“The Storms of Life” Colchester Federated Church, June 20, 2021, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 4:35-41)

In our Gospel story from Mark Chapter 4 Jesus and his disciples seek to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in a boat, leaving the crowds behind.  Other boats follow along.  However, Jesus and the disciples have a moment to just be by themselves.  A storm arises.  Gale-force winds kick up and the waves crash against the boat so that the boat is swamped.  Meanwhile Jesus is in the rear of the boat sleeping on a pillow.  The disciples panic, waking Jesus up—“Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”[1]

The fear is certainly understandable.  Weather conditions still make people afraid.  In the Midwest, we often fear blizzards and tornadoes (and had to regularly perform tornado drills in school to be prepared).  In New England, we may fear nor’easters and hurricanes.  Our own church steeple blew off during the hurricane of 1938.  That hurricane was the deadliest and costliest storm in Connecticut’s history.  And many families had their own stories to tell from that disaster (including some of you).  Thus the fear of the disciples experiencing a storm in that boat is justified considering some of the damage that can be caused by natural disasters. 

Certain weather events cause us to be afraid.  Certain bodies of water cause people fear.  Some of us may love swimming in the ocean and looking out to see the vastness.  Water that appears to be unending while surfing waves that come crashing to shore.  Others may prefer to swim in a lake, pond, river, or even a swimming pool—where perhaps we can see land on the other side or the bottom or there might be no current at all.  There’s power in ocean waves.  Yet who hasn’t shuddered seeing the destruction those same powerful waves can cause in a storm? 

The Sea of Galilee in particular is known for strange weather patterns—sudden and violent storms kick up with damaging winds.  According to the book Jesus and His World, “Because two large valleys open on the west side (Wadi Haman and the Beit Netopha Valley), the lake is directly affected by the strong afternoon westerly breezes, especially in the summer.  These breezes can come up quickly, and in a few minutes the lake can sometimes turn from a peaceful lagoon into a high sea with waves soaring up over 7 feet, making afternoon sailing extremely hazardous.”[2]  This isn’t the ocean, of course.  But depending on the time of day and the weather conditions, one can experience hazardous conditions on the Sea of Galilee.  The storm that Jesus and his disciples were sailing through that evening must have been intense considering that some of these disciples were professional fishermen used to sailing these waters.  Yet, they come running to Jesus out of pure fear in the midst of the storm and the boat getting swamped. 

Now there was a strange story about another incident that occurred in a body of water that made headlines just about a week ago on the Cape.  In Provincetown, Massachusetts a lobster diver named Michael Packard entered the water for his second dive of the day around 8 AM.  Lobster diving is his profession and on that particular Friday morning he saw schools of fish—sand lances and stripers—swimming all around.  But then, Michael Packard got swallowed by a humpback whale. 

According to the Cape Cod Times, Packard was released from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis with only minor injuries.  Packard shared some of the details of his wild (almost biblical) story relating, “All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black . . .  I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth . . . I was completely inside; it was completely black.  I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m getting out of here. I’m done, I’m dead.’ All I could think of was my boys — they’re 12 and 15 years old.”[3]

Michael Packard was wearing scuba gear and he struggled inside the whale.  Understandably fearing the entire time that he was going to die and never see his sons again.  The whale began to shake its head.  Packard could tell that the whale didn’t like this situation, and he estimated that he was inside that whale for about 30 to 40 seconds before the whale surfaced.  The next thing he knew, he saw light and knew that he was back outside in the water.  Other boats were around and saw the whale burst to the surface at first thinking that it was a great white shark.  Thankfully, it was just a confused humpback whale who was perfectly happy to release this person and go on its way. 

Humpback whales are known to not be aggressive toward humans.  Jooke Robbins (director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown) said, “Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback.”[4]  Michael Packard most likely ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time—in the path of a feeding whale going for those schools of fish also present in the water at that moment.  And for his part, he told the newspaper that he plans on returning to work as soon as he is healed.

It’s hard to imagine what this must have felt like for Michael Packard.  Like the disciples who fished on the Sea of Galilee all the time, he is an experienced fishermen who often dives in these Provincetown waters.  Yet he encountered something that defies logic when he was swallowed by that confused humpback whale, was released with only minor injuries, and lived to tell the tale as he then went home to heal up and get back to work diving for those lobsters as soon as he can.  When interviewed by the Cape Cod Times, he described his thought process.  There’s no way I am getting out of here.  I’m done.  I’m dead.  And then he thought of his sons.  It’s actually a lovely story to hear on this Father’s Day.  Knowing that in his moment of distress, his thoughts immediately turned to his sons.

All of us, from time to time, face storms in our lives.  God willing they are not as dramatic as getting swallowed by a humpback whale while diving for lobsters.  But the storms of life come nonetheless.  It has long been my contention that God can’t stop every bad thing from happening to us, and that’s never been what God has promised.  Look at Job.  Look at Jonah.  Look at so many of the prophets and disciples.  Look at Jesus.  Though God has promised to be with us.  Jesus is depicted as stopping that storm on the Sea of Galilee and turning to his disciples to ask, “Why are you frightened?  Don’t you have faith yet?”[5]  Faith helps us deal with the storms as they come, knowing that we are not alone, and that God is with us through it all.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Mark 4:38, Common English Bible.
[2] John J. Rosseau and Rami Arav, “Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret)” in Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary, 246.
[3] Doug Fraser, “’I was completely inside’: Lobster diver swallowed by humpback whale off Provincetown” Cape Cod Times, June 11, 2021, https://www.capecodtimes.com/story/news/2021/06/11/humpback-whale-catches-michael-packard-lobster-driver-mouth-proviencetown-cape-cod/7653838002/
[4] Ibid.
[5] Mark 4:40.

Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash