark chapters 4-5 are a collection of stories that all take place in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. The way Mark has written his introduction to 4:1-5:20, it all happens in two consecutive days. First, Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God in a variety of parables to the crowd from a boat (4:1). That evening, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee. Later he was awakened by his disciples and he stood up and spoke into the storm and calmed the wind and waves (4:35). When they arrived on the other side of the Sea, Jesus experienced a confrontation with a demon possessed man as soon as they got out of the boat (5:1-2).
The ship is an ancient Christian symbol for the church, the gathered Christian community. Tied to the story of Noah and his family who were kept safe aboard a ship during the flood, the ship is a symbol of safety. In classic church construction design, the roof of the sanctuary is often built like the bottom of a ship. The technical term for the seating area in the sanctuary is called the nave, Latin for “ship.” The fishing boat the disciples and Jesus were in on the Sea of Galilee comfortably held about twelve people (see Appendix 1 for a picture of a boat from this time period recently found).
There are some interesting parallels between the story of the stilling of the storm and Psalm 107:23-32. As an introduction to this Psalm, it is a community Psalm of thanksgiving vv. 1-32 and concludes with a hymn vv. 33-43. It is the first Psalm of the fifth and final book or collection of Psalms (Psalm 107-150). Because of its use in Jewish worship, it has a liturgical refrain seen in verses 6, 13, 19 and 28: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. Immediately after this refrain in v. 28, which relays the story of trouble on the sea caused by wind and waves, God heard their cry and the sea became still v. 29.
Like the disciples, the people at sea in the Psalm who cried out to God in prayer were afraid v. 26. When God answered their prayer and calm was restored, they rejoiced v. 30. Another story of a storm at sea and sailors filled with fear is Jonah 1:4-6. The similarity to the Gospel reading is that Jonah, like Jesus, was asleep on the ship in the midst of the storm. While Jesus stood up and commanded calm into the storm, Jonah said the way to calm this storm was to throw him into the sea 1:12, 15. While the captain of the ship in the Jonah story called for prayer, neither Jonah nor Jesus prayed. Jonah was the antidote the raging sea needed to calm itself. Jesus rebuked the wind and waves in the same way he rebuked demons.
No one ever said life is fair. None of us choose to be conceived nor select our birth family. Every household is different with some being very peaceful and loving while others are very chaotic and unhealthy. On top of that, babies are born every day all over the world in amazing countries like the States and violent places like Syria. The storms of life are real and many suffer as a result. Yet, we all fight for this thing called life.
Carolyn’s memory began to show signs of fading when she was about 60 years old. Like most people with failing memory, Carolyn compensated for it so that it masked her dementia from those who knew and loved her most. When you forget names, faces, where you put your car keys or even parked your car, it can be embarrassing. For some of us, we make it a joke. Others, try and talk around it or hide their chagrin. The latter was more in keeping with Carolyn’s personality. No one wants to be laughed at or talked about behind their back.
The funny thing is that Carolyn would have gone out of her way to not talk about nor cause someone to feel embarrassed. She was a person of character, integrity and faith. In thinking back on her life, Carolyn eluded to the early years of her marriage as a time when she became “lazy” in her faith. She was a busy homemaker with three children ages seven and under when her six year old daughter Vicki was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. The doctor told Carolyn and her husband Milton that there was a good chance she would not make it through the night. In a panic because they had not told Vicki any of the stories of Jesus, they spent the night at her bedside praying and telling her any of the Jesus stories they could remember.
Their prayers were answered and Vicki survived. This was a wake-up call to Carolyn and Milt. Like their parents before them, they began to bring their daughters to worship and enrolled them in Sunday School. In the midst of crisis, the embers of faith were stirred and Carolyn and Milton began to follow Jesus intentionally.
As a mother, Carolyn sowed faith into her daughters as they started a tradition of family devotions using a children’s story Bible, a devotional they pick up at their church and a few songs the girls had learned in Sunday School. It was these evening minutes spent together around Bible stories that formed and shaped the hearts and minds of their children. It was as much for Milton and Carolyn’s faith development as it was for their girls. It served to knit their marriage together as well.
In the last few years of Carolyn’s life, her dementia turned into full blown Alzheimer’s disease and she turned inward and stopped communicating. This was especially hard for Milt and his daughters who faithfully continued to visit her in the nursing home day after day. Disease effects not only the patient but also the family. In the end, they celebrated Carolyn’s life with tears of sadness yet a sense of relief. Carolyn was now free of the grip of Alzheimer’s in the presence of the Lord.
Reflecting back on Carolyn’s life, her oldest daughter Nancy recalls that in the summer time as her mom went out to the garden which was her sanctuary, her mom felt peace and joy. She often sang the same song to God: Good morning Lord. Today’s a brand new day. Won’t you come along and walk with me every step of the way. Nancy said that this was not just a song, but a prayer which expressed her mom’s faith. With her shoes off and her toes and hands in the dirt, she was in touch with life, its organic nature, and the Lord who created it all. The seed of faith grew deep roots in Carolyn’s heart and she worked to water and nurture this faith in her family. By the grace of God who alone gives growth, her daughters are rooted deep in the soil of the Lord.
- When you first read the story of the stilling of the storm, what captured your attention? If you have read this story before, what did you notice this time that you had not seen before?
- It was night time in this story when the storms broke loose and attacked the boat. Have you noticed how worry and fear at night seem so much more powerful than during the day? Think of a time when you awoke with anxiety or fear. What eventually gave you peace?
- Are you or those you love facing any storms in life? Name your feeling concerning that storm. Are you or your loved ones facing this storm alone? Where is God in the midst of it all?
- Next time you encounter a night fear, lay down, lights off, breathe in the light of Christ in your mind. As you exhale your fear or worry say in your mind: Peace be still. Slowly repeat this as you continue to breathe naturally until your soul is quieted or you simply fall asleep.