June 24, 2018 reflection
Mark 4:35-41/ 1 Samuel 17;57-18:5, 10-16
Is It Well with My Soul?
This is the story of when the Methodist Father John Wesley was on his way to the American colonies as a missionary. He was on the ship when suddenly a great storm hit the ocean. As you might imagine, he was scared. Then he noticed a group of people praying and singing with joy like nothing was happening. He was intrigued. He couldn’t understand. How can it be that anyone who may die in the middle of the ocean sing with joy? They were a group of Moravian Christians from Germany. He later asked one of the Moravians if they had not been afraid. He answered that none of them had been afraid, not even the children. Their faith was so strong that they were not afraid to die. This made John Wesley, clergy of the Church of England feel ashamed. He realized that his faith was not strong enough to overcome the fear of death. But you see, Wesley was not only a priest but also an Oxford academic. He must have approached faith and God in a highly scholarly manner, unlike the simple and humble Moravians. The word ‘simple’ sometimes reminds us of ‘stupid’ (the word ‘simpleton’, for example); but I don’t mean anything negative for the Moravians, for they were beautifully simple people. They made such a strong impression on Wesley that they became his inspiration and guidance for the rest of his life. They inspired him to yearn the perfect assurance of salvation, which eventually led him to the famous conversion experience, which made his heart strangely warmed. By the way, his American mission was a disaster, but that’s another story.
While reading today’s gospel text where Jesus says to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”, I pictured Jesus asking the same questions to John Wesley on the ship to America, and Wesley feeling ashamed like the disciples of Jesus must have felt. What about us? Can you picture Jesus asking us the same questions? I can easily picture it. In fact, I hear the variations of those questions in my head a lot. If it’s not “why are you afraid?”, it can be “why are you worried” or “anxious”; but it always ends with the same question, “Do you still have no faith?”
The Lake of Galilee was notorious for its storms. They would suddenly come out of nowhere and terrify people. I’m sure the first disciples, some of whom were fishermen by trade, were familiar with this terror. One interesting thing about how Jesus rebukes the storm is that it is the exact same way he rebukes the demons possessing a man in chapter 1. The connection between a storm and demons might not occur to us scientific people, but in those days, natural disasters were believed to be the works of the evil power. If we read this text knowing this ancient belief, we can easily take this story as a metaphor for our lives’ ordeals. The point of this story is not that Jesus calmed the storm; rather, that his disciples experienced peace in the midst of the storm because they were with Jesus. If you think of how Matthew presents the same story, it makes more sense. When the disciples meet with the scary storm in Matthew’s gospel, they were alone. Then they see Jesus coming towards them while walking on water, and initially think Jesus is a ghost. But then when they realize it’s really him, Peter attempts to walk on water like Jesus. He did well while his eyes were fixed on Jesus, but as soon as he got distracted by the violent waves, he suddenly got scared and started sinking. Remember the joke I once shared with you? Peter shouts, “I’m drowning!” And Jesus replies, “Hi Drowning, I’m Jesus.”
The reason why the disciples were not scared any more was because Jesus was with them. In Matthew, the reason why Peter was able to walk on water even for a moment was because his eyes were on Jesus. The inner peace that we can experience when we pray, and after we pray, either alone or with other people as a community, comes not because God takes away our problems right away like the magic Genie in the bottle; it comes to us because we experience God’s presence enveloping us. Whether God takes away our problems or not, we receive peace and the courage to face our problems. Trusting in God and maintaining an intimate relationship with God give us peace and cast out fear even in the midst of storms. There is another thing that the scripture says that casts out fear; it is love. 1 John 4:18 says, “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” If we believe in God and follow Jesus, it’s for God’s love for us and our love for God, not for the fear of punishment, which was an evangelism tactic for a long time and still is for some churches. Love expels fear, which is what happened to Jonathan, the son of Israel’s first king Saul. According to 1 Samuel, after David defeated the giant warrior Goliath, he met King Saul and his son Jonathan. And this is how the scripture testifies Jonathans’ love for David; “There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.” Doesn’t it sound like love at first sight, and an act of covenant between two people in love? And I’ll tell you what Jonathan’s love enables him to do later. Spoiler alert; Jonathan, who is the heir to his father’s throne, realizes that God chose David to replace King Saul who didn’t stay faithful to God, and does everything in his power to help David. He even helps David escape his father’s wrath when he attempts to kill him. He risks his own life to protect David. According to John’s gospel, there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend. Love expels fear indeed; and apparently, the desire to become king too, for which he was entitled by the laws of men. And when Jonathan is eventually killed in a battle, David mourns his death most grievously; he tore his clothes and fasted. When I think of Jonathan’s dedication and sacrifice for David, I ask myself, if that is not true love, I don’t know what is. I mean, the man loved David so deeply that assuming his father’s throne was not important at all. How many King’s sons did that in history?
Love expels fear. Trust in God expels fear. Trust in God gives us the kind of peace that this world cannot offer us; this is the kind of peace Jesus said he offers us in John 14:27. I once shared the story of a Korean pastor during the Korean War, who adopted the North Korean soldier who had killed his two sons. Today, we will sing a hymn written by a man who had lost his four daughters in a sinking ship. It is said that Horatio Spafford wrote this hymn when he visited the spot where his daughters drowned. Yes, it is difficult to understand how that is possible. How can we recover and praise God after our children have died? How can we forgive and love someone who has killed our children? It would destroy us, wouldn’t it? But the Bible stories and the stories of Christians who lived before us, and some Christians who live among us too, teach us that by the power of the Holy Spirit, through an intimate relationship with God, we can receive the kind of inner peace that surpasses our common sense.
Last Sunday, I recommended silent prayer, meditating on the Bible, and actively seeking learning opportunities for spiritual growth. Continuing our last Sunday’s theme of spiritual growth, this week, let us focus on developing an intimate relationship with God that will increase our faith. I observed that the longer my cat Melody lives with me, the more she trusts me. Now, she doesn’t even move when my foot is flying towards her; she knows that I will not harm her. Likewise, the more we spend time and develop our relationship with God, the more we can trust God; even when God’s foot is flying towards us. Let us practise silent prayer that will increase our faith and inner peace. Silent prayer is about total silence of our mind and senses; we shut down all our thoughts and senses to just chill with God. Personally, I started practising silent prayer by imagining myself floating in the middle of the vast ocean and that everything surrounding me is God’s spirit. It helps to use your imagination at the beginning, but with practice, it gets easier to focus. Therefore, while we wonder how Mr. Spafford could praise God after his daughters have died, which is normal, let us continue to seek the peace that only God can offer us, the peace that surpasses human understanding. So, today I will end my message by saying, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim