Archive for June, 2018

Valuing the Word

June 28, 2018

The second day of our regional convention for my denominational polity.  This morning there was a vote on who can or can’t vote at these sorts of meetings.

Our polity places a strong value on the priesthood of all believers.  This is a theological concept that although all are called to different vocations, professional Church work is by no means an elevated or superior form of work than any other.  As such, we have striven to maintain a political balance between the laity (typical parishioners who have no theological training or education for a Church position) and clergy.  Each congregation in our regional polity is entitled to two votes at these conventions – their pastor can cast one and they can send a lay delegate to cast a vote as well.  Under this model, neither clergy nor laity has undue influence over the decisions of the denomination as a whole.

The fly in the ointment is that we have created a third type of person – someone with theological training or education, but who isn’t serving as a pastor.  We call these people Commissioned.  They’re not lay people, but they aren’t clergy either.  They hold positions like Director of Christian Education, or school principal or teacher.  Moreover, from the lay perspective they may sometimes appear more like pastors than not, and from the pastor perspective they may seem more like lay people than not.  In order to avoid throwing off the balance one way or another, this group of people (between 9000-10000 nationally) has not been granted the right to vote in conventions.  By everyone’s agreement, Commissioned folks in our denomination are neither fish nor fowl, to use the old saw, and they aren’t happy about this.

Over and over again efforts have been made to change this.  Usually they are shot down.  Today it  wasn’t, but it won’t really matter because although our regional polity voted to allow Commissioned folks to vote, it will get shot down at the national level.  It was surprising that it passed today as it normally gets voted down.

To me, the interesting thing about this wrestling match isn’t the issue of whether there’s a problem or  not.  It’s not that Commissioned folks are unhappy with how things are going or have gone, necessarily, they just want to vote.  There was no discussion of how this would or wouldn’t address wrongs of the past, or prevent problems in the future.  It was just the idea that everyone ought to have a voice, and if they don’t, then there’s a problem.

Is there?

As with any vocation I’m sure there are situations where these Commissioned workers are not listened to by their pastors or lay people, and feel unrepresented in the voting process.  But I’d wager that far more of them do feel like they’re listened to.  But in our culture, if you don’t get to vote, you don’t get a say, and if you don’t have a say, you aren’t valued.

This sort of rationale makes me itchy.  As a 21st century American I’m conditioned to dislike disenfranchisement.  But is that alone a reason for making this sort of change?  I’m unconvinced.  Once again there’s this emphasis on making our own decisions about what  we want or don’t want, who we like or don’t like.  This sounds a lot different than trusting the Holy Spirit.  It’s not that the Holy Spirit can’t work through democratic processes.  But I’ve heard a lot more about rights and entitlements so far the past day and a half than I have about how the Holy Spirit protects and guides the Church.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising.

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Democratic Holy Spirit

June 27, 2018

So I’m at my polity’s regional convention,  an event that happens ever three years in our parts.  I’ve been to four of these now since I began the ministry.  Over the last dozen years I’ve progressed some in recognizing the value of what happens here.  While I still try to maintain a perspective on all of these things against the backdrop of 2000 years of Christian history, it’s how we get things done.  Some things, at least.

Some of the time.

The outgoing District President in his final District report of his 18-year tenure talked about how our denomination has changed over time.  An immigrant church that began as quite focused on German immigrants.   A denomination that evolved into an English-language church.  A denomination that gradually adapted more democratic procedures, in keeping with American ideas.

That observation stuck with me as we moved into elections of various District officers who will serve for the next three years.  The biggest of which is the election of a the first new President of our District in almost 20 years.  There were three fine men willing to stand for that position.  Any and all of them would serve admirably.  Each have served in pastoral capacities in the District for over 20 years.  Each have various circles of people they have interacted with over time and each has a unique personality that appeals to some and not to others.

We prayed before the election.  We prayed for the Holy Spirit to lead our decision.  I do trust that the Holy Spirit did that.  But it also struck me as kind of interesting that, if we want to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we then still turn it over to a popular vote that can be influenced by so many other factors beyond the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles determined a replacement for Judas by casting lots (Acts 1:12-26).  Replacing one of the only 12 Apostles in all of human history, they cast lots.  Yet here we are, casting 200-300 individual votes  for who will lead this little corner of  our polity for the next three years.  Why is that?  Why do we find the Biblical model so distasteful?  Why is it necessary for us all to have our say?

I asked the outgoing District President why we didn’t cast lots.  He didn’t have an answer.  He did say that he mentions to congregations in the Call process for a new pastor that they are free to cast lots to make their choice, but he isn’t aware of any of them that have taken him up on the idea.  Why not?

I presume at one level we don’t really trust the Holy Spirit.  I mean, sure He could apparently replace Judas.  But to select a new pastor?  Or a new District President?  C’mon, right?

Still, it makes sense to me.  It isn’t entirely comfortable, but then again I’m not  sure my comfort is the most important issue in all of this.

Is yours?

 

 

 

A Year’s Political Reflection

June 27, 2018

I’ve had the privilege and challenge of serving my denomination’s regional polity for the last year as a Regional Vice President.  It sounds impressive, and I suppose by some standards it is.  But it’s an unpaid leadership position which, in my case, made me nominally responsible for about 60 congregations.  I don’t have much real authority, but there’s a theoretical hierarchy that I was a part of.  I didn’t seek out this role, I was appointed to it when the guy who was doing it previously retired rather suddenly and the District President needed to appoint someone to finish out his term.

Today I faced off in an election with two other pastors in the Region for a three-year term of this office.  I lost, which is fine with me.  As I said, I never asked for this, and I’m not all together certain I was the best person for the job.  But I was a willing servant.  My brief experience in this capacity hasn’t provided me with any greater insight into why we do things the way we do.  But it has caused me to reflect on the nature of that type of work – administrative/bureaucratic-type  stuff.  It isn’t that the work doesn’t matter, it does.  But what sort of work is it, really?

A colleague had a great way of describing this sort of work.   He related it to Acts 6.  The Apostles are grappling with ancillary problems related to the ministry.  They’re attending to issues of organization and life together.  Issues of getting along.  Dealing with complaints and allegations.  Politics, after a certain fashion.  The solution they come up with is to appoint seven other good men to oversee these issues.  These aren’t lesser men by any means.  But in order for the Apostles to do their work, the work of preaching the Word, these other seven men need to deal with the other stuff.  The politics.

The Apostles recognized that their main work was to preach and teach the Word of God.  While these other issues needed to be attended to, they couldn’t allow them to hold them back from their primary work  in preaching the Word.  So it is with ecclesiastical bureaucracy and administration today.   At best, they take care of necessary ancillary issues so that pastors and other folks can focus on the main work of the Church – preaching the Word.

We need good men and women to fill these roles, but we need to bear in mind the sort of work it is.  It’s necessary, but the primary goal of such work should be facilitating the preaching of the Word by those who are freed from these other tasks and duties.

I like that.  For a year I got to learn a little more about how the bureaucrats and administrators attempt to free up pastors and other professionals to preach the Word.  It’s not a perfect system, as it likely wasn’t in Acts 6.  But we do the best we can and try not to mess things up more than necessary.  I pray that those who take on these roles for the next three years will be a blessing by freeing me up to preach the Word.

 

Your Family Altar – June 24, 2018

June 24, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on this morning’s sermon & service
  • Monday – Old Testament – Lamentations 3:22-33
    • Which verses indicate the Lord’s blessing might not always be obvious?
    • Why might it be good to learn to endure suffering?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
    • Do the Macedonians give grudgingly or joyfully?
    • When is the last time you were able to joyfully give to help someone else?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark  5:21-43
    • Where is Jesus when these scenes unfold?
    • What do you think Jesus means in verse 39?
  • Thursday Psalm 30
    • How does God rescue us from the pit (v.3)?
    • How long do we have to praise God (v.12)?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – Table of Duties
    • Which duties apply to you?
    • Which duty is the most challenging for you?
  • Saturday – Hymn – See This Wonder in the Making
    • Who is doing the action in baptism (v.1)?
    • Where is the power in this sacrament (v.4)?

 

Reading Ramblings – July 1, 2018

June 24, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018

Texts: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Context: What a counter-cultural thought we get in Lamentations 3:27! It is good that a man should learn suffering in his youth? If there’s one thing our culture seems intent on eliminating, it’s any notion of suffering, particularly in our children. The eras of helicopter parenting and tiger moms insists that our children should experience only unmitigated success and accomplishment, and anything that might make them unhappy should be eliminated if at all possible. Yet the Holy Spirit says that learning to suffer when younger is actually good for us, as in this process we learn the Lord’s faithfulness, and learn to anticipate that when difficulties come He is with us and will lead us through them. The readings focus on the Lord’s ability to deliver and save even when hope appears to be lost. We place our hope in God and teach ourselves through practice and experience that He is good and that He loves us in spite of our condition, rather than by promising us nothing but an easy life.

Lamentations 3:22-33 – The emphasis of this section is the Lord’s faithfulness to us. He is always good, always loving. We might like to imagine this means He will preserve us from anything unpleasant, but that would be a rather peculiar form of love in our broken and sinful world. Rather, He uses the suffering of the world as a means of teaching us to rely on him, to wait upon him and his deliverance. For this reason we do not give up hope even when things are unpleasant or difficult. We are to trust in God’s intrinsic nature of love and mercy. It is this mercy and love that leads him to rescue us so that we are not cast off forever (v.31) even if our temporary conditions are dire. We see his love best for us not in trying to discern his unseen hand or motive in the events of our lives, but rather in the life and death, the resurrection and ascension and promised return of his Son on our behalf.

Psalm 30 – A psalm of praise and confidence and trust in God, who has delivered the speaker from dire circumstances. He recounts in general terms his condition in verses 1-3, which God has saved him from, before extolling the assembly to join him in praising God (vs.4-5). Suffering comes, but it does not last. It cannot for those who are in God. However this confidence can be misplaced, as verse 6 seems to indicate. When things are going well for us we are convinced that nothing can ever change, and perhaps our good fortune is something we put our faith and trust in rather than God. God may be the source of our blessing but He can and will remove that blessing as well if we begin to make assumptions about our blessings and our relationship with him (v.7). The psalm both acknowledges suffering or want and acknowledges God as the ultimate one who can and will deliver from these adversities.

2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15 – Paul now turns more explicitly to his hopes that the Corinthians will show zeal in their generosity. Paul is gathering a collection for the relief of those suffering from famine in Jerusalem. Towards this end he holds up the Macedonians as an example, because they gave generously even though they did not have much to give from. Paul also compliments the Corinthians, knowing that they will undoubtedly respond to his request and he practically has no need to even ask. He doesn’t ask for them to put themselves in a bad situation (v.13), but rather to give from their plenty so that those with little can have enough to survive. Christian charity has always sought to respond in this way, giving from the abundance God has given for the relief of those who for whatever reason are in need.

Mark 5:21-43 – One might be tempted to ask why God had let the woman suffer for so long, through so much, with her bleeding affliction. Or why He allowed Jairus’ daughter to grow sick and die. We often ask such questions when faced with tragedy, whether our own or someone else. Yet God uses both these situations to his glory and to the glory of his Son. In all situations we can pray to attune ourselves so that God will be glorified to those around us, even in the midst of suffering and loss. This may seem ridiculous and naive to others. But God is God, and can do as He pleases, even reversing what seems like the finality of a long-term affliction or even death. There is nothing beyond his power, nothing that we should be afraid to pray from him. We leave the solution in his hands, trusting in his wisdom to respond in the best possible way. But how often are we inclined to not even ask, as the conclusion already seems foregone?

Book Review: The Gospel Comes With a House Key

June 23, 2018

The Gospel Comes With a House Key: Practicing Radical Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World

by Rosaria Butterfield

As a fan of one of her other books, I was looking forward to this one.  After reading it, my thoughts on it are mixed, though overall positive.

Rosaria is obviously an intense woman who is passionate about things and pours her copious energies into the truth as she discovers it.  And the truth that Rosaria has discovered is that Christian hospitality can be a powerful means of engaging people who would otherwise never accept an invitation to Church or respond to a shallow sharing of the Gospel.  She knows this firsthand because this is how she came to faith, leaving behind a life that I dare say was the antithesis in almost every aspect of who God has now shaped her to be.

This book is a call to hospitality.  Not a cute exhortation or a cheery sharing of favorite recipes, but rather a call to the oftentimes gritty and taxing work of opening ourselves and our homes to other people in order to build relationships by which the Gospel might be shared.  This is a sobering book, a book that holds nothing back in insisting that every Christian needs to engage in Christian hospitality while refusing to paint it as a anything less than obedience to the Lord’s call.

The book is structured as a series of snapshots from her life of hospitality, literal days and the events that transpired on those days.  Some are wonderful and encouraging.  Many are painful to hear, despite knowing that God is at work in the midst of it.  She makes the case that any and every Christian should engage in this hospitality in some way.  Introvert or extrovert makes no difference.  Married or single makes no difference.  Young or old makes no difference.  Every Christian can either open their home or help another Christian open their home to be hospitable to friends, neighbors, and strangers.  Her passion and dedication are admirable, but perhaps at time swerve more into a sense of legalism of the most dangerous kind, the kind that justifies its existence on the Gospel.

Scripture makes clear that while Christian hospitality is desirable (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9) , it isn’t necessarily a universal gift to every Christian (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:9-10; Titus 1:7-8).  It is something special and of note that leaders should be evaluated on, and this is perhaps a better direction for some of her more strident urges to hospitality.  Given that her husband is a pastor, this makes much more sense than insisting that every single Christian bears this perpetual obligation.  She shrugs off the idea that some people might not be well-equipped for this type of ministry too easily.  She also has some strong opinions on what sort of arrangements constitute hospitality, which she doesn’t really bother to substantiate.

This book might terrify some people, and that’s good.  Because hospitality and entertaining are somewhat conflated and confused in our culture, it is necessary to show that Christian hospitality is not always pleasant.  The results are not always discernible, let alone storybook.  There are costs that come with it both financially and emotionally.  In opening ourselves to others we are made vulnerable, something that our culture of independence and individualism is pitched against.

Butterfield’s exegesis is generally not very deep or elaborate  but is often very perceptive.  She grasps clearly that in a culture where Christians are increasingly cast as the villains of whatever soap opera is playing out, the only effective way to combat such an image is not through legislation but rather through hospitality.  She understands that accepting an invitation to church is far less likely than accepting an invitation to dinner, but that a Christian bringing someone into their Christian home for dinner places guests in the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit.  Who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it should be different for Christians than anyone else, and this should become obvious over time to those we draw in close to us.

Once again I’m struck with the lonely aspect of what Butterfield describes here.  Yes, hospitality is personal and sacrificial but it doesn’t need to be isolated and unsupported.  There is – as with other books on this subject I’ve been reading – little or no acknowledgement or encouragement of the larger Christian community of the congregation being supportive and encouraging of this kind of ministry, financially or otherwise.  I  think this is a glaring area where we need to  think things through further.  Scriptural admonitions to hospitality are implemented individually but they are often directed to communities of faith.  If a faith community doesn’t see this as an important aspect of the Christian life, the odds of individual members taking it upon themselves in an obedient and permanent way is less likely.

This is a good book to read if you’re considering embarking in Christian hospitality.  It’s a very good book for pastors to read before encouraging their parishioners to hospitality, as it helps prepare pastors to deal with fallout that can (and perhaps will) occur in such settings.  I’d suggest pairing it with a lighter read that provides a counter-balance to the sometimes gritty and heavy aspects of Butterfield’s book, while making sure to talk about those areas because they are very real and, knowing our Enemy The Satan, most likely to come up sooner or later.

Above all Butterfield conveys clearly through both the heavy and joyful aspects of her book Christian hospitality as a holy calling and privilege.  Our neighbors need us.  More accurately, our neighbors need Christ, and if they can meet Christ through us and in our homes around well-worn dinner tables and mismatched table ware,  then we need to take seriously hospitality as a missionary activity.  I objected in a review of an earlier book to the characterization of Christian hospitality as a weapon.  I’ll be amending that review a little bit, as I believe it is a good metaphor in the proper context.  It is not a weapon against our neighbors themselves, but against any power that might hold them and seek to keep them from Christ.  Christian hospitality invites the non-Christian into Enemy territory in this regard, bringing them intentionally into an environment where the Word of God is lived out, and an environment where they can and should encounter the Word of God, which as we are told, is dangerously life-giving (Hebrews 4:12).

ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians

June 20, 2018

In this brief missive, Ignatius once again exhorts his recipients to unity and obedience to their bishop as well as the deacons who work among them.

More interesting is that Ignatius treats on the matter of the Docetae, a term for people who denied that Jesus was truly human.  They accepted his divinity, but under the influence of Greek philosophy, which held that matter was evil or at least impure, they insisted that Jesus just appeared to be human but was really only spiritual.   This is one of the earliest documents then which deals with this matter, a point of view that was condemned at the Council of Nicaea.  Ignatius doesn’t deal with Docetism by name  but it’s clear in Chapter X – The Reality of Christ’s Passion that this is what he’s getting at.

 

ANF – Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians

June 19, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.

This letter is shorter than his letter to the Ephesians.  Ignatius compliments the Magnesians on their unity and the quality of their young bishop.  He encourages them to continued harmony and obedience to their bishop even though he is young, and castigates those who have taken it upon themselves to act separately or contrary to him.  He also warns against the temptation of being convinced or coerced to take on Jewish forms and practices.  This was an early tension in the Christian church, when many Christians were Jews.  There was much pressure, despite the decisions of Acts 15, to have Christian Jews still follow traditional Jewish rites and practices, and the early Church as well as the Apostles warned against this as a source of confusion in terms of where our salvation comes from.

 

ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians

June 18, 2018

This continues my sporadic yet methodical plowing through of the Ante-Nicene Fathers – the writings of the churchmen beyond the Apostles but before the Council of Nicaea that have been preserved through history.  You can search on this site for ANF to look at previous entries.  As you’ll see, while I may be methodical, I certainly have been sporadic!

Next up are a series of letters preserved from Ignatius of Antioch – also known as Theophorous, to various churches.  We don’t have much information on Ignatius beyond the account of his martyrdom.  There is a tradition that Ignatius is the young child that Jesus uses as an object lesson in Matthew 18:2, but this is a tradition without any firmer footing.  He lived from AD 30-107.  While on his way to Rome for martyrdom, he wrote a series of letters to various churches and some of these letters have been transcribed and survived in history.  Some of those transcriptions are believed by scholars to be later innovations and not to be credited to Ignatius, but several other letters attributed to him are believed to be more or less authentic.

The only problem is that there exist two forms of his letters – a shorter and a longer form.  Traditionally, the shorter form has been treated as more authentic than the longer version.  I tend to agree with this simply on a basic reading level – the longer versions are heavier with Scriptural referents and other more heavy-handed aspects to them than the shorter form.  While some feel that even the shorter form may have been tampered with at some point historically, we can’t seem to prove this one way or the other.

In this first letter, Ignatius stresses repeatedly the importance of unity in the community of faith, anchored in obedience to their bishop.  He goes so far as to assert  He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself.   In our day when church attendance is viewed oftentimes as a light and optional thing, what a refreshing reminder of how dearly our predecessors in the faith valued their time together!  Take heed,then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise.  For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

I also appreciated Ignatius’ reminder to Christians not to remove themselves from the general society and culture even though their beliefs had to limit their involvement at times.  Such interactions were seen as another means of testifying to the faith.  See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.  This is not the same as the misquote widely attributed to Francis of Assisi – preach the Gospel always and sometimes use words.   Rather, I think Ignatius is getting at the reality that people watch other people, and as they watch Christians they will notice that we live differently and this may lead to questions and conversations where the Gospel can be shared.  This requires care, Ignatius understands.  While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness.  Separating ourselves from those who do not share our faith is not a healthy option, either for Christians of for our neighbors whom we are to be concerned for.

There is also an admonition against what I interpret to be a bumper-sticker religion – a shallowness of faith demonstrated by a quick tongue and actions that don’t back it up.  It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian] than to talk and not to be one.  There are also copious and repeated warnings against false teachers and false doctrine.  We have to understand that not everyone who uses Jesus’ name is doing so for purely altruistic and Biblically consistent reasons.

 

Reading Ramblings – June 24, 2018

June 17, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2018

Texts: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Context: There are alternate texts available for this Sunday to observe the birth of John the Baptist, but I opted not to follow that line. The texts today lead us to wrestle with the otherness of God. We are not privy to much of what He does, or why and how He does it. At times this can make God seem very distant to us, despite his promises that He is always with us. We want to know more, but God is firm that it is not our position to question. As creations we are not privy to the mind of the Creator, but rather are called to trust in him based on what He has said to us in his Word, and what He has done for us in the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ.

Job 38:1-11 – Arguably one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. After chapter upon chapter of Job’s suffering, we anticipate an encounter with God where Job’s questions are answered, his suffering is explained, and he is given the peace of both a restored life and better understanding of the ways of God. And while he’ll eventually have his health and life restored, he isn’t going to get any further in terms of an explanation from God. Instead, God shows up in power and majesty demanding that Job should answer him, rather than the other way around. Who is Job to make demands for explanation from God? Who is God’s equal to demand anything from him? What makes Job think that he will be able to understand what God would explain to him, even if God decided to do so? Job is only a man. His life a brief wisp in human history. God is eternal and the creator of all things, and owes explanations to no one.

Psalm 124 – A beautiful psalm of praise and thanksgiving to the God who did not prevent tribulation, but rather delivered his people rather unexpectedly in the midst of it. The psalm describes some sort of conflict. Might it be David’s personal conflict with Saul, which God preserved David in the midst of and through? Might it be some larger conflict after David ascended the throne? This is one of the songs of ascent, psalms typically recited by the Israelites on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It therefore has a corporate sense to it that makes more sense than simply describing the difficulties of David. Some scholars presume that the psalm was authored by someone other than David, at a date following the Babylonian exile, but there is no evidence for this. Perhaps the psalm is deliberately vague, intended not to reflect a specific event, but to be applicable to a variety of situations which, personal or otherwise, could still be a cause for corporate praise to God. The psalm ends with a statement or affirmation of faith and trust in God. His care in the past is ample reason to trust him in the present and the future.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Although not strictly intended to work with the Gospel and Old Testament lessons, this section does indeed work with them. Paul commends to the Corinthians behavior he has modeled to them, behavior that seeks to be even-keeled in all situations and circumstances, always with an eye towards giving witness to Jesus Christ to those around him. His intent seems to be to encourage the Corinthians towards greater honesty or generosity with him (vs. 11-13). Paul is giving his all for the Gospel, and wishes the Corinthians to enlarge their participation in this as well, perhaps through ministry gifts for him. The Corinthians who have received the very grace of God through Paul’s preaching (vs.1-2) are encouraged to be equally gracious with Paul.

Mark 4:35-41 – The central tension here is not simply the danger of the disciples, but their shock or dismay or anger that Jesus seems unaware and unconcerned with their danger. Assuming a boat large enough to accommodate all 13 of these men, such fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee today purporting to be similar to the ones of Jesus’ day have benches along the sides and back where people can sit, and perhaps it is here that Jesus is sleeping, up off the main deck where the waves are breaking and beginning to overwhelm the ship. Some scholars point out that the water is often a symbol of chaos or even evil for first century Hebrews. While this may be true, we want to avoid attempts to make this a metaphor rather than an actual event. This is not a theological Q&A session about why Jesus doesn’t stop evil in the world, but rather an actual moment of fear and uncertainty for these experienced fishermen. How can Jesus sleep so soundly when they’re in such danger? How can Jesus be so unconcerned about their welfare?

Interestingly enough, this is not a question the disciples are rumored to have repeated later in their lives, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. By then, they did not doubt their Savior’s immense love for them even when their situations were dire and deadly. But here, early on in their experiences with Jesus, they are led to wonder whether He really cares for them. Surely the man who can cast out demons and deliver people from illnesses and disease must be able to provide some sort of protection for them in this storm, and yet He hasn’t!

Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but rather eliminates the cause of their fear and doubt. They are left as they began – with him. This is the one constant in the whole scene, is Jesus’ presence with his disciples. And at the end, it is this presence – the presence of one who can still the waves and the winds – that is their new source of fear. It is only after the storm is dealt with that the disciples are said to be afraid. During the storm they could deal with the storm but not with their rabbi’s disinterest. After the storm they have to come to grips with who is among them – no ordinary rabbi to be sure! No simple healer or wise teacher. Here is someone with real and true power beyond anything they can conceive of. The divine presence is oftentimes a cause for fear – as per Job’s response to the Lord’s appearance in Job 40.

We are never to doubt or fear both God the Father’s constant presence and care as well as his good disposition to us through Jesus Christ. While we may not understand why He allows us to endure certain things, we can rest assured that regardless of the outcome we are eternally safe in his hands.