Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rebuking the Winds

Got enough water yet?  It’s a particularly wet June here in Indiana, for those few readers who aren’t from these parts. Wet, humid, damp, soggy, water-logged, flooded basements, dogs who won’t go out even when they have to; it’s just messy.  And it drains you.  Ha.  Ironic, don’t you think?  All that water and we’re drained.  Swirling around the plumbing, spilling out into the water table, swept away in the flood, adrift on the tides of time and daily living and all the million choices that come to us each day.  And we are afraid.  Afraid we’ve chosen wrong.  Afraid we’re on the wrong path.  Afraid we’re misunderstood or worse, not even known, not even seen, just invisible, overlooked, not even real any more, just a figment of our own imagination.

See?  The rain carries us away.  The storms sweep us out to the sea of our fearful imagination.  Oh, I know we don’t live there.  Most of us anyway.  Most of the time when someone asks “how are you?” and we say “fine” we really mean it.  It isn’t a lie, or a way of hiding.  We really are fine.  We’ve got stuff to do, our desks are piled up, the bills keep coming, our kids are making decisions we don’t quite understand, but we’re fine.  Really.  We’ve got that coworker who seems to have it in for us, that teacher that seems unreasonably harsh, the boss that can’t quite see our potential, and Donald Trump is seriously running for president, but we’re fine.  Really.  Aren’t we?  Yes, certainly.  We’re fine.

Until the storms come.  The ominous signs as the car you hoped to keep another few thousand miles before trading in suddenly sounds thunder on the horizon.  The lightning flash of a bill you weren’t expecting from that last little trip to the doctor that you kept insisting was nothing serious crackles across a bank account already stressed by college and mortgage and too many other things to consider.  A cloudburst in South Carolina that somehow drenches us all no matter how much we try to say that it is them and not us.  And we’re afraid.  In the midst of the storms we are afraid.  And it has been an exceptionally stormy June, or 2015, or life.  Exceptionally.  And like the disciples, our deepest fear is that no one cares.

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?" 

Leaving the crowd behind.  Not every problem solved, not every need met.  But Jesus needed a break, needed a change.  He decided to head off in a different direction.  So, they got on a boat.  “They took him, just as he was.”  As he was?  Unpacked?  Unprepared for a sea voyage?  Or exhausted, spent, used up?  They took him just as he was.  And who was that exactly?

See, that’s the secret to the Gospel of Mark.  It’s all about identity.  Who is this Jesus?  I mean really, who is He?  They thought they knew.  They took the Jesus the knew and found the Son of God they hadn’t met yet.  They took the healer and teacher, and found the Lord of the wind and waves.  They took what they knew and didn’t know what they had.

A storm came up.  Because they do.  They will.  Nowhere in the whole of the bible is there a promise that there will be no storms.  Well, until the kingdom comes that is.  Then the storms will cease and calm will prevail.  But for now?  A storm came up.  Not just a storm.  A “great windstorm” Mark says.  Waves beating on the side of the boat, like the shark from Jaws.  And the boat was taking on water.  They were experienced fishermen, some of them anyway, they knew storms, they weathered a lot of them.  But this one, well, this one was big, a perfect storm.  More than they could handle.  They tried, give them credit, they tried.  For who knows how long, in the night, in the wind and the spray, they were soaked to the skin, they were sore and bleeding from holding the ropes that the storm tried to turn into lashes, into the tentacles of some leviathan from the deep.  They tried, but it was beyond them.  With wide eyes they looked around, finally their eyes landed on the figure in the back of the boat, asleep on a cushion.  And their fear whispered in their ears, what kind of savior is that?  How dare he sleep when you are about to die?  You saw him do those miracles, didn’t you?  And now, what?  Nothing.  Snoring louder than the roaring winds.  He won’t even know when the boat takes on so much water that it won’t even float anymore.  He won’t be there to help you bail in a fruitless attempt to save yourselves.  In a moment or two, the next wave or the one after that and he’ll be sleeping with the fishes.  With you.

They were angry, scared and angry, terrified and hopeless and angry.  They rushed to the stern and shook him.  Notice what their fear has done.  They don’t ask for help.  They don’t ask for hope.  Don’t you care?  They accuse him of abandoning them in their hour of need.  Don’t you care that we are about to die! 

Isn’t that the way?  He isn’t doing what we want, he must not care.  She doesn’t help the way I want to be helped she doesn’t care.  We didn’t get what we wanted when we wanted it, no one cares about us.  We accuse, we divide, we pull back, turn away.  Because they didn’t care.  Jesus didn’t care.  If he did he wouldn’t be sleeping like, well like he didn’t care.  Didn’t have a care.  Like there was nothing to worry about.

“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.  9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)   Paul wrote that.  But then he was crazy.  Didn’t he care?  He seems to say there isn’t anything to fear.  That there is One who cares for us no matter what.  No matter what we face, no matter the pain we bear or the grief we suffer, he cares.  Don’t you care?  What kind of question was that?  

A question from those who didn’t know him.  Didn’t really know him.  Him, the Lord of creation, the Son of God.  Jesus doesn’t respond to their complaint, their whining, he turns and deals with the storm.  “Peace!  Be still!”  A little kind and gentle translation.  He shouts at the storm “Shut up!”  Stop your blowing and raging and threatening!  Just stop it.  Go back to where you came from.  Where you came from?  Where do storms come from?  Well, a meteorologist could answer that better than I could.  For normal storms anyway.  This one wasn’t normal.  

Jesus’ words are the same words he said in the first chapter when telling the demon to shut up and get out.  We usually translate them differently - be still and be silent, but it’s the same word.  This was a demon storm.  The kind that need rebuking.  The kind that need rejected, need to be told to get out and never come back again.  The storm of racism broke over us all again this week.  And those winds need to be rebuked, to be cast out, named and denounced.  We can’t simply say it was one man, maybe with mental issues who killed nine people far away.  This storm raises our fears and we wonder if we will go under the waves.  Don’t you care, we shout to the one who should have fixed us by now.  Don’t you care that there are threads of hatred that bind all of our hearts?  Set us free!  Keep us safe!  Make us good all the time.  Don’t you care that we have to work so hard, that we have to fight through the storm?  

Have you still no faith?  Still?  How long, O Lord?  We’re waiting to be made strong enough to stand and rebuke the winds with Him.  He’s wondering why we don’t just claim the freedom and the gift we’ve already been given.  We’re waiting for something big to happen, He says there isn’t anything bigger than life eternal, life abundant.  What are you afraid of?  A storm?  That’s nothing.  The winds? All it can do is take away stuff, all it can do is shake our confidence in our own power, all it can do is remove the feeble assumptions we try to live by - like we are in control of our destiny, like we are better or stronger than those who aren’t like us, like our strength is found in armies or governments, like our value is found in what we can do with our own hands.  Have you still no faith?  

Some wind needs rebuking, some storms need facing, not with fear but with hope.  Hope that we, with Him, can stand for something greater than hatred and fear.  Hope in the faith that says there is something more than safety and ease.  Something like reconciliation, like community, like church.  The church, that boat swept along in the waters of a changing world, seemingly too fragile to survive the storms around and within.  But we’ll be OK.  See, I looked in the back, at the one sleeping on a cushion.  The Lord of creation is on board.  It is well with our souls.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Out at Home

Jesus went home.  He named his inner circle of disciples and went home.  Called it a day.  Well, he healed a man, on the Sabbath it turns out and got into a mess of trouble and then called the inner circle and went home.  The last time he was home, someone tore a hole in his roof and lowered a paralyzed man into the living room.  Then he called a friend, had a party - got called out for that one too, went on a hike with his new friends and they plucked some grain from a field they were wandering through and got in trouble for that (reaping on the Sabbath - not stealing grain, oddly enough), then healed a man and called his inner circle and went home.  Before that he got baptized and spent some time alone in the wilderness, cast out some demons, some of whom seemed to recognize him but he told them to keep quiet about it and he healed and walked and found need everywhere he went.  Tried to go home and lost his roof, attended a few parties and did the grain thing, the Sabbath thing, called his inner circle and went home.

That’s where we start this week.  He went home.  Except it wasn’t home.  Other translations don’t say home.  One says he entered a house.  Or the place he was staying.  In other gospels he says he doesn’t have a home.  But maybe that’s after he tried to go.  Maybe that is the result of finding that homes isn’t the haven you hoped it would be.

For those of us who move frequently, home is an elusive concept.  People often ask for a home town.  There are lots of markers I can name, place of birth, where I graduated from high school, where we got married, where the kids came, but home?  That’s harder.  Home is a now thing, though.  I’m home now writing this.  In our temporary apartment in between places to live, feeling a little crowded, trying to figure out boundaries and rules, which has as much to do with the people as the place; kids who aren’t kids anymore and parents who live most of the year without them and now love them but find them annoying at times. Everyone has to change, to accommodate, to make room when there isn’t room to be made.  Jesus went home.  And his family tried to restrain him and his neighbors tried to call him out.  Welcome home Jesus.

Mark 3:19 - 35  Then he went home;  20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind."  22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."  23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan?  24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.  27 But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  28 "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;  29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--  30 for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."  31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you."  33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"  34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!  35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

He went home and found a family who thought he was crazy.  He was used to dealing with those who thought he was crazy.  Par for the course these days.  Mark follows one of his standard literary habits and makes a sandwich story.  He starts one story and then interrupts it for another story and then comes back to the story he started.  The family comes in with a straight jacket and prescription drugs to see if they can save him from himself.  But before they get there, a battalion of scribes come marching down the hill from Jerusalem, and they set up siege against the house where Jesus is, pointing fingers and calling names.  They brought out the heavy artillery for this one.  He’s not just crazy, they shout at passers by, he’s possessed.  And not just some low level demonic presence, he’s got the top dog, the prince of demons - Beelzebul!  Whoever that is.  A prince, they say.  There are a lot of demonic names that have power.  They get all mixed up in history, One of those names is “Baalzebub” which actually translates as Baal (or Lord) of the Flies.  Creepy.  Literary, but creepy.

Anyway, the fighting scribes of Jerusalem are pretty convinced they got him this time.  All these things he can do... See, that’s the crux of the problem here.  Jesus’ reputation is growing, the healing, the teaching - people keep commenting on his authority - the crowds are flocking to his side, to hear his words, to reach for his touch, to let his shadow pass over them.  The scribes are seeing their q-rating dwindle and they don’t like it.  So, they come and set up a press conference outside the house where Jesus is and say “sure he can do all this stuff, fancy stuff, unexplainable stuff, but it is because he is using black magic!  He is consorting with demons!!”  

Notice they don’t approach Jesus.  That doesn’t work so well for them.  So, they are trying to attack his reputation instead.  If they can just get enough of the goggle eyed crowd to stop and think for a moment, they can chip away at his status.   

But Mark says that he confronted them.  He wouldn’t let them shout from the sidelines, he called them in and then parabled them.  Is that a word?  No, it isn’t, but it fits.  He spoke to them in parables.  Now, we think that means he told them stories.  A parable is a story, right?  Well, that’s how we usually think of them, but not really.  The word parable literally means throw alongside.  Sometimes a story is thrown alongside a question and we puzzle out an answer.  Like “who is my neighbor?”  “A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers.”  But sometimes it isn’t a story, it’s an idea, or an image.  In this case it is an argument, a logical discussion that gets thrown alongside the accusations.  

“He is working with Satan!”  Think about it, Jesus says, does that make sense?  I’m dismantling Satan’s kingdom, threatening Satan’s power.  You think I’m working for his team?  I’ve tied him up and am plundering what used to be thought of as his house!  I’m claiming the treasure he has stolen back, the treasure which is you.  All of you.  Who really belong to God.  You are a part of God’s family.

Family.  Then someone remembers that he was supposed to tell Jesus about the family that has come for Him.  “Hey Jesus, your mom is here.  Your brothers and sisters are here.  They want you.  You’ve broken curfew.  You’ve soiled the family name.  You need to get home and have some sense knocked back into you.  They say.”  

Jesus smiled and said, “family.  My family is here already.”  It sounds mean to our ears.  Like he was divorcing the group he grew up with, the mother who gave him birth.  You don’t count, we hear, you aren’t important.  And I don’t want to blunt the words too much, there is a hard edge to what he is saying here.  But it is not so much a dismissal of his family as it is a statement of inclusion.  The family, those to whom we owe allegiance and honor and welcome and love, above all love, is not a small circle but an almost unimaginably large one.  Any who love  God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength.  That’s the family.  

That’s home.  We don’t leave home to come to church, we leave home in one sense to go home in another sense.  And wherever we gather with those who love God we are at home.  So we should greet one another not with I’m glad you came, but with welcome home.

They called him out at home, his family, those afraid for him, perhaps even afraid of him.  They called him out.  But he knew, because he understands home and family better than we do, he knew he was safe.  Safe at home.

Welcome home.