The world unfurls in Scripture as a land between two trees, and the seas of this unfurled land are whipped up into many storms. In Genesis we hear of the first tree, planted on the idyllic halcyon of a long forgotten shore (Genesis 2.9). This first verdant tree bears the fertile and dangerous fruit of the knowledge of good and evil; that perilous fruit tempts Adam and Eve even though surrounded by rolling vistas of other trees pleasant to the sight and good for food. So it is that the journey across a glorious and perilous world begins for humankind. On the opposite shore, far again from the sight of any of us here this morning, stands another tree, this time not perilous but bearing the fruit of God’s glory. This tree towers upwards and overhead in the Book of Revelation, the vision of God’s kingdom, and through its rugged trunk flows cleansing cold water. It is that tree of life first seeded on the opposite shore, and now heavy with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.2). We, of course, travel in the land and seas between these trees. We are at times beaten by the storms and at other times brought to peace by God as we live and move between these two trees at the beginning and end of all time. We are not alone in this journey. Today’s Gospel shows us that God remains in our midst, in this world, in our storms and in bringing us to peaceful calm. But the Gospel asks us all to ponder: what are our storms, where do we put our trust, and how can God call us to calm?
We will all face difficult and varied storms in our lives, some quotidian, others extraordinary, some as individuals, and others as a community. Tidal changes of life as we move from one home to a new place, whether for study or work, bring exciting and terrifying prospects and tests. Tidal changes of situation, as we enter new or leave old relationships bring turmoil and disorient us. Tidal changes of fortune, of health, wealth, or success, throw us around and leave us holding on desperately. You will know, as I do, what storms you have faced and are likely to face in the near future, and how they can feel like they will drown us.
Then there are the storms which surround us all as a community. Gloomy economic forecasts, bleak employment opportunities, rampant greed and exploitation, homophobia, the anxieties about and in religious groups about their role in society, institutional sexism – these are all just a few of the gale winds whipping up fear and insecurity.
Such fears as we might have as we live between the two trees of Scripture, of Genesis and Revelation, of the beginning and end, are of course shared, literally, by the disciples in today’s Gospel. They set out to cross the lake to a dangerous new shore: the land of the Gerasenes, Gentile territory, a foreshadowing that God’s love and action bursts beyond any one people. The journey threatens the Jewish self-understanding of the disciples as God’s Chosen. The journey becomes perilous itself as gales threaten to sink the boat. And Jesus? Well, he sleeps. The disciples, of course, in a panic awake him – with rough words in Mark – and, at a few words from him, the calm stills. Jesus shows his power over fear and chaos, just like God’s Spirit calming the chaotic waters of the deep at creation. ‘Where is your faith?’ Jesus demands of them, just as he demands of us.
Jesus’ words may seem harsh, but his question reveals where we place our trust, or how far we place our trust in God. In our storms, whether individual or communal, God may very well seem to be asleep, inactive, uncaring, complacently silent. But that is to miss that God is present in our journey, just as Jesus is present in the boat. God remains active even if He seems to sleep. Just as Jesus travels to bring Good News to the Gerasene Gentiles, God shows love to the whole world, even to those whom we find difficult, different, strange, or unworthy. Jesus and God calm our storms, ask us to trust (as hard as that may be), but also challenge us to see with new eyes those with whom we journey or pass on our way.
The disciples have not yet fully understood who Jesus is and what God’s love truly means. They ask, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ He is, of course, the same God who creates, sustains, and redeems an entire world broken by the storms of sin and exiled from that near-forgotten first tree in Eden. He is the same God who draws us to the far shore of this land so that we might live in the sun-dappled shadow of the tree of life with its flowing waters and healing leaves. As we travel between the two trees, then, and as we face our storms, Jesus asks of us, as he did of his disciples, ‘where is your faith?’ May we trust in our God. Amen.