Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  Other boats were with him.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the seas, “Peace!  Be still!”  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  He said to them, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This is the Word of God for the People of God.

            Thanks be to God.

Morning comes as Mark’s 4th chapter opens.  Jesus had begun to teach and already there was an overwhelming crowd, so large he pushes out to sea.  It’s a compelling scene, the shoreline packed with faces, Jesus, a bit back, teaching standing in the boat, a couple of disciples keep it steady.  “Listen!”  he calls and begins, as Betty told us last week, with the parable of the sower.  He tells them that parable, explains its meaning, then tells them to not DARE put their light under a bushel, but let it shine, let it shine.  He says the kingdom of God is like seed that grows but we don’t know how.   The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into “the greatest of all shrubs!”  Mark gives a beautiful aside in verse 33-34.  Jesus pulls the disciples in and “explained everything in private to [them].”  I imagine their smiles, cautious, to each other.  Maybe this is real, they thought to themselves. God is among us.

After a long day managing crowds in the heat, I imagine it came as a relief when Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side.”  After this craziness we’ll push onto the water, breathe for one moment.  It’s a feeling similar to one I bet you dream of this time each year –all of the busyness slowing down, a little, we hope for just a minute of rest.  But Mark uses ‘the sea’ in a particular way, Brian Blount and Gary Charles remind us – the sea, thalassa, is a metaphor for the demonic and apocalyptic chaos that confronts Jesus, terrorizes his disciples, and thus threatens the future of the gospel.[1]  For Mark, whenever Jesus and his disciples are near the sea, opposing forces lurk.  AND the other side of this sea matters.  The other side of the Sea of Galilee is The Decapolis, a group of ten Greek and Roman cities, set apart from the rest of Syria, Galilee, Judea, where Jesus and his disciples found their homes.[2]  In an era of Roman oppression, they were heading right into enemy territory.

They push out to sea, a windstorm comes, waves beating the boat, crashing over the bow.  Confusion and instability when, again, everything feels at risk.  Regardless of our boating experience, we know something about the sea, don’t we, storms, when everything feels unstable?  If you’ve watched a loved one get weaker and stop eating, you know about the sea.  You know the time from diagnosis to treatment to doctor’s visit to doctor’s visit.  If you’ve wrestled with anxiety or depression – maybe yourself, maybe a spouse or parent or child, you know about the sea, the overwhelming powerlessness that comes when you cannot, no matter how hard you try, convince them that everything is going to be okay.  If you have looked at the bank account and wondered how it was going to work out.  And questions, for good reason, come: Is all of this worth it?  Do I believe any of this about God at all anymore, if I ever did in the first place?

I wouldn’t quite call it the sea, but we are moving into a season of change here, after we bid farewell to our Director of Christian Education Heather Ferguson this past week, with the email you received on Monday announcing dear Betty’s well-earned retirement, after more than 25 years at the heart of this place as member and pastor, in August.  That’s enough, and shingles fly off the Mission Center roof, and we continue to raise money in this capital campaign, the youth are in Scotland and we’ll worship in the fellowship hall this summer as this sanctuary gets updated, taking care of this place for the next season. There is juggling to do.

We’ll do some of it well, though we, I, will need your help, as we move to both put interim staff in place and step back to make sure we have what we need in terms of staff resources.  But any instability we experience here pales in comparison with the storms swamping the world.  The daily poverty of school children in Haiti we’ll learn more about after worship today.  Since the last few summers have been so rough I find myself bracing for a mass shooting or a terrorist attack or riot in one of our cities.  As we watch children and parents separated at the border and we as a country seem incapable of more than using these children as a prop for the political stunt of the day, a tragic moral failure on all of our parts.  There is a legitimate and important debate about border security and national sovereignty. There is a legitimate and important debate about the nature of immigration about assimilating people into America in a way that our institutions can hold and that sets everyone up for the success they dream of when they come to this country we all love.  But we aren’t having those conversations.

The Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly gathered this week and did a lot of important work.  Our Stated Clerk issued a statement that says in part: “The crisis of tens of thousands of desperate people coming to the United States for relief seems almost overwhelming. But as the officials of our government attempt to address the crisis, we cannot afford to tarnish the highest values of our nation. We must not punish desperate parents by tearing their children away from them, leaving the parents without access to the children or assurance of their welfare.”[3]  We, as Christians, worship a God who came to earth IN PERSON.  As a human being, a man in a particular time and a particular place, who walked the dusty roads with friends, who was tired and tried to retreat and pray, who looked everyone in the eye, from the leper on the side of the road to the highest levels of the religious and political establishment, and called them all to move, with him, towards the kingdom of God.  He called them to leave their past behind and to be bound to a new kind of community that transcends the barriers that we are so good at setting, of race and class and sexual orientation, of politics, so painful in this season in nation’s life.  He calls is live life in person, in direct relationship, knowing the God who created it all, you and me, our neighbors and friends, folks very different from us, and created both those walking the halls of congress and those dear children living in ‘tender age shelters,” truly a tragic euphemism.[4]

David Brooks said on PBS Newshour on Friday, in a way that I find helpful, that, “Government is at its most abhorrent when it can’t see human beings as human beings, and when it treats them as mere data points or as something in a bureaucratic game…when government does that, you get horrific pain and suffering.”[5]  Our moral failing – and this is all of us – is not treating other humans as created of God as we are.  On the border, in neighborhoods filled with crime, across kitchen tables or church pews where we can’t seem to listen to each other.  When we group people as ‘other,’ as ‘illegal,’ as ‘different,’ we are so quickly on our way to dehumanizing another person, which is so dangerous.  Jesus, if he did anything, made things personal, radically personal.  He was God IN PERSON.  And if we cannot engage other humans as people, then we, in doing so, surely lose some of our own humanity in the process.

It’s enough to make me wonder, like the disciples did when they found Jesus down below, if he really was, and is, asleep at the wheel.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, rebuked the wind, said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  In this moment, disciples soaked through, the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm, a quiet that was full.  He looks at them:  Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?  Do you not know who I am, have you not seen what I have done?  What might yet be ahead of us?  It is important to note that Jesus never says, “There is nothing to be afraid of.”  We know that wouldn’t be true.  But he does make clear that those things do not have ultimate power over us, because reigning over this world of fearsome things is a God who is mightier than they.[6]

The disciples were filled with awe and wonder and said to one another – leaving us with the question that Mark intends his readers to already know the answer to, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  I believe we know.  Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, bringer of light and hope, calmer of storms, creator of possibilities, lover of justice, comforter of all who sorrow.  And we are called to trust in this One.  It doesn’t mean the seas aren’t threatening.  It means to choose to believe that the raging sea is NOT the most powerful force in creation and that we might, I pray, be shown a way the best way to step in and help.  To show up, on the border or downtown, in Haiti or our local schools, with our hands and hearts and voices, in person, for every single person.  Jesus’ disciples in Mark are just beginning to see this truth, just beginning to glimpse it.  Through it all, they will be taught to trust, and to act.  Even when they can’t see it.  Even when we can’t yet see it quite yet.

Might we be taught, with courage and with hope, to follow Him, in person, in these difficult days.  All praise be to God.  Amen.

 

[1] Gary Charles and Brain Blount, Mark in Two Voices, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2002) p 60.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decapolis

[3]https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/jhn_statement_child_separation_at_borders_061618.pdf

[4] https://apnews.com/dc0c9a5134d14862ba7c7ad9a811160e

[5] https://www.pbs.org/video/shields-and-brooks-on-family-separation-at-the-border-1529708086/

[6] “Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary,” Year B, Volume 3, David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009), p 168, Pastoral Perspective.