The sermon for week June 24, 2012
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEA, Mark 4:35-41
This morning we are somewhere out on the Sea of Galilee. We have a sense of where we want to get too, there is a dream that has formed in our mind, or an aspiration, or a vision, a mission statement, a goal we have set, a sense of purpose, a desire, but we are not yet there, and, once more, the winds are blowing, the waves are crashing, and the other shore that is our destination rises and falls from view as we bob along the sea.
The story of Jesus, out on the water with his disciples, in a tiny little craft compared to the vastness of the sea, is a story for all of us who have ever had a dream or set a goal and is a story as well for the church seeking to remain faithful to its mission and vision. It is a meditation on getting from one side to another, getting there, when the reality is the journey isn’t always easy, the seas are not always calm, and to quote the title of an Avery and Marsh hymn, “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”
Follow me now as we briefly examine this story for its faith lessons, applied both to our individual aspirations and as a community of faith, particularly on this Sunday when following worship we have our quarterly business meeting, held not on the shore of our destination but out on the sea in the midst of a period of transition, in the midst of a period of the search for a new senior pastor.
We begin with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” To be a follower of Jesus Christ, this is where every journey begins. It is in the words of Jesus, “Let us go...” Christ never keeps us stuck in place. There is always the next shore, the “yet not known,” the new in you waiting to be revealed. This journey takes us all the way to the end when in death we cross the River Jordan and enter into the embrace of God.
So, “leaving the crowd behind,” and this is part of it, there is always a leaving. There is always an aspect of leaving the crowd in following Jesus. Christ sets you apart from ever succumbing to “group think” and the malady of diminished horizons. Never does Christ say to you, follow the crowd, be like everybody else. Always, there on the shore is the boat and the encouragement of Christ beyond what is, the present shore, saying, “get into.” It is there waiting for you at the edge of the shore when others are listening instead to words of gossip, or are constricted by the belief that to become one of them you must become like them, or the belief, that what is to be has always been.
Jesus says, “Get into the boat.” Journey with him. In Christian history the boat has always been a symbol of the church. It is the journey of aspiration inspired by the church. It is the recognition of other shores and other peoples, not all like us but all people of God, loved by God, waiting to know God’s love for them. It is the ever expanding horizon, the missional activity of the church, just like those who from our church recently journeyed to Tennessee to serve those disadvantaged.
But, do not limit this story, thinking the boat is only the church. There is an often neglected sentence in this story that is important to notice. It says, quote, “Other boats were with them.” We all have a boat we are piloting. We are on our own journeys toward destinations of our own devising or the fulfillment of some inner purpose or longing. It might be for us a dream that has come into focus. It is glimmering, it’s sparkling on the other side, the new in us we know is waiting to be made real, and the boat is our journey to its destination. To get there you have to leave the crowd behind.
You have to get out on the waters, and that is where all of us are this morning, individually and as a church, somewhere out on the sea, and perhaps, though to be expected we never do, there are winds and the waves get higher and the boat takes on water. We are out there; individually, and in as a church, and as either, to be human or to be the church, storm clouds gather, the winds whirl, the waves get higher and we take on water. What do we do? What do we do?
This is what Jesus did.
The disciples awake Jesus, who had been asleep. He goes to the front of the boat, he rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace. Be still.” Then the wind ceased and there was dead calm. Then, he turns to his disciples and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
There are two lessons here: First, notice the way the disciples addressed Jesus. They called him Teacher. What do you do, you learn from Jesus. You learn to be as Jesus. You face the waves, the problems that assail you. You confront the whirlwind around you. You don’t let fear rule over you. You draw upon your faith. You remember the words of Jesus, “Greater works than these, you shall do.” You become as Jesus, confronting the issues, the obstacles, the negativism, the pessimism, that seems at times so overwhelming. And, like the Teacher, you respond not with anger, not with revenge, not with hopelessness, but the words, “Peace. Be still.”
As a church we are not yet on the other side. We are still working through the process of how most effectively, organizationally, we can serve our mission to be a visible sign of God’s justice and love. We are still in dialogue of how to reflect this in our invitation, “All are welcome.” And the Search Committee is still working, receiving resumes, interviewing candidates, but not yet ready to present a candidate to the congregation to be the next senior pastor.
I know all this seems long. I know it creates levels of anxiety, but as I have said several times in my sermons, you are called to be as Jesus, and here it might possibly mean, not just addressing the whirlwind around you, but the whirlwind inside of you and saying, “Peace. Be still.” You don’t need to be afraid. You don’t need to get angry. You don’t need to be anxious. You address both the whirlwind and yourself with the words Jesus has given you. “Peace. Be still.”
However rough the going gets, you do not let your life be shaped by the events outside of you. There is something bigger than the reality outside of you. It is the reality inside of you, the reality of being created in the image of God. You need to be as Jesus in that boat, not only able to address the whirlwind, but in the midst of the storm, a center of calm, so while the disciples fret, Jesus sleeps, a sleep that derives from a confident faith, a faith Jesus urges you to have that as I quoted last week from Julian of Norwick, “All will be well.”
Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” These kinds of lessons are learned not by staying in the harbor or on the shore, but out on the sea. And this faith comes from the second lesson I want you to remember from this story, don’t forget who is in the boat with you.
Harry Emerson Fosdick was a very famous minister the first half of the last century. He was pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, a church jointly affiliated with American Baptist and the UCC. He wrote many books, lectured around the world, and authored the famous hymn, one of my favorites, “God of Grace and God of Glory.” All of these accomplishments followed a great tragedy in his life.
When Harry was a young man in his early twenties, he was given the opportunity to study for his seminary degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was one of the great seminaries of his day. The same year he went to seminary he became engaged to the girl he loved, and to help finance his education he found a job working in the bowery section of New York on a special mission project.
The world was his, so many good things had happened to him, but then he went to bed one night and couldn’t sleep, or the next night or the next night. He suffered a complete physical and mental breakdown. He had to leave school, quit his job, and after being on his own since the beginning of his college years he had to move home and live with his parents. His life was in shambles.
It took a year for him to recover. Dr. Fosdick says, “In that experience I learned some things about religion that theological seminaries do not teach. I learned to pray, not because I had adequately argued out prayer’s rationality, but because I desperately needed help from a Power greater than my own.” Dr. Fosdick returned to seminary and became pastor of one of the largest, most influential church in America.
Don’t forget who is in the boat with you.
Sometimes the violence of the sea rages and our small craft seems like a falling leaf at the mercy of the winds of fate. Sometimes we just seem far from shore. We work for peace and hear only of war, we seek to feed the hungry when in “pounds per person,” the world has more explosive capability than food, sometimes we set a goal and set out to accomplish it, but something unforeseen happens, obstacles occur. The boat begins to take on water, disease weakens the body, or there is an accident and we are left disabled, or the one with whom we planned our life now decides to break that union or the one we loved the most, closers her eyes in eternal sleep before we reach the other side.
Interpreter’s Bible says the point of this story about Jesus in the boat and the storm at sea is his power. It is the power of Jesus in our lives to carry us through those events which seem so difficult and make us feel so helpless or angry or anxious. It is the power of Jesus to catch us when we fall and renew our strength and give us the encouragement to once more set our sails toward the light we see flickering on the other side and find again the faith to say as Jesus, “Peace. Be still.”
In the church and in our lives we see the light of the distant shore. We know that is where God is calling us, but for right now we are in the middle of the sea. We are not yet there, yet remember how this story ends. The Bible says, “And the disciples were filled with awe.” It wasn’t by remaining on shore, it wasn’t even in reaching the destination, the goal achieved, but while on the sea, not yet there, in being exactly where we are this morning, as a church and as individuals, still on the journey, that the disciples were filled with awe.
It’s in the journey, heeding the words of Jesus to get into the boat, out on the sea, between what once was and is to be, in the middle of the not yet, faith is deepened, and we discover the magnificence and sufficiency of God’s grace. It is in the in-between times our senses sharpen, our eyes are opened and we see God’s glory all around. It is not in getting there but while on the way, the music forms in our soul, “What a wonderful change in my life has been brought, since Jesus came into my life.”