A Posture of Trust

Proper 7, Year B: Mark 4:35-41; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

In the Vatican Museum, there is a fragment of a stone sarcophagus[1], carved by an artist, likely in the 3rd century. While the remainder of this stone coffin is lost to us, the remaining fragment bears enough visual information to evoke a gospel story. Four figures are featured, along with their names: John, Luke, Mark, … Jesus. 

They are in a boat. 

The three disciples hold on to oars, while Jesus extends an outstretched hand. Undulating lines carved in stone successfully convey the sea — caught somewhere in the process from moving from great storm to great calm.

Today’s gospel story from Mark is also found in Matthew (8:24) and Luke (8:23). All conveying the good news that: Jesus is in the boat with us.

In Robin Margaret Jensen’s book entitled Understanding Early Christian Art, she notes that boats are a common Christian motif. And, that the symbol can be explained as such:

“The sea is the world. The Church is like a ship, buffeted by the waves but not swamped, for she has with her experienced pilot, Christ.”[2]

And, so here you sit, in a physical space within the church we call “the nave.” Derived from the Latin word for ship.[3]

And again, the good news is that Jesus in the boat with us.

But something so striking, even disturbing is that when the windstorm arose, and the waves beat the boat, so much that the boat was being swamped … Jesus was asleep on the cushion.

Do you not care, Jesus? That we are perishing?

This is the urgent question of those in the boat with him.

But is this the right question?

Is it that Jesus does not care?

Or, is it that Jesus is not worried? 

There is an important difference between the two.

In Old Testament wisdom scriptures, the posture of trust in God is the posture of sleep. 

For example, from the Book of Job (11:18-19): “And you will have confidence because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid…”

Jesus is not worried. His posture of sleep is a posture of trust.

This connection to Old Testament wisdom was likely not lost on the early Jewish Christians. Nor was the link to several Psalms of God’s power over the sea (46:1-3; 65:5-8), which of course is what happens next in the gospel text. Today’s Psalm (107:29-30) reads like a paraphrase of today’s gospel:

He stilled the storm to a whisper 
and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then were they glad because of the calm, 
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

This points to the human experience across the ages: 

it surely resonated with the artist inspired to carve the stilling of the storm into stone many centuries ago;

as it does with those of us sitting in the nave today, seeking reassurance — and action — from our friend asleep in the boat.

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

Jesus’ posture of trust and then his stilling of the storm point to ultimate reality: The God who created the universe is with us in Christ Jesus …

This is Who is in the boat with us.

This is Who is in the Church with us!

For the good news is that the Son of God has entered “into human history in order to still the storms, quell the fears, drive out the unclean spirits, and eventually usher in the [reign] of God.”[4]

Today we will commission our Rector Search Committee. I sense some excitement among us but also a bit of anxiety. A hint of worry. This is understandable because — I’ll just name it — the last call did not unfold and did not end in a way that we hoped for. 

So, allow today’s gospel to be instructive and remind us: that Jesus is still in the boat with us. 

The boat that is the Church. 

The boat that is the human condition, with all our frailties as human beings. 

Jesus has not and will not abandon us. 

Further, he’s not worried!

So, perhaps we should not be either.

Following the Confirmation service on June 6th, the Vestry met with Bishop Ryan. Here’s something she said to us: I have never met a search committee which didn’t do the best they could. They all have loved God, loved the Church, and did the very best they could do. 

We looked at each other and nodded. Yes, yes — this is true for St. Timothy’s, too.

Then she invited us to think about all the rectors we’ve known here: Kimbrough, Parker, Warren, Wilburn, Stahl, Klickman … and some of you here can remember beyond that!

She invited us to name a few strengths and weaknesses of each. Because all of them had them: strengths and weaknesses. That’s the reality of being human, and it is true of our rectors and leaders too.

The bible is chockfull of examples of this. While today’s gospel doesn’t name a specific disciple, Peter quickly comes to mind. His eagerness and ignorance, his denials and ultimately his faithfulness. Jesus chose imperfect Peter and said “on this rock (petra, Peter) I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Note: Jesus says I will build my church. 

He is in the boat with us!

Moreover — he is captain of this ship!

Turn to him for direction, inspiration, and encouragement. For there will be rough waters, sometimes because of what is outside of this nave. Sometimes because of what is within. And sometimes both! 

As my priestly mentor taught me long ago: It’s not about doing things perfectly. It’s about doing them faithfully.

Faith … has so much to do with trust.

Trust Christ who is in the boat with us.

He is our captain.

We need not fear. We need not worry.

For, he gives us every good reason to hope!

He stilled the storm to a whisper 
and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then were they glad because of the calm, 
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

[1] Robin Margaret Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art, p. 139, figure 53.

[2] Ibid, p. 140.

[3] “Nave is the term generally thought to be derived from the Latin navis ‘ship’, this being a symbol of the Church, but it may be a corrupt form of the Greek voás, ‘temple.’” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 1133.

[4] Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave podcast #789. Professor Rolf Jacobson.

Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark. John R. Donahue, S.J. and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.

The Harper-Collins Study Bible, NRSV.

Image above: Peterson, Kathleen. Tempest, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56574 [retrieved June 20, 2021]. Original source: https://www.kathleenpetersonart.com.

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