Intro: In 2004, I was serving as pastor at two Lutheran churches, one in Swift Current, SK, and a second in a small town called Ponteix about 90 km south and east of Swift Current. Boxing Day that year was on a Sunday, and as I drove from the morning service in Swift Current to the afternoon service in Ponteix, I turned the radio on. That is when I first heard the news about a tsunami in Indonesia. At that point the death toll was estimated to be 10,000 to 12,000 people, which is terrible, but the actual number of people killed was actually close to 230,000. Prior to the tsunami, it was a normal day for the people who lived along the shores of the Indian Ocean. Then chaos erupted from the sea, killing hundreds of thousands of people and forever changing the lives of those who survived.
This is what life can be like in this world. We live in a world where chaos can erupt from surprising sources and change our lives forever. But the Good News is that Jesus Christ came into the world to give us hope, a sure and certain hope, a hope that endures throughout whatever chaos we may be facing because it is stronger than that chaos. I want to share that hope with you. That is why I have written this series of blog posts “Life With God” which is based on the book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani.
- Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)
The passage that we will be guiding us as we reflect on how we can have hope in the midst of chaos is Mark 4:35-41. Before we look at the passage, here is some background that will help you to understand what is going on in the events it describes.
In ancient times, the sea was a dangerous place. Violent wind storms would quickly form over the Sea of Galilee easily overwhelm the small boats used by local fishermen. Larger storms in the Mediterranean Sea meant that the wooden ships used in ancient times to carry goods and people were frequently in peril. Back in that time, people did not know how to swim, there was no such thing as life boats, or the Coast Guard, so being tossed into the sea meant certain death. The sea was thought to be a place where evil found a home and monsters dwelled.
We see hints of this association between chaos and the sea in the Bible. The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.” (Gen. 1:1-2a). In its initial form, the earth was covered with the chaotic darkness of the sea, and then God created order out of the darkness, culminating in the Garden of Eden where all of creation, including the first humans, lived in harmony with God and each other. Through human history, God brings order to the chaos that arises from the sea. We see that in the biblical accounts of creation, of Noah and the flood, of Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, and in the passage we are looking at today. Today’s passage takes place on the Sea of Galilee, a large lake in the northern part of what is present-day Israel. Going out on a body of water like this in a small boat made one vulnerable to chaos from the sea.
On this one particular day, Jesus had been teaching a large crowd of people alongside the Sea of Galilee, and we now turn to Mark’s record of what happened next.
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
The events in this passage give us a picture of what life is like for us. We may not go out on a large lake in a small boat, but we do experience storms in life. We can get called into a meeting with Human Resources where we are told that our employment at that business has come to an end. We may go to a doctor because of some nagging symptoms and, after a series of tests and weeks of waiting, we find out that we have cancer. Or perhaps you share a secret with your closest friend, and then you find out that they have shared it, with commentary, all over social media.
These storms can happen to anyone at any time. And what we human beings tend to do is turn to religion as a way of having hope as the chaos swirls around us. I am defining religion as faith that is based on human activity. Having a religious posture towards God happens in all religions, including Christianity, even though Christianity is not a religion because it is based on our relationship with God, not on our human activity towards him. What happens within Christianity is that we tend to take what we do, which should be the result of our faith, and make it the main part of our faith. It then becomes our religion and we end up trusting in ourselves and our abilities instead of trusting in God and his love for us. The result is usually one of four religious postures or ways that we relate to God.
In the Life under God posture, obedience to divine commands is seen as our only hope in a culture that no longer knows the difference between right and wrong. But what do you do when you do all the right things and a storm still comes? In the Life Over God posture, hope is secured by using the principles God put in the universe to steer to a place of personal safety. But what happens when you follow all the principles and the good life still doesn’t happen for you? In the Life From God posture, hope comes when God fulfills our dreams and desires. But what do we do when we don’t get what we want, or we do get what we want and our life still seems empty because it is never enough? In the Life for God posture, we look for hope in the purpose we think will come to us when we give ourselves to mission. But what do we do when we give ourselves to mission and we end up with disillusionment, heartbreak and grief because our experiences did not meet our expectations?
And when we use religion to gain hope, we end up with two major problems. The first problem we experience is that any hope we gain through religion is a false hope because it cannot withstand the storms that life throws at us.  Imagine for a moment a parent who has placed all of her in the health and well-being of her child. All parents want their children to be healthy and to thrive, but in this case, that child is her mother’s primary source of hope. If a threat comes near their child, the mother becomes hyper-anxious. If the child dies, she is devastated, and understandably so. But we have to have a source of hope that is greater than our children, or our health, or our work, or our abilities. Because all of those things are vulnerable and temporary. All of them will eventually decline and fail. They were never meant to withstand the chaos that can arise in this life. Whatever our external source of hope may be, when it gets caught up in a storm, then we are filled with intense fear just like the disciples who were caught in the storm. We might even say in our more prayerful moments, “God, don’t you even care that I am perishing?”
The second problem with using religion to gain hope is that, while it can offer certainty to people, it only offers that certainty to those who conform. Those who do not conform have to lose their dignity, that is, become less than themselves, in order to stay, or they have to leave. We see this in the four biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was the religious Pharisees who had all the certainty about who was on the right side of life with God and who wasn’t. But it was the tax collectors, the prostitutes and other sinners who Jesus hung around with. They were attracted to Jesus because they found in him something wonderful that they had never experienced before: unconditional love and grace. The challenge for Christian churches is for us to not be like the religious Pharisees where we only accept people if they conform to our ideas of and instead be a community where people experience unconditional love and grace, like they did in Jesus’ presence. And it begins by turning away from using religion to gain a source of hope and instead living Life With God.
2. Life With God and Hope
When we live Life With God, we recognize that relationship, not religion, is at the center of all creation. We know that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a relational God whose passionate desire is to have a relationship with us. We were created by God in his image so we too are relational beings. We were built for relationship with God and with each other. God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, into the world as his exact representation so that we could get to know God, fall in love with him, and treasure him above everything else in our lives. Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die to pay the full cost of our forgiveness so that we could be reconciled to and united with God. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and continually communes with our spirit so that we can experience Life With God. Life with God is what Paul was wishing for the Christians in Corinth when he wrote: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [being united with God], the love of God [God treasuring us and us treasuring God], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [ongoing communion with God] be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)
Life With God is totally different from the religious ways of relating to God. First, our hope is not based on fickle external circumstances working out for us. Our hope is God. And God gives us hope on two levels. God gives us hope on a cosmic level through his promise to restore and renew all of creation. This higher altitude hope is unfolding in four stages: First, God created order out of the chaos through the process of creation. When his creative work was complete, God declared that it was very good. Second, humanity was thrown back into chaos when the first human beings rebelled against God. Third, God is with us in the midst of our chaos giving us hope in the midst of our storms. God not only provides a boat for us to ride out the storm, he is also with us in the boat, just like Jesus was with the disciples when they were facing a storm. Like the Sunday School song goes, “With Jesus in my boat I can smile in the storm.” The fourth stage of cosmic hope, which is yet to come, will happen when Jesus comes back to this world in a visible way and dispels all the chaos from this world forever. We will live with God in his all-encompassing peace forever in the new creation. This is what is being described in Revelation 21:1 which says: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. (Rev. 21:1) The sea is gone in the new heaven and earth because the chaos is gone, and it will never trouble us again.
God also gives us hope on a personal level. God is not only going to renew and restore all of creation. God is also going to renew and restore us. The story of our one and only life is within the larger story of God and the hope that he gives us is not wishful thinking. It is something dependable and true like a massive anchor that keeps us centered and secure even in the midst of a great storm.
This lower altitude hope anchors us because we know where we are in the Story. We know that our story fits into God’s third stage of cosmic hope. Storms may surround us, but God has lifted us out of the water, placed us in a boat of his own making and then climbed into our boat with us. God is with us and that is why we always have hope even when circumstances turn against us. And we know that we are headed towards the fourth stage of cosmic hope when Jesus will return this world and make us and all things new. We know that we will be in the new heaven and earth to come with God and there will be “…no more death or sorrow or crying or pain…” and everything will be made new, including us (see Rev. 21:4-5).
And this hope has been given to us as a totally free gift. This means that we do not need to lose our dignity in order to gain hope. God the Father’s love for us, Jesus’ forgiveness for us, and the Holy Spirit’s communion with us are all free, unconditional gifts to us from God which we receive through faith, that is, through trust, in God. Our faith is simply our hands open wide to receive the greatest gift one could ever imagine, Life with God.
3. Connecting With Hope
During the time of slavery in the United States, our enslaved sisters and brothers in Christ showed us how to have hope in a dire situation. They were considered to be the property of their masters who could do with them whatever they wanted. Some were forced to go to a white church with their master, but there was no hope proclaimed for them there. The only times that the sermons were directed towards our enslaved brethren was when they were told to obey their masters and not steal. But they would also meet together with other slaves in the bush or other safe and secluded spots in what were called “hush harbors.” Being careful not to be discovered, they would have their own times of worship together there. In the Scriptures they read and in the songs they sang, they would hear about the God who came into this world to set the captives free and begin the process of renewing and restoring all things. They would often also have their own personal “hush harbor” times of being alone with God to re-center themselves in their life with God. Though, in their present, their life was filled with misery and bondage, they knew that it was not always going to be that way. A day was coming for them when they were going to be able to experience the fullness of those words in the well-known spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”
We also need to have “hush harbors.” The incessant demands of daily life can suck the life out of our soul and enslave in a form of spiritual bondage. We too need times of worship with our sisters and brothers in Christ to be reminded of our personal place in God’s great story of hope. We also need quiet times alone with God so he can nourish our soul with his presence. As the author of Hebrews writes, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25)
Conclusion: Because of their Life with God, the American slaves had a peace and a dignity that defied their circumstances. One slave from Maryland named Jacob made a personal practice of stopping work to pray in quietness three times a day. His master, a horrible man named Saunders, was enraged over this. One day, while Jacob was kneeling in prayer, Saunders came up to him, pointed a gun at his head and told Jacob to stop praying and get back to work. Jacob finished his prayer and then told Saunders to go ahead and pull the trigger. Jacob said, “Your loss will be my gain. I have two masters—Master Jesus in heaven, and Master Saunders on earth. I have a soul and a body; the body belongs to you, but my soul belongs to Jesus.” Saunders was so unnerved by Jacob’s courage and strength that he never threatened him again.
Praying Jacob has shown us that Life With God can be lived anywhere by anyone. We don’t have to go to a far-off land as a missionary. We don’t have to serve in a special role in a church. We don’t have to leave our present role in life to go somewhere else and do something different in order to live a life that God sees as significant. The presence of God in our lives makes our everyday life holy whether we are changing someone’s diaper or changing someone’s destiny. Everyone who is living life with God is living a significant, even sacred, life.
Dear friends, your life, no matter how mundane it may seem to be, is sacred and of eternal significance. God is with you and his presence in your life with give you a hope that will never fail you. No matter what may happen with your external circumstances, you will always have life with God, and because you will always have life with God, you will always have hope.
So my challenge for you today is to build into your life times and places that can be your “hush harbors.” Make a habit of having a weekly time of worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ to re-center the story of your life in God’s great story of cosmic hope. Develop a rhythm of daily times, maybe like Jacob it’s three times a day, when you go away by yourself for a few minutes of quietness with God so you can reconnect with the One who gives you hope.
It could be a few minutes of quiet prayer in the morning before you go to work or school, maybe you go for a walk during lunch and talk to God while enjoying some fresh air, or perhaps you drift off to sleep thinking about God and the ways that you saw him at work during the day. Those are only examples, but there are many different ways that we can build hush harbors into our lives to remind ourselves that God is with us and he is our unshakeable source of hope. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on June 23, 2019. For more info about Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, go to wglc.org)
 Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 143.
 Jethani, 143.
 Jethani, 153-154.
 Jethani, 154-155.