This is a sermon I preached at Kowloon International Baptist. Now I wish to share the process by which it was constructed for those who are interested.
At the exegetical level, this story has been preached to death in allegorical manner. My goal was to stay true to Mark’s narrative flow so that I do not needlessly spiritualized into the text some “deeper” (but very flawed) meaning.
Like most sermons on narratives, this sermon addresses a problem with certain solution. The problem is simply the storm, at least at the outset. The responses by the disciples show their understanding of Jesus and finally Jesus made his verdict.
The problem does not need to be singular. In fact, i noticed three: Jesus’ initiation of their troubles (4.35-36); the storm itself (4.37); their understanding of Jesus as the teacher (4.38)
Jesus’ responded in two step: calmed the storm (4.39); rebuke of the disciples’ lack of faith (4.40). Finally the narrator allowed for the disciples’ voices to come through in 4.41 questioning who Jesus was.
During the exegesis, I notice the text creating a tension between who Jesus was and who the disciples were. In 4.38, they called Jesus “teacher”, a term used often in Mark for partial understanding (5.35; 9.17, 38; 10.17; 20.35 etc.). I thought that this word study has done enough to show the function of “teacher” in Mark to properly interpret the disciples’ seemingly ambiguous statement. The statement could be misconstrued by many interpreters that these disciples thought Jesus could do something. They didn’t! In 4.41, they still asked who Jesus was. At the same time, the disciples were portrayed to be fishermen in their call in 1.16. Could a teacher save a group of fishermen from drowning when the fishermen should’ve known better? That’s the tension in the narrative. As a preacher of this text, I had to resolve this problem.
Struggle over using background studies: In studying the many seafaring tales and similar vocabulary, I have noted that the usage of the seafaring stories often demonstrates the strength of the sailor. By overcoming the sea, the Greeks and Romans had ruled the Mediterranean Sea for a while. My struggle was whether I should talk about background. I left as much out as possible other than answering the main question: who is Jesus? Jesus was Lord over the sea. Perhaps another better way (and I’m open for suggestion) is to come up with an example of lordship rather than dwelling on the imperial background which may alienate those who do not understand academic research.
Another struggle in my preparation was to keep in context of Mark 4 where the most important parable in the entire Gospel occurred. Yet, at the same time, I realize that if i dwell on the context too long, the parable would overtake the entire narrative. Thus, I merely stuck to using it to explain the word “teacher” because the parable was an important teaching. By relating the teacher to today’s world, I felt that it was appropriate to a teaching church like KIBC. This explains why I apply it directly to our church. The disciples were well-taught, but still missed the point. So can church people.
One more struggle I had was pastoral. One kind colleague pointed out to me the risk of misunderstanding about the nature of faith as being recklessly stupid but still expecting God to rescue the fool. I concur with her observation. I think I probably could’ve dwelled more on the fact of Jesus leading the disciples into the disaster. The risk was not avoidable and is part of life. The nature of faith is to face the giant that is not avoidable. The disaster was not created by some stupid irresponsible act of the believer (gosh, I’ve seen countless examples even in recent church culture). I really needed to clarify this point. I will probably do so next time if I have a chance to preach this text again. I will do so by using examples of stupid things Christians do to get themselves in trouble and expecting God to rescue them. On that point, you’re on your own, buddy!
A final struggle over this sermon has to do with how to do the introduction so that it would match the conclusion. I have chosen to use the main idea of identity because at the end, from the reaction of the disciples, the real trouble was identity. I used the story of Joshua Bell the violinist not being identified in the DC subway and the suspense was lifted only at the end. At the introduction, I decided against telling everyone that this was Joshua Bell to keep the suspense. I feel that this was entirely in line with the suspense of Mark over Jesus’ identity. The introduction and conclusion ought to match the mood of the narrative.
I have also analyzed each section of the narrative based on illocutionary aspects of speech-act theory by John Searle, a great tool I should blog more about.
The problem, as I stated above, starts with Jesus’ initiation. I feel that it serves an assertive function (assertive means a common assertion of a fact). The fact Mark brought it out also brought out the propositional assertive I had in my sermon, God could lead us into trouble for the sake of a lesson SOMETIMES. The reason I said “sometimes” is because not every case of trouble in the Gospels was meant to teach a moralizing lesson. This one was.
The second problem was the storm itself causing fear. I feel that this also is an assertive statement about the fact of fear. Thus, my illustration also talks of fear, but I was afraid to guilt trip people because i think the story was not about guilt. Thus, my roller coaster illustration serves to lighten the mood merely to show that fear is natural. I then explore the cause of fear, sometimes benign and often unfound.
I move into the their problem of identifying Jesus as teacher which to the disciples was an assertive statement. Since there’s a tension in the text about Jesus’ identity, I then questioned this assertion, fully knowing the ending still causes puzzling over who Jesus was.
Jesus’ rebuke was his final lesson about faith and fear. Jesus pointed out that faith and fear were related. I rank this as an expressive illocutionary act (an expression towards a proposition). In this case, the expression was towards the proposition the disciples gave about Jesus being a teacher. I had to look for an identity problem similar to false identity. This makes a perfect conclusion because of the final Joshua Bell clip. I chose the Joshua Bell story, not because it fascinates but I also felt that his playing had the highest quality that expressed great emotional impact of “Who can play like that?” I wanted my audience to feel the impact before I gave my conclusion.
I hope my students in preaching can see how this preparation process contained speech act analysis so that both the text and the sermon mood are deliberately affected by the strategy. Hopefully, the final product reached its goal.