We are power hungry. It is easier for us to find comfort in power, to find security, or a sense of safety. But I wonder if our lens of power has darkened our eyes to a different picture of God. Mark moves beyond stories of weeds and seeds and birds and trees to talk about the Way of God. He uses imagery of the wind hovering over the chaos of the sea. I wanted to explore the difference between the “power of God” and the “power of the presence of God.” Is God’s presence primarily a comforting tool? How can we separate the comfort/security piece from the “presence of God”? Some thoughts in exploration…
Think back to when you were in school. Maybe, elementary school, if you can. Think of your teacher, I’m thinking of my third grade teacher—Mrs. Acord. She was awesome. She was always smiling, and she read to us in class, and we always did fun projects with her, and I remember loving her creative writing assignments she gave to us.
In the classroom, your relationship with your teacher is one thing. But, do you ever remember seeing your teacher outside the classroom—like when you were out with your family at Target and you run into your teacher… and they are dressed in jeans and normal people clothes, and it’s weird…You see a whole other side of this person you forgot was there, or didn’t know was there. And after this, the relationship seems…different.
Last week we had stories of seeds and trees and birds—beautiful images of nature and the caring hand of God at work—quietly, simply, if you’re not looking you’ll miss it –kind of way…
And this week, we have stories about the same God—from the same teacher, but it’s a story about chaos, the sea, storms, winds and waves, and this week the story is much more disturbing, dramatic, and a wee touch of…violence.
Maybe, there is truth in both stories; maybe a piece of truth lies within each image, each occurrence. Maybe each story has something to say about the way God works, has something to say about our humanity, and maybe it has something to say about the way we interact with God…
I would like to pose a question for you to consider—it was brought out on Wednesday morning during the text study—and one of the participants asked,
Do we experience God in the supernatural—or in the embrace?
First, I want to explore the supernatural. Our first story today was from Job, this conversation Job has with God comes at the very end of Job’s story. Job has had his animals killed, servants killed, sons and daughters have died, his friends have criticized and made fun of him—and even his wife thinks he’s crazy. I don’t want to go through a whole history lesson on Job, we’ll save that for another time. What I do want to point out is this conversation—Job finally gets his chance to do what we all wish sometime or another—to confront God, and ask…WHY?!
But before Job gets anywhere close to a satisfying answer, God turns back to Job and says… get ready, because I’m going to ask YOU some questions… “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out form the womb? Where were you when the morning stars sang together?…” Job 38:1-11
Now, call me crazy, but I don’t remember any of that imagery in Genesis… I remember God’s words, whispering to the chaos and the seas to be formed and separated, I remember being told how God “spoke” everything into existence… but this story from Job makes God sound a little bit… bigger, a little bit more in charge, and—a little bit scarier… this God is a little bit loftier, a little bit more removed and we don’t really know what to do with this image of God…
So on this note of power and awe, we quickly jump to the story Mark tells us—about a Jesus asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. After a long day of teaching about seeds and weeds and birds and trees they get in the boat and go across the lake. First of all, it says evening had come, so I’m not really sure why they got in the boat to go across the lake at night—but since I’ve never sailed a boat before—what do I know? I’m going to let this one go.
After evening had fallen and they had been sailing, a windstorm grew and waves beat into the boat—so the boat was filling up with water. The disciples get pretty upset—Jesus is sleeping on his cushion and seemingly doesn’t care what happens to them. Maybe they are mad that he’s not helping them bail out water, maybe they are mad that they spent all this time—maybe even wasted their time listening to him teach crowds of people, explain things to their small group, and now they fear they’re going to die at sea… and some of these guys are experienced fishermen—so if the storm scared them, it must have been a pretty big storm…
When they finally manage to wake Jesus up, he rebukes the wind and the waves… Rebuke… he scolds the wind, tells it off, like a parent who catches a child sneaking in another chocolate chip cookie before supper… Jesus tells nature what’s up.
And after he scolds the wind and soothes out the waves he turns next to the disciples. Really, guys, after all I’ve taught you—you’re still afraid? You still don’t get it? And then Mark jumps ahead and makes the disciples look ridiculous for not knowing who Jesus really is…
Remember seeing your teacher in the grocery store?
Well, the disciples were used to Jesus the Rabbi, Jesus the healer, Jesus the guy who made some of the other religious teachers upset… but this wasn’t any big stretch. There were plenty of teachers during that time, and honestly, there were plenty of healers too… But then, they see this other side of Jesus—someone who can control wind and waves…and it’s weird, and a little scary.
One way of looking at this story in the boat is to tell the disciples—yeah guys, don’t you get it, Jesus is God …of course he can control nature, he’s the one that designed it in the first place…
And, I used to be ok with this analogy of the story. I used feel comforted by the fact that Jesus calmed the storm, stilled the waves, and went on with his day. But now, I’m not so sure that the “power piece” was what Jesus was talking about when he asked his disciples—don’t you get it?
Sometimes, this story has been used as an analogy to show us that God is all powerful, and can choose to swoop in and make things ‘ok’ or ‘better.’ And this might be fine, until we think about those times in our lives when God hasn’t broken through the storm and stilled the waves. See, if we look at God this way—God is simply a genie, a wish-granter, a fixer. And more than that, God only uses power to show off, and only uses it to protect or save certain people…
You see, I don’t really think this story is about power. I think maybe it’s a story about the presence of God.
So let’s go back to the other side of that question—do we experience God in the supernatural, or in the embrace…?
There is a term with insurance companies called—an Act of God. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lightning storms—these would all be classified as “acts of God.” But, again, I think this gives God a bad reputation—a manipulative being that can control nature, tell it what to do—and would choose not to save some… so, if you can, look past the question of power. Look to the aftermath of these forces of nature, what do you see?
After the rains stopped and hurricane Katrina had unleashed all her furry, who were the first people to arrive on the streets of New Orleans? When the earthquake devastated Haiti, who came in to help clear rubble and rebuild shelters and bring in clean water? When schools here in Mukilteo gave out numbers on how many kids go home hungry over the weekends—who stepped in to help provide food for kids in our community? When we hear stories like this, over and over—I think the phrase “act of God” needs to be put on the people who respond to the storm, and not the storm itself.
When we reach out across the walls of fear and otherness—to comfort or encourage, that is an act of God. When we seek to rebuild relationships that have been broken through fights and hurt feelings—that is an act of God. When we give away one of our coats to someone who has no coat—that is an act of God. When we treat strangers as family, respected and special—that is an act of God.
So we go back, once again to the seeds and the weeds and the birds and the trees. We go back to this image where the presence of God is already here, buried in the soil waiting to burst forth. We go back to a way of life where God welcomes all to take shelter in the branches as part of God’s beloved family.
We look a bit closer at Mark’s story, Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and go across the lake. Across the lake was Gentile territory—and they were students of a Jewish Teacher—Gentiles were the outsiders. But Jesus is taking this message about the Way of God even to the Gentiles. Similar to the birds of the air, all are welcomed and safe in the branches of the mustard weed.
When the winds come up and hover over the seas and cause the waves to rock the boat—the original audience would have been reminded of the creation story in Genesis. The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ of God is breath, or wind. And, before the light was separated from the darkness, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of the deep. And, in this image—the deep and the chaos are never evil—they are simply viewed as unformed potential, waiting to burst. God is lingering over the chaos, waiting to bring forth something wonderful.
The disciples fear for their lives, they don’t want to drown—and Jesus says to them—do you still not have faith? He’s been in the boat this entire time, the Spirit of God has been hovering over the boat, waiting to call forth something wonderful from the chaos of the sea. So, after Jesus stopped the storm, they are in awe. Are they left speechless because of his power? Or are they in awe at the power of his presence, that he would care for them, even though he just called them faithless.
Whether someone points it out to us, or whether we have been looking at it or searching for it, we hear many people talk about the power of God in nature. The same being that set each stone on top of the other to create mountains, also sewed together each petal to create a rose. We love to see God working in these ways; maybe we even prefer it. We are not asked to participate in this majesty of God; we are usually given the treat of taking it all in, breath by breath.
But, there is another side of God—and it is seen in the embrace. When God embraces this earth, and embraces us. This side of God is messy, raw, and a bit scary and unconventional. This side of God doesn’t wait for us to be ready, this embrace of God rushes in to meet us and grabs on to us—wherever we are right now.
And this embrace calls us to also hold on to one another, to be an Act of God to one another.
So wherever we are, whether we are beginning our journey and have just set sail, whether we are in the middle of a storm trying to stay afloat and bail out water, or we feel we are sinking into the chaos of the sea… this embrace of God is there in the boat with us. Not to make everything fuzzy and warm and comfortable. But to remind us that God is present. Everywhere, no matter what. To remind us—that even in death, the arms of God reach out to us.
Do we see God in the supernatural—yes, maybe, we do. But do we also look for God in the faces of those whom we embrace, or in the open arms of our friends and neighbors extended to us? Do we see God in the mess, or only in the beauty?
Because, if we only see only one—we miss this other side of God; this intimate, untamed and wild embrace of our humanity—and all that we are. We only see the teacher in the classroom, and forget they wear jeans and normal people clothes…
When we see God only in the supernatural or in the storm, we forget that there is Jesus, sleeping on a cushion in the front of the boat, right next to us.
Maybe, we don’t need to be so concerned with the Power of God; maybe, we need to continually be searching for the power of God’s presence in our lives… So I will once again, leave us with this thought—
Do we see God in the supernatural, or in the embrace?