Sermon: Does it ever feel like Jesus is asleep at the wheel?
Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: June 24, 2018
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” [i]
It was Christmas break of my Freshman year at college and I returned home after a difficult semester. I drove some 20 miles to go meet up with some old high school friends to catch up and catch up we did. The next thing we knew it was after 2 in the morning and I had some thirty minutes to get home. I should’ve known better. Leaving my friends, I got into my faded red 1962 VW Beetle with Sears red shag carpet tiles on the floorboards and curved roof. I was tired.
I started off just fine. The roads were pretty empty and quiet as I traveled about fifteen miles before I fell asleep, ever so briefly, behind the wheel of my car. I know I fell asleep because I was jolted awake when the right front tire went off the road and the old Beetle’s suspension, or lack thereof I should say, bounced my head against the roof and woke me up. Being startled, I did the one thing you’re never supposed to do when you drift onto a road’s shoulder and that is to oversteer in the opposite direction to get back on the road. I jerked the wheel hard to my left and the old faded red 1962 VW Beetle decked out with Sears red shag carpet squares begin spinning 360’s on Old Alabama Road and then flipped over three times before landing on its side forty feet off the road between two massive oak trees. By this time, I was fully awake and realized what happened. While in shock, I kicked the door open above me and slipped out the top of the car. I grabbed the floorboard and somehow managed to flip the car back on its wheels, got in, turned the key and the now crushed faded red 1962 VW with Sears red shag carpet squares started! I gently but very much awake drove the remaining 6 or so miles home and parked the car the last time. It was totaled.
I learned so much that night. I grew up that night. I learned that falling asleep at the wheel in the middle of nowhere at 2 in the morning is a very sobering and scary thing and place to be. You feel totally out of control and your natural instinct is to oversteer and overcompensate in order to prevent an accident; it is just this particular instinct to overreact that actually causes the problem. I learned that night that when confronted with a crisis, you will have better outcomes physically and emotionally if you remain calm. I’ve learned that to be true when driving a car, riding a motorcycle or even getting through the day with challenging team meetings.
Have you ever felt that at times your life was in the midst of careening out of control in a flip and roll cycle? If we are all honest, we would all say, ‘yes.’
You walk in one day and your boss lets you know your services are no longer needed.
You get a routine physical and discover certain levels within your body are out of whack and new tests need to be ordered.
You arrive home one afternoon to discover that your spouse has had a heart attack out back in the garden.
Your retirement funds have been absconded and lost in a Ponzi scheme.
You feel like life is spinning out of control. You feel as though wave after wave of trouble and problems are breaking upon you one after the other. Like the disciples, you look heavenward and desperately cry out, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?!” Sometimes we feel as though Jesus fell asleep at the wheel, and in our Story today, we realize that he literally did!
The Sea of Galilee is circled with mountainous regions that rise up on its eastern, northern, and western sides. The hot air from the deserts come up and over the hills and mix with the colder air from the high mountainous regions of the north and nasty squalls come out of nowhere. Living in Florida, we know what that is like, don’t we? One minute we are playing in the water at the beach and the next minute from out of nowhere a thunderstorm develops and lightening knocks an entire building’s cooling tower and AC like what happened to the Neumann Center yesterday. In a blink of an eye, your world gets turned upside down and inside out. And at that moment, we cry out to God, “Don’t you care we are perishing down here!?”
Jesus has been having an extended teaching and preaching tour among the villages of the northwestern and northern parts of Galilee near the town of Capernaum. It’s late in the day and he hops into a boat with the disciples and we read in Mark how an armada of Jesus seekers follow them. The fact is, Jesus and the others set out at night to cross over to the far eastern shore of the Galilee from the north. If you read the scriptures long enough, you begin to understand that in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments, good things don’t typically happen at night. For our ancient brothers and sisters, the night was a time of shadows and foggy vision. Furthermore, Jesus and the others went out into the night on the chaotic and unpredictable waters of the Sea of Galilee. Mark has painted a verbal picture setting up the first-century perfect storm! Like a Greek chorus who shouts instructions to the actors, we want to yell, “Wait till morning Jesus! There’s no rush to cross the sea at night! We’ve heard of the weather forecast and we’re telling you to please wait ‘till morning!” But Jesus is tired. He’s had a full day and he feels the need to be alone and quiet. He needs rest and gets in the boat and off he goes.
Now at this point, I want us to notice where Jesus was on the boat. Excavations on the Galilee have found boats of his time that he would’ve used was some 27 feet long and Jesus was situated in a strategic place. Well, back in Jesus’ day, the boat was steered from the back or the stern. This is where the rudder is but it is also where the one steering, the helmsman, would be. So where is it we find Jesus in our Story this morning? Jesus is fast asleep at the wheel and seems to be doing a poor job with his divine cruise control! The boat is sinking! The storm is brewing, and water is slamming into and over the sides! This story of Jesus on the water, with shades of the Jonah Story all along the edges, looks as though the boat is going down. Things are spinning out of control. All seems desperate and lost. In the midst of the watery chaos, the disciples collapse into a full-blown panic and start yelling at Jesus to wake up and do something!
And he does. In fact, he does that which only God can do: He exercises control over the perilous realms of nature. Just as God, whose Spirit hovered over Creation’s watery chaos and brought forth order and beauty, so Jesus wakes up and commands the watery chaos to be still; one can even translate it as Jesus telling the chaos and storm to literally “Shut-up!”  And it does. And so too do the disciples in the boat.
Jesus’ outburst is one that calmed two things that night. First, it calmed the storm and crashing waves. Second and perhaps more importantly, Jesus drastically shut the disciples up in order for them to stop and realize how far they had to go in their faith development. There are two types of fear described in our Story today. There is a cowardly fear for losing one’s skin that describes the disciples’ response to the storm, and then, there is flat out terrorizing run for your life fear. The disciples realize Jesus has a spiritual gift set that extends way beyond being pretty good in the pulpit! You see, the disciples were scared of the storm and swamping boat however they were lose-control-of-your-bodily-functions terrified at what Jesus just did! Jesus’ abrupt demand for silence is to jar the disciples’ out of a worldly based hopelessness and complacency and snap them back into the present reality of God’s providential care and concern. As Episcopal priest, Mark Edington says, “Here is the conundrum: Jesus has godlike authority over the primordial chaos; he is king of the created order. Yet the immediate response to this demonstration of kingly power is not joy, not praise, not acclaim, but fear.”
Friends, fear is not necessarily a bad thing as it reminds us to pay attention. Fear can either incapacitate you or it can be a dynamic catalyst for change. The key to handling and encountering fear is that once it gets our attention, we then have to decide how we are going to relate to that which is creating the fear. Do we relate with spiritual hopelessness and fear as the disciples did and complain to God, “Don’t you care we are perishing?” Or perhaps, do we relate with Jesus with the confidence that indeed, he’s got the whole, wide world in his hands? Fear is not a bad thing; how we relate to it determines how it will affect us. Is it hopeless fear that God has abandoned us or is it faithful confidence that indeed nothing can separate us from the love of God, not job losses, cancer, knee replacements, divorces, strokes, nor overdue taxes and bills! We may get the feeling Jesus is asleep at the wheel and life is spinning out of control, but the reality is he is situated in the stern of our life’s ship and has the wheel firmly in hand! Let’s remind ourselves, shall we? Join me in this!
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”
He’s got the whole world in his hands he’s got the whole wild world in his hands
He’s got the whole wild world in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands he’s got the little bitty baby in his hands
He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…
He’s got you and me brother in his hands he’s got you and me sister in his hands
He’s got you and me brother in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…
He’s got everybody here in his hands he’s got everybody here in his hands
He’s got everybody here in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…
What are your fears sisters and brothers? Believe the Good News: Jesus is not asleep at the wheel, but he is what? He’s got the whole world in his hands! Sometimes my friends, we just need to be reminded of this fact that we often forget when life gets a little swirly. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
[i] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Joel Marcus, Mark I-VIII, from the Anchor Bible Commentary Volume 27 (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 339.
 Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 5887-5889). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.