Sunday, June 21, 2015

Crossing a stormy lake

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. June 21, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

I’ve got a riddle for you. Why did Jesus and his disciples cross the big lake in the little boat? To get to the other side!
Once when I was a kid, I was on a sailboat with an adult family friend and some other young people on Lake George, NY. A storm came up, seemingly out of nowhere and we thought for a minute that our little boat might be overwhelmed by the big lake. It took a lot of work, but we made it to a sheltered spot. I remember being very busy, very wet…and feeling a little scared.  Frankly, it never occurred to me to ask “why were we crossing this big lake in this little boat?” But it was a worthwhile question.
After our little adventure, we were chattering about the experience when someone reminded us of a song going around church youth groups in those days called  "Joy is the Like the Rain" by Sister Miriam Therese Winter. There is line in the song that goes like this:
I saw Christ in wind and thunder, Joy is tried by storm.
Christ asleep within my boat, whipped by wind, yet still afloat.
Joy is tried by storm.
As you read and hear Mark’s Gospel, whenever it says that the disciples are crossing the lake, pay attention! It is Mark’s way of talking about the Church going into world. It is Church crossing to the other side…from that side that is safe and familiar to the side that is new, unknown, and dangerous. And along the way, the journey will be difficult.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus stills the storm. There is another time, in chapter six, where the disciples are in the boat facing a storm and Jesus walks to them on the water. Mark remembers the stories of these miracles to teach his church that going “to the other side” into the world is a dangerous, unpredictable, stormy journey—but absolutely necessary!
So why do disciples cross the lake? To get to the other side!
What’s on the other side is a world filled with unclean spirits and unclean things (once, after Jesus crossed the lake, he cast demons out of a man and into a herd of swine) or filled with people from faraway places (another time Jesus took the disciples to the Roman garrison called the Deacapolis). In Mark, the lake is the boundary between the Jewish church and the Gentile world. And I think that it is also an image of baptism. It is the boundary between the old world and the new. It is the boundary between our safe, familiar place and God’s kingdom, where miraculous and powerful things happen that transform and make holy the world.
So why do Jesus and his disciples cross the big lake? And why do we enter the waters of baptism? Why, to get to the other side!
The only way to go and do the work of Jesus is to cross the lake, and that means confronting the storms along the way. Jesus has power over these storms, but the disciples must weather them.
There are two kinds of storms we confront: the storms we cannot control. And the storms that happen inside us.
Storms go on within us. In the text, the disciples shake Jesus awake and say “don’t you care that we are all about to die?!” Their fear has to do with external things—wind and rain and staying afloat. But Jesus speaks to the fear inside the heart and the mind and the spirit. It is normal for people to worry and feel anxious. Jesus calms those storms.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the terrible news of the murder of nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. There is so much we have to learn and deal with as a nation and as a church in both this violence and the sin of racism that is so deeply embedded in our culture. Over and over again, one of the ways that the embedded racism shows up in America is when the churches of black folk are burned, bombed, or desecrated. At the same time, there is something that we can learn from the Martyrs of Charleston: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, The Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson.
Accordingto the New York Times, and other news reports, it appears that after a church meeting, some folks stayed behind to study the Gospel lesson for this past Sunday and pray. A young white man came to the door and asked to see the pastor. They invited him to stay. After an hour, he pulled a gun and killed nine of the people present including the pastor.
Think about this: These folks invited him in. When he first talked of violence and when he pulled out his weapon, they tried to talk him down from his violence. When that failed, they tried to protect each other, one man shielding his aunt with his own body.
But that’s not all. After the killings, the shooter fled and was arrested in North Carolina. At his arraignment back in Charleston, the survivors of the shootings and the relatives appeared before the judge and the accused and forgave Dylann Roof.
“You took something very precious away from me,” Nadine Collier, daughter of 70­ year-­old Ethel Lance, told Roof. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” And she was not alone. The New York Times said, “It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.”
Look closely at the witness of this Christian community. They welcomed, engaged, and afterwards forgave the killer. Roof repeatedly talked about race-hatred and fear. The folks at Emmanuel AME Church talked about Jesus. And at the moment of decision, they lived and acted out the teachings of Jesus. In the moment of decision, they demonstrated that Jesus is with them in the storm and that how we cross the lake, how we weather the storm, is just as miraculous and life-changing as what comes on the other side.
Look up. Would you please? See those ribs and beams. Does it remind you of something? This church, like many others, is built to be reminiscent of the inside of a boat. Imagine we are sitting underneath an upside down boat. (I sometimes imagine that we gather, by the side of our lake, next to an upturned boat, gathered around our Risen Lord while he serves breakfast!)
Now look around you. We who sit in this nave—the root word for this room is the same as the root word for “navy”—are people who have crossed the waters of baptism are daily crossing from our world of waste, hatred, violence and sin, into God’s kingdom of love, justice, and perfect community. We don’t have to go very far to find people in need, to find people in need of healing, to find people different than ourselves. The people Jesus sends us to are right next door, at work, at school, right around the corner…they may even be right here sitting next to you. And the storms haven’t gone away either. We would like to have the little ship we sit in protect us from the storms and be a shelter from the storms we face every day.
But a boat is not designed to merely protect us from the storm—even modern cruise ships, container ships and naval vessels with all the hi-tech stabilizers in the world can’t stop the storm!  No, ships are meant to convey us through the storm.  
This nave—this ship, this vessel that houses the God’s gathered people—conveys us through the storm.  And Jesus is with us throughout the voyage.

So why did the disciples cross the big lake in the little boat? To get to the other side! And…more than that… because Jesus told them to! It's time to cross the lake!

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