Monday, June 26, 2006

That Sinking Feeling?

Here's yesterday's sermon with help from David Lose and Barry Harte.

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2006
Mark 4.35-41
Thomas Arth

Why did the chicken cross the playground?
To get to the other slide.
Why did Jesus tell the disciples to cross the lake?
Answer 1: To get to the other side.
Answer 2: According to our reading, because Jesus told them to.
Well, I think we can combine those answers.
The disciples were crossing the lake to get to the other side
because Jesus told them to.
Following Jesus,
going where he sends us, doing what he tells us to do,
isn’t always smooth sailing as the disciples found out.

As they set out, Jesus takes his place in the stern of the boat
and the disciples do their work.
As they sail, all of a sudden a storm rages.
The boat is tossed about like a child’s toy.
The winds push the waves into the boat
and it is swamped with water.
Surely they’ll all drown.

"Where is Jesus?" the disciples ask frantically.
Their efforts to bail out the boat are failing miserably.
Somehow Jesus, in the stern of the boat,
sleeps through the storm and the cries of the disciples.
This must have been some storm.
I can see Matthew or Thomas or Judas being scared,
but Peter, Andrew, James and John, they’re fishermen,
they must be used to the lake and sailing.
If they’re frightened this must be severe.
On finding and rousing Jesus,
the question moves from where to what.
Now it’s not "Where is he?"
now they ask "What will you do?"
Do something. Do anything!
The wind is rebuked with a few words,
"Peace! Be still!"
Now it’s Jesus who gets to ask the questions:
"Why are you afraid?"
"Have you no faith?"
The disciples answer with still another question:
"Who is this?" they wonder aloud.

Do we have much more faith than those disciples?
Storms can easily disrupt our plans,
perhaps even threaten our lives.
An unexpected diagnosis turns our world upside down.
A slump in the economy leaves us jobless.
What seemed like a stable relationship
breaks apart and rocks our world.
In each case, and so many others,
we wonder what has happened and question God’s presence.
Jesus does more than question.
He trusts God, stills the storm, and calms the sea.

"Who is this?" the disciples ask.
This is the only child of God
who will do much more than calm wind and sea.
This is the only child of God
who will heal the sick, feed the hungry,
welcome the sinner and outcast.
This is the only child of God
who will suffer death, defeat the devil,
and rise again to bring everlasting life.
Yes, storms rage about us,
but you, O God, rescue us even from ourselves,
drowning us in the waters of baptism,
that we might live, truly live, in all faithfulness.

This isn’t the first miracle the disciples have seen from Jesus.
According to Mark’s gospel
they have seen Jesus cast out unclean spirits.
They have seen him heal many people.
They’ve seen a man
lowered through a hole in the roof by his four friends,
and Jesus tell the man to
‘Stand up and take your mat and walk.’
Mark has also told us about Jesus’ preaching and teaching.
He has promised the coming of the kingdom of God.
And now Mark begins to show us
what that kingdom will look like.
Here Jesus displays his complete power over nature,
suggesting that while many things in this life may shake us,
none will defeat us,
for we are children of the awesome God
who has set the boundaries of creation
and still commands its powers.
An alternate first reading for today is one from Job,
from the end of Job.
Job continually maintains his innocence
when his so called friends accused him of deserving his fate.
Confronted with great suffering,
Job attempts to prove his innocence to God.
Finally God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind.
God shows Job that, as a finite human being,
he is incapable of judging the Creator.
God says:
"Who took charge of the seas
when they gushed forth like a baby from the womb?
That was me! I wrapped them in soft clouds,
and tucked them in safely at night.
I prescribed bounds for them
so they couldn’t run loose,
And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place.
Here shall your proud waves be stopped.’"
Only God has the power
to control the seas, the winds, and the waves.
When Jesus rebukes the wind and the sea,
tells the wind to pipe down and says to the sea
"Quiet! Settle down!"
the disciples ask "Who is this, anyway?
Wind and sea are at his beck and call!"
"Who then is this?"
Why it’s none other than God
who has the power to tame the chaotic waters.
Looking back from our point of view, we know this,
but the disciples couldn’t see this significance.

Sometimes the storms in our life seem to be out of control.
The chaos threatens to overwhelm us, to swamp our boat.
It might be caused by people or situations
or evil powers that we can do nothing about.
Sometimes it’s not even our fault.
A common lament is why do bad things happen to good people?
Even the world of faithful Christians
can come crashing down.
It can cause us to ask God, "Where are you?"
"Is it nothing to you that we’re going to drown?"
Even when the storms in our lives are spinning out of control,
even when we doubt that God is there,
even when we curse God
for allowing us to suffer the way we sometimes do,
even when we turn our backs and give up on God,
even then God is here.
God is with you, no matter what.
Something that has become a favourite theme for me
is an image that Kelly Fryer describes in her book
"Reclaiming the ‘L’ Word:
Renewing the Church from Its Lutheran Core."
She says that God always comes down.
There is never anything that we can ever do
to make our way UP to God.
God came down in Jesus.
And God still comes down,
in the bread and in the wine,
in the water and in the fellowship of believers.
God ALWAYS comes down.
So even when our faith is shattered,
when our boat is being swamped and in danger of sinking,
even when we turn our backs on God,
God comes down,
God is here, for me and for you.

Jesus asked the disciples
"Why are you such cowards?
Don’t you have any faith at all?"
"Where is your faith?" Jesus might still question us today.
Do we have more faith than the disciples? No.
Will we ever move beyond our lack of faith? Probably not.
This news may seem rather sobering,
but in the end it is not so much the quality of our faith that matters
as its object,
for we believe in the one who lived, died, and was raised again
so that nothing in the heavens or earth
can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
That’s Paul writing again in Romans.
He says "I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—
nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic,
today or tomorrow, high or low,
thinkable or unthinkable—
absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love
because of the way that Jesus our Lord has embraced us."
As long as this God is on our side,
none of life’s storms—
whether physical or spiritual—
can keep us down for long.

This business of faith can seem to be filled
with more questions than answers.
Where, what, why and who;
the question left for us is "When?"
When is the time to respond with faith?
Now is the time.
Earlier, in the reading from Second Corinthians we heard
"‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time;
see, now is the day of salvation!"
God hears our cries.
God does not sleep.
The disciples were never really in danger
as long as their Lord was with them.
They just didn’t know it.
And when we feel like the weight of the world is pressing down,
maybe we’re not so confident that our Lord is there.
In the Small Catechism Martin Luther teaches us
about prayer when we rise in the morning
and when we lie down at night.
In each case he tells us to begin by making the sign of the holy cross
and saying:
"Under the care of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That’s to serve as a reminder to us when we might have our doubts,
that as baptized children of God
we can be confident that God loves us, cares for us,
and is with us always.

Paul says that "NOW is the acceptable time;
see, NOW is the day of salvation!"
Not later, not tomorrow, but now is the time.
Open wide your hearts to receive the one who always comes down,
the one who said, when you were baptized, "you are mine,"
the one whom even the wind and sea obey.

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