Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon; 4 Pentecost, Proper 7; Mark 4:35-41

Today's gospel passage picks up immediately after last week's gospel;  that is, after teaching in parables for most of the day, Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to cross over to the other side of the lake.  One of the things this passage signifies is a change in theme.  One commentator notes that Mark thematically blocks his gospel.  The first thematic block deals with controversies.  The second block, which we just concluded, deals with parables.  And this next block, which we are just beginning, focuses on miracles.  Today the miracle is the calming of the sea.

This miracle story has deep roots in both Hebrew and other Ancient Near Eastern mythologies.  The sea, especially a stormy sea, signified power and chaos.  It was over this chaos that YHWH subdued, calmed and created.  Storms can also signify evil forces which ultimately submit to God.  And they can signify God's displeasure with his people – such as the storm encountered by Jonah.

In this first miracle of the block, Mark shows Jesus to have authority over the natural world – something formerly reserved for God.  This story confirms Jesus as God's anointed.  It also addresses something else – the importance of the Incarnation.

Our faith says that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus.  In Jesus, God is with us.  This story points out that God is willing to enter with us into times of our greatest joy and our greatest turmoil.

There's a lot of material here about storms, omnipotence, faith and presence.  And I could pick any one of those and present a fairly decent sermon.  But I also remember that I want to focus on mystery, learning and growth during this season.  I want to present things that challenge you and get you to think more deeply about your own discipleship.

I ran across a blog post written by a woman named Debie Thomas that I think does just that.  In her post, she herself quotes Frederick Buechner who said, “Don't start reading the Bible for the answers it gives; instead, start by listening for the questions it asks.”

It's in listening that we learn.  It's in the question that we can delve more deeply into the mystery.  It's in exploring the questions that we can grow as disciples.

Jesus, the disciples, and a few others get into boats and head across to the other side.  A storm comes up suddenly, swamping the boat, but Jesus doesn't notice and is fast asleep in the back of the boat.

“Don't you care that we are perishing?”

If you remember the Wednesday Word, this question was a big part of that.  In the midst of chaos, tragedies, senseless deaths and injuries, don't you care that we are perishing?  Don't you care that nine people were killed in a church in Charleston?  God does care, and God cared enough to become human like us to be with us.  But that doesn't preclude us from wondering why Jesus is asleep at the helm.  In times of chaos and tragedies, we ask, “Don't you care?”

“Why are you so afraid?”

For the disciples, this was easy – they were afraid of being overwhelmed by the storm and drowning.  What about us?  Why are we afraid?  We are afraid of being overwhelmed by the chaos of life.  We are afraid of being overwhelmed by a turbulent world that doesn't appear to be as calm as it used to be.  We are afraid of drowning in debt.  We are afraid of those who don't look like us or think like us.  We are afraid of what sacrificial discipleship really means.  We are afraid of any number of things.  What we need not be afraid of, though, is to unload all our fears on God.  God is big enough to handle our fears, doubts, irritations and questions.

“Have you still no faith?”

Most days I do, yes.  But there are days when I’m not so sure.  There are days when I wonder what I’m doing, days when it feels like I’m going through the motions, days when I feel like I don't measure up.  And then there are days when everything seems to click and all is right and good.

Faith is a funny thing.  We need to hold together a kingdom vision that is both small and slow-growing, like the mustard seed from last week, with that of a kingdom vision that is powerful and stills storms.  It's okay to know that some days are better than others.

Finally, “Who is this?”

Who is this Jesus guy?  He is prophet, healer, teacher and martyr.  He is the example of a life wholly intertwined with the will of God.  He is God incarnate.  He is friend and foe.  One thing he is not is easily controlled.  As they say about Aslan, “He's not a tame lion.”

I often wonder what would happen if Jesus came back today.  Would we follow him, or would we tell him to move off our property because we don't want him sleeping on our porch?  Would we follow him, or would we have him arrested for destroying personal property?

If we think we know who Jesus is, or if we have become complacent in our thoughts about him, then maybe it's time to ask the question, “Who is this man?”

As we move through this green season of growth and change, where are you being challenged to grow?  Maybe the place to start isn't in looking for the answers, maybe it's in listening to the questions.

Don't you care?  Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?  Who is this man?

Pay attention to the questions, and when you hear the question that resonates in your soul, be still and listen closely.  Because even in our questions, God is with us.



Suzan Katzir | 11:41 AM, June 22, 2015  

Our bishop made his visitation to us yesterday. He asked which was more frightening - before Jesus calmed the storm or after. Drowning in the storm is a known, familiar thing. But this guy who can calm a storm??? Who IS this guy we're following?

Reverend Ref + | 11:57 AM, June 22, 2015  

Suzan . . . That's always the issue. And we generally won't change until the fear of the known becomes greater than the fear of the unknown.

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