Sylvania United Church of Christ
Claimed by God, Responding as Disciples
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The sermon for week July 14, 2013

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Gym Class Hero

Mark 6:45-52

I believe that every playground has its legends. Every gym class has its hero. I would like to share the story of Katie Beamer, a gym class hero at Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Dennison, Ohio.

We were in the third grade. The game was dodgeball. It was girls vs. boys. Not to brag, but the boys usually won. We were awesome! Unbeatable! And we knew it. Well, we thought we knew it. This particular game was pretty one sided from the onset and soon it was just Katie Beamer against 10 boys.

The lone Katie lined up against 10 boys. We were complacent, lazy with such odds in our favor. But suddenly there were fewer of us. She caught a few and threw out a few more. Suddenly where there once were 10, there were 5. When we realized that she just took out half of us, we started to panic.

Recently I asked Katie about the game, and she said she remembers thinking “My odds of winning were bad but I wasn't going to go out without a fight. You know what they say ‘Nothing is impossible with the Lord!’”

Katie Beamer defeated 10 boys that day. She was a machine. She went through us like a thresher through wheat. Like a wolf among sheep. I mean, it wasn’t even close. She never looked panicked. She looked focused, non-anxious, fully present in the moment. She said, “I just remember feeling like I accomplished something for ALL of the girls in our class that day, not just myself.”

Katie Beamer walked on water that day. She did the impossible.

This story of Jesus walking on water used to be such a barrier to my faith. I mean, how can someone walk on water?! But now I see it as a fantastic metaphor about the power of a non-anxious presence.

A non-anxious presence may be best defined as “an inner calm in the face of difficulty.” It is the ability to stay clear-headed and centered and maintain some reasonable sense of hope in the face of conflict and adversity. Jesus had this in spades, the disciples… not so much.

Jesus had just fed the 5,000. He went to pray and sent his disciples out onto the sea. The disciples never questioned how he was going to meet up with them, I mean it’s not like Jesus could say, “I’ll just text you when I’m there and we’ll meet up.” The disciples didn’t question, they just went off on their own. They were really straining against their oars, really working hard against the wind. There must have been a lot of anxiety in that boat. And Jesus just strolled up to them. He was going to pass them, then he noticed their anxiety. He stopped, hopped in their boat and calmed them.

Water has many meanings as a symbol. It can be purifying, it is life-giving, like in baptism. But as a sea, it is vast, uncontrollable, of immeasurable depth. It is the realm where dangerous things lurk, where you can get in trouble if you’re too far out, you can drown if you get too deep when you’re unprepared. Yet Jesus has a mastery over the depths. He walks over the depths in complete control while the disciples freak out.

I remember the first time I rode in a sailboat. I was with Kate and her parents, and we were out on a lake in a small boat. The wind was blowing hard, and it made the boat go really fast. And it also made the boat lean with the wind. I was really anxious because with my past experiences with boats like pontoons and fishing boats, if the boat leans like that sailboat did, you’re in big trouble. But Kate and her family were non-anxious and in fact laughing and having a grand time. My face was blood-drained, white. But eventually, I calmed down and got the hang of being in a sailboat.

What I find fascinating, not that the disciples freak out about Jesus walking on the water, but how they just don’t get it. This isn't the first storm Jesus has calmed. Don’t they know who they’re with?! And more so, Jesus doesn’t even need a boat! He doesn’t need any vessel to cross the depths, he has complete mastery. And he gets in the boat with them. He doesn’t need a boat, yet he hops in with them. That’s something right there…

That’s outreach right there. I preached a few weeks ago how developing a life of prayer helps with becoming a non-anxious presence. But taking that non-anxious presence over the stormy waters and getting into another boat, that’s outreach! That’s mission work! That’s what we’re going to dedicate this Sunday. Getting into someone else’s boat and helping them out. It has a calming effect. Mission is incredibly important, in fact it’s essential to our faith, for James writes, “Faith without works is dead.”

It is my opinion that the world does not need more disciples. We need more Christs. We have plenty of disciples in plenty of boats on the waters who are straining at their oars and freaking out. We need more people like Jesus who don’t need a boat, who can calm the storm, still the disciples’ anxiety. The disciples in Mark never get it. I love Mark for that, he’s real about their shortcomings. And we should be real about ours, too.

I mean how many signs does it take to get through to us?! What about all the healing? All the parables and teaching? Don’t we remember that feeling we had when Jesus first called us? When he talks of the Kingdom, don’t we understand? We struggle, we don’t get it. When he invites all without question? When he says, “If you want to be great, serve others”? When he eats with who he eats with, heals who he heals, regardless of the social stigma. Yes, Church, he even would hang out with you and me! He would break bread with the likes of us. As G.K. Chesterson once stated, “it’s not that Christianity has been tried and proven wrong, it’s that it was found hard and thus never tried.”

We are too attached to our boats. We love straining at our oars, because they’re our oars. There’s a perverse comfort to the anxiety we know. The anxiety we don’t know, well, that causes too much anxiety to deal with!

We are called to put on the mind of Christ, to do the things Jesus did and live as Christ-like as we can. And in our times of anxiety, we must remember that with God all things are possible.

Think a rural preacher 2,000 years ago can’t stand up against a temple and an empire with just a bunch of misfits and sinners? With God, all things are possible.

Think a third grade girl can’t win against 10 boys in a game of dodgeball? With God, all things are possible.

Last week we learned that a single dollar started Hope Homes, a UCC project for those with developmental disabilities. With God, all things are possible.

We have built 14 homes with Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity. That’s because you’re willing to get out there and into mission. You’ve calmed and helped so many families who were straining at their oars. And Habitat has either rehabbed or built 175 homes in this area! With God, all things are possible.

Think Toledo can’t make a spectacular comeback? Think we can’t end the rampant drugs, violence, and sex trafficking that’s going on here? With God, all things are possible!

Think we can’t go carbon neutral by 2030? With God, all things are possible!

Think that you, little old you, can’t make a difference?! GET OUT OF YOUR BOAT! With God, all things are possible!

One of my favorite non-anxious presence examples in Christianity today is Shane Clairborne.

Shane Claiborne co-founded the The Simple Way, a Christian community in inner-city Philadelphia after joining a movement to find housing for a group of families being evicted from an abandoned cathedral. Ever since, the community has worked to find decent homes for underprivileged people in Philadelphia and to be a model for communal living, hospitality and peacemaking.

Shane gave a speech July 5 at the Chautauqua Institution, demonstrating that the teachings of Jesus Christ still have the potential to upset systems that oppress the poor and marginalized. And if Christians are not doing that, Claiborne believes, then they are not doing what they have been called to do.

Many of the stories Claiborne recounted were of civil disobedience against what he called the “anti-homeless legislation” of Philadelphia, which prohibited activities such as sleeping in public places, asking for spare change and distributing food to homeless people.

Claiborne asks, “What is a Christ follower to do, or a person of conscience to do, in the midst of that kind of injustice?”

Claiborne and his friends prayed for inspiration on how to deal with that problem. They were inspired by Luke 14, in which Jesus teaches how to throw a party: by inviting those that are not invited to anyone else’s party. They invited their homeless friends to Philadelphia’s LOVE Park, one of the places where the no-feeding and no-sleeping ordinances were in place. They held a worship service, complete with the serving of communion bread. They finished off their day by sleeping in the park together, about 100 people total.

Claiborne said, “We did that night after night for lots of weeks and then, one night at about midnight when all of us were falling asleep, the police were ordered to come in and arrest us. They swarmed in from all sides, and they handcuffed us and took us to jail, and we were charged for disorderly conduct. For sleeping.”

The group of activists fought the charges in court. Believing that the Holy Spirit would give them the words to defend themselves, they chose a homeless man with no background in law to represent them. And although his defense was as simple as standing up and saying to the judge, “Your honor, on behalf of the group, I’d like to say we believe these laws are evil and wrong,” they won.

Claiborne said, “The judge ended up saying, ‘You know, what’s in question is not whether or not these folks broke the law; what’s in question is the constitutionality and the rightness of the laws that we are passing in this city. If it weren’t for people who broke the unjust laws, we wouldn’t have the freedom that we have.’ ”

The judge said that they were freedom fighters, not criminals; and he found them not guilty on all charges. (Villasenior)

Shane Clareborn can walk on water in my opinion. He can be non-anxious in the face of injustice, non-anxiously eating and breaking bread with those on the margins of society. He lives the mission, and I believe isn’t just a disciple of Christ, he goes beyond. He is often in that mystical dance of the Trinity.

Is this something we can do, Church? What is God calling us to do? Are we straining at our oars and is God walking by? It is my hope that God will hop into the boat with us. And we’ll hop out and help others.

So what to make of all this? If you have a non-anxious presence, get out of the boat and find another boat with someone who's anxious. If you want to develop a non-anxious presence because you feel you don’t have one, find another boat. Get into boats of outreach, mission and volunteer work for those on the margin--they will be your teachers.

Works Cited
Villasenior, Fredo. Claiborne calls for Christianity to be loving again JULY 7, 2013

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