Pastor Chris Tweitmann
We all receive gifts on various occasions and for different reasons.
Some gifts we are given are extended to us for a specific purpose – in anticipation of a time when they will be most needed.
A fire extinguisher. An emergency flashlight. A first-aid kit. You get the idea.
Now, I don’t know about you but I have this bad habit of always undervaluing such gifts. I end up putting them aside without any intentionality and as a result, when I suddenly would benefit from one of those gifts – a light in the dark, a quick way to put out a fire, the ability to clean and bandage a wound – I cannot find them.
When I most need them, such gifts have become misplaced or lost to me.
The same can be true of our faith.
Faith can be one of those things we take for granted when things around us are going well.
Feeling like we’re in control, faith can become something we put aside as non-essential.
But then, when we suddenly find ourselves in a global pandemic or dealing with a economic crisis or facing rising polarization within our circles of community, and we reach for our faith – it can appear lost or at best, misplaced.
Why is it that when faith is needed most; it is also the most difficult for us to find?
When we confront the unforeseen, the unexpected, and the unknown, where is our faith?
This is the very question Jesus asked his disciples in today’s passage from the Bible about an unexpected storm and a near shipwreck.
Recorded in three out of the four gospel accounts, while there are a few minor variations between how this event as remembered by Matthew, Mark, and Luke is still the same story.
Today, we’re going to listen to it the way Luke remembers it. (READ THE TEXT)
We all know this story. It’s just another day at the office for Jesus.
According to the Gospel of Mark’s version of this story, it’s been a full day for Jesus of preaching and teaching before the crowds.
It is Mark and not Luke who tells us the time of day when Jesus and the disciples set sail.
“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” – Mark 4:35
As the sun goes down and the evening rises, Jesus tells his followers to pack up their gear and get into the boat so that they can shove off and make their way across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out.” – Luke 8:22
In three years of following Jesus as he teaches and ministers throughout the region of Galilee, the disciples must have crossed these waters – going back and forth – countless times.
Most especially for the seasoned fishermen among them – the two teams of brothers – Peter and Andrew, James and John – sailing along the Sea of Galilee had been their stock and trade – the livelihood of their families for generations – before Jesus called them to leave their nets behind to follow him.
These still relatively new disciples may not know much yet about the Kingdom of God but as fishermen, they know the sea.
Jesus himself is so chill about the whole trip; he takes advantage of the opportunity to catch a few Zzzs.
“As they sailed, he [Jesus] fell asleep.” – Luke 8:23
Sometimes we forget Jesus wasn’t moving and grooving all the time – 24/7 – that Jesus actually slept – even took an occasional nap.
All is well. It looks like smooth sailing ahead.
But then again, we can’t always predict the weather – which way the winds will blow.
Not to brag but, as some of you know, I recently came back from leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
A treasured part of that experience was an afternoon sail on the very same waters upon Jesus and his disciples journeyed that day.
Now when you’re on the Sea of Galilee, everything about its surface and surrounding area is so serene and calm, it can be hard to imagine how a storm as severe as described in the Bible could take place on its waters.
But the thing is, set in the hills of northern Israel, the Sea of Galilee is nearly 700 feet below sea level.
Nearly eight miles wide at its widest point, and more than 12 miles long from north to south, there are places where the sea plunges to depths of 200 feet. Surrounding the sea are the hills of Galilee reach nearly 1,400 feet above sea level, and the mountains of the Golan Heights reach more than 2,500 feet.
Rivers running into the Sea of Galilee have cut great ravines through this tableland.
These ravines act like huge funnels for cold winds coming down from the hills and mountains.
When those cooler east winds suddenly drop over the warm air that covers the sea – the cold air being heavier as the warm air rises – this sudden change can produce surprisingly furious squalls – winds and waves that rip and tear at any boats on the water – with only a moment’s notice.
That day on the Sea of Galilee for Jesus and his disciples, no one exactly remembers when the water started rising – when a little rainand some waves turned into a pounding storm and a couple of breakers.
“A squall came down on the lake…” – Luke 8:23
No one actually saw the few clouds of white become a blooming mass of grey bubbling over the night sky – blocking out the stars.
Like it always does on the Sea of Galilee, it just happened.
Like it often does in life, the weather changes…so quickly.
Life is a lot like weather.
One moment, you look up, you look around and you’re taking in the bright blue of the sky and basking in the warmth of the sun.
And then suddenly in the next moment, those friendly clouds begin to conspire against us to turn out the light, to dampen our mood with annoying drops that soon become jolting buckets of rain.
It doesn’t take much to turn our perfect world upside down.
We don’t always see it coming when our little slice of heaven gets swallowed up by one great big deluge of hell on earth.
Everything started so well and just like that – just like the disciples, we find ourselves caught in an unexpected storm.
As the winds toss and turn us, as the waves get bigger and higher, we find ourselves overwhelmed – starting to feel swamped and believing we might actually drown – that we might not make it out of this one alive.
We all know this story.
We all know this story because this is not just a story about the weather and a boat trip. We all know this story because this is a story about life – our life – yours and mine.
The interesting thing about storms is they can leave such a huge impact on our lives.
We always remember, we never forget the big storms.
Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Ida. Winter Storm Uri. The devastating tornadoes and flooding that have ripped through the Midwest.
We never expected these storms. Their descent, and their magnitude shocked and surprised us. And we will never forget them.
The storms we experience in our lives are much the same. We always remember them.
We never forget that unexpected phone call or voicemail message, that surprising text or email or letter – that notice, that news in whatever form in took that we never anticipated, that just came crashing down on us and shifted all our plans, that suddenly changed everything.
Some storms seem to arise out of nowhere and take us by surprise.
Other storms build and brew as we watch the outcome of the choices we have made in our relationships – the aftershock of our mistakes, our sins or the tempest borne of the flaws and sins of others.
When the weather changes, it’s easy to be afraid. When the very foundation of our lives is shaken; panic and fear can take hold of us.
Because it always in the eye of the storm that we confront a plain and simple truth – an undeniable fact that sits before us no matter what the weather around us looks like – that we are not in control.
Sun skies or stormy, calm waters or raging seas; it makes no difference, we are out of our depth.
The disciples knew how to build and steer a boat. The disciples learned how to find and catch fish. So these big, burly, seasoned tough guys thought they were in control.
They thought they knew how to navigate their way across the water – to harness the wind and the waves.
And yet, when the weather pulled back the curtain;
“A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.” – Luke 8:23
it showed them just how fragile their lives were – just how beyond their control things really were – just how dangerous life can be – and then they were afraid.
Depending on how you look at it, it’s either inspiring or disturbing that Jesus sleeps through all this.
“As they sailed, he [Jesus] fell asleep.” – Luke 8:23
Clearly, the disciples find it troubling as they shake Jesus from his slumber
“The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” – Luke 8:24
with their desperate plea, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
Notice they include Jesus in their prediction of certain and impending death.
But Jesus, who is in the same boat and the same storm as the disciples, Jesus, who is surrounded by the same water as the disciples, who is being blown by the same wind and beaten by the same waves, has a decidedly different response to all that is happening around them.
To begin with, Jesus has, to this point, remained asleep.
While the disciples rush around in a panic of activity, Jesus remains at peace. Jesus is still, knowing that He is God.
And notice, as he is awakened from slumber, Jesus immediately confers the deep calm of his sleep – his own sense of stillness upon the elements .
“He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.” – Luke 8:24
Rebuking the wind and the raging waters, Jesus turns the tide.
Noisy chaos is suddenly and dramatically eclipsed by absolute and deafening silence. All is calm. All is bright.
Imagine that – downshifting from hearing everything – so loud, so fierce – the yawning, threatening sound of your life coming apart at the seams – to suddenly straining your ears to hear anything at all – and picking up nothing – not even a whisper.
Sometimes one of the most trying experiences about going through a “storm” is the stillness, the quiet moments when it is just you and God.
Ask Jonah. Talk to Job. Have a word with Elijah. You want the Lord’s full and undivided attention and you get it…and then some. The disciples woke up Jesus, pointing to what is going on outside of them.
But now, having silenced the storm, Jesus turns and seeks to wake up his disciples as he points to what is going on inside of them – to what is missing, as he asks,
“Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.” – Luke 8:25
“Where is your faith?”
Our tendency is to hear Christ’s words here as a rebuke of his disciples.
Far from it. To better appreciate what Jesus is doing here, a quick reminder is in order about the biblical understanding of faith.
Contrary to how we talk about and try to exercise it, the Bible presents faith as a gift.
Biblically, faith is not something we muster up from within ourselves – by the strength of what we believe or will to power.
No, faith is something that is given to us.
Before we look to or love God, God sees and loves us.
Before we believe and put our life in Christ’s hands, Jesus believes in us and comes down to put his life in our hands.
God comes to us in Christ and gives us His Spirit so that we can believe, so that we can be transformed, so that we are able to follow Jesus as he leads and carries us from a world marked by evil, sin, and death into a renewed, remade creation of eternal goodness, forgiveness, and life.
So when Jesus asks, “Where is your faith?” – it’s not a scolding he is giving his disciples, but rather, a reorienting question.
Hearing this question, the disciples immediately would think, “Our faith is in you, Jesus. You are the basis, the source of any faith we have, Lord.”
But what Jesus is revealing to them through this question is how the fear that overtook them actually resulted in them losing sight of, misplacing, and forgetting the faith they had been given.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this is witnessed in the fact that even once the weather changes, the emotional state of the disciples does not.
“In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this?” – Luke 8:25
The disciples go from being deathly afraid in the eye of the storm to being absolutely terrified in absolute stillness Jesus provides.
We can’t miss the irony in this.
The disciples rightly call Jesus, “Master” – “Lord.”
In waking him up, the disciples correctly turn to Jesus to save them.
And yet, at the end of it all, the disciples were still “in fear and amazement” by Jesus’ ability to bring about their salvation.
Hence, Jesus reflects back to them, “Where is your faith?”
In other words, while the disciples eventually turned to Jesus; they did so as a last ditch effort to be rescued from the threat of the storm.
But from start to finish, they never really put their trust in Jesus.
To put this another way, if faith is a gift, if Jesus is the source and object of any true faith we have, the disciples never exercised the faith they had been given – faith that comes from the very fact that Jesus was with them, that Christ was leading and going before them.
After all, whose idea was it to get into the boat in the first place? By whose initiative did they head out on these waters?
Go back and read all three gospel accounts and the answer is clear.
“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” – Mark 4:35
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out.” – Luke 8:22
“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” – Matthew 8:23
It was Jesus who said, “Let us go across to the other side.”
So again, another way to hear Jesus when he asks, “Where is your faith?” is as a reminder to his disciples –
“Whose idea was this anyway to get into this boat, to take this trip – to cross over to the other side? Mine.
If I initiate the journey, if I am leading you to cross over to the other side, if I am with you every step of the way, then why are catering to your fear rather than living out of your faith – trusting me?
Whether they realize it or not (and clearly they don’t), Jesus’ actions here haven’t been so much about changing the weather as much as inviting the disciples to be changed.
For Jesus being asleep while the disciples were preparing to abandon ship, revealsthe greater storm and the real threat is not the wind, waves, and water around us.
The greater storm is always the one that churns and rages within us.
The real and more damaging threat before us is not the circumstances in which we find ourselves; it is the fear within us.
“Where is your faith?”
How easily we can become captive to our fears and lose sight of – even forget the presence and power of Jesus in our lives.
What are we so afraid of?
Do we fear the unknown and the uncertainty of what lies ahead? Of what might happen? What could be waiting for us on the other side of the journey?
Do we fear change?
Are we so comfortable – so used to our established understanding of how the world works – of what our place is in that established order – that when the current changes, when it feels like our boat is going to be upended and we might have to abandon all our cargo – all our stuff – are we afraid of the loss – of losing what is dear to us?
Are we afraid of being exposed – of becoming vulnerable, of finding ourselves powerless?
Before the rising waves of criticism and the winds of passing judgments, do we fear being abandoned – that no one will care that we are drowning here?
Are we, even though we are people of the Cross and the Tomb, still afraid of the possibility – the inevitability of death?
Does our faith become eclipsed by our fear because we have no direct knowledge (we believe but then again, we don’t know for sure) of what lies on the other side of the grave?
It doesn’t take much to get overwhelmed by the wind and the waves of change.
We face constant reminders in our relationships, at work or with our family, with finances, or our health, or whatever it is – that we are not in control.
But God comes down to us in Christ, Jesus shows up in our lives – makes his presence known in our lives, exercises his power among us, to give us faith – not only a reason to believe – but someone in whom we can look to, follow, and trust.
“Where is your faith?”
The disciples got into the boat. They followed Jesus onto the water.
But what becomes apparent when the wind picked up, when the rain began to fall, when the waves started growing higher and higher, is the disciples did not exercise the faith they have been given – placing their trust in Jesus.
When we’re baptized into Christ, we all get into the boat with Jesus.
Like the disciples, we can call Jesus, “Lord” and profess to be following Christ, but in the practicality of our daily lives and especially when the going gets rough, as the storms come, in the most important decisions of our lives, do we exercise the faith Jesus gives to us – trusting Jesus enough to rely on him – on Christ’s presence and power?
Trusting Jesus is more than just taking the steps into the boat, it is about making the choice to place the full weight of our lives behind the steps that we take in following Christ.
Trusting Jesus means exercising the faith Christ gives us to face but not give into our fears; to keep our focus on Jesus even as the weather changes and the sailing gets rough, and to place (not hold onto) those fears in Jesus’ hands.
Trusting Jesus is more than knowing or saying that Jesus is our Lord and Savior; it is consciously, intentionally, and regularly looking to and relying on Christ with each decision we make and every action we take – not as an afterthought but as the first thought we have.
For Jesus isn’t asking us to just close our eyes and cross our fingers that He is with and for us.
God comes down to us in Christ to give us faith in both His presence and power to deal with anything and everything that happens in our lives and in all creation.
“Who is this?” the disciples ask.
This is the One who is powerful enough to silence the wind and waves because He made them.
This is the One who is powerful enough to heal sickness and disease because He made us.
This is the One who is powerful enough to overcome death itself because He alone can cover and reconcile all the brokenness and devastation caused by our sin. This is the One who is powerful enough to remake all things – to change and transform all life – including us – for the better, for the best.
Jesus is the One who gives us faith in His presence and power so that we will live in freedom rather than in fear, so that we will move forward in confidence rather than fall backward in defeat.
Things can get difficult if we choose to follow Jesus. It will involve sacrifice. It may lead to suffering.
But no matter the situation we face in life, Jesus wants us to have the assurance that He is both with us and for us every step of the way and that He can and will lead us through the eye of every storm.
So, where is your faith?
We need to memorize this question and be willing to ask it of ourselves and each other when the storms rise up in our lives: Where is our faith?
Why are we holding onto that we need to let go of?
What is one area of your life where you are struggling to trust Jesus? (money, career, direction in life, relationship?)
Where is the power of fear greater than the power of Jesus in our lives?
Trust is something we learn – something that grows, something that is built and is strengthened as our relationship develops.
Where in your life is the same disconnect that we witness with the disciples?
You’re in the boat. You’re following Jesus.
You look to Jesus to save you but functionally, you’re amazed when Jesus actually shows up in your life?
Where is your faith?
Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat and with him, to cross the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus was calling them to move from the Jewish side to the Gentile side – from the part of the world where they were comfortable and at home to the other side of the world where they were strangers and unfamiliar.
We may have never crossed the Sea of Galilee but we’ve still been in that boat – the journey into something new, something differernt, somewhere uncomfortable.
Sometimes the other side of the world is just a stone’s throw away – a boat ride across the sea, a walk across the street or even engaging the person in the seat right next to ours.
When’s the last time Jesus asked you to follow him to the other side of things – the other side of a disagreement, the other side of a debate, the other side where people act and live and think quite differently?
I’ll be honest. On my own, I don’t often go out of my comfort zone – my way of seeing and doing things.
I don’t journey out that far because in truth for me, that other side is a scary place and the journey to get there even more fearful.
Going to the other side means I am not in charge, in my element, in control.
Following Jesus to the other side means I’ve got to submit my will to his.
I have to be ready for the unexpected – maybe even something unwanted.
I have to put my life in his hands. I have to be ready to die – to myself.
“Where is my faith?”
I don’t won’t find the answer to that question in myself.
Any faith I try to generate on my own is weak, inconsistent, and not surprisingly, fickle.
Any faith I attempt to place in my circumstances is just as fluctuating and therefore, fleeting.
Weather changes. Storms come. Life happens.
There is only one solid and sure answer to the question of “Where is my faith?” It is not in who or what I have faith in; it is in the One who has faith in me, who gives me faith to follow, to trust in Him.
My faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ – the One whose presence is certain and whose power is equal to every need.
Beloved, Jesus does not change the weather. Jesus doesn’t change the storm. Jesus changes us.
Jesus changes our fear into faith not by taking us around the storm but through the storm.
The faith Jesus extends to us gets real – reveals its potential – not we avoid or deny the unknown, the unexplainable or the uncontrollable.
No, the faith Jesus extends to us demonstrates its limitless capacity to calm storms and move mountains only as we keep our eyes on Jesus instead of worrying about the weather.
Exercising the faith we have been given is continually remembering that what Christ already has done for us is but a foretaste of what Christ still promises and is able to do in and through us.
For the God we meet in Jesus Christ, the God who speaks with such authority that even the winds and waves obey him, the God who climbs the hard word of the cross and rebukes the powers of sin, chaos, evil and death, is the same God still at work in the world calming storms.
Rebuking the winds of violence, oppression, and injustice. Calming the waves of anxiety, depression, addiction, and grief. Stilling the raging waters of guilt, shame, and regret. Subsiding the squalls of death itself with the peace, the shalom of resurrection.
Sometimes it takes a storm for us to face our fear and anxieties – to be able to hear Jesus himself speaking peace over and against the tempests that rage within us.
Sometimes it takes going through a storm to realize we don’t have give into fear but that we can rediscover the faith we lost, we misplaced, or even forgotten – by turning away from the chaos and embracing the peace that only Christ can give.
And this is the word of the Lord…