Storms Within and Without

Storms Within and Without

Mark 5:1-20

Our lesson for today began with the first verse of chapter 5 in Mark’s gospel. In between the parables from Mark 4, which we heard last week, and this week’s lesson, Mark writes about a storm at sea and a sleeping Jesus. This story sets the stage for today’s lesson, so let’s look at it for a moment.

It’s the evening of that very same day, the day on which Jesus told the parables which we heard last Sunday, and Jesus and his disciples have gotten into a boat to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Why? Because Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side.” If anyone asked why, Mark certainly doesn’t record it. Jesus said let’s go and so they went.

And Jesus slept as the storm raged. Slept! He must have been really exhausted from the day of teaching… from the many days of teaching and healing. But this was not just any storm. The disciples, several of whom were fishermen and well-acquainted with stormy seas, were terrified. They woke up their sleeping teacher. Jesus said to the waves, “Peace. Be still.” And immediately the storm ended. The disciples asked themselves, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Recall Pastor John’s comment that the big question in the gospel of Mark is “Who is this Jesus?” We have seen that Jesus is a prophet, one who teaches with authority, one who heals, one who casts out demons and cleanses lepers, and one who forgives. Now we can add that this Jesus is one who stills storms.

With the question ringing in their ears – who is this? – the disciples follow Jesus out of the boat and into the land of the Gerasenes. This area, known as the Decapolis, was comprised of 10 autonomous city-states, each of which was also dependent upon Rome. This was Gentile territory. Observant Jews generally would not voluntarily go to these cities, especially not to the place outside the city where Jesus seemed to be going: to the tombs. In the Jewish tradition, corpses were unclean. So, what in the world was their Rabbi, their teacher, doing? Why was he going to the tombs?

Jesus was going to the tombs with a man who had come to meet his boat – and what a sight this man must have been! Broken chains and shackles dangling from arms and legs, bruises and cuts he had inflicted on himself, little or no clothing, and likely little or no personal hygiene. Still, the man met Jesus’ boat. The demons that possessed him knew Jesus, and they had been calling out to Jesus. As the man approached Jesus, he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” Jesus told the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” The man replied, “Legion, for we are many.”

The rest of the story is well-etched in the memories of those of us who grew up reading the Bible. It’s a fantastical image: the demons enter the swine, and the swine hurtle themselves off the cliff. No one in the town is happy about this except for the healed man, now clothed and in his right mind, and maybe his family. Jesus has cost the owner of the swine a fortune, and the townspeople beg him to leave.

The healed man wants to go with Jesus. But Jesus wants the man to be a witness to these people in this place. He tells the man to go home to his friends and to tell them all the Lord has done for him. The man does this and more, going throughout the ten cities telling what Jesus has done for him.

Who is this Jesus? He is a stiller of storms, both storms within and storms without.

We may not have demons, but we have storms. People whom we love die, sometimes much too young; we, or our family or friends, experience sudden or long-term illness; we have financial concerns; we or loved ones have addictions… we could add to the list nearly infinitely.

Our brokenness isn’t so visible as that of the demon-possessed man. It isn’t so right-out-there. Our need for healing is not so obvious. We may hide from God or others because of shame or fear, but we often don’t look like we’re hiding. We still go to work, pay the bills, pick up the kids from soccer practice… Our need for healing and forgiveness are often hidden, unlike the demon-possessed man: his need for healing was very obvious.

Who are the people who “live among the tombs” in our society? Who lives on the outer edges of society? Where are our “tombs?” Tents under an overpass… boxes and newspapers for a bed in a doorway… cars that function as homes…?

People live among the tombs for many reasons: shame, fear, hurt. Some have been cast out by society, and some have painful emotional wounds that keep them away from others. They are not all crazy, though some of them are.

When we see them, or hear them, or smell them, we want to walk on by – to sail on by. But Jesus sails to this Gentile town on purpose. He doesn’t sail on by. He comes to the town and heads straight for the tombs… because he has heard, seen, and known the man.

Jesus comes to us as we hide among the tombs… our tombs of pride, fear, selfishness, self-pity… Jesus comes to us because he has heard, seen, and known us.

Who is really in need of healing here? Those “living among the tombs,” or we who stand idly by – we who do not work for justice, for equity, or for an end to their pain – we who are comfortable thinking that we deserve or have earned all of our blessings – we who refuse to see that we and those outcast ones share a common humanity – we who so easily forget that we are all beloved of God?

Jesus comes to us, to all of us, and puts us in our right minds. He calms our storms. He speaks our name. And he says to us: Go, tell your friends – go tell everyone – everything that the Lord has done for you.

“Storms Within and Without” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson on Sunday, January 21, 2024 — the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany.  The text upon which it was/is based is Mark 5:1-20.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20240121