In the Same Boat

Mark 4:35-41

Phobos megas.

In today’s Greek lesson, class, we find a noun and its modifying adjective.

The noun is phobos.  It is related to the English word phobia.  And we all know what a phobia is, right?—in part, maybe, thanks to that movie from 1990 called Arachnophobia.  Did you see it?  In this movie, a species of killer South American spiders hitches a ride to the U. S. in a coffin and begins to go to work here, provoking an outbreak of fear.  Arachnophobia: fear of arachnids, or spiders.

Then we have the adjective, megas.  This Greek word is related to the prefix mega in English, especially used in technical language: there’s megabyte, megaton, and megameter.  In technical English, it’s the prefix for a million: 1 megabyte = 1,000,000 bytes.  In Greek, however, it’s not so precise; it simply means great.

Put these together and you have phobos megas: great fear.  If you like the technical take, it’s something like fear magnified by a million.

Have you ever experienced phobos megas?

I related a story to you some time ago about my childhood, having to do with a seven-foot man.  That story involved a good deal of fear for me, my older brother Andy, and our neighbor Donny.  We knew phobos for sure.  But I’m not ready to say it was phobos megas.

Phobos megas suggests much more, something along the lines of the expression “giving up the ghost.”  Have you ever experienced a time of such great danger and fear that you wanted just to give up?  That this was it?

Maybe you’ve been in a terrible car crash, and there was a moment within it when you said to yourself, “There’s nothing more I can do.  The situation I am in is totally out of my control.  Whatever happens to me, happens.  I’m in God’s hands now; but I won’t be surprised if it all ends right here.”  Have you ever been here?  A time of great fear, of phobos megas?

Something along these lines is what the disciples experienced that day on the Sea of Galilee; that day when a sudden windstorm arose, kicking up fearsome waves that began even to swamp their boat; that day when Jesus—what!—he’s asleep, on a cushion!  Oh, good grief!

Yes, there he lies, wind, fearsome waves, and thick anxiety all around him. And he’s asleep!  Probably dreaming up another parable.  Like that one he taught recently.

There once was a man, a sower, who went out to sow some seed.  This man had so much seed that he flung it heedlessly everywhere.  Here, there, on the road, on the rocks, in the weeds, on good soil—it didn’t matter!

Oh, but the soils matter!  For one of these soils is the road, basically impenetrable; and the seeds that fall here are quickly snatched up by the birds.

Another soil is rocky and shallow.  The seeds that fall into it take root quickly and grow a little; but they’re soon scorched by the heat and lack of moisture in the shallow, rocky soil.

A third soil seems decent enough.  The seeds take root; they find moisture in the ground; and they begin to grow.  But as they reach a certain height they encounter weeds with thorns and thistles—weeds that stifle and suffocate their productivity.  In the end, sadly, these third-soil seeds give up, never reaching maturity.

It’s only the seeds that fall on the fourth soil that establish firm roots, grow productively, and reach maturity.  That is, they eventually bear fruit that yields more seed for the generous sower.

And, don’t you see, we need to be like the fourth soil.  We need to be disciples of Jesus that grow to maturity and thus produce more disciples of Jesus.  The first, second, and third soils don’t do this.  Only the fourth soil does.

And look at him now, asleep on that cushion!  Isn’t he just the picture of the perfect fourth soil!  He’s not affected at all by the cares and concerns of this world.  Why, the boat is swamping and he just keeps sleeping!  But neither is his faith shallow, easily withered; nor has his faith been quickly snatched away by the birds.  Isn’t he just the picture of fourth-soil faith!

So we should not be affected by the cares and concerns of our world!  So we should not be affected by phobos megas!

It’s not just this parable either. Did you hear the psalmist’s words this morning (107:23-30)?

Some went down to the sea in ships and plied their trade in deep waters;

They beheld the works of the LORD and his wonders in the deep.

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose, which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; their hearts melted because of their peril.

They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then were they glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

God turns our chaos into stillness; our phobos megas into gladness.

Or at least that’s how it should be for us, right?

We’re disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are fertile ground for God’s Word, for Jesus Christ and his teaching.  We should therefore be like Jesus—who, when the storms of life rise up; when the chaos of our daily routines seems to overwhelm everything else, we’re just like Jesus, right?  We’re calm.  We’re free from anxiety.  Though the boat of life is being swamped by the overwhelming and chaotic storms at hand, we’re able to sleep through it all peacefully—just like Jesus!  Because we’re faithful disciples.

Or! Are we more like the disciples of this story?

They don’t seem to share the psalmist’s sentiments.  A severe windstorm rises up and begins to swamp the boat.  Jesus is awakened and he shouts, “Peace!  Be still!”  And immediately the wind and the waves cease.

According to the psalmist, the disciples should have been glad because of the calm Jesus brought!  Instead, they were seized by phobos megas and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”

We should be like the psalmist, glad when God brings order to our chaotic world.  But we’re more like the disciples.

Though they should, the disciples don’t share the same sentiments as the psalmist.

And though they should have a fourth-soil faith, they seem instead to have a faith of one of the other soils.

Think about this.  The disciples are mostly fisherman.  And today they are merely going through routine motions.  They’re on familiar turf when they hop in a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee.  A squall comes up.  So what!  It’s nothing too out of the ordinary.  These are fisherman.  They’re accustomed to this sort of thing.

But the man Jesus?  Well, he’s a carpenter.  He’s used to working with wood.  This is not his turf.  This is not his daily routine.  The truly amazing thing here is that he is able to sleep in the first place.  He’s the one on the boat not accustomed to this sort of thing.  How can he sleep at all?

Throughout, Jesus is a model of the fourth-soil faith he so recently taught in the parable about the sower and the seeds.  But the disciples aren’t!

Instead, the disciples are either choked out by the cares and concerns of the storm or—worse!—show rocky-soil faith or even no faith at all!

More often than not, aren’t we more like the disciples than like Jesus?

We all have our daily routines, our familiar turf.  And as we cross this lake of life daily, many days are in fact just routine for us.  Fine and well.  But what happens when a little chaos confronts us?  What happens when a sudden windstorm arises that we didn’t see coming?  Do we trust Jesus with all our heart?  Or, more likely, do cares and concerns choke out our faith?  Does our faith become shallow, or even non-existent?  Does phobos megas take faith’s place?

Here’s the thing about fear—a picture I want to leave with you, a familiar one: maybe it will leave an indelible impression.

A young child is suddenly frightened awake out of a terrifying dream in the middle of the night.  Mom runs into the room and scoops her son into her arms.  He is wide-eyed, crying, stammering unsuccessfully to put into words what he has just witnessed behind his eyelids; she shushes and soothes gently, wiping sweaty locks from his forehead, holding him reassuringly.  And then she says, “Dear boy, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

A familiar scenario, right?

But, as endearing as this picture is, this is not the message Jesus is giving us today.  He does not tell us that there is nothing to fear.  Quite to the contrary, there is a great deal to fear, and he knows it.  I merely have to say a few words to prove it: ISIS; Sandy Hook; Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But Jesus’ message to us, thankfully, is not, “There is nothing to be afraid of”; rather, it is, “Dear sons and daughters, do not fear, for I am with you.”

In your daily routines, storms will arise; chaos will confront you.  Do not be seized by phobos megas.  Instead, remember that you are not alone; remember that Jesus Christ—along with your fellow disciples—is right there with you, in the same boat.

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