Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Boating With Jesus 2

Amid the horror and sadness of Wed. evening's killing of those at a Bible study in Charleston, SC, the gospel text for Sun., 6/21, Mark 4:35-41 seemed so applicable to the situation. I really sensed God's direction as I prepared to share with St. Timothy's and St. Mark's. I received a lot of positive feedback. See what you think. I would appreciate hearing from any of you via the comments. We continue to pray for all who have been impacted by this event, including the shooter and his family. Lord have mercy.

Do you know what the proper name is for the place where you all are sitting? It's called the nave, which is Latin for boat. Think of the word navy. If you look up at the ceiling, you can see how this space resembles an upside down boat. Throughout the centuries, the church has been considered an ark of safety, a lifeboat for God's people, which carries us in safety across the seas of life. In today's gospel reading, Jesus is in the boat with his disciples
Jesus had an idea. In the evening, he wanted to go to the other side of the lake. Sounds like a good idea. What I find interesting is that no one questions the wisdom of that move in the first place. It gets dark earlier in the Holy Land than it does here. Not only does it get dark earlier, but once it's sundown, the darkness quickly falls.
We are not talking about an era with electricity.  It would become pitch dark. They wouldn't see lights from houses on the other side of the lake. This would not be an experience like one we would have crossing Chautauqua Lake.
Why didn't the disciples suggest that they wait until morning? Wouldn't that be safer? Darkness can be frightening. Whatever their reasoning, the disciples did as their Lord commanded and set sail.
Journeying across the lake, the disciples encountered a problem. There was a storm and Jesus' disciples were afraid of drowning. Some scholars doubt that such a storm as serious as the one Mark describes could happen on the Sea of Galilee. After all, it's only a small lake. However, the lake is located in a depression some 700 ft. below sea level and it's surrounded by hills. Frequently, a rush of wind and the right mixture of temperatures can cause a storm to come very suddenly on the lake. Those storms were known for their suddenness and violence. At least four of the disciples were professional fishermen who must have experienced such storms before. Their terror indicates the severity of this storm. The sea was thought to be the abode of forces hostile to God (Ps. 74:13-14; 89:9-13; 104:5-9; Job 38:8-11). Just as the sea monster represented the powers of evil, so the raging storm here reflects all the powers of chaos and evil.
Secondly, there is the presence of Jesus with his disciples. Jesus was in the boat with his disciples as the storm grew, albeit asleep on a pillow. And it became very scary as the boat was tossed around and started to take on water. We're not talking about big boats either, but just small fishing boats that could get beaten up pretty badly from this kind of weather.
Why didn't the disciples wake their Lord and ask for his help? Were they panicking--yes. After all, this trip, at night, was not the disciples' idea. It was Jesus' idea. It was Jesus' fault that this was happening, so they accused him of not caring about them. Maybe they thought he would help bail the water out of the boat. He should certainly be doing something other than sleeping!
Aren't we sometimes like the disciples in our relationships? When we panic, don't we expect others to share in our panic or distress? If they can't do something to help in some way, at least they could sympathize with us and see what a big problem we have. If they seem detached, we accuse them of not caring.
How could Jesus sleep while the boat was being assaulted by foul weather? He may have been thoroughly exhausted after the ministry and teaching he had done. Or it could be that Jesus was so secure in his Father's faithfulness and care, he didn't need to lose sleep over a storm.
Next, in the story, we encounter the power of Jesus, the One who can do something about the storms.
The power of Jesus was demonstrated in quieting the lake and the wind. Throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms, we read of God's authority over the elements. We heard it in the reading from Job and the Psalm  By rebuking the wind and sea, Jesus was making a statement about who he was.
Jesus was not simply a good teacher, a healer and an exorcist. This was nothing new. There were others at the time, like magicians who did the same things. But controlling the elements is something only the Lord God almighty could do. Jesus is the teacher who exorcises and the exorcist who teaches.
Can't you just see the disciples standing there with Jesus with their mouths wide open? They had witnessed Jesus doing many things. Right before this incident, Jesus had bluntly taught them who he was. Yet this storm was somehow something unexpected. Only God can still the seas and make the wind stop. It was no wonder they were afraid, but in order to transcend that fear, the disciples must see that Jesus is not simply a man with unusual abilities, but instead that he is the Son of God.
During the storm, the disciples were afraid, but after the storm the last verse says they were "filled with great awe." That's one way the Greek can be translated, however another translation is "they feared a great fear." As scary as the storm was, they were now in the presence of the One with power greater than the storm.
We too are challenged to examine our own faith when the disciples show lack of trust in God's power to save believers even in the worst situations. Have we been blind to God's care about us? That suspicion that God does not really care what happen to us will corrode our faith life.
God is calling us as a community of faith into deeper relationship with the God who never leaves us unchanged. We may fear getting too close to God because we're afraid it will change us. Ignoring encounters with God will change us too.
In this gospel story, we see the disciples' weaknesses, something Mark does not whitewash. They were humans just as we are. The disciples' missteps encouraged later believers suffering persecution from the Romans. They were able to persevere despite doubts about God's saving presence.
Jesus gives his followers a promise of salvation, not simply a strategy of coping with life in this world. Jesus makes good on his promises for this life and the next. The gift of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with other believers, God's word, the sacraments and prayer are all ways that help our trust in God to grow. God's salvation is at work in our lives and the lives of others in the here and now--and yet we don't see its full culmination until the end of the ages. That is the now, but not yet experience of life in the kingdom of God.
We can take the safe route if we want. We can stay tied up on the shore rather than risking the dangerous, stormy crossing. There are churches like that-- peaceful, restful club houses on the shore rather than a boat following Jesus' command to risk crossing the lake. Are we more often willing to be safe than to answer Jesus' call to the other side?
I came across a quote from a 1991 edition of "The Lutheran" that ties in with this image: "The church is not a "luxury liner, granting passage and comfort to all who qualify and clamber aboard" but rather "like a rescuing lifeboat, sometimes listing, or even leaking, but always guided by the captain, Jesus, at the helm" (Bishop Lyle G. Miller in opening worship at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly, 1991, quoted in "The Lutheran," June 19, 1991, page 38).
A word of hope that we find in the gospel, Job and the Psalm is that God has the power to control the chaos. The control may not happen according to our timing. It may seem at times that God is distant and asleep in the boat while our world is falling apart, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't have the power to calm the storm.
While we may pray that Jesus works miracles in our lives, neighborhoods and in our world; such miracles probably won't let us off the hook from doing some of the hard work required to do what God has called us to do.
What would it mean if Jesus didn't stop the storm? The kind of faith this story calls us to is not only that Jesus could save his disciples from the storm, but that if he was with them, in the same boat, he can save them even if he and they go under. It is the kind of faith in the Lord of the storm who saves through and beyond death, not necessarily from death.
We witnessed such a storm and a response this week. On Wed. night in Charleston, SC, at Emanuel AME Church the faithful had gathered for prayer and Bible study. What happened that evening was an evil, callous devastation of life. And yet, right in the middle of the horror, and following it, people were praying. I was moved while watching the evening news as I saw black and white people praying together and white folks comforting their black neighbors and sisters and brothers. Then on Friday, family members spoke to the accused killer and even in the midst of their great sorrow, forgave him. That is God's church at work doing God's will--offering forgiveness to the sinner.
Christians and the church get lumped together with those in our society who are narrow-minded and judgmental--who are anti a whole host of things. As awful as the killing was at Mother Emanuel church, in the sorrow, we saw the church at its finest, oozing with God's love.
Where was God when this was happening? He was right there with his people as they prayed and cried. God was crying with them and holding them close.
Where does that leave us? Our story ends with a question that we too must struggle with. When God comes among us, how will we respond? He meets us in the waters of baptism and feeds us his very life in the bread and wine. Where do we sense the presence and call of God ? We never know what kind of changes an encounter with the living God can make. The question of how we will respond is left open in today's gospel.
Will we respond with violence or anger or hatred or will we respond with love and kindness?
Amen.

Resources used:

James Boyce, workingpreacher.org

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B

David Lose, davidlose.net

New English Translation notes

Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume VII: Mark

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/

Sundaysandseasons.org

Google Image

Friday, June 19, 2015

Boating with Jesus



Mark 4:3541

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?" 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41And 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 a model of the "Jesus Boat" which was discovered in 1986, during a period of drought which exposed a fishing boat of that era. It is the kind of boat Jesus and his disciples would have been in the above gospel story.

The Sea of Galilee is a small lake which is 33 mi. x 13 mi.  It is located in a depression some 700 ft. below sea level and is surrounded by hills. Frequently a rush of wind and the right mix of temps can cause a storm to come suddenly on the lake. Storms on the Galilee were known for their suddenness and violence. The little boat being tossed around in a big storm was a terrifying experience, at least for the disciples it was. Jesus was sound asleep, confident in God's care.
There is a prayer, the Breton Fisherman's Prayer, that is so appropriate as we think about this gospel passage. Part of it goes like this, "Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small." The boats of our lives may be storm-tossed, but the Lord who stills the storm is in our boats as well.