Traditionally, the main sanctuary of a church is called the nave. Basilicas, like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, call their sanctuary the nave. Nave comes from the Latin word navis meaning ship. It has the same root as navy. Many churches have ceilings that look much like a wooden boat turned upside down. Does anyone know what’s under these ceiling tiles? My guess would be there is wood and the ceiling looks a lot like the bottom of a boat.
There are many stories, like the one today, in which Jesus is sailing the seas with the Disciples. That’s why a boat is often a symbol for the church. Jesus spends a lot of time near or on the water with His Disciples. The first 2 Disciples Jesus calls are fisherman. Jesus teach from a boat. He teaches on the seashore. Jesus sails back and forth on the sea of Galilee to do ministry on either side of the sea. Peter walks on water as they travel from shore to shore. Jesus reveals Himself resurrected to the Disciples by the sea.
Our story today is the first time in Mark that Jesus sets sails with the Disciples. Jesus had just been teaching by the lake. He gave them the parables of the sower, the growing seed and the mustard seed. That evening, Jesus said to His Disciples, “let’s go to the other side.” So, the Disciples got in the boat and they set off on their journey.
According to the ever reliable source Wikipedia, the sea of Galilee is 64 sq. miles. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. Lake Shelbyville is 45 sq. miles, so the sea of Galilee isn’t significantly bigger. In the New Testament, the sea of Galilee may be called the lake, Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberias. This was a lake that the fisherman Disciples were very familiar with.
Jesus invited the Disciples onto the boat so they could go to the other side. There was a lot the Disciples didn’t understand in the Gospels. Mark makes it quite clear that the Disciples weren’t getting it. They look a little like baffoons in the Gospel of Mark. But, they followed Jesus whenever He said, “let’s go.” This story doesn’t tell us that the Disciples questioned anything about getting in the boat or where they were going or what they were going to do.
We are the exact opposite. How often do we question what Jesus asks us to do? We ask ourselves, “did Jesus really ask me to do that?” We ask all kinds of questions, “how am I going to get there? What am I going to do when I get there? What do I need to get there? We make all kind of excuses. I know this life, but I don’t know what’s over there. I need to do this first. I need to take care of this. This person needs me. I can’t because of this. I’m finally comfortable with here. I don’t have the money. I don’t have the time. Someone else is better equipped to do that. It’s never that easy for us to just get in the boat.
When I felt the call to go to seminary to prepare for ministry, I made all kinds of excuses and asked all kinds of questions. I had a good job that paid very well. I had worked 10 years trying to get where I was at. I was almost finished with my bachelor’s degree. I had lots of good friends and a few very close friends. I was close to my family. I had just paid off some bills. Then, God disrupts my plans with His plans. After 2 years, I got in the boat and headed off to seminary.
When the Disciples were in the boat and on their way to the other side, Jesus laid down to take a nap. Then, the storms came. The wind was very strong kicking up waves that were lapping over the side of the boat. The Disciples thought the ship was going down and them with it. They were frightened and didn’t know what to do. They cried out to Jesus, “Don’t you care if we drown?” They were afraid the boat wouldn’t survive the storm and they thought Jesus didn’t care.
Storms come through our lives often. You all have known storms, if you’re not going through one now, that seem like they are going to be the death of you. You pray and pray and pray and Jesus seems to be asleep at the helm. You wonder when the storm is going to pass. You wonder if you’ll survive. You wonder if you made wrong decisions. You wonder what you did to get yourself in the situation.
Seminary was a 4-year storm for me. That first month in Lexington, I cried every day. I wanted to go back home to familiar people and places. My faith was being torn apart. I was making friends, but I didn’t feel I was yet close enough with them to share my struggles. As time went by, my faith was still being tested but I became close enough with friends that I realized that we were all in the same boat feeling the same things. It wasn’t all bad. I often questioned if I was cut out for ministry. But, I survived.
The Disciples and their boat survived the storm. Jesus commanded the wind to be quiet and the waves calmed down. Jesus questioned the Disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” I think Jesus’ real question was, “Don’t you understand who I am yet?”
They didn’t. The Disciples still didn’t understand who Jesus was. They asked one another, “Who is this that the winds and waves obey Him?” They followed Him and saw Him do miracles and teach with authority. They just didn’t understand what He did and who He was. But, they survived and made it to the other side. What they found on the other side was opportunities for ministry and they witnessed more miracles and listened to more teaching.
Several years ago, with Rev. Anderson, you began a new journey. You stopped fighting and bickering. You healed from old wounds. And, you discerned a vision. You began traveling around Bethany with Jesus doing ministry. You lived out your first 3-year ministry plan then discerned a new one. Now, you’re living into that plan. You might say Jesus invited you to go to new places doing ministry to one another and for our neighbors.
But, huddled in our little boat of a church, trying to get to the other side, trying to realize God’s vision, we find ourselves in a storm. I’ve heard people question if we’re going to survive. Some have asked how we’re going to survive. Gang, we have to remember Jesus is in the boat. We are His Disciples and this is His church. He cares about our survival.
Why are you so afraid?
Didn’t you have similar questions about survival when you were openly fighting at meetings and bickering about everything and had no money in the checking account?
Haven’t you weathered storms before?
You’re anxious about the future. You’re trying to make survival plans.
You’re desperate to grow. Let me tell you. When a visitor comes and you treat them as our last hope for survival, they know that. And, they likely won’t be back.
Jesus is in the boat. He is at the helm. It may seem like He is asleep, but He’s not. He’s quieting the winds and calming the waves so that our little boat can make it. The boat may look like it weathered a storm when it gets to the other side, but it will make it to the other side. What’s the saying, “if God calls you to it, He’ll get you through it.”
There are lots of churches in the situation of wondering about their survival. The churches who don’t survive are the ones who resolve to spend every last penny they have to hang on to the status quo. The ones who survive are the ones who are willing to try something new, to do something to adapt. The churches who survive recognize that the future does not look like the church of the 50s and the way things have always been done are not the way they’ll be done in the future.
Jesus is in the boat. You’ll survive. Trust Jesus is calming the winds. Trust that there is a future on the other side of the shore.