Meg Peery McLaughlin
“Who is This?”
January 26, 2020
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But 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?”
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
They took him in the boat, just as he was.
Just as he was. In Greek, just two words, two letters each, they took him hos eimi.
Matthew and Luke also tell this same story of Jesus calming the storm,
and they are usually way more verbose than Mark,
but they leave that detail out.
Only Mark wants us to know they take Jesus just as he was.
Another Presbyterian minister, a famous one now,
spoke some of the most important gospel words we’ve heard as a church.
I imagine many of us heard them when we were small children.
It’s you I like, It’s not the things you wear, It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like, The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you Not the things that hide you,
But it’s you I like Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like, It’s you yourself It’s you.
Fred Rogers trusted the good news of the gospel,
that he saw and knew in Jesus Christ
and spent most of his ministry on television
teaching children of all kinds and all ages
that they are loved just the way they are.
That’s something you can never hear enough – maybe that’s why the landscape of popular music is covered in that theme.
Like from Billy Joel: I take the good times, I take the bad times
I take you just the way you are.
And Bruno Mars: When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
‘Cause you’re amazing
Just the way you are
Hos eimi. Just as we are. I hope this gets it through our thick skulls.
But, sometimes I wonder:
for it seems to me we are pretty good at putting on brave faces,
numbing out hard feelings, glossing over troubling stories.
And it makes me wonder—
where are the spaces where we don’t try present carefully curated versions of ourselves?
God, I want the church to be a place where we can be who we truly are,
and where we can remind each other that that is the gift God gives us:
no pretending, no showing off,
no hiding, just being who we are,
and hearing the promise of our baptism all over again:
God’s whisper through the water:
Child of God, I love you, just as you are. I know you. You are mine.
When Mark tells us the disciples take Jesus in the boat, just as he was,
I wonder what that meant to the disciples.
Who exactly do they think they are bringing on board?
They’d been traveling along beside him and knew him to be a teacher:
he told stories about mustard seeds and lamps that you don’t hide under bushels.
They knew him to be a healer:
a man, paralyzed, had stood up and walked
people, ostracized because of their leprosy or mental illness,
were made whole, and made welcome.
A Galilean. Mary’s boy. Their friend. Leader. That’s just who he is. . . to them.
But as we know… that’s not just who Jesus is.
As a former English major, I think “just as he was” is the great dramatic irony of the New Testament. They had no idea the totality of this unique man’s power and love… but they would soon find out.
Because the storm comes. The storm always comes. [i]
And it’s in the storm that we get our first clue that Jesus
is not quite who they expected.
When the waves threaten to swamp them, they expect him to respond like they do… like any normal person would. They expect him to panic, or at least react.
But. . . he’s fast asleep. On a cushion.
I’ll give it to him – that’s what I call being a non-anxious presence.
The disciples shake him from slumber, and don’t ask for help, interestingly,
they ask him why he’s not acting. . . like them?
Uh hello. Do you not care that we are dying here?
But then Jesus wakes; he speaks peace and stills the storm.
And Mark tells us there is a dead calm.
I don’t imagine this was the kind of calm that happens
when you’re so completely at ease,
listening to the softness of a child’s breath
or sensing the rise and fall of a pup’s fur beside you.
No, this is a dead calm,
where the silence feels thick and unsettling.
Where the stillness rings in your ears and raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
I can see that sea – glassy smooth now,
and hear the disciples hearts thumping in their chests,
their breath shallow, looking at the sea, looking at each other, looking at Jesus.
Who is this?
The text says they are filled with great awe. But Come on NRSV!
The King James Version says it better “they feared exceedingly.”
I can imagine some other language that would fit. They were scared sh. . silly.
They brought Jesus into the boat just as he was
– but “just as he was” was far more than they bargained for.
And though in this instance his power saves their lives, let’s not miss their response – which is not “thank you” and it’s not a grateful clap on the back.
It’s a question, perhaps muttered with trembling lips:
Who then is this?
Who then is this, that we thought we knew?
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
It turns out, just who Jesus is is nothing more or less than God’s own flesh,
capable of scolding the wind into silence, able to utter a word of peace into the very depths of the sea.
That is some strong gospel for those among us
who know what it is like to be in a storm.
I want to be in the boat with this one for sure.
I want to be in that boat.
In the storm of grief, that tosses us this way and that.
In the storm of life, with its assaulting and alarming news at every turn.
notice, what they don’t ask
They don’t ask: Who is this who can still the storm?
Who is this who can calm everything down?
Who is it that the wind and waves obey?
Because in that dead calm, they know darn well, if Jesus has the ability to command the waves into silence, he also has the power to stir them up.
Has Jesus stirred up stuff in your life?
A year ago we were in Northern Virginia, hiring a new preschool director and organizing an elder/deacon retreat that would grapple with how to keep programs going during construction of the new part of the building. A year ago I could scarcely imagine I’d be standing here. And it feels as if the wind is still loud in my ears. Even so, I’m glad to be in the boat with Jesus.
My friend, Amy, in deep work with her therapist, has started breaking some old patterns in her family. She’s slowly and finally listening to the gospel that tells her she is loved just as she is, which means she need not contort and twist herself into the unhealthy version of herself that her family expected her to be. The water is choppy. And frankly, she doesn’t know how it will all end up. But she is glad to be in the boat with Jesus.
Has Jesus stirred up stuff in your life? your family? your church?
UPC, maybe you are ready for calmer seas.
And here you are with new pastors,
a youth musical that looks a bit different that you’re used to
we’re even talking about new ways to handle your trash for goodness sake.
But I’ll tell you.
This is a good boat.
With some really good disciple friends in it.
And Jesus is in this boat.
The Lord of heaven and earth, of wind and wave.
And Jesus will stir stuff up
and calm storms down
over and over again
and there is nowhere else I would rather be
than with him,
just as he is.
[i] Mary Ann McKibben Dana’s Sermon Who Then Is This? from the Well 2018 is HUGELY influential in this work. I am indebted to her exegesis and her language. “Let’s be honest: we’ll take a sleepy deity, so long as he behaves in ways we expect.”