Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mark 4 Cries from the Boat

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us have heard this particular Bible passage before. If we haven’t heard it preached on, perhaps we have studied it in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School. The story seems to be a simple one of travel, chaos, and resolution by God. The messages I have heard on this passage almost always include the phrase “God can calm all the storms in your life,” or “You are not alone in the midst of the storm.” Both comforting sayings, but I’m not sure they really get at the heart of today’s text.
The passage starts with Jesus and his disciples getting into a boat and going “across to the other side.” This same boat played a role in Jesus’ teaching earlier that day when he stood in it to preach to the great crowd that had gathered. So, under Jesus’ direction, the disciples point this boat towards the other side of the great lake that is the Sea of Galilee.
But, before we think of this as a simple pleasure cruise let me tell you about the other side. The other side is where the gentiles lived. It’s where the Decapolis (or 10 cities) is found. These good God fearing Jewish men are crossing over into heathen territory. I imagine there was a little trepidation among the group even before the boat began to rock.
Jesus, exhausted from his long preaching engagement, took this opportunity to lay down on some cushions at the back of the boat to rest. He fell fast asleep.
Meanwhile the disciples were busying themselves. Some were rehashing the events of the day in hushed tones. Some were watching the water and sky as good fishermen know to do. Some might have even tried to get a cat nap of their own. I can almost see them huddled in their little groups inside the boat, each one caught up in the day’s events. Then, suddenly the trip takes an unexpected turn.
A massive storm drops right down on them. The term for this great wind is actually the same word found in Job to describe the Whirlwind. This Whirlwind caused chaos of the sea which was feared by all sailors. They didn’t have storm trackers or Doppler radar. They had no way of knowing when a storm might get better or worse. So they jumped into survival mode. Quickly they each began working trying to keep afloat. Some began bailing the water out of the boat. Others did all they could to keep the boat on the right course. They knew what to do, they had been in this boat before, and many were experienced fishermen. This was a bad storm and they needed all hands on deck. But as they went about their rescue mission someone realized that Jesus was still asleep in the back of the boat.
I wonder if the disciples nudged one another and pointed out that Jesus was asleep. I wonder who it was that finally had enough of it and called out “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Translation “We are working our tails off not to go under; Could you give us a hand?” Jesus rises from his sleep and calls out “Stop! Quiet!” to the sea, and the wind and waves immediately cease. Some translations say “Peace, be still” or “XXXXX” but the words Mark puts in Christ’s mouth are the same words used to exorcize demons.  “Stop!  Quiet!” and everything was still.
After Jesus calmed the storm he turned to his disciples and asked “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
You see, the disciples were not afraid of the storm. They felt a great fear AFTER Jesus calmed the chaos of the waters. AFTER he showed his power over nature. AFTER he proved he was one with God; for only God has powers over the waters as shown in Genesis and Job. The disciples had seen the power of God and they feared it. They knew that only God could do what had just been done, and still they asked one another “Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey him?”
I have a friend who recently led a children’s camp for kids in 4th and 5th grade. The camp focus was on peace and reconciliation.  They did your typical camp things, played games, had camp fires, sang songs. Toward the end of the week they had a communion service. The man who spoke talked about what it means to have peace and to be reconciled to your neighbor. He spoke the words of institution over the elements and they had communion. At the end of the service he stood up and said “If anyone wants to talk or pray, your counselors are standing around the room. You can feel free to talk to any of them.” And in this small camp of 30 kids there was no one left in their seats. Every child got up and asked a counselor to pray for them or with them. Seven children made professions of faith that night. They were talking about Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ love and forgiveness, things that the camp had not emphasized. And when my friend told me this story the next words out of her mouth were “I was so scared.” She had never seen the Holy Spirit move in such an obvious way. She had never seen a group of 4th and 5th graders reduced to tears at the realization of the gift Christ gives us. She was terrified.
I ask you today, is the church universal any different from the disciples? Are we any different from the camp counselor who felt so fearful in the presence of God’s spirit? We go about our work of doing good things, things that we have been asked to do, and suddenly we hit a bump and cry out for God to do His share, as if forgetting God was in the boat with us the whole time. When things get rocky we want God to show up and get his hands dirty. But, when we realize God has shown up, we are filled with fear.
When someone tells us they have had an extraordinary experience with God, we would rather dismiss it, as my friend did, as low blood sugar or too much sugar. We cannot handle the thought that we are not in control, but at the mercy of the God who spoke this world into being.  This almighty powerful God chose humbly to walk among us as Jesus Christ. This God worked many miracles and led so many people down the path of restoration. We can handle all of that as long as it stays within the pages of this book.
But I tell you today, we cannot keep God within the pages of any book, even the Holy Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit, the same one that was poured out on Pentecost, is running wild in the world right now. There is a need unlike any I’ve ever seen for the grace of God, the love of God, the hope of God.
We’ve seen it this week in the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. So many people are hurting, angry, and rightfully so! But there is a deep need for us as Christians to gather around them and offer our love and support.
But even when there is not a tragedy of this scale, there are always people in need of God’s hope.
 You’ve seen it in the eyes of that young couple who are about to welcome a new child into their lives This miracle they are looking forward to will bring them closer to God than they have ever been, and they are scared by that closeness.
It’s in the eyes of those young people behind the football bleachers trying drugs and alcohol to reach a state of peace, not knowing that the peace that passes all understanding is seeking them out.
It’s in the eyes of the elderly man who sits in his room all day long not talking to anyone, but is crying out to be touched and loved, to be treated as a real human being.
The Holy Spirit is so many places in our hurting world. And now is the time that the Holy Spirit is pushing us to share that love; that grace; that hope with all around us.
It’s not a tame thing, it’s a burning fire, it’s a wild lion and it’s frightening. We are scared by the presence of God. Not by a sign of God, like the Bible, or a cross, but by God’s living breathing presence. It is this living breathing faith that we are called to proclaim. We are to share the living God, the wild and untamed God with the world. This was the mission of the church from the beginning. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church came into being from the fruits of the Second Great Awakening. And now the God of the harvest is calling us out into the fields again. The Holy Spirit is coaxing us out of our hiding places. The question is will we step out and take the risk of God showing up?
I took a risk this week, right after I heard of the shootings, and prayed and cried and lamented, I contacted the Reverend Doctor Mitchell Walker, pastor of the historic downtown Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, an African-American congregation. I asked how we, Christ church could support them, walk along side them as we figure out together what it really looks like to be the body of Christ in unity in times such as this. He thanked me for reaching out, told me that was a good first step. After more conversation we felt the need to gather our leaders together to meet. Our session will meet with Church Street CPCA’s session. We may do nothing more than listen to them and pray together. But those things are kingdom building!
As our two denominations struggle with unification, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the storms that rage around us and at times within us, let us remember that we do not serve a distant God. God is here in the boat with us.

Ps 16:6 says “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”
Let us also prepare ourselves to be amazed by the way God handles the storms in our lives. When the God of the whirlwind shows up miracles occur. Let us not be fearful of the Holy Spirit moving among us!

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