Crossing to the Other Side, Sermon by Laura 6.24.12, Pentecost 4B/Ordinary 12B

Texts: Mark 4:35-41, 2 Cor 6:1-13

 Let us go across to the other side.

When Jesus said these words, it was the evening of a day spent talking to a crowd about seeds.He spoke in parables;one story about how scattered seeds sprout and grow, as the farmer watches and waits, patiently trusting the harvest will come; another story about how a tiny mustard seed becomes a huge, sheltering tree. The kingdom of God is like those seeds, said Jesus beside the Sea of Galilee to a crowd so huge he had to stand in a boat to teach. And then, as is typical in Mark’s gospel, the message of Jesus’ parables is enacted in the disciples’ lives.

Let us go across to the other side.

Last week, Keith invited us to envision our neighborhoods as gardens, where we are called to participate with God, planting relationships like seeds of the kingdom. He invited us to experiment by finding ways,big or small, to connect with our neighbors. So I’m wondering, what happened this past weekin our lives outside this sanctuary? Raise your hands: this week, how many of you connected with a neighbor? Keep your hands up if it was a neighbor you’d never really connected with before. Great work! What was it like for you?…Okay, now for the rest of us, I wonder: What got in the way for us in making such a connection?

I’m in the third category this week. Some new neighbors have been moving in down the street, but we haven’t yet gone to welcome them. It’s a tiny thing—walking down the street, knocking on a door, introducing myself. It would require just the tiniest stretch beyond my normal routines and my comfort zone. Yet it was oh-so-easy to get sidetracked by other things. Whenever I got home from the office,I went inside and stayed there.

Now, don’t get me wrong—family life is also a realm where seeds are planted, relationships are nurtured, and God’s kingdom grows.But the point is, this week God called me to experiment in connecting with my neighbors and see what would happen. Yet the week passed by, and I had not yet answered that calling.

Let us go across to the other side.

That’s how Jesus invites the disciples to their new experiment. “The other side” of the Sea of Galilee is a place of strangers—‘the country of the Gerasenes.’ It is Gentile territory, a hostile place for Jews, where they are constantly at risk of becoming ritually unclean. Furthermore, their people would probably consider it “inappropriate” for a Jewish rabbi—especially a would-be Messiah—and his followers to spend time among the enemies of Israel.[1] Why does Jesus want to go there? Not just to get some space from the crowds in Capernaum.Jesus knows God’s Kingdom always crosses over any boundaries we imagine it ought to have from our limited and often sinful human perspective.

Let us go across to the other side.

Now, among the disciples, there are at least four guys who know their way around boats and water. Peter and Andrew, James and John were all fisherman before dropping their nets to follow Jesus. I imagine they are happy to put their old skills back to work using their boat for more than a pulpit. Maybe they see this boat trip as a chance to relax a little from the intensive learning curve of learning to “fish for people.”The text doesn’t tell us that, but it says,“they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”

Isn’t that “just as he was” a curious phrase? What could it mean? Maybe Jesus, exhausted from energy he’s been expending,is able to lay down his leadership and rest in the self-confident hands of his disciples. They even give him a cushion and he falls asleep in the stern. And in the beginning, it’s smooth sailing, but soon their assumption they can control this journey comes under considerable duress.

Let us go across to the other side.

In my experience, when the Spirit of God calls us to new experiments, there is almost always some resistance. It could be internal resistance—our inner fears and anxieties which paralyze us as we assume the worst. It could be external resistance—family or work emergencies crop up with alarming urgency,or just the unpredictable mayhem of daily life. Whatever the case, where God wants to bestow great blessing, expect great resistance!

Let us go across to the other side.

Thus, as Mark tells the story, the sudden windstorm with furious waves swamping the boat is no freak weather system, but a demonic attack. In Jewish and Greco-Roman mythology, storms at seawere thought to be ruled by demons, angry gods, or sea monsters,[2] the embodiments of chaos, unpredictable and threatening to those who seek to accomplish God’s purposes. And so it happens that the fisherman disciples, who’d been quite capably managing to pilot the boat, suddenly encounter monstrous resistance. They try to get out of that wind, but to no avail. They trying to work better, harder, faster, doing all the things which have saved them before, but still the water spills over and the boat begins to sink. Finally despairing, they cry out and wake Jesus up. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Let us go across to the other side.

Now, I see three portions of good news in this scripture lesson. First, Jesus hears the disciples’ cries. They are not alone in the storm–they are in the boat with Jesus. And though they assume the worst of their sleeping Savior, it’s abundantly clear: he does care.

Second, hearing their need, Jesus immediately wakes, and he sees the situation clearly. He recognizes that something beyond mad boating skills or faster bailing is needed. So, calling upon the power of God, Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves. “Be still,” he commands, and just as demons flee at the power of Jesus’ word, the wind ceases. The great storm becomes a great calm.

 Let us go across to the other side.

Now, you’ve probably heard this good news preached before. The take-home message probably went something like this: Get in the boat with Jesus, because he can calm all the storms of life. Not a bad message. One we need to hear.

But then, when Jesus says, “Why are you still afraid? Have you still no faith?” I have a hunch that many of us heard him scolding along these lines: “Tsk-tsk, there’s nothing to be afraid of here, you silly gooses. You wouldn’t be afraid if you just had a little more faith.” Somehow we’ve gotten the message that fear is something we should overcome, that we have weak faith if we still have fear. But are faith and fear opposites which cancel each other out?

Let us go across to the other side.

No. Let’s be clear: Jesus never says, “There’s nothing to fear. Jesus never says, “Just get over it.” The truth is, there are plenty of things to fear. The storms of our lives are damaging,and there is threatening resistance to doing God’s will. One author notes, “Living in denial is not the same as having faith.”[3] And, as it turns out, though the storm is stilled, the disciples do not overcome their fear. They just move on to something else.  The very next line of scripture says, literally, “they were filled with a greater fear” as they say to each other, “Who is this, that the wind and sea obey him?” Their perception has shifted, and their fear is transformed. What had been a despairing anxiety becomes holy awe at the presence and power of God in their midst.[4] That is the third piece of good news in the scripture today.

Let us go across to the other side.

Jan Richardson writes, “It’s true that faith and fear have a hard time living together. Fear and anxiety can seduce us into a frantic loop in which our perceptions grow so distortedthat we may completely lose the path that would carry us through our fears.”[5] Like the disciples, sometimes we perceive the storm as the only reality.

But whenever we get swamped in the midst of fearful resistance, defining our reality by the storm alone, Jesus calls us to consider, “Why are you afraid?” It is a genuine question, an invitation to explore and name our fear, an invitation to grow in faith. Each time we venture out to experiment in the ways of the kingdom, we encounter all the storms life can throw at us. But there is a reality beyond any storm we encounter, a power greater than any resistance to God’s kingdom. [6] In this boat, we are in the company of the One who is Lord of the wind and the waves.

Let us go across to the other side.

Friends, God is calling us. Jesus is inviting us. The Spirit is sending us: Go across to the other side. Walk across the street. Greet a stranger, someone new to your neighborhood, or an alienated loved one. There are a lot of strangers out there. Look around and see what God is inviting us to do as “church” in this community. Stretch beyond the familiar. And when a storm crops up, as it surely will, consider: “Why are you afraid?” There is another side to any story fear tells in our lives.

Let us go cross to the other side.

In the powerful, strong name of Jesus, let us all say: Amen!


[1] Beverly Zink-Sawyer, “Homiletical Perspective, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 165-167.

[2] Efrain Agosto, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 167.

[3] Jan Richardson, “Stirring the Sleeping Savior,” in The Painted Prayerbook, http://paintedprayerbook.com/2009/06/15/stirring-the-sleeping-savior/#.T-H6LMVRI_w

[5] Jan Richardson, “Stirring the Sleeping Savior,” in The Painted Prayerbook, http://paintedprayerbook.com/2009/06/15/stirring-the-sleeping-savior/#.T-H6LMVRI_w

[6]Lindvall, Ibid, 166.

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