Consider opening your sermon with a question. Do not let them look in the bulletin. Make them go on record by raising their hands. In Mark’s report of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, when were the disciples most afraid? As the storm raged and the hurricane-force winds filled their boat with water? Or when Jesus calmed the storm and set everything at peace?
The answer is counterintuitive. It was the latter. Like a Kindergarten teacher who claps her hands twice to silence a noisy classroom, Jesus spoke two words and the storm obeyed. I cannot imagine He had to yell. That is when things got scary. Upon seeing Jesus exercise absolute control over creation, Mark tells us the disciples “feared a great fear” (ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν).
This text invites a reflection on the things which cause us to be afraid. After the opening quiz, you might invite your hearers to consider the options. You have got the regulars—fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of snakes. There are also fears of failure—fear of public speaking, fear of not getting accepted to a school, fear of underperforming at work. Despite our collective affluence, we also suffer financial fears—fear we will not have enough to retire, fear that our medical bills will bury us, fear of taking on more debt. Other fears are social—the fear of being alone, the fear of losing face, the fear of missing out. Then there are fears we have for others—that our children will not turn out right, that our parents are failing, that our spouse is uninterested.
Ask your hearers to consider what scares them most. You might need to set a time limit.
After inviting reflection on their fears, you might share this concern: The problem may be that we are afraid of the wrong things.
The problem may be that we are afraid of the wrong things.
The disciples’ fear on the lake that night was entirely legitimate. Have you ever been out on a lake at night? Have you ever been out on a lake at night in a boat with no power—no motor, no lights, no radio? Have you ever been out in a boat on a lake at night with no moon or stars and hurricane-strength winds crashing waves into the boat and filling it with water?
If there is ever a time for fear, this would be it. Yet, Jesus rebukes them. “Why are you so afraid?” He asked. Then he asks that stinging question, “Have you still no faith?” Jesus did not say it in this text, but His words from Matthew 10:28 come to mind: “Do you fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
The storm was scary, but the worst the storm could do would be to end their lives. Financial trouble is scary. Family problems are scary. Heights and snakes and chemo and legal trouble and addictions and loneliness—these are all legitimately scary. But there is something much more worthy of fear than these.
Standing face to face with the God who made the universe, the God who knows all things, who has power over all things, who rebukes hurricanes like kindergartners is ultimately the only true reason for being afraid. Encounters with this God in the Scriptures rightly terrified Moses, David, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul. Job’s time with God in the appointed Old Testament reading is a ready example.
Which reminds me of the disciples’ question in verse 38. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” It was a legitimate question. His answer, given through rebuking the storm, was unambiguous. Yes, He cared. The only one who is truly worthy of fear shows He cares for His disciples and desires to save them. Not only them, but all who are perishing.
The only one who is truly worthy of fear shows He cares for His disciples and desires to save them. Not only them, but all who are perishing.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. You can be certain there are dads in the congregation who are suffer fears. They are afraid they are failing. They are afraid of being unable to provide enough. They are afraid they have neglected their children one too many times. They are afraid they will look back on life and be overcome with regret. Some of these fears are legitimate.
But your message to them, and to all who are afraid of things in this life, is simple. Do not fear the wrong things. There is plenty in this world that can and will hurt us, and such things legitimately cause concern and spur us to seek help. But when compared to the One who reigns over all creation, they are entirely unworthy of our fear. The only one truly worth fearing has shown He is willing and able to save us from perishing. He showed it to the disciples in this text, and He showed it to us all in His resurrection from the dead. His reign is absolute, and He cares for us and will save us.
This good news does not magically relieve us of the many fears and anxieties which harass so many people today. God’s promise in Christ is not a panacea or a miracle drug. But it does provide a foundation from which to address all that makes us afraid.
What do we do with those fears that remain? In addition to seeking support from those whom God has equipped to help, bring those fears before the One who has all authority. Perhaps Fosdick’s hymn can help:
Lo, the hosts of evil round us,
scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways!
From the fears that long have bound us,
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days (Lutheran Service Book, 850 verse 2).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 4:35-41.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 4:35-41.