12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 
June 25, 2000
The Day Life Becomes a Storm
Mark 4:35-41
The Rev. John H. Pavelko

Throughout our lives, certain days stand out from all the others. They are special days when something happens that has a lasting influence or profound impact upon us. They are days of joy and excitement. They are days of wonder and adventure. They are also days of disappointment and sorrow. Each day has it's own unique moment.

In my life, there have been several such days.

A Day of Discovery

I do not remember much about my early childhood before the age of six or seven, but I do remember the day when I met my first friend, Butchy. We were both five. Butchy lived around the corner. We enjoyed a great deal of security and trust in our neighborhood, so our mothers allowed us to ride our tricycles without feeling compelled to watch us every minute. On this particular day, Butchy, who lived around the corner, was riding his bike up and down in front of my house. Prompted by curiosity or turf protection, I aimed my tricycle on a collision course to intersect him at the corner of my yard. I traversed my front lawn at the precise angle and my timing was prefect. Our bikes collided and we ended up in a heap of tangled arms, limbs, and metal. Some how we not only walk away from that accident unscathed, but also friends.

A Day of Triumph

The license to drive for a teenager is a rite of passage in our society. It marks a major step into adulthood. With it brings freedom and independence. That little card opens a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities.

I remember how long I had to wait. I turned 16 in December but my parents would not let me get my license until I successfully completed Driver's Education course that was held in June. Six months is a long time to wait for an impatient high school kid. All through that spring, I practiced with my parents. I wanted to drive everywhere. I would not even wait for them to ask. If we were going somewhere I was the first person to the car taking my assumed position behind the steering wheel.

After the Drivers Education course ended, I scheduled a road exam. Everything went right on schedule at first. The written test was a snap. The driver's test went pretty good, with only a few deductions. Nervousness always causes me to make little mistakes but then came the parallel parking. Somehow, I could not get that car within 18 inches of the curb and the examiner was rigid. I failed my first test. Despondent I returned home to practice. However, I returned the next week did everything by the book, triumphant at last. I had my freedom. I was liberated. To celebrate I called a bunch of friends and took them to see two Clint Eastwood movies Hang Em High and A Fist Full of Dollars.

A Day of Romance

Everyday we meet new people. Some enter are lives for a brief moment. We learn their names but then before the relationship can grow someone leaves to go to school or a new job. Other people enter our world and the relationship grows. Sometimes very slowly other times quite quickly. We enjoy common interests. We spend time together and we become good friends. But then there is one relationship that goes beyond even friendship.

In any relationship, there is usually an event or a moment when something happens that changes the interaction-a common trial or a united effort toward a common task. However there are those special relationships that are born in a moment of tender affection when two lives step toward becoming one.

Our first meeting was rather serendipitous. I had crashed the party at her house. I was immediately attracted to her and so arranged for us to go to a movie the next week. Several other dates were carefully orchestrated over the next several months- snow-shoeing in the White Mountains of NH, invitation to dinner, other movies, time together at one anothers apartment.

Our relationship grew. The day came when I decided that the relationship needed to move to a deeper lever so I asked her "Carol, would you marry me?" And with all the certain of a scientist she instantly said "I think so"

Our memory about her slight hesitation adds to the allure of that day because we also remember the love and tenderness that we shared with one another, as we began to talk about bringing two lives together in a special way.
 

  • There have been days when life became a discovery
  • There have been days when life became a triumph.
  • And there have been days when life became a romantic moment


These are happy days and days that have had a lasting impact upon my life.There are also other days that are more difficult to remember. They have occurred with striking similarity to the other days. They have come unexpectedly. They have come during the regular routine of life but, they brought tragedy and turmoil. Such was the day when I asked the question to which I already knew the answer,  "Do you think I have cancer?" That was the day life became a storm.

The Day Life Became A Storm.

I had been expecting the worse. Something was wrong. I had been feeling tired for too long. I could see the concern in the eyes of the doctors and nurses in the church over some early test results. People kept asking me, "John, Do you feel all right?" Although I knew something was amiss, the emotional impact was quite different the day the doctor confirmed what I suspected.

Carol and I left the office in shock. We walked out of the building in stunned silence. You who have faced similar trials know the questions and thoughts that race through your mind.

Why God? How could this happen? Why did this happen now? Am I really going to die? What do I tell the girls?

All these questions and many more began churning through my mind. The questions flowed unanswered. One gave way to the next before an answer could be formed. My mind seemed to be avoiding answering any of the questions but rather just kept asking them. Denial had set in.

During chemo-therapy my emotions fluctuated each day. I experienced a whole array of emotions. Denial eroded into anger. Anger gave way to despair. There was no single dominating emotion or a pattern to my response.

Slowly over time hope and anticipation emerged. When the cancer went into remission a quite, thanksgiving and joy grew. When the cancer returned two years later, I struggled with the same emotional turmoil that followed the original diagnosis. I can be brimming with confidence and faith one day and tormented by despondence the next. Working as a hospital chaplain compounded the problem. I would visit patients on the oncology wing who had various forms of the disease. Each one had a different story, each person wanted to tell their story, and each person wanted to listen to mine. Then I would visit Hospice patience and the conversations would be repeated. I remember telling my oncologist that I was weary of talking about cancer.

Throughout the ordeal, the story of Jesus calming the storm has given me an invaluable source of encouragement. It has pulled me through difficult times as I have reflected and meditated on its meaning. And so, I would like to share some of those insights this morning.

The Storms of Life Come Unexpectedly

I normally do not like surprises, unless, of course, it is the unanticipated generosity of a relative or friend. I appreciate knowing what will happen from day to day so that I plan accordingly. The feeling of control provides me with a certain level of comfort and security. I chart my days activities using a computer software but, sometimes, despite of all my efforts I am unable to foresee the coming of a storm. So, it was with Jesus and his disciples.

Mark writes "that day when evening came." His words convey the image that the day began just like any other day. It was not near a Jewish feast. Unlike Jesus birth when Caesar Augustus had called for a census, the Roman government had not announced any major plans. There was nothing to distinguish the day from any other day.

There was also no indication on the horizon that a storm was brewing. The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by mountains. Distant storms can be concealed from viewand can strike with sudden and violent force but there were no signs that one was forming.

I never knew how swiftly turmoil can sweep into a life until that day in the doctor's office. What begins as a calm and uneventful day may abruptly end in turmoil and confusion.

The Storms of Life Can Overwhelm Even The Most Experienced

Pride all too often, distorts my thinking. I assume that because I am a pastor with a masters degree in theological education, years of pastoral experience in which I have counselled people during times of crises and have taught people how handle crises that I would be able to accept and adjust to a crises in my own life.
WRONG!!!
I discovered that a person's occupation, experience, age and/or professional skills are never guarantees that they will be able to easily adjust to the storms of life. 

The night we told the girls was perhaps the most difficult. Jennifer was getting ready to go to Mexico on a Mission Trip with the church Youth Group. We knew the preliminary results from the CT scan but we had to wait for the biopsy to know with certainty. Both girls asked many questions but I could not give them any answers. Together, with feelings of helplessness and frailty, we cried. I wanted to give them answers. I wanted to take away their fears. I wanted to give them some word of hope that I would be ok, but I could not.

The reality was that I could easily die and leave them without a father. That was a very difficult thought to accept.

Philip Yancy captures the tension I felt:

The messy problem of pain and suffering keeps popping up, regardless of our erudite attempts to explain it away. Even C.S. Lewis, who offered perhaps the most articulate explanation of it in this century, saw his arguments fade in significance as he watched the onslaught of bone cancer in his wife body. "You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you," he said.1
When the disciple pushed off from shore that day, experience fisherman were manning those boats. We know that at least four of the twelve disciples (James, John, Andrew and Peter) were experienced fisherman. Undoubtedly there were several other experienced fishermen who followed Jesus. Mark records that other boats besides the one Jesus was in sailing were on the lake that day. They had ample experience dealing with the uncertain weather of Galilee. They had weathered many storms and survived. They knew how to read the signs. They knew they had to keep one eye on their nets and one eye on the horizon but they were still unprepared. Their skills had been refined under challenging circumstances but despite their best efforts, they could not prevent their boat from filling with water and nearly sinking.

God Is Present in the Distance

When the journey across the lake began. Jesus sat down in the part of the boat reserved for any guest. It is located in the stern near the helmsman. Peter probably offered him a small cushion for comfort. Mark informs us that when the storm broke out Jesus was asleep. Imagine Jesus' weariness to sleep through such a gale. With a slight stroke of the pen, Mark provides us with a small glimpse of the true humanity of our Lord. The demands of his public ministry had exhausted him.

Yet, there is also a deeper meaning to Jesus' rest. In Ps 4:8 we read:

I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone O Lord make me dwell in safety
The promise of sleep in the midst of peril and danger is a token of the sustaining and protecting care of God. But notice that this appears to the disciples to be a sign of a lack of care and concern. We can empathize with the fishermen-when we need God the most, he most likely appears asleep.

C.S. Lewis captures these feelings of abandonment and forsakeness the best in his book A Grief Observed. 

Meanwhile, where is God? That is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, if you turn to Him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.2
Yet the reality is Jesus was in the boat. The disciples only needed to call upon him to awaken him. He was there waiting to hear their voice.

During the past three years, I have heard the sound of a door slammed in my face. At times I have also listened to the hollow ring of the bolt falling in place. I have also felt the eerie stillness of silence and cried out like the disciples, "Wake up Don't you care?" I have discovered that I am very much like the disciples who only turn to him in panic when the waves sweep over the bow. I first try to handle the crises by trusting in my own capacities, resources, and skills. I wait until I am overwhelmed before I try to wake him with a prayer of panic. The good news has been that even in my panicky fear, he is there to listen and respond.

GOD STILL CALMS THE STORMS

There are many ways of understanding the meaning of Scripture. Some would suggest that the true meaning of the NT miracles should not be found in a literal understanding but in a symbolic or allegorical interpretation. They contend that the disciples retold the accounts with a sense of literalness to dramatize the deeper meaning of the message.

One explanation for this passage in Mark is that when the storm swept over the disciples they panicked and lost control. When Jesus awoke his presence had a calming effect and they were able to regain their composure and battled the gale. 

Certainly, we all know people who have just such an effect on others. They are able to say the conditions may be bad but we are going to get through it. And we believe them. They handle impossible situations with courage and confidence. Their ability is something to which we aspire.3

Whereas this may be a plausible interpretation and a desirable trait, Mark wants us to know that something much more than this happened. Jesus did not speak to the disciples. He addressed the wind. The word of rebuke was the same word that he previously used to drive out a demon. Mark appears to be telling us that even when there is the presence of evil in the storm, the power of God is able to deliver the believer.

Jesus calmed the hearts of men by calming the fury of the gale.
These are both very easy and very difficult words for me to say. Not because I do not believe them or have not experienced the power of God in my life. The past May, my oncologist told me that my CT scan remains unchanged since my BMT. I have a shadow that is shaped like an egg but twice as large in my abdomen. The MDs have concluded that it is scar tissue. God has healed me through the miracle of modern medicine. God still calms the storms. However, I know that the storms of life will return and the outcome may not be the same.

During my first treatment, I read that the Reverend Tom Skinner, a black evangelist had died of lymphoma at the age of 53. Tom grew up in the gangs of NYC and had a remarkable conversion. He was not only an outstanding evangelist, but also a prophet to the church. His ministry had a significant impact on me during my seminary training. I was in the inner city program and Tom visited GCTS. He delivered a very inspirational message. His books greatly shaped my thinking for many years. To read that he had died of the same disease that had invaded my body reminded me of my own mortality. I am not invincible. A day will come when this body will become compost for the next generation and I will step into eternity. So I live each and every day by faith. Knowing that in life and in death I belong to the Living God who still calms the storms.


1 Yancy source unknown
2 C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (London: Faber and Faber, 1961), 9.
3 Larsen, Communicator's Commentary: Mark, (1983) p 183.
 

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