Peace, be still.

Mark 4:35-41

I guess most of us are familiar with this Gospel story, in which Jesus stills a storm and saves the day for his disciples.  It’s in all three of the synoptics (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark and Luke 8:22-25), but only in Mark do we hear Jesus telling the sea: “Peace!  Be still!”  That interests me… because Mark is the earliest and arguably the most “raw” of the gospel narratives.  Matthew and Luke were both written several years after Mark and although these latter evangelists used a bunch of Mark’s material, they had to spend a fair amount of time cleaning up his grammar (scholars generally agree that Greek wasn’t Mark’s first language) and tweaking some of the stories to present Jesus Messiah in the best possible light.  Nowhere in Matthew and Luke do you see Jesus using his spit to cure the deaf and the blind, as he did in Mark’s gospel, or needing to re-heal a fellow when the first healing didn’t quite take (7:31-37 and 8:22-26).  Nowhere in Matthew and Luke do you see Jesus’ family coming to restrain him because people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind” (3:20-30).  Nope.  That’s all Mark.  And so, I find it interesting that Matthew and Luke, who adapted so much of Mark’s gospel (~90% and ~65%, respectively) into their own narratives have chosen to omit this particular tidbit: “Peace!  Be still.”  Both write of Jesus generally rebuking the wind and the sea (Matt 8:26 and Luke 8:24), but nowhere, except in Mark, do you see this “red letter” outburst from Jesus.  “Peace!  Be still!”

And that’s another characteristic of Mark’s gospel: it contains more than a few such “red letter outbursts,” often aimed at the disciples—Jesus nearest and dearest—and their seeming inability to grasp what was happening right in front of them.  God’s kingdom had come very near in the person of Jesus Christ and they just didn’t get it (e.g., 4:10-20, 4:41, 6:45-52, 8:14-21).  And so, I wonder… if Matthew and Luke might have omitted these particular words of Jesus because they stung a little bit… because they hit just a little too close to home.  Yes, Jesus was rebuking the wind and the sea, but he was also rebuking them.  And after the storm subsided, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  You guys are killing me!

I wonder if, on those occasions when our world is falling apart, and our lives seem out-of-control, when we’re praying for a miracle—usually one of our own devising—like “Please help us get to the other side of this lake in one piece!” in God’s infinite wisdom, the miracle we are actually granted is a reminder from our savior that, come hell or high water, we should be at peace.  That we should be still… and know that God is God, and we are not.  And that we can rest assured that everything is going to be OK in the end.  We may not be granted a vision of what “OK” looks like, and even if we were, chances are, we’d probably still get it wrong.  We’d confuse what meets our definition of “OK” in the kingdom of this world, with the “OK” that God has in store for us in the next.  That’s why we’re to trust.  And perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Peace!  Be still!” He knew that, in the end, faith was our only hope.

Y’all may remember: back in February, I mentioned that a contemporary Christian singer/songwriter, named Andrew Peterson, was coming to Berry College in Rome to give a concert.  I’ve been listening to his music for years and have shared some of it with you on occasion, right here in this space.  Honey and I went, and got to hear a smattering of our favorites as well as some of his new stuff.  Peterson is not only an outstanding composer and performer, he also writes children’s fantasy literature and he founded the “Rabbit Room,” an online Christ-centered community of writers and visual/performing artists whose aim is to foster the spiritual formation of the likes of you and me through music, story and art.  So, he’s a successful guy living the dream, right? He has a beautiful family and he makes his living doing what he loves: writing songs… playing music… telling stories.  We should all be so lucky.

But here’s the thing: Andrew Peterson is a human being, albeit a very talented one, and like the rest of us, he’s got his share of “stuff,” some of it pretty dark.  He often introduces a song with the story of how he came to write it… maybe it was about a friend who was dying of cancer… or a child struggling with the transition to adulthood… or even a fight he once had with his wife.  That evening in Rome, he told us a story about himself… of a time, a few years back, when he was straight-up depressed.  And he had been for months.  His creativity seemed to have dried up.  He had begun to feel isolated from family and friends.  Old guilts and losses were consuming him.  And it just went on and on.  And it was winter.  And it felt like it had been raining every single day for the past month.  But he couldn’t retreat.  There were bills to be paid, deadlines and people to meet, concerts to perform, “motions to go through.”  So, he couldn’t run, but maybe he could hide… just for a minute or two.  And so, on a particular evening, he found himself in North Carolina, in a church janitor’s closet, just down the hall from a large room where he’d be giving a concert in about six minutes…weeping uncontrollably.  Would there ever be an end to this season of night?  Would God, could God ever make him new again?  It seemed as if all of the darkness and rain that had been building up inside of him for so long had finally overwhelmed him.  He couldn’t hold it back any longer, and he was utterly undone.  And then, alone in the dark, he suddenly remembered the words of a short poem by Luci Shaw about the coming of spring at the end of a long winter: “Planting seeds inevitably changes my feelings about rain,” she wrote.  And then, out of nowhere: “Peace, be still.”  It was almost as if it had been said aloud… right beside him… out of the aloneness.  Where’d that come from?  Peterson might tell you, “you get three guesses, and the first two don’t count.”

It was just a little miracle, but it was enough to get him out of the janitor’s closet and down the hall to his concert on time.  And a seed had been planted that would eventually blossom into the song I’m going to play you in a minute.  Peterson’s depression didn’t go away overnight, but he found the strength to do what he needed to that night… and the next… and the next… and, over time, the darkness receded, and the rain abated… but not before it had nourished the seeds for a song entitled, “The rain keeps falling.”  And here’s the fun part: y’all are invited to sing along!  You can be the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “Peace, be still.”  No pressure.  Three words.  Three notes.  Isn’t it funny how the simplest things are often the most profound.  So, listen for those three words… I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to tell when it’s your time to chime in.

Watch the video: The Rain Keeps Falling

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