Keep Calm! Jesus is in the Boat

Mark 4: 35- 41

keep-calm-jesus-is-in-your-boat

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.  A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Message:

Let me ask you a question. What is it that has helped you the most to draw closer to God. You may answer Sunday school teachers, priests, missionaries, parents and all of this is correct. As a child I remember that there was one thing over all else that drew me closer to God. Nothing else succeeded as much as it did. It is Mathematics. You read that right. The dread it instilled in me, the storm it created in my whole body is unparalleled. The prayers that Math exam elicited from me, I am sure heavens shook in awe of such honest prayers of despair. I can still feel the fear of Maths class. I was very consistent. I never ever knew the answer. But my teacher had a very bad habit. He always asked students to solve the problems on the board. Twice he picked me up and both counts, I wrote some fiction and prayed that the storm to pass but it never happened. I got some solid character certificates about my abilities from my esteemed teacher.  Now I had a friend who gave me a brilliant idea. He said “Sir always calls students who he is sure does not know the answer. When he asks ‘Who will solve the sum on the board?’ there are very few who raise their hand and he will never ask them. He will ask them who do not lift the hand. So next time buddy, even if you do not know the answer, raise your hand and do yourself a favor of being saved from the teacher’s fury.” It was a Eureka moment for me. The formula to calm the storm is now here. The next day comes and teacher walks in, takes the text book and writes a question on the board and boom is the question “Who will solve the problem?” And with full enthusiasm I lifted my hand and with glee I was sure ‘Salvation is here’. But then there was silence. As I was the only one to lift the hand and as storm has its way to blow in unexpected ways despite the best planning, he acknowledged me and with great honour and dignity invited me to fix the problem. I stood up with trembling feet and looked at my genius friend and gave a look like Jesus gave to Peter after Peter denied him. There were storm of bad words in my mind for my friend and at the same time the question to God “Do you really care for me, please save me.” Let me not tell you what happened after that. I took a very important decision that day, “Lord I promise to give up maths after 10th, please accept my sacrifice, yours truly.”

Well to cut that out, this passage always elicited in me the teacher-student relation among Jesus and his disciples. The disciples luckily were very bad students like me and always got scolding. I feel one with them. Well the location of the passage is Sea of Galilee and the people who have seen it say it is a joke to call it a sea. It is more of a lake as it is quite small. So Jesus and his disciples are crossing from Galilee to the other side which is the gentile area. Galilee is the known area. But we know that from Mark 5 that they are going to Decapolis which is gentile area. So they travel from Known to the unknown at Jesus’ behest. And then all of a sudden there is a storm. Fishermen in Sea of Galilee know one thing “No matter how much you try, you seldom can predict a storm.” There are storms that hit our life. Life is very uncertain. As a pastor I have seen parishioners who were healthy, suddenly being succumbed to cancer. Family is engulfed in a storm of emotions. A beloved dies in a road accident. Your job is in jeopardy. Family life is in deep turmoil. Life has hit rock bottom. You cannot predict a storm. Even worse is people think that these storms are punishment of God for the sins we have done. We see that with Jesus in the boat there was a storm that really scared and scarred the disciples. A friend said to me “Our family has always been very prayerful and regular to church and I wonder why this crisis broke upon us.” When we examine the Bible, time after resurrection of Jesus was not some magical shield on believers from all troubles. If anything, resurrection made the life of disciples more dangerous and vulnerable. So be sure. Life is uncertain and storms will surely hit us. Life sure is uncertain but if you know people who think that this crisis is God’s punishment for their sins, please correct them that such a thing is not biblical.

So we have established storms will hit us. Now it is important to know what you do before the storms hit. We see that when disciples were squeaky and miserable in the storm, Jesus was like some of my sermon listeners. I maybe giving the most fire evoking, thunder storm sermon, but their spiritual gift is to sleep through it and I feel like asking them “Don’t you care that I lost my sleep last night preparing this sermon?” Well the point is Jesus slept through the storm. What made him calm in midst of the storm? His deep communion with the Father. His retreat for prayers. For us, prayer is to cry out in midst of need and storm “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But prayer is like Noah building the Ark in sunshine. Prayer does not avoid a storm but helps us to stay calm in midst of the storm. Let me be honest, I still struggle to have a disciplined prayer time. I am erratic in my spiritual disciplines. There is a legend about Tiger Woods. He was asked by an interviewer if he prays. He paused and said “I am not much spiritual, but my mother taught me a prayer when I was 3 years old and to date whenever possible, I try to pray that prayer” When I first read this, I was like “Wow.” How simple prayer is. We also tend to romanticize such things. But “Does Tiger Woods talk today like he used to talk when he was 3 years old? Does he wear the clothes of a 3 year old? Does he think and solve problems like a 3 year old?” The answer is no. We too tend to be infants in our prayer life by being undisciplined in our Bible Meditations and prayer routines. We still follow the lottery system of reading Bible by reading whatever portion we open to and dash a fast and furious prayer. Fr John Bartunek says that as Christians we are supposed to grow and develop our prayer life. Disciples did not ask “Lord, teach us to heal” or Teach us to give sermons” or “Teach us to speak in tongues.” But they sure asked “Lord, Teach us to pray. (Luke 11:1) We have to strive at perfecting our prayer practices so that we too can be calm in midst of the storm.

Jesus gets up from his slumber and says to the storm “Peace. Be still.” Jesus does care. He is in control. He not only calmed the nature’s fury but also calmed the storm raging inside the minds of the disciples. It is difficult to see the control of God when there are so many tragedies happening. Faith is to see the unseen. Let me tell you I am on shaky grounds writing this. My faith has to grow more and Jesus would definitely admonish me by saying “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Let me introduce you to Blessen Varughese who is the evangelist of Mumbai Diocese. Blessen was the VBS Director of Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Kolar Road, Bhopal. It was a privilege to see faith translated in action. Blessen who grew up in Vasai, Mumbai, as a child always harboured a dream to work in the villages. Many around thought this is just a phase. After doing B.Sc in Computer Science he joined Dhrama Jyothi VidyaPeet, Faridabad, seminary that is focused to equip evengelists in the context of North India. After his 4 years course in Bachelors in Divinity (that word does sound scary), it was time to make his dream come true. By God’s grace he was appointed as the Evangelist of Mumbai Diocese and incharge of Kharadi Mission which has 45 villages in its ambit. I remember Blessen posting on Fb “Dream is coming true”. Perfect story thus far. 2 months in the field and Dengue strikes. When he slowly recovered from it, Malaria comes knocking. There were voices all around saying “Don’t waste your life. Do something better.” When that was retreating to history typhoid makes its presence felt. And to top it all he had a very serious injury to his right eye which actually made well wishers more confident that this is the wrong choice. I was flabbergasted listening to the turmoil he faced in a matter of 6 monthsBut Blessen said “It was a very tough time.  It really raised a lot of questions in my life. But I felt the presence of God and I know God is in control.” I was dumbstruck.

Life is uncertain. Storms will hit us. How prepared are we for the storms? Are we growing in Christ? Christ is in our boat. He will still the storms. Our God is in control. Let us grow in our faith to believe “God will carry us through.”

Let me end this with the lyrics of my favorite sunday school action song. While you read it sing along and do the actions if you know.

With Jesus in my boat

I can Smile in the storm [3]

With Jesus in my boat I can

Smile in the storm when I’m sailing Home

When I’m sailing Home [2]

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm

when I’m sailing Home.

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm [3]

With Jesus in my boat I can Smile in the storm

when I’m sailing Home When I’m sailing Home [2]

With Jesus in my boat I can

Smile in the storm when I’m sailing Home.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Ephphatha: Lord Open Us UP

 

 

Text: Mark 7: 24- 37

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.  The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs. “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”  She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”).  At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Message

There are two miracles that we are going to deal with. In the first part Jesus is in the Gentile area of Tyre. One must assume Jesus was here on a retreat, to rest. His weariness was very evident in his response too. It was in such a context that a Syro- Phoenician woman arrives for the healing of her daughter.  It is said that she begs Jesus. We will have also read Matthew 15: 21- 28. To the request of the woman there response of Jesus was,Jesus did not answer a word (Matthew 15: 23). Here Jesus behaves as if he had not heard the woman’s plea. When the disciples insist he answered “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15: 24) When the woman insists and pleads further Jesus answered “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Mark 7: 27). What? Jesus said that? We have to understand that Jesus is fully God and fully Man. Here Jesus displays his self-understanding and mission which was till then only restricted to the Jews. There is where the answer of the Syro- Phoenician woman is important. “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” ( Mark 7: 28). This is what moves Jesus to heal the daughter of a Gentile woman. This is the “Ephphatha” moment for Jesus where he opens up from his ethnic understanding of ministry. He reaches out. In a way when Jesus was acting deaf towards her, the woman opened up Jesus ears. When Jesus spoke words that did not heal, the woman loosened his tongue to proclaim words of healing. The greatness of Jesus was he was ready to be opened by a gentile woman.

After this encounter Jesus goes to again a Gentile area of Decapolis. Here some people bring a deaf man who can hardly speak so that Jesus can heal. There are all possibilities that this man was a gentile. Jesus took him away from the crowd and put his fingers into the deaf man’s ear. Here Jesus is communicating with the deaf man. By putting his fingers he was communicating the act of healing. His spit on the tongue signified loosening so that the man with labored speech could speak clearly. Then Jesus looked up to heaven with a deep sigh and said “Ephphatha” which was the Aramic word for open up. My humble observation is that these two miracles are interlinked where the first miracle is the Syro- Phoenician Woman facilitated the “Ephphatha” of Jesus ministry and attitudes. The second miracle helped Jesus to reach out the gentiles and open up the Deaf man who had a labored speech.

I remember that when I joined for Masters in Social Work (M.S.W.)in 2003 I had so many prejudices that made me a very closed person. There were many students who were from the rural belt of Maharashtra and I as an urbanite felt it was below my dignity to interact with them. When everybody in the class ate lunch sitting on the floor I decided to sit on the chair. I only associated myself with the English speaking urban people. Best thing was I was not even aware of this discriminatory behavior of mine. It is when one of my friends Sangharsh challenged me at this point. He observed this inherent contradiction in my behavior and confronted me. This confrontation was not easy to digest. I also was in no mood to accept that I had done something wrong. Sangharsh is a person filled with passion for justice for the people who are oppressed. During our course itself he started living in the slums to understand the problem of the people.  It is in association with him and his commitment to the Dalits and needy that I could slowly accept my closed behavior. My friendship with him was the Ephphatha moment for me in my life. This helped me overcome my elitism in some sense. It helped me realize my disability sprouted from my attitude towards people. If one wishes to be effective Christians and human beings we have to open up. We have to realize that the prejudices that we hold against people and communities does not reflect who they are but is just a mirror reflection of who we are.

As a church too we need to open up. We love to have mission fields in far off places like Tibetan border, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. We are also ready to support it. But how far have we been able to make an impact in the places where we have our churches. The questions posed by Rev Sunil George Mathew at the Delhi Diocese Clergy Conference were:  How are we associated with the larger benefits of the Society? How many from the church are ready to send their children as doctors to places where there is no medical facility? How many are ready to send their children as social activists and social workers? As writers who challenge the system? What are we doing to address the spectrum of disabilities that the society is facing? With the rise in sexual crime against women, how have we responded?Are we using the Government Welfare Schemes for the larger benefit? Are we engaging with the panchayat? Before the Great lent begins, let these questions challenge us.

Let us pray. “Lord we have turned Lukewarm. Our hearts are closed. Our eyes are closed. Our ears are closed. Our Mouth is shut. Lord we pray that you touch our heart. You touch our eyes. You put your fingers in our ears. Lord with your spit, loosen our tongues. Let us hear you say “Ephphatha”. Lord open us up. Amen”

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati