Sermon for 4 Pentecost Yr B

4 Pentecost Yr B, 20/06/2021

Ps 107:1-3, 23-32 & Mk 4:35-41

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God is with us in the storms of life”

Today both our psalm and gospel complement each other. Both emphasise God’s presence with those who are caught in storms at sea. Both emphasise God’s power over nature to calm, to still storms at sea. 

My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 107 the following title: “Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Many Troubles.” The Lutheran Study Bible identifies this psalm as a liturgical psalm, as well as a communal hymn of praise and thanksgiving. (p. 849-850) Communal psalms were sung after being delivered from such times as crisis and life-threatening dangers. 

The first three verses of our psalm are an invocation or call to worship the LORD, exhorting those whom God redeemed, gathered from lands in every direction. As the Good News Bible renders these verses: “He (the LORD) has rescued you from your enemies and has brought you back from foreign countries, from east and west, from north and south.” This may refer to various times in the history of both Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom. It could possibly refer to the exodus when God freed Israel from Egyptian slavery; it may also refer to such times as God leading the people of Israel back from Assyrian exile; or the people of Judah back from Babylonian exile. In any event, it emphasises worshipping God by giving thanks for God’s steadfast love and saving actions. We, like Israel worship by giving thanks for God’s steadfast love and saving actions at work in our community and individually. 

Verses twenty-three to thirty-two focus on seafarers, those who make a living from the sea and end up getting caught in a life-threatening storm. The sea in biblical times was regarded as a foreboding place, a place of chaos and danger, it was a place where many feared to travel. According to our psalm, even these experienced sailors who made a living from the sea “reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end” when the wind lifted the waves of the sea so high that it was as if they reached heaven. Even though they were experienced sailors, in this storm at sea, the psalmist tells us “their courage melted away.” They did all that they could as experienced sailors to save their lives. However it was not enough in this life-threatening storm. So in their fear and desperation they turned to the LORD and cried out to him for help. The LORD answered them, the psalmist tells us, “he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” In addition to stilling the storm, the LORD “brought them to their desired haven.” The LORD was with them in the storm at sea, and the LORD saved them from the storm because he had the power over nature to still the storm. That reminds me of the following movie.

The African Queen tells the story of Charlie Allnut (played by Humphrey Bogart), a hard drinker who runs a small steamboat, the African Queen, through the shallow rivers of East Africa in the early 1900s, bringing dynamite, gin, supplies, and tools to European speculators and miners. He also carries the mail to Rose (played by Katherine Hepburn), a missionary. When World War I breaks out and the Germans burn Rose’s home and church, the British missionary and Canadian boatman flee in the African Queen. 

Their destination is a large lake downriver, where they hope to assist the Allied war effort by blowing up a German destroyer. On the river they face one danger after another. Insects attack. Bullets whiz by as they pass a German-held fort. They fight rapids. With a lot of moxie they survive these tests, but then the river dissipates and splits into a hundred streams. The African Queen bogs down in a marsh. 

With no current to push them along, Charlie and Rose use poles to propel forward, and eventually Charlie has to wade the shallows, pulling the boat by a rope. He shudders when he finds leeches on his back and arms, but he grimly returns to the water, and soon Rose herself slogs through the marsh, hacking a path with a machete while Charlie pulls. Eventually they come to the end of their strength. The boat is stuck on a mudflat, and Charlie is feverish.

He says, “Rosie, you want to know the truth, don’t you? Even if we had all our strength, we’d never get he off this mud. We’re finished.” 

She responds simply, “I know it,” and they resign themselves to death in the wasteland. 

As Charlie drifts to sleep, Rose offers a simple prayer of resignation: “We’ve come to the end of our journey. In a little while we will stand before you….Open the doors of heaven for Charlie and me.” 

But the camera slowly draws back to reveal what the couple cannot see because of the reeds—the African Queen is less than a hundred yards from the shining lake. The camera then transports us far upstream to the river’s headwaters. A torrential rainstorm is sending animals scurrying for cover. Further downstream, the rains have turned the rapids into cataracts. Down on the mudflat a small channel begins to run through the reeds. The channel swells, gently lifts the Queen off the mudflat, and carries it to the lake. Charlie and Rose awaken to the gentle rocking of the boat and a refreshing breeze. 

Reaching the end of human resources can mark the beginning of divine intervention.1 Like the experienced sailors in our psalm who made a living travelling on the sea; and like the disciples, some of whom were experienced sailors; when their experience could not save them; they turned to the LORD who was able to save them. 

Mark tells us that the storm on the Sea of Galilee was fierce: “the waves began to spill over into the boat, so that it was about to fill with water.” Most likely those disciples who had made their living from the sea; who were also experienced sailors; who may have been caught in other storms—most likely these disciples tried their best to keep their boat afloat, bailing out the water, and doing everything else that they could to save their lives. However, this storm overpowered them, all of their experiences as sailors; all of their resources were exhausted; now they feared for their lives. So they wake Jesus up, and having divine power over nature commands the wind, saying: “Peace! Be still!” Lo and behold, immediately the sea is calm. The disciples respond with awe and wonder at Jesus’ power over nature so that the wind and the sea obeyed him. 

We too face storms in life. The storms may be life-threatening such as the coronavirus or cancer, or being caught in a tornado or hurricane, or storms such as what seem like unresolvable conflicts in marriages that end in divorce, or conflicts in the workplace that end in job loss, or as we increasingly hear in the news lately, racial discrimination, profiling and violence against our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and Muslims. Whatever form the storms may take, the GOOD NEWS is that the LORD is with us in our storms; just as he was with those seafarers in our psalm and the disciples in our gospel.

So, trust Jesus when he says “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth;” power over wind and sea; to calm your storms and mine; to remove fear; to enrich your life for having overcome your storms. And, in awe and wonder, give thanks and praise to Jesus who promises to be with us always—even through life’s worst storms. 

As Canadian singer-songwriter Gene MacLellan sang: 

Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water

Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea

Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently

Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee. Amen! 

1 Craig Larson & Lori Quicke, More Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching 101 Clips to Show or Tell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 90-91.

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

2 Responses to Sermon for 4 Pentecost Yr B

  1. Leroy Seat says:

    Thanks, Garth, for this sermon and for the excellent illustration about “The African Queen.” My wife and don’t watch TV for recreation/relaxation but we watch good movies on Friday (and sometimes Sunday) evenings. I have just put a copy of “The African Queen” on hold at our library and am looking forward to viewing it–and remembering your sermon.

  2. dimlamp says:

    You’re welcome, Leroy. I think you will enjoy “The African Queen.” There is indeed instructive material in some movies.

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