Danger In The Water

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”


He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.


He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 


They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  –  Mark 4:35-41




A few years ago I moved from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to the city of Richmond, where I now serve as pastor at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

I had several good years on ministry on the Eastern Shore. That said I am glad to be in Richmond. The reason has nothing to do with the people or the culture and everything to do with the water. I did not like being so close to the water.


Each day on the Shore I picked up my mail from a little Post Office in a town called Nassawadox, which is an old Native American word meaning “between two waters.” We lived between two waters – about three miles from the Atlantic to the east, and about eight miles from the Chesapeake Bay west.


It is a little scary to live so close to the water.


You would hear about the danger often on the nightly news. A swimmer would venture too far out into the Chesapeake Bay, a boat would, or a vehicle goes over the railing on the Bay Bridge Tunnel. Sometimes there would be a happy conclusion to the story. The Coast Guard or a Lifeguard would spring to action and the people involved in the accident would be rescued. On other occasions, however, the reports would not end so positively as a rescue operation would become a recovery effort.


It is a little scary to live so close to the water.


I remember when I first visited the Eastern Shore about seven year ago. We approached the 22-Mile long Bridge-Tunnel as the sun was setting. Have any of you ever traveled that monstrosity? We paid the toll and began to cross with a bit of fear and apprehension. It was not just the long expanse. It was “the tunnel.” I had been through tunnels before, but never a tunnel that cut through water. I did not like it! My daughter Michelle liked it. She has always been something of a sophisticated jokester, and even at the time (being only 10 years old), she knew exactly what to say to make her somewhat aqua phobic daddy feel a bit nervous. As we made it to the halfway point in the first tube, Michelle said, “Hey Daddy is that water I see coming in from the walls?”


It is a little scary to live so close to the water.


When I was a young boy, my father decided to teach me how to swim. We would head over to my Uncle Al and Aunt Vie’s home. They had a nice pool in the back yard. It would not take long before the “lessons” began. His methodology was what might be called the “sink or swim” approach. He would to toss me into the deep end of the pool. Then I would either sink or swim. Now believe me, it wasn’t by choice, but somehow I always managed to sink and my father would need to come into the pool and fish me out just before I died. The “sink or swim” approach did not work for me. In fact, I have never really learned how to swim.


When I went to college at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, one of the requirements for graduation was that we needed to pass a swimming proficiency text. The test amounted to diving into an Olympic sized swimming pool, swimming its length six times, and wading in water for 3 minutes. If we did not know how to swim, instructions would be provided.


I took that class four times – and never passed the test. I did not even come close. It was embarrassing.


During my senior year, I took the class again. Everyone who was signed up for the class knew how to swim. The first day of class, each one passed the test – leaving me the only student. The women’s swim coach looked at me with a bit of disdain on her face.


“Oh, Nieporte! It’s you again!” She had been the instructor through each of my failed attempts to learn how to swim.


“Nieporte, what do you plan to do after you graduate!” she said.


“I will be attending seminary and studying to be a pastor!”


“I hope you plan on being a Methodist.  You might not be able to handle the deep water.”


“No ma’am.  I am a Baptist.” 


“Where will you be attending seminary?” she asked.


“I am planning on attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.”


“Great, that’s the Midwest. There are no oceans there.”


“Yes,” I said. “No oceans. There is the Ohio River, though!”


“Shut up!” she said.


I stood silently.


“If you can swim the length of the pool just one time and can wade for just fifteen second, I will let you pass this class.”


“I’ll give it my best shot,” I said, as I entered the waters. I passed this test (barely).  Or maybe I was “passed” as an act of grace.


As I left the pool area, she said, “Please stay away from the Ohio River when you move to Kentucky. Also, you might want to consider being a Methodist. They use less water when they do baptisms. I would hate to hear about you drowning in a baptismal pool!”


It is a little scary to live so close to the water.


That is the point of today’s scripture lesson from Mark’s Gospel. The water can be a scary, dangerous place.


I have been to the Sea of Galilee. In 1987, I toured the Middle East with a group of seminarians. One afternoon we had the opportunity to visit a museum that housed an unearthed fishing boat dated to the time of Jesus. It was a long and narrow vessel. You would be able to fit 13 people on such a boat, but it would be a tight fit.


After the tour, we all boarded a schooner to cross the Sea of Galilee. It was a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky. The waters were clam. I was nervous, but doing my best not to let it show.


The water is surrounded on one side by very high mountain ranges. For a time, they can keep a storm front at bay. Occasionally, however, the front will burst over the mountains or cut through the valleys and hit the waters. In a matter of minutes, the waters can move from being crystal calm to deadly dangerous. That is what happened while we were on the boat. The only comfort I felt in the whole storm was the knowledge that everyone else on the boat seemed just as nervous as I did. It was as if God was trying to give a bunch of preachers a sermon illustration.


As quickly as the storm had arrived, it left. We reached the other side in one piece and continued our tour. However, I have never forgotten that storm. Each time I read this story from the Bible, I remember my experience on the Sea of Galilee.


It is a little scary to live so close to the water.


I know that the water beckons us on occasion – especially over the past few months of summer. We plan fishing trips. We plan trips to the beach to frolic in the surf or walked along the shore of the ocean. I have been told that several of you spend several months during the year swimming, boating, and fishing out at Lake Gaston. Even those of us who vacation in the mountains find our way to the waters during these hot summer months. We take canoe trips, white water rafting, or go fly-fishing. The water holds for us great beauty and majesty.


Yet we cannot escape the reality that no matter how beautiful the water, it is a little scary to get too close. That is why we build fences around swimming pools. That is why we stock our boats with life jackets. That is why a university like the one I attended expects its graduates to know how to swim.


It is a little scary to live so close to the water. There is danger in the waters.


We see the danger in today’s text. It is a familiar story. Jesus and his disciples are crossing the waters. Jesus is sleeping comfortably in the back of the boat. The disciples, many of them well-worn watermen, are steering the boat toward its destination. Suddenly one of those deadly storms broke through the valleys and over the mountain ridge, and hit the otherwise calm waters.


At first, the watermen were fine. They had seen this all before. They were not scared. They relished watching the fear on the faces those less experienced with the water, like Thomas, Judas, and Matthew. After a few minutes, however, the wind had grown fiercer and even experienced watermen like Peter, James, and John became nervous. The boat was in danger of capsizing and they were all in danger of drowning. They were afraid.


We hear this story and we know how to spiritualize its meaning. We have heard the sermons and the metaphors. We are the disciples. The storms are the difficulties we face in life – financial burdens, conflicts, and perhaps the aches and pains of sickness and illness. Maybe we see the storms at those things that beset the church – things like declining attendance, waning offerings, and our diminishing influence in society.


Whatever the cause, we see these things as the storms of life and the dangers in the water.


Then Jesus speaks, “Have you still no faith?”


We hear these words as a reminder that Jesus is with us in the boat and that he will wake just in time to calm the stormy sea.


I wonder, however, if we might not be approaching the text all wrong. I wonder if the danger in the water is not the wind and the rain of the storm, but rather the presence of Jesus Christ.


Look what happens in this text. Jesus and his disciples travel by boat across the Sea of Galilee. Part way through their journey, a storm comes up and they become frightened. They wake Jesus up! “Don’t you care that we are all about to die?” Jesus wakes up and calms the sea and that is when they become truly terrified. They were afraid of the storm, but not nearly as fearful as they were of Jesus power to calm it.


Jesus calmed the waters and silenced the wind and the text paints a picture of twelve men who were scared to death by what they had just witnessed. “Who is this man that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They sense that there was something about Jesus presence and power that was dangerous. If Jesus can do what he did with that storm, then what might he have in mind to do with them? It is an important question, and people ask that question all the time; and we need to pay closer attention to that question.


“Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


There is something dangerous in the water. That is what this text teaches us. There is something dangerous in the water. There is this incredibly awesome, life changing power in the water. It is Jesus. If Jesus has the power to turn a storm inside out, just think about what he might do with you and me. We think that we have our lives together. We think out boat is so trustworthy. Then Jesus steps in and brings all sorts of revolutionary change to our lives.


“Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


That is a good question for each of us to consider. I worry about the people who talk about faith in such a manner that they lose respect for the awesome nature of God.


There was a woman like this in my first church. She walked with God and talked with God about everything – and it was amazing the things God told her. One day she was going to the grocery store and she was a bit tired. She did not want to walk too far to get into the store, so she prayed, “Lord, give me a parking space up close when I get to Winn Dixie. And you know what, Pastor. God answered my prayer, hallelujah!”


Now she was a perfectly healthy young woman. She could have walked a bit without too much trouble. But her understanding of faith was that God was there to provide her with everything she wanted and felt she needed – even a good parking place at the grocery store.


I believe in the intimacy of God – but I want you to know that sometimes that intimacy is an awesome thing. It is awesome when I realize that God is not so interested in doing something for me as He in doing something in me and through me. Jesus is with me in the boat called life. That is an amazingly awesome thought to consider. It can be just a bit scary. What kind of person would I be, anyways, if I lost my awesome respect for the power of God?


“Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


Fred Craddock tells a story about a pastor friend of his who went to visit one of his parishioners in the hospital. The woman was suffering from a terminal disease, and the pastor went to visit her knowing that, at the end of that visit, he would pray one of those prayers that acknowledges the desperation of that situation, and that accepts, as fact, that not much is going to change. I know about prayers like that, I have prayed prayers like that dozens of times in hospital rooms, living rooms, and nursing homes. They are honest and pastorally sensitive, and often they are the only appropriate kinds of prayers to pray.


“God we thank you that you love us and never let us God. No matter what the circumstances of our lives, you are there. The situation in which we pray is tough, and we ask that if you choose not to change the situation, that you will change us and teach us how to trust in your loving grace. Amen!”


It was a good prayer. It is the kind of prayer that Craddock says the pastor was about to pray. But the woman prevailed upon him to beg God to heal her. So, against his better judgment, he prayed a different kind of prayer altogether. He prayed fervently, even while he understood what a long shot that prayer was. Then when that prayer was over, he left that room. A few days later, he was back for another visit. The woman was sitting up in the bed. The tubes had been removed, and the curtains were open. She said to him, “You won’t believe what has happened.” She said, “The doctors noticed some changes the other day, and called for more x-rays, and they have told me that they can no longer see any sign of a tumor! I’m going home tomorrow.”


The pastor said later, “When I got out to the parking lot, I looked up into the skies and said, ‘Don’t ever do that to me again!”‘


Of course, he did not mean it – but he did. He, like many of us, had lost touch with the awesome nature of God’s power and presence in Jesus Christ. He was just going through the motions, but then Jesus made an appearance and what happened was otherwise unmanageable.


The disciples looked over at Jesus. He had done something remarkable with the storm. Might he do the same thing to them? It was a scary thought. There they were in the water, staring the dangerous Christ straight in the eye.


Now here is a great question – the question I want you to keep in the back of your mind throughout this revival. Are you ready? Here it is! What remarkable things might Jesus have planned for your life?


In a sense, I guess I am still surrounded by the winds and the waves of some mighty waters in my new city of residence. I am not talking about the James River, which winds its way through my hometown of Richmond. I am talking about the rushing waters of constant change.


You are in the middle of these rushing waters too.. Our world is in a condition of constant flux and change. Our society is changing at a rapid pace – with new technologies, new cultural and language groups, and at least two generations of adults who have seldom, if ever, even bee been in a church, much less having heard anything about the Gospel of Jesus.


It is scary to live so close to these waters, but that is where we find ourselves. We cannot pretend that nothing has change – at least not if we want to be an authentic followers of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus is in the midst of these waters. His hands are outstretched toward ours, beckoning us to join him in the awesome and courageous task of taking His gospel into the world.


“Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


No wonder those disciples were afraid and bewildered. There was an awesome presence with them in their little boat. Of course, they were overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t be? For what can be safe, in such a presence?


Now I am sure you know something about the church. It is a respectable institution making its productive contributions to society. The church is like a family. People come to be a part of that great big family. Not only that, but the church is also a church as a program center. Folks come to take classes, so meet people, to serve their community. The church is about all of those things and more!


But, for God’s sake, let us not underestimate the church as a vessel that contains a awesome presence, which has incredible power. Jesus is here. His life courses through our veins. Jesus has the power to transform us, to transform our community, to transform our world, and to make of us something we had not figured on.


 “Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Calming the Storm Within
by: Marjorie Geary Vawter
publisher: OakTara Publishers, published: 2014-08-22
ASIN: 1602903220
EAN: 9781602903227
sales rank: 631745
price: $10.85 (new)

Do you feel empty and overwhelmed? Experience quick mood changes? Wish everyone would leave you alone? Does God feel far away, unreachable? Calming the Storm Within will equip you, no matter your age or walk in life, to deal with depression and anxiety in a positive light. This treasured book brims with relatable personal stories, insight, and helpful information: *Spotlights the causes of depression and anxiety and current treatments by profiling biblical and present-day examples. *Provides practical suggestions from the Bible about how to change thinking about God, yourself, and the enemy. *Encourages active, steady progress in gaining victory over depression and anxiety by focusing on the biblical principles of expectations, faith, forgiveness, trials, and rejoicing. In addition, Lifelines at the end of each chapter include: practical application steps, journal tips, verse/memory suggestions. Perfect for individual or group use, Calming the Storm Within is a life-changer.

Leave a Reply