Summit Presbyterian Church
June 21, 2009
Do You Not Care?
Simon and Andrew, John and James had not known Jesus long. But after he passed by their boats and called them to follow - and they had, they still weren't sure why - it had been a whirlwind. Their first stop had been the synagogue where he astounded everyone with his teaching; for he taught with authority, not as one of the scribes. While they were there a man with an unclean spirit came in -that always made everyone nervous - and the demon had cried from out of the man and named Jesus as a holy one of God. When Jesus said, "Be silent and come out of him," and the demon left, with a loud cry and convulsion, they were amazed. Everyone began spreading the word: here was someone who taught with authority. Someone who had power over unclean spirits. Someone who could set the possessed free.
Right after that visit to the synagogue they had retreated to Simon and Andrew's house. There they found that Simon's mother in law was in bed with a fever. Fevers were dangerous, very frightening. They told Jesus at once - this teacher with authority and power over the unclean spirits. Could he also heal? Heal someone they loved? Jesus came and took her by her hand and lifted her up -- and the fever left her. [And she immediately started serving them. After all, there was company in the house].
And so it went. He continued throughout Galilee, preaching the message and casting out demons. Everyone was searching for him. The disciples remembered when a man with leprosy, who came begging on his knees, said to Jesus, "if you choose, you can make me clean." They saw how moved Jesus was. He stretched out his hand and said, "I do choose. Be made clean!" And the man was healed. After that they had no rest. Jesus went home to Capernaum but the word got out and so many gathered around there wasn't even any room for them near the front door. At that point some people came carrying a paralyzed man, and let him down through the roof so he could reach Jesus. Jesus had assured the man his sins were forgiven and to take up his mat, and walk. And he did. Never had they seen anything like that.
And then there was the man with the withered hand - the one who Jesus saw in the synagogue on the sabbath. Everyone was looking at Jesus to see what he would do. Would he heal the man that day, breaking the law about work on the sabbath, or would he wait? No one cared about the man with the withered hand. They just wanted to watch the show-down between Jesus and the Pharisees. And Jesus had looked around at them with anger. He was grieved at their hardness of heart. He restored the man's hand. He would get in trouble for that.
But he didn't just heal people, and free them from demons: he cared about folks that everyone else disliked or avoided. He invited Levi, the tax collector, to follow him. The others weren't so sure about that but Jesus went to Levi's home, and ate with other tax collectors and sinners. Later he chose them, the twelve, and named them apostles, to be with him, to proclaim the message and to also have authority to cast out demons. He taught them in parables and explained what they meant. He called them - and his other followers - his mother and his brothers. They were family.
So what was it with his sleeping in the middle of this great windstorm? The boat was swamped, they were terrified. Did he not care that they were perishing?? Everyone, everyone, knew what to do when a storm came up. You bailed for your life. All hands on deck. But Jesus was sleeping in the midst of this noise and this chaos. On a cushion. In the back of the boat. Did he not care for his own life, or for theirs? Was he really the compassionate healer they thought him to be, the teacher with authority, their friend and brother, or was he some kind of imposter -- in cahoots with demonic forces, ready to let them them all perish in the sea? So they woke him, they woke him and said, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he did wake up. He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm. They weren't expecting that. They were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" For he had said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"
Why are you afraid . . . . . . We all have our personal, customized list of phobias, from natural disasters to more psychologically-based terrors. And we should. The world's a dangerous place and we're vulnerable creatures. We fear physical pain, illness and death. We fear financial hardship; loss of a spouse or job; public shame. We fear for ourselves and for those we love. Millions in this world know daily the fear that comes with hunger, violence, homelessness. The windstorms keep coming. God doesn't stop those - at least not consistently - and no amount of faith can change that.
We also fear that no one cares. Or that there will come a point in our life when no one cares. That no one will help us bail when our boat starts sinking or that we could go overboard with no one noticing. That "no one" includes God; for most of us, even the most faith-filled, there are times when God seems absent, when Jesus seems to be sleeping if he's even on the boat at all. Times when we ask, "Do you not care that I am perishing?"
When Jesus stilled the storm, he showed them who he was; one whom even the wind and sea obeyed, sent from the one who brought order to the watery chaos at the beginning of creation. And when he rebuked the wind and calmed the sea he also answered their question: yes, I do care.
The faith Jesus calls us to is not a faith that God will calm every storm: cure us of every illness, vanquish every evil or fix all that is wrong in the world right now. The faith Jesus calls us to is the faith that God cares. The faith that God's grace and healing and justice surround us, even though now we see only in part. The faith that - in the words of the Psalm Henry just read - God does not forsake those who seek God; that God does not forget the cry of the afflicted; that the needy shall not always be forgotten nor the hope of the poor perish forever. Yes, Jesus assures us, the Jesus that calmed the storm and rose from the dead, God cares. It may seem that we are perishing, but we are being saved. That is the faith we are called to.
And as people who are being saved, we're called to witness to God's care: by caring for each other, and for brothers and sisters around the world. Through prayer and preaching, through ministries of hospitality, through speaking out for what is right and just. God cares for