“Faith in Jesus, The Word of God” (January 26, 2015; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

For the Spring 2015 semester, during daily chapels at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana, there is a special sermon series on the Gospel According to Saint Mark.  Below is the third of the several sermons I have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”—Mark 4.40[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This past Friday, for his senior chapel talk, Parker Guillot spoke on Mark 4.30-34, the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to that of the mustard seed’s growth, that “when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”[2] God’s Word, spoken through and manifested in the Person of Jesus, is the mustard seed, itself. When God’s Word is received and planted within the hearts of those who believe, it becomes, like the mustard seed, “the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches…” When this happens, the Kingdom of God becomes more real and felt both by and among God’s people on Earth. As Jesus Himself taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[3]

From last week’s series installment describing faith in God’s Word being “like a grain of mustard seed,”[4] we see an immediate illustration by way of today’s Mark series installment, the story of Jesus calming a storm on the sea. In the story, Jesus and His disciples are in a boat on the sea. “The waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.” The disciples are terrified. Jesus was in the boat’s stern sleeping. Fearing for their lives, they wake Jesus up, frantically shouting, “Do you not care that if we perish?” Jesus wakes up and immediately calms the storm: “Peace! Be still!” He then says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” The disciples are bewildered and amazed at what they have just seen, wondering who this Person is in front of them, being that Nature itself obeys His word.

Two things are being conveyed to us. First, the fact that the storm immediately subdues at Jesus’ command conveys that He is more than just a regular human being. In addition to His humanity, this story puts forth the truth of Jesus’ divinity. To both the disciples and us, Jesus is shown to be God in human flesh. He is the personal, living God who intervenes in the experience of men with a revelation of his power and His will.[5] As God, Jesus has dominion over the forces of nature, proven through His words “Peace! Be still!” to the wind and sea. Jesus’ words reflect back to what we hear in both Genesis and the Gospel According to Saint John: “And God said, ‘Let there be…’ And it was so”[6] and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”[7] Being that Jesus created the wind and the sea, it makes sense that He has the power to control them. This story connects with the mustard seed parable in that it shows the power of Jesus’ words and how they can subdue any sort of storm that may rage.

Second, Jesus’ questioning of the disciples connects with what He said in the preceding pericope about the mustard seed growing up, in that it shows that even though Jesus, God’s Word, was there with them, the disciples still lacked in faith, unable to realize that all would be well. With the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the disciples were clued in to the revelation that the Kingdom of God had come near in the Person of Jesus, but, because of their terror of the wind and sea, they were blind to this realization. This is why Jesus chastises them: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” The disciples had no need to fear, for Jesus, God Himself, was with them. The fact of their misunderstanding is evident by way of their aweing question: “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” For us, this conveys the truth that is the Word of God. When the Word of God is planted in us, it grows and becomes strong and firm. As God’s Word continually grows within us, so does our faith, which gives us the courage to trust that whatever life throws at us, there is no power on Earth that will be able to defeat us.

When I was in seminary in New York City, completing my second year and going into my third year, I experienced the most trying period of my life in regards to my faith. I was a person of particular theological convictions, whereas the majority of my classmates held to theological convictions that were very much different from my own. This caused me to feel like I was an outsider, wonder why I wanted to be a Priest, and even caused me to not want to attend daily chapel for a time. It was during my third and final year, doing my field education work at Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue), one of The Episcopal Church’s great Anglo-Catholic parishes, in which my crisis of faith began to subside. Sitting in a pew, Sunday after Sunday, near the high altar behind the parish’s famous Choir of Men and Boys, hearing the sermons preached from the great pulpit, full of surety and conviction in the truth of God’s Word, brought me back to my faith and THE FAITH. Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue) became more than a field education site to me; it became an extension of my family. The parishioners’ witnessing to the Christian faith drew me out of my deep desert space and I will forever be grateful for the role they played in bringing me back to my faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.

From today’s series installment, the Good News that we are given is that the Word of God is true and has the power to subdue the storms that rage in our lives. Although it may seem that the storms of life are crashing in on us and that there is no hope to be found, there is hope and His name is Jesus. That is how community can be important. Through prayer, support, and love, our community can help us get through those tough times, assuring us that there is still hope and that all shall be well. Here is how we, Ascension Episcopal School, manifest our faith in the Word and Kingdom of God: “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” May we be people of faith, firmly rooted in the Word—Jesus Christ.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright © 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Mark 4.32

[3] Matthew 6.10

[4] Mark 4.31

[5] Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 176.

[6] Genesis 1.1-2.3

[7] John 1.2-3

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