Sermon, Trinity III, Sunday 20 June 2021, Tessa Lang

What manner of man is this?
From Mark 4: 38 – 41
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a
pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest
thou not that we perish?
39 And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the
sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a
great calm.
40 And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it
that ye have no faith?
41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another,
What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea
obey him?
Moments before muttering this question amongst themselves,
the disciples on that small fishing boat with Jesus were
terrified, bailing out incoming waves, wrestling super-human
strength winds, losing control of their craft and their nerve,
fighting for their lives. Amongst them were several former
fishers from a long line of fishermen who knew all about perils
on the sea, yet finding their skills no match for the sudden
violence of the storm.

The sea now stilled, the winds calmed, and rescued from what
looked like certain death, yet they were still afraid. And they
feared exceedingly we are told. By the end of our text, we
understand why. Spoiler alert: it has everything to do with
what manner of man Jesus is.

Mark makes every word count in his characteristically fastpaced
and cinematic gospel. In the space of 7 short verses,
we move from floating just off-shore at the end of a long day
preaching to the crowds…to unexpectedly setting sail to a
destination far from home…into the maw of a stupendous
storm…unto a miraculous rescue when Jesus speaks 3 words
–Peace, be still … only to experience an even greater fear in
the aftermath. Our text today leaves the disciples on a cliff
edge, and the reader panting to keep up with events and grasp
their full meaning.

In the space of 7 short verses, a series of 4 questions shapes
the encounter into a lesson in discipleship –– 2 are uttered in
extremity by the disciples, at the start and conclusion of Jesus’
intervention (Master, carest thou not that we perish? and What
manner of man is this?) and 2 by Jesus in revelation of His
nature and of theirs (Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye
have no faith?)

Perhaps it is the lens of our shared Covid experience and
awareness of storms that threaten the church, the nation, the
international order and the planet itself that connect us to a
narrative more mysterious and existential than a blanket
assurance of comfort and help in times of trouble…a central
character more strange and subtle than a Prospero-like master
of nature…where fear is as essential to the message as peace.
Let us, like Job in verse 1 of chapter 38, listen to the voice
from this whirlwind together.

Like all foundational Bible stories, be they Old Testament or
New, this one begins at Creation, when the Spirit of God
moved upon face of the water and all things were made, set in
place and regulated. Jesus’ audience would be aware of God’s
deployment of the waters in the Flood and Exodus, and have
heard of seas calmed and stilled in many of the Psalms (65,
89, 107 et al). It is a power reserved to Him alone. A signifier
of God-ness. As God alone, not man, controls the weather.
The disciples and those who thronged to the shore that day to
hear Jesus preach would also be familiar with the Sea of
Galilee: with the River Jordan, its source; the surrounding
mountains and Golan heights; its weather patterns. In the
mornings, a lake breeze blows to the land, making it hard work
to get the boats out first thing from shallow coves and towns
dotted along a level shoreline. An essential effort, though, as
later, westerly winds begin to blow off the Mediterranean
coast, sinking when they head for the lowest freshwater body
in the world, making it harder to get back home to the western
shore. At night, winds from the land increase, combining with
katabatic winds plunging down the steep slopes surrounding
the Sea of Galilee. Sudden violent storms result.

This wind pattern has been observed since trade first began
across the Sea and agriculture took root in the sheltered lands
ringing a relatively abundant source of water. Here is the
topography of a place of borders and liminal spaces — where
earth, wind and sea, tectonic plates, rival homelands and
cultures, empire and colony, God and humanity arrive at the
threshold of the other. Here is the home of constant risk and
exposure, surely best if managed prudently and with benefit of
experience.

Here is where Mark sets his account, starting in a small cove
somewhere between the villages of Capernaum and Tabgha,
forming a natural amphitheatre so weirdly effective that Jesus
was able to withdraw to preach from a boat moored near the
shore, benefiting from a bit of distance from his audience as
well as the cooling lake breeze.

What Jesus did next was unexpected: he gave the command
to sail to “the other side” of the sea, “as he was”, without
preparation, immediately, through the gathering dark and
during the hours favoured by intense storms. It also meant
sailing eastward –– away from Jewish lands to those of the
gentile –– a foreshadowing of the ultimate direction of his
ministry unto the entire world.

Mark reports that other small boats set sail at the same time;
they then disappear from our story. Meanwhile Jesus took
himself off below and was deeply asleep when the storm
struck. In his incarnated humanity, perhaps Jesus was simply
worn out by exertion, heat and the crowd. Or perhaps Jesus
created a ‘perfect storm’ to give his disciples an examination
under pressure, to reveal His identity and His mission by
demonstration and direct experience. Perhaps both.
Up on deck, the disciples were overwhelmed. No doubt their
burden of responsibility for Jesus, and those of their fellows
compounded their distress. When they could see no other
option, they went to wake Jesus with a terrified complaint –
don’t you care if we perish? It’s a feeling familiar and all too
human when we are threatened, when things fall apart. They
call Jesus ‘Master’; like Rabbi or Teacher, even Messiah, such
titles fall short of his true identity.

For what manner of man is this? A full demonstration that
Jesus is the Lord of Creation swiftly follows.
He speaks 3 words and everything transforms upon His
command. This is not exorcism, or Kabbalistic conjuring with
complex requirements for ritual and supplication; it is an
instantaneous and effortless deployment of power. No wonder
His disciples are more deeply afraid when they realise they are
in the presence of God. Through their fear, they truly reach
“the other side” in reverence and awe. Only then will they
begin to exercise faith…receive His peace…be saved. As will
everyone who abides in faith and reverent fear, even in the
midst of our own storms and self-imposed separation from the
living God who always loves us. And who as Jesus, the man
and incarnate God, accepted a life of risk and pain for our
sakes. Amen.

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