5 Pentecost, Proper7
24 Jun 2019
Wouldn’t it be nice if summer was the lazy easy going time that all the songs portray? “Summer time and the living is easy….” When I was a child summer seemed endless, with group play: cowboys and Indians, hide and go seek, swimming, bike riding and on and on. Free to roam just about anywhere. Seemed at the time to be idyllic. But of course, there were ugly secrets hidden away: not everyone had good parents, poverty was the rule for some; families were as broken then as now.
There were times even then when I was afraid. When I was much younger thunderstorms that came up out of nowhere, with the first sign being the wind breaking into the heat and humid stillness, were particularly frightening. The sudden loud clap of thunder would send me scurrying to my mother and I would cling to her legs. I can still remember the long dresses she wore most of the time. They became a shelter for my little scared self.
Thunderstorms no longer hold terror for me, unless I am caught defenseless on my bicycle or backpacking. You know you are at the mercy of the chaos of the storm.
I returned a few weeks ago from Bayfield, Wisconsin, where the moods of Lake Superior still garner the respect of all who live there. Superior is so large it behaves as an ocean and, as the song about the Edmund Fitzgerald goes, “Superior it’s said never gives up its dead.” Yet for most of us the direct terror and chaos of a storm at sea is something we will never experience.
The Israelites weren’t seafarers; they left that up to the Phoenicians. The sea was a place of terror; being a sailor was not in their DNA. After all, had not God created the world from the watery chaos? God has charge over the chaos, over the water. So does Jesus. Mark reminds us that the disciples were still afraid of the chaos and unable to see that Jesus was in charge of it because of who he was. Jesus can command the sea and its watery chaos, but on an even deeper level he can control the chaos that is in our very nature. Our own chaos is that of doubt and uncertainty, of suspicion of others for a myriad of reasons. Last week I spoke of the mustard plant as being the unwelcome invasive weed that is the commonwealth of God; this week I speak of the one who can calm the storm as being just as unwelcome. Jesus is not welcome, even after he stills the storm, because he instills another kind of fear in his followers. They weren’t filled with awe’ they were filled with fear!! Jesus did not ask them of what they were afraid; he asked them why they were afraid. And that is the question facing all of us. The disciples have invited Jesus into the boat with them; in fact there was more than one boat heading across the Sea of Galilee. What if you or I were in that boat? These men were fishers; they had knowledge of boats and of the weather, but as I said, they weren’t the Phoenicians. And they were not ready to make the leap of faith needed to fully embrace what Jesus was trying to tell them about the commonwealth of God. Even at the very end of Mark’s Gospel people are still fleeing in terror! Should we then give in to despair, believing that the Gospel with never come to fruition?
I say no. The Good News is ever in front of us and we can accept and embrace it. But to do so means giving up our great fears. Phobus magnus means great fear, to fear exceedingly as the KJV says. That is what they felt: overwhelming fear. David, despite all of his shortcomings, always had faith in God. Total faith. I chose the reading from Samuel today because it speaks of that faith and of the faith and love that Jonathan had for David. Both are examples of what living life without fear is like. Neither was reckless or stupid but both lived lives of faith: David in God and Jonathan in David.
Imagine for just a moment what it would be like if we lived lives without fear!! Is it not fear that has lead to what is happening at our borders? Is it not fear in its many forms that has led to war after war? Fear of scarcity, fear for life, fear for property, fear of loss of power or prestige. The powers of evil understand how humans respond to fear.
Jesus and the disciples were headed willingly to the “other side.” The other side was where the Gentiles were, where the strangers were, where the unclean lived. They had taken the first step with him, a willingness to go to a place where they would rather not have gone, but then they faltered.
For far too long America has lived with the myth that this land was settled and conquered by the authority of God and that those who came, from Columbus to the Pilgrims, had divine blessing. This was the promised land and those who dwell here are God’s chosen people, as long as they are white and of European ancestry. It was certainly a good chunk of what I remember in history books. Brave men, with the blessing of God, subduing the promised land. Left out were the stories of indigenous people; they just were made to disappear from the stage of history. Left out was the hideous story of American slavery. Left out was the story of white male privilege. Try tracing your genealogy If you are not a white American; it isn’t even very easy if you want to know about the white women in your family. And now we are fighting for the very heart and soul of this nation. Will we come down on the side of faith or fear? I wonder if the battle over guns has something to do with preying on the fear that giving up arms is giving up what little power remains in the hands of working class white men. What fuels the racial hatred that is drives white nationalism and xenophobia? What do people fear they will lose?
I think the story today is one of the greatest of the New Testament teachings. It has been looked at, rightfully, on a personal level about having faith in Jesus. That is a crucial first step and it is not an easy one. I often find my own faith weak and reading this story and praying over it helps restore me. But this story is so much more than a personal come to Jesus session. The Gospel of Mark is not about personal salvation; it is all about the commonwealth of God and what it means. Rowing to the other side is to enter danger, it is to embrace the stranger and the foreigner. It is to heal the blind and release the demons.
I want to be able to step into that boat and cross the sea. I don’t want to have a great fear, but rather to have faith and belief that there is a world out there to which we all are citizens. A world where ethnic cleansing, aka genocide is a relic of the past. A world where black Americans don’t have to tell their male children how to avoid being killed. A world where parents don’t injure their own children, where they are respected. A world where there are no drug wars.
So I guess I need to head to the metaphorical dock and look for the boat least likely to succeed. I have a hunch that is where I will find Jesus.