A sermon on Mark 4:35-41 given by the Rev. Teri Daily on June 20, 2021…
In today’s gospel reading, the disciples are in a boat, in the middle of the sea, stuck in a severe windstorm, and Jesus is in the stern of the boat sleeping. This was no mild or quickly passing turbulence – don’t forget, there were some experienced fishermen on board, and clearly it was enough to scare them. Waves are crashing, water starts to fill up the boat, and only then do they go to wake Jesus up. By this point, they’re a little irritated: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus gets up, stills the storm with a mere verbal command, and then scolds the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
As I read this story, I wondered why the disciples waited so long to wake Jesus up. Were they afraid that they would be scolded for not being able to take care of the situation themselves? Or was it something more?
Sometimes when we don’t trust God to help us, it’s because we are – deep down – atheists. This may be shocking to say, but sometimes I’m an atheist. It’s not that I don’t believe in God; I do. In fact, I recite the creed at least two or three times every Sunday, and never with my fingers crossed behind my back. But the truth is that I am, at times, what Parker Palmer would call a functional atheist. He describes functional atheism as “the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.”
I do actually ask God for help. Sometimes I even start the day with the Collect for Guidance in Morning Prayer:
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Of course, no sooner have I said this prayer than I begin to worry about the day – about all the things I still have to do, about all the responsibilities that are mine to bear, about how things will only get done if I do them myself. No sooner have I asked for God’s presence and guidance than I forget that there’s any other game in town but mine. I forget that Jesus is in the boat with me. I suspect that many of us may be atheists in that sense of the word. Is that what happened to the disciples in today’s gospel reading? Maybe we all have a little functional atheism in us.
Sometimes, though, I think we don’t ask for help because we have seen so much that doesn’t make sense in the world; maybe we’re not even so sure that God has the power to make a difference. In that case, life’s tragedies can silence our deepest prayers. After all, what can we make of all the mass shootings in our country? Or the racism that results in the needless loss of so many young people of color, people who have their whole lives ahead of them? Or a cancer diagnosis for someone we love? Or progressive dementia, extreme poverty, personal griefs too painful to name? And what about 600,000 deaths from coronavirus in the US alone? We seem to live in the midst of violent storms. And unlike today’s gospel story, Jesus doesn’t usually take them away with a single command. Have we come to doubt God’s ability to quiet these storms, God’s ability to heal us?
I recently, perhaps like some of you, saw Jane Marczewski’s audition on the TV show America’s Got Talent. She is a 30-year-old singer who goes by the name Nightbirde. She also has metastatic cancer with only a 2% chance of survival. I came across one of her blog entries in which she writes about her understanding of how God works. She writes:
I haven’t come as far as I’d like, in understanding the things that have happened this year. But here’s one thing I do know: when it comes to pain, God isn’t often in the business of taking it away. Instead, he adds to it. He is more of a giver than a taker. He doesn’t take away my darkness, he adds light. He doesn’t spare me of thirst, he brings water. He doesn’t cure my loneliness, he comes near. So why do we believe that when we are in pain, it must mean God is far?
“God is more of a giver than a taker.” So often we live as functional atheists – thinking that we are all we’ve got – because we haven’t had the experience of God taking away all the storms in our lives with a single command. Maybe we forget that God heals us sometimes by being in the boat with us, by adding to our lives the strength and the peace and the light and the hope and the assurance that we need to truly live in the midst of the storms that surround us. As Richard Rohr has said, salvation in the bible is not evil or sin or pain avoided; it is evil and sin and pain transformed.
I invite you to reflect this morning on the ways God has quelled storms in your own life. Perhaps by speaking a word directly to the storm, but more often by being with you in the storm and working from the inside out. That way of working in our lives is no less a miracle, if only we have eyes to see and hearts to feel.
 Parker Palmer, “Leading from Within,” Center for Courage & Renewal website, http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/leading-from-within/.
 Collect for Guidance, Morning Prayer II, Book of Common Prayer, 100.
 Jane Marczewski, “Bald Girl in the Dark,” Nightbirde, https://www.nightbirde.co/blog/blog-post-title-one-6gwff.
 Richard Rohr, Hope Against Darkness (Cincinnatti:St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001).