Preacher: The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia
While it may not be a good idea, I begin my sermon today by looking back a couple of weeks; looking back to the gospel assigned for two weeks ago when Jesus’s family was worried about him and the renown that his teaching was garnering him. They knew that what he was doing – his healing—and especially his teaching was revolutionary and that, as word spread about him, he was endangering his own life. So his family, his mother and his brothers and sisters go to the packed house where he is preaching, teaching, and healing and they try to get him to come outside to talk with them. I can hear Mary in her Jewish mother voice saying, “We gotta talk some sense into this child…” But Jesus has a sense of what he is doing – and for whom he is doing it, so he replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at each and every person around him, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Whoever does the will of God is my father, my mother, my sister, my brother – my child.
And that truth is what is at the heart of Jesus. That truth is at the heart of why Jesus came to earth as an embodied human being– it is the gift of grace that Paul talks about in his second letter to the Corinthians. It is what allowed Jesus, who alone carried the personal knowledge that his public ministry led to certain death, to sleep soundly at night. In fact, to sleep soundly in the midst of a raging storm on the water – even as his disciples feared for their lives. Jesus slept because he had put himself in the same boat with us. All that Jesus did was because he loved us as his family. Jesus loves us. He cares for us.
Lately it seems like the world has been going through a storm of its own. As fear and uncertainty grips the world’s imagination, our vision seems to have been obscured. We feel like we are aboard what Plato refers to in Republic as “ship of fools” where the captain has no knowledge of navigation, has been overthrown and where Plato says “The sailors are quarreling with one another about the steering––every one is of the opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learned, and will further assert that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary.” And so the ship is adrift without any one guiding its course.
Right now for most of us, there is too much to take in. We seem to be surrounded on all sides by stormy water – with no harbor or port in sight. Everywhere we turn, there is so much that needs to be done—so much that seems to be wrong or that needs to dealt with – and not in some kind of theoretical way – but right now, right away. And our ship, without any one at the helm seemed destined to sink.
The gospel of Mark was written for a people just like us. While as Christians we know the Bible is supposed to be important and we try our best to hear, as we say in the liturgy, “what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” As modern folks it makes sense that we sometimes feel skeptical that this ancient text could have something to say about the problems we face in today’s world. But the gospel of Mark was written in a tumultuous time as well (around 68-72 CE)—the time of what is referred to as the “Great Revolt”—when the Jewish people, long a conquered nation within the realm, revolted against the Romans. This era was marked by great social upheaval and persecution and ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. So, Mark’s gospel was written in a time when Christians were not only struggling for survival but also to continue to believe in Jesus Christ who they had assumed would have already returned to save them in all his power and great glory. But time passed and nothing seemed better—in fact everything seemed worse.
As Matthew Skinner notes: “Mark’s author told the story of Jesus to address the questions of that tumultuous time: How might Christ-followers respond to the overwhelming force of Roman power in an age when Christ had still not returned? Should the gospel of Jesus Christ compel Christ-followers to take up a revolutionary cause to overthrow a government that they may have viewed as illegitimate, greedy, and cruelest to society’s neediest? Or should fidelity to Christ compel his followers to get in line with the empire, to keep their churchy commitments separate from their obligations to the state?” Some of these issues seem to be not too far from those that we find ourselves facing now or, in fact, that our foremothers and forefathers faced before us, do they? Because that is the rub, isn’t it? How are we to be Christians in this world where our beliefs are tested, scorned, and denigrated? Or more poignantly still, where we aren’t sure that they actually make any difference?
But what the Markan author reminded them—us—is that it is often when we feel like we can not go on, that Jesus’s miracles take place. As we listen to today’s story of Jesus calming the storm, we come to it from different backgrounds. I, for example, was raised in the land-locked state of Montana where I had very little to do with boats. Some of you all – Diane, K and John, and others here have a lot of experience with boats. But the one thing that we know is that on board the boat that we are talking about today, Jesus’s three closest disciples were fishermen. Unlike Plato’s allegory, these men did know about navigation and storms and all the things that those whose livelihood comes from the sea know about. So, they were not like I would be if I were in charge of the boat during a fearful storm, wringing my hands and crying out for help when the storm hits. So, I have no doubt in my mind that the disciples had already done everything that they could possibly do before they woke Jesus up. The men were fearful because, from their professional knowledge and experience, they thought they knew what was going to happen. And that was, with the storm conditions that they were facing, that, in a short period of time, the boat would capsize and they would drown.
So they wake up Jesus in their fear. Perhaps they are angry that he had had them set sail that evening—instead of waiting until the morning when they might have been rescued. Perhaps they are upset that he seemed to sleep so peacefully as they battled the storm on their own. And they say to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Don’t you care?” And Jesus wakes up, rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the storm is over. The wind ceases and the certain death that they knew awaited. Well, it does not happen as they had thought it would. They are safe. And Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Now I think it is important to take a minute here to note that Jesus is not castigating them for their reaction to the storm. Storms are frightening. Just think of how animals seem to sense and react to the coming of a storm. It is part of our living DNA to feel afraid during a storm because they present real danger. And certainly the storm that the disciples faced was real and dangerous. Jesus does not lecture his disciples and tell them, as the wind howls and the waves crash into the boat, how they should not be concerned. When they wake him Jesus immediately calms the storm. Rather when Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid – don’t you have any faith?” he is saying this because he has just taught them, often explaining in detail the parables he taught the crowd, all about the Kingdom of God. And yet they still didn’t seem to understand what lie beneath all that Jesus was teaching. And that is, that of course, Jesus cares about them and would certainly care if and when they perishing; because Jesus came to share the same boat with them – with us. And Jesus is in the boat with us – because God is with us in the calm and in the storm; in the good and in the bad. All that Jesus was doing and teaching was because he loves them—because he loves us so much that he will never leave us.
We are not alone —where ever it is that we find ourselves. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth one of his own beloved if troubled communities: “As we work together with Christ, we urge you… not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘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!”
Paul is telling the Corinthians that they – that we have the grace of God now. We have God’s love and care now. And we have all that we need to do what is right—right now. Even though we may feel fearful and feel lost or adrift. Even though we think we know exactly where it is all heading. Even though we feel like there is no hope. God is with us – even though we think he sleeps.
I started today talking about how Jesus tells the crowds that they– that we– are his family. And I want to make sure to remind us that Jesus loved his own earthly family very much. In fact, we know that his final request as he hung on the cross was that his mother be well taken care of – so when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” But that Jesus lived into the idea that we all are his family is not only evident in his death, resurrection, and ascension but by the fact that not all the names of Jesus siblings have been recorded and that we often forget to mention them at all.
So that in our children’s sermon a couple of weeks ago, one of our younger members told me quite emphatically that Jesus did not have any siblings. But, as I explained, in the gospels of Mark and Matthew we are told the names of some of Jesus’s siblings – James, Joses, Jude, and Simon, but that we are not given the names of Jesus’s sisters—nor are we given each of your names—but through Jesus’s death and resurrection each one of us here—each and every human being—is a child of God. God hears us. God listens to us. And God cares about us.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, let us rest secure in the knowledge that Christ is in the boat with us and let us care for one another.