September 6, 2020
Friends — you are probably aware that this Sunday marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims boarding a boat called the Mayflower leaving England for America. A very proud anniversary for a congregational church, don’t you think? On September 5, 1620 our fore mothers and fathers set sail for a new land for many reasons. They came to explore, to make a new living, and most importantly to practice their religion freely. The Pilgrims and the Puritans who came later, came to practice religious freedom.
In the 1500s, England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and created a new church called the Church of England. All of England had to belong to the church. There was a group of people called Separatists that wanted to separate from the Church of England. The Separatists, under the leadership of William Bradford, decided to leave England and start a settlement of their own so that they could practice their religion freely. Bradford went to the Virginia Company and asked them for permission to establish a new colony in Virginia in America. The Virginia Company agreed, so the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower headed towards Virginia.
The Pilgrims had a long and difficult journey across the Atlantic Ocean. A storm blew them off course so instead of landing in Virginia, they landed further north in Cape Cod. They truly believed God had spared them from the storm for the life of faithfulness ahead of them. I wonder if storms do help us find the course God desires for us at time.
The Pilgrims decided to settle in this area and called it Plymouth. There was no form of government to follow so while still aboard the Mayflower they decided to write a plan of government for their colony. The plan of government became known as the Mayflower Compact. Our churches confirmands used to memorize part of it as a part of their curriculum. The Pilgrims agreed to consult each other about the laws for the colony, and they promised to work together to make the colony succeed. A premise that churches of our affiliation continue to strive for. Ideals that have and will continue to guide this church.
The Pilgrims finally stepped on land in November of 1620. This was not the best time to establish a colony. It was very difficult for the Pilgrims to find food and shelter in the middle of winter. By the time spring arrived, half of the colonists had died. When spring arrived, the Pilgrims set out to plant crops and build their colony. The Pilgrims were taught to plant corn and other crops, were taught how to trap animals for food and clothing by the indigenous Americans who befriended them and saved their lives.
Then in 1630 another group left England in search of religious freedom. This group was called the Puritans. The Puritans wanted to leave the Church of England to rid themselves of Catholic practices. The Puritans did not want to separate entirely from the Church of England; they wanted reform and change. King Charles I threaten the Puritans if they did not obey the Church of England, so, they sought freedom in America.
The Puritans received a charter from the Massachusetts Bay Company to settle land in New England. John Winthrop led nearly 1,000 Puritans to America and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colonists wanted to base the colony on the laws of God and they truly believed that God would protect them if they would obey Gods laws.
Interestingly, more than a thousand years earlier another group of faithful followers of Jesus got into a boat to face the unknown and live out their newfound faith in Jesus.
From our passage today Jesus had just finished teaching sermons which we now know as the Sermon on the Mount. While he was descending the mountain, he was approached by many people asking questions about his teaching. He was also approached by many who wished to be healed.
Slowly coming down the mountain he wouldn’t turn anyone away. He answers their questions, many times by parable. Those with illnesses he healed. Eventually, he makes his way to Capernaum where he was greeted by a Roman Centurion. The officer comes to Jesus and asks him to heal a young servant at his home. Jesus tells the Centurion to lead the way. Astonishingly, the Centurion tells Jesus it isn’t really necessary as he, the Centurion, was not worthy enough for Jesus to visit his home. No, the Centurion tells Jesus, just tell me that my servant is healed, and I will be satisfied. I know that you have the power and authority to heal my servant. Just tell me my servant is healed and I will believe. Wow that’s true faith.
After entering Capernaum Jesus went directly to Peter’s home. Peter’s mother in-law was in bed with a high fever. Jesus went into her room touched her and she was immediately healed. So, here is Jesus at Peter’s home. It is late in the day and it had been a very long day with preaching, answering questions and healing many individuals. Outside Peter’s house was a crowd still demanding Jesus’s attention. When Jesus went outside and saw how many people there were, he turned to his disciples and told them to head to the lake and prepare a boat.
Jesus led the crowd toward the lake while answering many of their questions. This is where we find a series of parables; The parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the sower, the parable of the light under the bushel basket.
When he got to the boat, he was exhausted. He had traveled a great distance, spent many hours teaching and healing and he could see that there were still many in need. Yet, he himself needed rest. He directed the disciples to head across the lake towards Gadarene. Gadarene was a Gentile town where Jesus was going to make himself know. Many scholars believe this was Jesus declaring the invitation beyond Judaism of Gods faithfulness and inclusion. While the disciples prepared the boat to go, Jesus went to the stern, and fell asleep.
The first part of the journey was uneventful but then a sudden squall popped up. This is something pretty common for the Sea of Galilee because it is surrounded by mountains and valleys. The mountains act like a wind tunnel, and when the wind blows down through the valley a breeze of five miles per hour could turn into a vicious storm with winds up to 60 miles per hour in a matter of a few minutes.
Apparently, this is what happened. The disciples, many of whom were seasoned fishermen, were now confronted by a severe storm. As seasoned sailors they would have done what they could to prepare for the storm. They probably lowered the sails and brought out the oars so they could keep the boat heading into the waves? They probably began bailing the water from the bottom of the boat as well. But clearly by the disciple’s reaction this was not enough.
As one commentary suggested, in short, the disciples quickly went from assured they could handle the storm to worried, then to anxious.
From anxious to troubled,
From troubled to distressed, then
From distressed to frightened!
How long did the disciples try to solve the problem of the storm by themselves?
Did they talk about turning the boat around and heading back to shore?
Did they spend hours bailing the boat and finally turned to Jesus when they were exhausted? Did they argue about raising the sail or lowering it and attempt to row against the storm? Why did it take them so long to turn to Jesus for assistance?
Why does it take us so long sometimes?
I wish I could ask the disciples the “What were you thinking?” question. After all the years walking side by side with Jesus watching him heal a lame man. Or healing a man who had never been able to talk and listening to him suddenly sing the praises of Jesus. Or how about the man infected with leprosy for years suddenly being healed with no scars? How could you forget all those miracles performed by Jesus especially while fearing for your life in the middle of a storm as he lay asleep right next to you? How do we forget what kind of power Jesus has?
Even though these men in that little boat caught in the middle of the storm had been walking by the side of Jesus for years, when that storm hit, their first thoughts were not about Jesus and the many miracles He had performed… no they were consumed by their fear.
So, we have frightened sailors in the middle of the lake. Waves crashing over the sides of the boat, their sails torn and useless, the bottom of the boat filling up with water faster than they can bail. Have you ever felt that way? I know I have.
They finally turn to Jesus in their desperation and what do see? A man fast asleep
in the bottom of the boat with his head resting on a pillow.
How could Jesus sleep through this storm!
Does Jesus really not care about the storms in our lives?
So, with much trepidation they shake Him awake and ask Him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we are about to drown!?”
In essence, these men look to Jesus and now ask their “What are you thinking?” question; “Teacher, what are you thinking? Don’t you care whether we live or die?”
How did Jesus react? Jesus turns to his disciples and counters with his own, “What were you thinking” question, “Why were you so afraid? Don’t you have enough faith yet?” Oops! I guess Jesus had an expectation that they would be further along in their faith journey by now. I wonder if he feels that way about me sometimes.
Now, remember that these folks had been traveling with Jesus all that day before getting on the boat. They had listened to his Sermon on the Mount, they had watched him heal the sick, lame, and mute. They had listened to his parables and even questioned him on the meaning of a couple and received explanations.
These men had seen the power of Jesus at work, They had read and studied about him. Yet, in this time of their fear they forgot. They all forgot!
Interesting thing about life — there are days when everything is calm and peaceful and then there are those days when the storms come and we wonder if we can survive. When those days come, how do we respond? Over the last several months all of us have been following this storm of the Covid 19 Virus, haven’t we.
This pandemic storm rages currently in our world. Our responses are varied. Some of us are terrified while others are seemingly calm. Surprisingly, there are some people completely oblivious to the virus despite the near constant news. Some are saying this must be our main focus while others say it is a hoax. It is amazing how we can experience and understand things from such different perspectives.
So, how should we react? Like the disciples did on that small boat on Galilee and the Pilgrims did on the Mayflower, we put our trust, faith, even our very lives, in the hands of Jesus and we act faithfully, caring well for ourselves and each other. Loving our neighbor as ourselves, right?
In our passage Jesus tells the disciples to “cross to the other side.” After giving his directions Jesus then goes to the stern of the boat, lays down and falls asleep. Jesus left everything in the hands of his disciples. Notice, he did not say, “let us go to the middle of the lake and drown.” Nor, did he suggest that their journey across the lake was dependent on good weather. No, Jesus gave directions to cross the lake and was confident that his plan would not be sidetracked by a storm or any other calamity.
The storms like we are facing today about our religion, health, work, cultural differences, injustice, and what is real truth, tests our faith doesn’t it? We must remember to put our faith first in Jesus who does care, is faithful, and will lead. We will be confronted with challenges and storms. We will be afraid, but it can strengthen our faith and remind us where our faith must be placed if we continue to look to Jesus. The scripture declares He will not abandon us in our time of strife for He will always be there to be with us in the storm.
The Pilgrims, the Puritans, and the Disciples, got into boats as God led them.
They were not sure what was ahead. They were not sure of what the future would bring but they held fast to their faith in Jesus who promised to lead the way, and they stepped aboard their boats, trusting, believing, holding fast to the belief that God went with them.
Church. Can we do this too?
Can we follow in the footsteps of those who have come before us to experience that new land of opportunity to faithfully serve God, our fellow humans and each other?
I mean, really. How can we not?