Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sermon: Sailing through the storm to where the mission is

May only God’s word be spoken.
May only God’s word be heard and believed.

I have a riddle for you. Why did Jesus and his disciples cross the big lake in the little boat?

To get to the other side!

In Mark’s Gospel, the movement from one side of the lake to the other represents the Gentile mission. Today, we hear of Jesus stilling the storm and one other time, the disciples are in the boat facing a storm and Jesus walks to them on the water. Mark remembers the stories of these miracles to teach his church that going “to the other side” into the world is a dangerous, unpredictable, stormy journey. What’s on the other side of the lake is not just the Gentile world, but also a world that is filled with unclean spirits and unclean things (like when Jesus cast demons out of a man and into a herd of swine) or filled with people from far away places (the Deacapolis). In Mark, the lake is the boundary between the Jewish church and the Gentile world. I think it also an image of baptism—to move from the old life to new life requires some skill, yes, but mostly faith.

So why did Jesus and disciples cross the big lake in the little boat? To get to the other side.

And because Jesus told them to.

The only way to go and do the work of Jesus is to cross the lake, and that means confronting our storms. Jesus has power over these storms, but to confront the storms as we see in the disciples response to them tells us much.

Going to sea means confronting storms we cannot control. In ancient times, the gods of the sea were often the gods of chaos and confusion. Storms rise up and create havoc and no one knows from where they come from and what do about it. For as long as people went to the sea in boats, there have been those who have gone and have never been seen again. There is no place on earth where human power can shrink to insignificance faster than in a storm at sea. In Mark, the storm tells us that there are storms in our lives; storms that we cannot control, and that can overwhelm us. Jesus has power over these storms—but they still cause us to be afraid.

Storms also go on within us. The disciples shake Jesus awake and say “don’t you care that we are all about to die?!” In the text, the fear the disciples experience has to do with external things—wind and rain and staying afloat. But the fear Jesus speaks to is inside the heart and mind and soul. We are anxious people who are prone to worry. Many storms in life are created by our own anxiety and worry. Jesus calms those, as well.

Last week, we heard in the Gospel about how Jesus took the disciples aside and gave them special teaching, explaining everything to them. They knew more than the average person about Jesus, and yet they were still fearful! Who are the people without fear? It is the people who come to Jesus out of the blue, bearing only their needs, like the men who lowered the paralytic down through the roof, or the woman who touched Jesus’ robe in the crowd, or the blind man and others in Mark whose “faith has made them well.” . Sometimes we know too much. Knowledge is good but it does not cast out fear. Faith does.

Which is perhaps why the disciples, of all people, are sent into the storm. Having heard and understood Jesus’ good news, having been chosen to carry out and extend Jesus’ work, they are the ones who have to experience—or re-learn—what they are up against. The disciples are fearful and anxious—but Jesus is there with them and does not give up on them. That is good news for us indeed.

I want you to do something, please. Look up. See those ribs and beams? Does it remind you of something? This church, like many others, is built to be reminiscent of the inside of a boat. Imagine we are sitting underneath an upside down boat.

We who sit in this nave—the root word for this room is the same as the root word for “navy”—are people who have crossed the waters of baptism into the world. We don’t have to go very far to find people in need, to find people in need of healing, to find people different than ourselves. The people Jesus sends us to are right next door, at work, at school, right around the corner. And the storms have not gone away either. We would like to have the little ship we sit in protect us from the storms and be a shelter from the storms we face every day.

But a boat is not designed to protect us from the storm—even modern cruise ships, container ships and ocean liners with all the hi-tech stabilizers in the world cannot stop the storm! No, ships are meant to convey us through the storm.

I learned something (again) in my time at my first General Convention these past two weeks. I learned that we in the church are just like the disciples were. When faced with a storm, whether we are working hard to keep the boat afloat, or down below being sea-sick, we have anxiety, worry, fears, and can be so preoccupied with bailing the ship that we at once forget our objective—to get to where the mission is. We can also forget that right on board with us is our hope and our salvation. We carry with us the Lord of All Creation.

We can also get so wrapped up in the minutia of issues and worry about how we’ll be seen by others that we can forget that we Christians, being the face and hands of Christ to others, are in fact to be the ones who calm the storm for others. When everyone else is wailing and hand-wringing and proclaiming the end of the world as we know it, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus have the power to be the calming, storm-stilling presence of hope in the world. When people are finger-pointing or blaming or second-guessing and saying “if only,” it is our calling to be the voice of Jesus bringing stillness and calm to the storm and the voice of faith that overcomes our anxieties.

Today, we live in a world of motors and engines. We are used to turning the key and just driving to things. We drive through puddles and storms all the time in our vehicles. We forget that there was once a time that the only way we got from “a” to “b” on the water was by the power of sail filled with wind or by the power of ones back pulling an oar. So we might be forgiven if we take for granted that we can go when and where we want, and how we want, in the time we want.

But driving around in our personal vehicles, be they power boat or SUV, lulls us into thinking that getting where we want when we want is a right. People drown these days when they try to drive through swamped roads because they consider the inconvenience more than they do the danger. When a storm knocks us down or threatens to overwhelm us, we can feel many things. But what really gets us into trouble is our sense of entitlement and our resentment at the inconvenience the storm brings.

But sailors know the power of the storm and respect it. Sailors know—especially sailors who live by wind and stars and know the vastness of the sea but still go out on it—that without wind there is no motion. A sea without wind or the potential for storm means a voyage without motion. It means being becalmed and that its own kind of slow death.

Why did the disciples cross the big lake in the little boat?

To get to the other side. Because Jesus told them to. Because that’s where the mission is.

And whenever the storm arises, and whenever the storm and our fears and our resentments threaten to overwhelm us, there is Jesus, the Lord of All Creation. We fear and resent the storm, but we need it. And it’s okay. Jesus is with us, he is calm, he can still the storm—both outside and inside of us—and he never gives up on us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Proper 7B, RCL Mark 4:35-41, Trinity, Easton, PA

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