I am a terrible fisherman. It isn’t that I don’t like to fish. There are few things I enjoy more than getting on a boat, rod and tackle in hand, in search of a good meal. It is really more that I don’t do it often enough to know what I’m doing. There is both a science and an art to fishing, and I know neither. I don’t know what time of year what fish are biting. I don’t know what time of day is best. I don’t know what kind of bait to use to catch which fish. I don’t even know how to filet my catch into something edible. When I go fishing, I am 100% at the mercy of my guide. When I would go night fishing with my friend, Brad, I trusted him to get us to the right spots, to rig the lines the right way, and to bring us home with a mess of speckled trout. When my dad and I went out in search of red fish near Alabama Point, we paid a guy who knew the water, knew the habits, and, most importantly, knew how to keep us from running aground.
Trusting in someone else’s knowledge has worked for me almost every time I’ve gone fishing. Almost. Then, there was the time I went out on the Blue Sky in search of tuna. It was to be a twenty-four-hour fishing expedition. We left at about 5:30 in the evening and were headed ninety miles off shore. I trusted that the captain would get us there safely, that the deckhands would put us on some big fish, and, erroneously, that the weather man would be correct. After dinner, a few beers, and good conversation watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, we all turned in to get some sleep ahead of our two am wake up call. Somewhere in those few hours of sleep, the forecast for one to two-foot seas became a reality of six to eight-foot swells.
I can remember it vividly, even as I’ll spare you the vivid details, but with the combination of diesel fumes, a wildly undulating oil platform that in the dark of night looked like a giant spider bathed in yellow flood lights, and the rocking of the boat, by the time our second fish came aboard, I was doing a great job of chumming the water. I didn’t really know what to do. Ninety miles off shore, on a fifty-four foot boat, there isn’t really anywhere to go, and I knew inside the cabin would make things worse. As my buddies fished and the deckhands worked to bring the giant fish over the gunwale, I wondered if anyone cared that I existed at all. Were they all hoping that maybe I would just perish so that they could fish without the sound of me retching behind them.
Just then, the captain came down from his perch in the crow’s nest, high above deck with two pills in his hand. “Take these,” he said, and I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t question. I trusted Captain Richard to know what to do about sea sickness. I popped those two pills and six hours later, I woke up. The seas hadn’t calmed much, but my stomach had.
Jesus and his disciples trusted one another. James, John, Peter, and Andrew had all been called by Jesus right off of their fishing boats. He knew that they knew the Sea of Galilee like the backs of their hands. They’d fished deep into the night. They’d experienced its violent squalls. They’d seen everything that the Sea of Galilee had to offer, and so Jesus took the opportunity to rest. The disciples, for their part, knew that Jesus had miraculous powers. They had seen him heal many women and men. They had watched as he touched a man with leprosy and made him clean. They knew that he was a special gift from God and they trusted that Jesus was always going to take care of them.
And so, it was, that one night, Jesus had wrapped up his teaching for the day, and when he said, “let’s go to the other side,” they all loaded up and went, no questions asked. Now, it must be pointed out here that this was no ordinary trip for Jesus and his disciples. In Mark’s Gospel, this is the first trip outside of Galilee. Leaving from Capernaum, they were headed east, across about six miles of lake to the region of the Decapolis, a Greek speaking area, filled with Roman citizens. They were, for all intents and purposes, headed to Gentile territory. Jesus’ disciples trusted that he knew what he was doing. They must have assumed that he had a plan for what they would do when they arrived, and so, without any hesitation, they headed to Gergesa.
As the story goes, in the dark of the night, a storm rose up such that the seasoned fishermen had never seen before. It would have taken a real doozy of a storm to scare the sons of thunder, James and John, but Mark tells us that all of the disciples were convinced they were going to sink. No doubt, they all knew of someone who had found their demise 141 feet deep in the Sea of Galilee during a swift moving storm. In the midst of their fear, the first thing to sink to the bottom of the lake was their trust in Jesus who was asleep in the back of the boat.
“Teacher!” Not master. Not Lord. Those honorifics were swept up in the howling wind. Tonight, Jesus wasn’t a miracle worker from God, but he had been demoted to teacher, the one who they had chosen to hitch their wagons to and were beginning to wonder why. “Teacher! Don’t you care that we are perishing?!?!” This is perhaps the most challenging rebuke anyone could give to Jesus. Don’t you care? Of course, Jesus cares. He cared about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. He cared about the man with the withered hand. He cared about the crowds of thousands that pressed in upon him. God cares about everyone, that’s why God sent Jesus to earth to proclaim the Good News of salvation for all people.
Jesus most certainly did care, and so he jumped up, and with the harsh words of anger rebuked the wind and calmed the waves. Jesus deeply cares, and so when the ordeal was over, he looked his disciples square in the eyes and said, “Why don’t you trust me yet?”
It is not uncommon in times of hardship to cry out to God and wonder, “don’t you care?” With the world changing so rapidly, it can feel like a mighty storm has whipped up on us in the dark of night. It would seem that we have every reason to be frightened, and to wonder if all that we had hoped for might be for not. It is totally natural to lament what feels like God’s absence, as if God were asleep at the helm of the entire universe, and wonder, does God really care about us? No one said the life of faith would be easy. In those moments of doubt, when our trust in God seems to be wavering, we are in good company. Even Jesus’ closest friends had trouble holding on to that trust in hard times.
What this story helps me remember is that like Captain Richard, God is always paying attention. God knows what you are going through because God is right there in the boat with you. God does care, and even in those moments when God chooses not to stop the wind or calm the waves, God is there. God will never abandon us to the pit. The world may be rocking and rolling under our feet, but God is there. God loves you, and God will never leave you alone.
When Jesus and his disciples get to the other side, they will be greeted by a man possessed with a legion of demons. The momentary calm after the storm will break and fear will once again strike the disciples. Yet, there again, Jesus won’t abandon them. Nor will he abandon the demoniac. God’s compassion and love knows no bounds. God’s mercy is everlasting. God cares – about you and about the whole world. Amen.