Saturday, June 20, 2009

In the Storm

So, was Jesus a lake person? I mean in the modern Methodist sense! You know, the lake people are the ones who get away to the lake during the summer. Sometimes regularly, sometimes occasionally, but they like to have a place to go to get away. A place to retreat to, away from the cares of the daily grind. A place to go and recapture yourself. A place to put some distance between you and all the stuff, all the demands, all the burdens. You know.

Getting away is a good thing. I’m not here to grumble about the lake people. I’m a bit jealous of them, to be honest. But then my lake is a range of other things, and other activities, and other places. I guess the first point of my bible study this week is everyone needs a place to go. Everyone needs time to regroup. Everyone needs those relationships that build up, because they are giving, pouring into rather than always needing.

So, if you are blessed enough to have a place on the lake - enjoy it. And if don’t have a house on the lake, find your place, or time, or activity to be built up. Or the people who build you up. A few years ago I was a part of a team of folks working together to run a summer choir camp (oh, the irony!) It was one of the best functioning teams I have ever been a part of, and while we had our struggles with the task and even with one another sometimes, it was a wonderful group of people to work with. Most of us are no longer on the team doing that job. But when we left the team we promised to keep in touch with one another. Well, we didn’t do so well with that, like most of those kind of promises. But last evening, due to the efforts of one member of the team, we got together again for dinner and conversation. It was a wonderful evening, we got caught up and relived some of the “old days” and just enjoyed one another’s company. It was like time at the lake.

That’s what I mean, seek that out. Go and find ways to be built up. Find ways to get away. Head for the lake. But, let me toss in one warning. Sometimes getting away is harder than we realize. Which brings us to our gospel lesson for this week. An account of getting away that didn’t work.

Mark 4:35-41 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

Another camping trip spoiled by bad weather! Sorry. Didn’t mean to be flip. Although that is my larger point. But I’ll get back to that in a moment. First of all let’s unpack the myriad of issues in these few verses. And each one could rate an essay or sermon or two! So, fasten your seat belts!

First of all, Jesus says, rather simply it seems, “Let’s go across to the other side.” And off they go. But we need to pause for a moment and consider what is on the other side, and it is the other side of. On the basic level it is the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Not a large body of water in world terms, but significant enough to give pause to the fishermen and boaters of that day. Most fishing was done close to the shore. It is possible, indeed likely, that the four fishermen had made a substantial career on that lake and had never gone across it. That crossing represented a foray into the unknown. Scripture is full of images of the sea as the representative of chaos, or that where God is not. When Jonah was running away from God he went to sea. In some ancient coastal cultures, whenever fishermen were heading out to deeper waters there was a ritual performed before they left that was essentially a funeral - a chance to say goodbye for what would very possibly be the last time. And when, or if, they returned there was a celebration that had little to do with the catch, it was more like resurrection. So, when Jesus said follow me a couple of chapters ago, what he really meant was put your life at risk.

And he didn’t say, sail out a way to get away from everyone. He said go across to the other side. He had a destination in mind. But on the other side was “them.” Jesus was heading to non-Jews. He was leaving the land of people like him and venturing off among strangers. Go to the other side is almost a threatening kind of statement to them and to us. We don’t like going to the other side - whether it is the other side of town or the other side of the tracks, or - for politicians - the other side of the aisle. The other side is where foreigners dwell, the ones we don’t know and don’t like if we were to admit it. The other side is where the habits are strange and the behaviors are worse. The other side is where the folks we stare at, and shake our heads and tsk under our breath. Let’s go across to the other side. And off they go.

OK? One verse down! Then it says they gathered up and took off. But that Jesus went “just as he was.” What does that mean? To be honest, I don’t know. But Mark who is so sparing with words wouldn’t include something just as a throwaway. So, there is something here, some clue, some foreshadowing. Jesus is always showing us how to live, how to be. That was his main purpose in spending time among us. He got frustrated when we focused all our attention on the spectacular, the miracles and the healings. He wanted us to see something else, something deeper, more significant. And perhaps his statements at the end of the passage - to jump ahead for a moment - came about for the same reason. He was upset that those closest to him were missing something vital, some clue about life. And maybe that clue is revealed in the statement that Jesus went “just as he was.”

Maybe the invitation is to live within ourselves. To be centered in who and what we are and to be satisfied with that. Maybe our security in the end comes not from something or someone or some condition outside, but maybe it comes from within. Maybe his rebuke to them was not that they were afraid to die, but that their fear was translated as “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” It was their misunderstanding about the gift of faith that bothered him. Don’t you care? Because if you cared you would do what we want when we want it.

Here’s my point - since the end of the page is looming and Maddie says I write too much anyway - storms follow us wherever. The promise of the Christian life is not for constant sunny skies and clear forecasts. Storms will come, you can count on it. The question is what will you do in the midst of the storm. When you live your life, fulfill your obligations, make something of yourself, even when you set out to retreat and be built up for the tasks ahead, storms will come. Faith is not a ticket out of the storm. Sometimes it feels as though we live from one storm to the next. But the question remains, what will you do in the midst of the storm? Or maybe better, who will you be in the midst of the storm?

Commentators will tell you that Mark’s proclamation here is a reminder that Jesus is stronger than the storms. And if Paul is right, that it is “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me” then there is no storm that can make me less than I am in Christ. Which means that in spite of the fear and the sometimes panicked activity in the midst of the storm, I can find a place of calm. I can be, like Christ, just as I am. Even in the storm.