Sailing on the Jesus Boat

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel reading

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On May 26, while I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I had the opportunity to take a ride on something called the “Jesus Boat.” And I have a certificate to attest to the fact! The boat takes pilgrims and tourists on a short trip out on the Sea of Galilee. The point is to give one a feel for what it must have been like to sail on the sea in Jesus’ day. As much as I enjoyed the little jaunt out on the water, it lacked a certain authenticity. For one thing, the afternoon was sunny and clear, with only the gentlest of breezes. For another, the boat didn’t look a thing like a first-century fishing boat. When we toured the nearby museum, we got to see a genuine “Jesus Boat.” It was about 25 feet long, 8 feet wide, and might possibly have held a dozen people. And unlike the “Jesus Boat” I sailed on, it didn’t have a large deck with deck chairs and a gasoline-powered engine. Looking at the genuine “Jesus Boat” taught me one thing: every trip out on the water in Jesus’ day entailed a risk to one’s life. Maybe that’s why the Old Testament portrays the sea as some sort of creature of chaos, opposed to the orderly rule of God.

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So, when Jesus cavalierly decided to cross the Sea of Galilee at sunset to visit the Gentile region of Decapolis on the other side, he must have known that he was taking a real risk. And his disciples must have known as well. So let’s give them some credit for even agreeing to get in the boat with him! But the darkness turned out to be the least of their worries, for they were soon accosted by a great windstorm, a storm so great that the boat began to fill with water. In the meantime, we are told, Jesus was sound asleep in the back of the boat, resting peacefully on a cushion. Now, we have to assume that he was somewhere out of the wind, perhaps under the helmsman’s deck; otherwise, I doubt anyone could have continued to sleep through such a storm.

The disciples realized that the situation was dire, even deadly. If they had only remembered Psalm 107, which we recited today, they might have “cried out to the Lord in their trouble,” and he might have “delivered them from their distress.” But that’s not what they did. They didn’t go to Jesus and say, “Lord, we have trust in you. Please help us.” Instead, they said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” In other words, they accused Jesus of utter indifference to their plight.

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Despite their bad attitude, Jesus took action to quell the windstorm. Our English translation makes Jesus’ command sound rather polite: “Peace! Be still!” A more literal translation of what he said to the storm is as follows: “Shut up! And remain muzzled!” And the wind and the sea obeyed his word. Just as the wind and the sea obeyed the word of God in Psalm 107. Jesus then turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you so cowardly? Do you not yet have trust?” Ouch! That rebuke must have stung. And yet, it was deserved. Jesus’ disciples had witnessed him heal the sick and cast out demons. They had heard those same demons identify Jesus as “the Son of God.” And yet, they still didn’t understand who Jesus really was.

But now, having witnessed Jesus do what only God can do, still a storm by the power of his word, they began to get an inkling that Jesus was, in fact, divine. And what was their reaction to that epiphany? The English translation we heard read today says that “they were filled with great awe.” A more literal translation is “they were terrified.” One hopes that mixed in with their fear was a little bit of gratitude.

This episode from the Gospel according to Mark has a couple of lessons for us here today. First, it demonstrates to us, just as it did to the original disciples, that Jesus was (and is) divine. He wielded power over the forces of nature that only God wields. He simply spoke the word, and it was done. Just as God spoke the word, and the world was created.

The second lesson for us is to avoid the mistake of those original disciples and to trust Jesus with our very lives. Few of us may ever fear literally drowning at sea, but many of us will feel at some point like we are drowning and being pulled under by the problems of this world, whether they be health issues, family issues, social issues, or money issues. Instead of making the same mistake that the disciples made, accusing our Lord of not caring enough, we should cry to the Lord in our trouble and then trust—trust that all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well. Perhaps the

Lord will deliver us from our distress. But even if it is his holy will that we continue to be tested here in this life, even then, we should remain faithful. For at the End, if we keep faith, we will be rewarded with a ride on the real “Jesus Boat,” the one that sails across the Crystal Sea to the very throne of Heaven. So, brothers and sisters, my advice to you is this: don’t miss the boat!

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© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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