Sermon Seeds: Faith

Sunday, June 23, 2024
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost | Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)

Lectionary Citations
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133 • Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41

Focus Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
Focus Theme: Faith
Series: Here I Am: Listening (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

A boat, sudden stormy waters, and a sleeping passenger repeats a familiar story. Then, it was Jonah, the highly reluctant and eventually bitter prophet whose resistance to going to Nineveh with a message of dire warning leads him—and his traveling companions—to the perilous moment. The boat provided no protection from the storm or his fate. Another story gives the boat a stronger role as Noah and his family are charged to build a rather large boat that will become their sanctuary—along with their kin in the plant and animal realms—for an epic storm that will reset the trajectory of creation history. The Markan account features a different boat as instrumental in another story found at a transitional moment in the Christ narrative. These are not the same boat, yet they contribute to the same overarching, historic tale.

Getting caught in a storm is a relatable narrative. Despite advancements in technology that enable scientists to predict weather patterns for days and the proliferation of channels for meteorological reports, sometimes a storm will appear without warning. The incident might be brief and fairly benign or radically intense for an extended time period. Unless your livelihood depends on rainfall or your lawn could really use the boost, it is rare to hear complaints about unexpected sunshine when the predicted storm does not come. It is not routine to protest blue skies and long for gray even though sunshine and rain in proportion are necessary for abundant life. Over time, excessive exposure to the sun may have as damaging consequences as a torrential downpour or a thunderstorm. Further, a gentle rain on a scorching hot day can be a refreshing and welcoming balm to the unbearable heat.

The storm contains more than water leaking from the heavy cloud. A sudden release of copious amounts of rain plus wind presents a crisis. Add heightened winds and diminished light as the clouds cloak and conceal the sunshine. And while we have increased capability and capacity to predict storms, we continue to lack the ability to control them. Weather remains an area largely situated beyond human manipulation. It encourages us to “be still and know that God is God.” (Psalm 46:10) It reminds us that,

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it,
for he has founded it on the seas
and established it on the rivers.
(Psalm 24:1-2)

The storm demonstrates God’s creative power active in the world. That power may terrorize us as humanity braces against hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding. It also places human power in perspective, which may be a counterintuitive source of comfort. As James L. Bailey notes, “When the Gospel of Mark was written—sometime during the brutal subjugation by the Romans of the Jewish rebellion 67—73 C.E.—undoubtedly those in the Markan community would have identified with Jesus’ desperate disciples crying out in the midst of the storm.” With constant and seemingly increasing power struggles globally and domestically, restraint on human power may be reassuring. In contrast to the pursuit of power for power’s sake, the force and energy found within a storm facilitates renewal, refreshing, and revitalization of creation even through destructive means. Humans may raze and mine mountains, dam up rivers and streams, and navigate through the air and over the seas, yet none of our efforts compare with the scope and scale of the Holy One’s natural means of altering our landscapes and environmental conditions.

In the most typically dramatic gospel account, it makes sense that a storm would open the second act.

The stories in this section are sandwiched between two extensive blocks of teaching material, Mark 4:1–34 and 7:1–2. While Jesus’s ministry of healing and exorcism is sketched in 1:21–3:35, the power of Jesus over the elements (4:35–41; 6:45–52), as an exorcist (5:1–20), healer (5:21–43), and prophetic miracle worker (6:34–44) is demonstrated in a series of highly developed and dramatic episodes. Six of the most famous miracle stories in the Bible are crowded into these chapters: the stilling of the storm, the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac, the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus’s walking on the sea. As Hedrick (1993, 221) observes, “The general impression that the segment 4:35–6:56 makes is that Jesus is a highly successful worker of deeds, wondrous and beyond normal human ability.” However, Jesus is not portrayed as all-powerful or as uniformly successful. The account of his spectacular deeds is marred by the disciples’ fear and lack of comprehension (4:40–41; 6:51–52). Nonetheless, they are sent out to share Jesus’s ministry of exorcism, healing, preaching, and teaching (6:7–13, 30). In his hometown, Jesus meets with astonishment and skepticism, and his powers are curtailed by his neighbors’ unbelief (6:1–6). The famous tale of the execution of Jesus’s forerunner, John the Baptist, foreshadows the destiny of Jesus. Throughout this section, the theme of faith (pistis, pisteuō), previously mentioned only twice in the Gospel (1:15; 2:5), comes to the fore. Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith (4:40), enjoins a grieving father to believe that his child will live (5:36), and commends a woman for her strong faith (5:34). Unbelief (apistia) and fear (phobos) are presented as opposite to faith, and as impediments to mighty works (4:40; 5:36; 6:6, 50). The question of Jesus’s identity—or the source of his power—continues to be raised, even by the disciples (4:41; 5:7; 6:2–3, 14–16, 49–50).
Mary Ann Beavis

In a sense, the disciples transfer their fear of the storm to a fear of the One who demonstrates control over the storm. Whatever interpretative lens used to identify the symbolism of the storm, the relationship and response of the disciples (in the moment) and the early audience (during their context) to the storm is fear. Metaphorically, storms have been utilized to convey a rapid, relentless, and unrestrained change in conditions even when the outcome proves favorable. Most storms do not end tragically or do irreparable harm. Most storms pass with little change to the landscape. Many storms provide relief and refreshment. Yet, few of us covet the coming of a storm because the storm forces us to acknowledge the limits of our authority, autonomy, and agency. We have them, but there are limits, and the storm takes us to the edge of those limitations and invites us to grasp faith as the bridge.

After a day of public and private instruction on the kingdom of God, Jesus decides to take his disciples to the “other side” of the lake (4:35). Before they reach gentile soil, however, a storm arises that threatens to keep them from reaching their destination. It also causes the disciples to fear for their lives (4:38). Within the narrative context, the storm could be symbolic of the Jewish attitudes that oppose the inclusion of the gentiles. Since Jesus is able to subdue nature in the same way he has been able to subdue demons, the disciples do not perish as they follow Jesus’ command to cross over. Mark, therefore, shows his readers that this ministerial direction is by divine proclamation and under divine protection.
Racquel S. Lettsome

The tragedy of the human condition is that our greatest fear seems to be of one another. Pursuit of power over human siblings reflects deep brokenness individually and collectively. The rise of fascism, endless wars in too many nations to track, and persistent toxicity in human relationships reject the simple and foundational command to love our neighbors, including our enemies. Hopelessness encroaches so insidiously in our communal consciousness that walking on water seems about as plausible as lasting, sustaining, and expanding peace in the world.

Yet, faith calls….
Faith that the Voice that spoke over the waters of the deep and brought forth order from chaos created a world that is indeed still good.
Faith that the power and authority delegated to humanity from the Holy One has been placed in hands wonderfully and fearfully made in the divine image.
Faith that the love of God, grace of God, and peace of God abides with us still.
Faith that creation’s (including humanity’s) response to the Still Speaking, Still Acting, Still Creating God is to be still, be amazed, and be convinced that God is still God.
Faith calls, and we declare, here I am…listening.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
There’s a big, early-season storm blowing itself out in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s bounced around the Gulf, killing people from Florida to Texas and down into Mexico. There are over 700 known dead so far. One hurricane. And how many people has it hurt? How many are going to starve later because of destroyed crops? That’s nature. Is it God? Most of the dead are the street poor who have nowhere to go and who don’t hear the warnings until it’s too late for their feet to take them to safety. Where’s safety for them anyway? Is it a sin against God to be poor? We’re almost poor ourselves. There are fewer and fewer jobs among us, more of us being born, more kids growing up with nothing to look forward to. One way or another, we’ll all be poor some day. The adults say things will get better, but they never have. How will God—my father’s God—behave toward us when we’re poor?
Is there a God? If there is, does he (she? it?) care about us? Deists like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson believed God was something that made us, then left us on our own.
“Misguided,” Dad said when I asked him about Deists. “They should have had more faith in what their Bibles told them.”
I wonder if the people on the Gulf Coast still have faith. People have had faith through horrible disasters before. I read a lot about that kind of thing. I read a lot period. My favorite book of the Bible is Job. I think it says more about my father’s God in particular and gods in general than anything else I’ve ever read.
In the book of Job, God says he made everything and he knows everything so no one has any right to question what he does with any of it. Okay. That works. That Old Testament God doesn’t violate the way things are now. But that God sounds a lot like Zeus—a super-powerful man, playing with his toys the way my youngest brothers play with toy soldiers. Bang, bang! Seven toys fall dead. If they’re yours, you make the rules. Who cares what the toys think. Wipe out a toy’s family, then give it a brand new family. Toy children, like Job’s children, are interchangeable.
Maybe God is a kind of big kid, playing with his toys. If he is, what difference does it make if 700 people get killed in a hurricane—or if seven kids go to church and get dipped in a big tank of expensive water?
But what if all that is wrong? What if God is something else altogether?
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

For Further Reflection
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom
“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.” ― C. JoyBell C.
“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Works Cited
Bailey, James L. “Fifth and Sixth Sundays after Pentecost (Mark 4:35-41 and Mark 5:21-43).” Currents in Theology and Mission 44, no. 4 (October 2017): 25–30.
Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Lettsome, Raquel S. “Mark.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
This sermon series invites us to explore the call to Christian discipleship and to examine our response. In particular, encourage the congregation to examine collective and communal fears.

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.