Years ago, while I was still living in Alaska, one of my friends and I took some hunters up the river to another town. We left them with a guide, and the next morning, we started the journey home. At the mouth of the river, there is a large lake to cross to get back to our town, and the wind was picking up something fierce. It’s a shallow lake, and so the waves started to grow tall, and develop whitecaps as we started across it.

The pounding of the waves was relentless. Our boat kept climbing the waves, and then smashing down on the next one, water flying over the bow, and into the boat. The wind was so strong that it seemed like we were not making any progress. But when we looked we had made it at least to the center of the lake, and just needed to power on for a little while longer.

And then the engine died.

Howling wind, huge waves, the smell of gas from our dead engine.

We were slowly being pushed back across the lake because of the strong wind.

For a while, everything seemed bleak, and hopeless. We were scared. Scared of dying.

And I can tell you, that if I had seen a man laying down in the bow of the boat sleeping, I would have been very angry. I would have asked, “How can he sleep at a time like this?” I would have questioned his sanity. And I probably would have said some very not nice things.

During that time in the boat, I certainly didn’t remember this story of Jesus and his disciples on a lake in a storm. But I remembered that I could pray. And pray I did. That God would get us safely to dry land, and get us home. I prayed, because I was afraid.. 

It is interesting to note, in this story of the disciples and Jesus on a boat, crossing a lake, that Jesus asks the question, “Why are you afraid?” He does not tell his disciples that there is nothing to be afraid of. 

This world has many things that can terrify us. This world has very real things that can harm us, and things that we really should be frightened of. And then, there are things that we fear that are purely imagined. I’m not talking about things like the boogieman, the chupacabra, bigfoot, or the Loch Ness Monster. I’m talking about those things that we think might happen. Those things that have not happened, but we treat, in our own minds, as if it were a complete certainty that they were going to happen. Even though in reality, there is no imminent danger, nothing that we can see that is causing a real threat.

When I was young, my family was on vacation, and we were staying in someone’s house while they were out of town. It so happened that I woke up one night, completely terrified. Paralyzed with fear. I thought there was something else in the room with me, and I couldn’t move, the fear felt so oppressively dark and heavy. I was so terrified that I could barely get a squeak out of my mouth. And yet, miraculously, my mother heard me, came into the room, and then began praying with me against the power of evil.

And immediately, I could move again, and talk again, and the oppressive heaviness lifted from my chest, and I was able to sleep again.

Now, was that imagined? The product of late night pizza and too much soda coupled with the mind of a growing child?

I may never know. But what I learned that day is that the God my mother prayed to is the King of all Creation, and the Lord of All. Because when we prayed, my fear left me.

And this is the lesson in this story of Mark. Let me give you a little context about this passage in Mark. Jesus had been teaching people from a boat, and later that day, he said to his disciples, “Let us go across the sea.” The Sea of Galilee is only 8 miles wide, but it is 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by high mountains on three sides. It’s not uncommon that windstorms appear in the evening, because the warm tropical air from the lake rises to meet the colder air from the mountains, and that causes winds that whip up the waves on this lake. The disciples, many of them fishermen, would have been aware of the fickle nature of the Sea of Galilee. And despite that, because he asked them to, they still followed his lead.

The other thing is that on the other side of the lake is the land of the Gadarenes. This was the first time that Jesus had ventured outside of the land of Israel. This is the first time that Jesus went to the Gentiles. The Gadarenes were not people of Israel. They were outsiders. Others. People different from them, who held different beliefs, who did not think like them, and who worshipped another God. In short, Jesus was taking his disciples with him to those who represented a not a real fear, but merely an imagined one. Because moving outside of their comfort zone, moving into a territory of those they might not completely understand was at least a bit unnerving.

And then what?

A very real and present danger appeared to them in the form of a mighty windstorm. And the waves were so large that the water was crashing over the bow and filling the boat with water. The waves crashing, the wind howling, and the disciples struggling to keep the boat afloat. They were terrified. They feared for their lives.

And Jesus slept.

And when the disciples could no longer contain their fear, they woke Jesus up and asked him, “Don’t you care that we are dying?” As in, “don’t you care about us enough to help? Are we not worth enough to you, for you to help us out? What kind of a leader are you, that you would let us remain in danger? Do you care only about yourself?”

And Jesus gets up, turns to the sea, and says, “Peace, be still!” And the winds stop, and the sea is calm, and the danger is gone.

But even though the immediate and real fear of death is now gone for the disciples, the Gospel passage says that they “feared exceedingly.” That is, they got even more afraid, because now they are wondering, “Who is this guy?” Who is he, that even the wind and the sea obey what he says? They were struck with awe at the power and majesty of Jesus.

That day, the disciples learned something about the identity of Jesus. They learned more about all aspects of who Jesus is, in the middle of a lake, on the way across it to explore unfamiliar and possibly unsafe lands filled with people who were quite unlike them. They learned aspects of who Jesus was, by calling out to Jesus in the face of fear.

Jesus did not wake up from his nap on the pillow and tell his disciples, “There is nothing to fear,” because that is not true. There was a very real and present danger in the form of this storm and the waves that were bashing the boat. The question that Jesus asked was, “Why are you afraid?”

And that question can incorporate all the fears the disciples had. And all the fears that we might have – real or imagined. It is as though Jesus is asking us: Why are you afraid? Am I real to you, or just imagined? Have you figured out who I really am yet, or am I still just a guy you are following because that’s what good people do? Do you trust me, or do you not? 

And the question that was really on the disciples’ minds was,, “How can we trust you, when we don’t even really know who you are?”

This is the big question: Why are you afraid? 

It is not that we are afraid – from real or imagined threats – but the reason for why we are afraid that often helps us to see the face of Jesus in a new light, to experience a new side of Jesus we had never known before. Understanding what we fear, and reaching out to God in prayer for that very fear, is how we get to know Christ in a way that draws him closer to us, and us closer to him. It is often in this middle state between a state of comfort and the presence of the unknown, and the uncertain, that we experience fear. And it is in this state when the grace of God will become most evident to us. When we understand what we fear, that is when God can step in, and rescue us from that danger, whether real or imagined. And God will do that either by softening our hearts with compassion and understanding, or by opening our minds to seeing things God’s way. And what’s difficult to grasp is that often those are exactly the same thing.

The disciples got on a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee because Jesus asked them to. They knew full well that there was a possibility of danger in the shape of a storm. And they did it anyway. They got into a boat to cross over to the other side, the land of the Gadarenes, a people very unlike them, because Jesus asked them to, despite the fear of the unknown and foreign. And they did it anyway. They left the comfort of their homes and their own country to follow Jesus, and came to know the fear of death on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

And then it was in the face of that fear that Jesus allowed the disciples to know more about him, to see a side of him that they hadn’t seen before. It was in the face of that fear that Jesus was able to display his power as the Lord of all Creation.

The big question might be, “Why are you afraid?” but an even bigger question is “Who is this guy?” And those questions are for us as much as they are for the disciples in our Gospel today.  

Jesus displayed his power to the disciples that day, and showed them he commands the universe. And later on, he showed them that not even death can control him, that he has authority even over death. The disciples hadn’t found that out yet. But we know. We have the luxury of looking back and watching as the disciples’ eyes are opened to the truth that we already know

Who is this guy, Jesus?

As my friend and I sat in that storm on the boat back up in Alaska, I prayed that God would get us home safely. Eventually, through several more engine failures and heavy bashes of the boat against the waves, we made it across the lake. After taking a few minutes on dry land to compose ourselves, we got into the channel that would take us home, and got back safely. I was relieved, and glad that my friend and I had been able to figure out the problems with the engine.

The next morning, I passed by the boat we had been on, only to see it half submerged on the shore of the lagoon. It turns out that we had blown a rivet on the boat, and had been taking on water in the front compartment the entire time. It was hidden from us, and by the time we realized it, it would have been too late. If we had not gotten the engines working and across the lake, I would likely not be standing here today. 

It took a day for me to realize just how much God had answered that prayer, and just like the disciples’ in the Gospel today, my eyes were opened to just how much of my life is in God’s control.

It is part of the human condition that we will face fear in our lives. It is in the face of that fear that Christ reveals himself to us in a new way that draws us closer to him. God might ask us to do things that we find frightening, and we do them simply because we have been asked to, and then experience the fear that comes with stepping outside our comfort zone. Or, we might be experiencing real fear from dangers we are facing, both real and imagined.

And we ask, “Why am I afraid?” And, “Who is this guy, Jesus?” And then we call upon Jesus in the midst of that fear, so that we can understand ever more the answer to the question of Jesus’ identity. The question then becomes not “Who is this guy,” but “Who is Jesus to me?”

When we call upon him our eyes might be opened immediately to understand God in a new way, or it may take a day, or two, or a hundred, but eventually we come to realize just exactly how God is King of all Creation, and Lord of All, including the Lord of our lives.

If you are in the middle of your own storm right now, if you are anxious and scared, or struggling with fears, both real and imagined, remember that Jesus is with you.

Jesus said to the wind and the waves, “Peace, be still.”

And he says the same to us.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on June 23, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

One thought on “Who Is This Guy?

  1. I loved this sermon. It not only made me think, but reflect on exactly what you said, “Who is Jesus to me?”

    Your sermons always expand my thoughts and feelings about Christ.

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