“Teacher—do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).
The Rev. Elise Scott, associate pastor of Ballard First Lutheran in Seattle, was sitting in her office one Saturday when the LYONS (Lutheran Youth Of North Seattle) director came in seeking help. LYONS was presenting a matinee performance of their dinner theater production, and a somewhat disoriented and possibly high young woman had wandered in and begun disrupting the performance. Pastor Scott went to the fellowship hall and gently guided the barefoot and scantily dressed young woman out of the hall and into the courtyard where the following conversation took place:
Pastor Scott: “I’m Pastor Elise Scott. What’s your name?”
Visitor: “I am the first fairy to ever live and one of God’s special ones.”
Pastor Scott: “Do you have some place safe to go?’
Visitor: “God’s got this, – – – – but he’s on vacation.”
Pastor Scott: “Is there anyone I could call to pick you up?”
Visitor: “I’ve got to get out of here.”
And she did, slowly and mysteriously wandering away.
(Personal correspondence from Pastor Scott)
“Teacher—do you not care that we are perishing?”
“God’s got this, – – – – but he’s on vacation.”
We’ve all felt like the young woman Pastor Scott encountered that afternoon—trusting God for the future–God’s got this,” she said, while, in the same moment, feeling like the Holy One is taking some time away from our case. “He’s on vacation.”
Job had certainly begun to feel that way. He had, quite literally, lost everything: wife, family, livelihood, property, friends, position in society and, finally, his faith in God. Now, Job had not lost his belief in God, which is often what we mean when we talk about someone “losing their faith.” Job still knew that God existed. But he had lost confidence in God, lost trust in God. He looked back at his life and complained to God, “What have I done to deserve this?” Job makes an impassioned plea to God, saying in very different words the same thing as the young woman in Seattle: “God’s got this, – – – – but he’s on vacation.”
Of course, the disciples had a literal experience of the Messiah “asleep at the wheel”–Jesus napping while the ship was sinking. Sometimes we have looked at this story and decided it’s about imitating Jesus. We look at the disciples and think, “Well, here they are making things worse by getting upset, allowing their fear and panic to control their actions. Jesus, on the other hand, stays calm in a crisis. And because he keeps himself under control, he is able to exert control over his surroundings. Therefore, we should be like Jesus.” Makes a relative degree of sense, doesn’t it? After all, didn’t the Bible, or the Catechism, or Martin Luther, say, “If you can keep you head when all about you are losing theirs?” Oh, wait, that was Rudyard Kipling, but surely that’s the point of this story, isn’t it?
Well, actually, no, it’s not. Neither the writer of the book of Job nor the evangelist who wrote Mark is interested in our ability to keep our heads and stand on our own two feet and face adversity with calm resolve. As important as all those things might be at times—they are not the message here today.
My Baptist preacher friend, the Rev. Dr. John Fairless, is fond of quoting his Vanderbilt Divinity School professor, Liston Mills. Mills often said that there is really only one important theological question, “Can God be trusted?” That is the question Job is asking: “I have been good. I have done all the things I was supposed to do as a good person. Can I trust that you are really God and that you really love me?”
[Professor] Mills often said that there is really only one important theological question, “Can God be trusted?”
That is the question the disciples are asking in the Gospel lesson. They have seen demonstrations of Jesus’ power to heal and cast out demons. They had left their homes, families and jobs because they thought he was the Messiah. But here they were, in danger of losing their very lives, and there he was asleep in the stern, literally “asleep at the wheel.” Of course they cried out, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
Both Job and the disciples in the boat believed in God and in God’s power. Like the young woman they could say, “God’s got this.” Yet, looking around at their lives, they had a hard time seeing any evidence of God’s reality or God’s goodness. So, with the young woman, they could also say, “but he’s on vacation.”
Is God on vacation? Can God be trusted? Has God got this? The Bible says God is not on vacation. God can indeed be trusted. God does most certainly have this situation, and us, well in hand. The hard part is trusting that fact. The writer of Job reminds us that God is the creator of all that is—that before we were, God is. It’s not exactly, “I made everything that ever was and ever will be—how dare you question me?” It is a reminder that to believe is to trust in God’s larger plan for the world and goodwill toward humanity in the midst of our sometimes perilous personal circumstances. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
And Jesus, in our gospel lesson, asks his disciples, “Why were you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). “Still no faith,” is a call for them to remember what they have seen Jesus do in their time together, to think about the healings, exorcisms and teachings. He asks them, and us, to consider all that when in trouble. With the disciples, we are reminded that God in Christ can indeed be trusted, God in Christ is here with us, God in Christ is neither asleep nor on vacation. God has got this. God has got this, indeed!
Amen and amen.