Crossing over – to the “other side”
A sermon on Mark 4:35-41 preached at the Cathedral Church of Saint Mark, Salt Lake City, Utah, on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 21st 2009
It is Jesus’ idea, Mark tells us, to cross the lake to the other side as night is falling. After a long day of teaching on the lake shore, a small flotilla is crossing the Sea of Galilee when there is a sudden, violent, unexpected storm. If you were going to be in a storm on that particular lake, you’d want to have the likes of Peter, Andrew, James and John on board. They had grown up around water; they made their living on this lake.
When these professional sailors feel the squall and see the wall of rainwater approaching at a surprising rate – its dark, heavy, rumbling clouds pouring out their contents and making the horizon under them a blur – they would have prepared to ride this storm out doing all the things that sailors are supposed to do in a storm: facing into it, trimming the sails, perhaps even dropping an anchor on a long rope.
But this storm, Mark tells us, was particularly fierce: the waves, driven by the gale-force winds, were beating into the boat which was filling faster than anyone could bail. Matthew and Luke recall this story, too. They say the windstorm swept down the lake, that the boat was filling with water, that they were in danger of drowning.
And where was Jesus? Mark tells us he was in the back of the boat, on a cushion, sleeping soundly. The disciples, panicked, soaked and afraid to die, shake Jesus from his sleep and challenge him:
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”
Mark tells us that Jesus wakes up and shouts into the storm: “Be quiet!” And immediately the wind and the waves fall into a dead calm. But this miracle of calming the storm, impressive as it is, does not the end this story. Jesus, turning to his shocked disciples, says:
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
~ o ~
There have been times in my own life when I have cried out:
“Don’t you care that I am in pain?”
“Are you even there?”
“How can you sleep at a time of crisis like this?
I need you to take charge of this mess in a big way. Now!”
Perhaps you feel like you’re in that same boat, too – drenched from the waves, the taste of fear in your mouth, your heart racing – and the just-awakened Jesus, roused by your poking and prodding and your cry for help, says to you:
“Have you still no faith?”
“How long have I been leading your life?”
“You are still concerned about what I can do for you;” says Jesus. “But I am concerned with what I can do in you and through you.”
Mark’s message comes to us today in this time and place: “Stop running from your fear. You were not born to pass through life untouched and intact. I built you to be storm-worthy, made to be fully human. Make peace with this fact. Realize there is a God bigger than all of this. Storms are a crucial ingredient to a full life. There is a sanctifying purpose for your fear. God is doing something towards your maturity: in return, your faith, your trust for his purpose and plan for you, complete God’s work.
~ o ~
The change that Jesus makes is in us: that peace of God that passes all understanding – guarding our hearts while we are yet experiencing fear, guarding our minds while we are yet experiencing doubt – this is the interior change. There’s the miracle: inner calm in the midst of the storm as we face the pains of physical and mental disease, the pains of failing lives, the pains of failing relationships.
~ o ~
Other boats were following, Mark tells us. The Disciples were not the only ones caught up in the storm. Your boat, my boat, is part of that storm flotilla on our way to the other side. Some of us like to think we’re “seasoned sailors” like Peter, James and John, having ridden out many storms in our lives. Some of us are new-comers to the rage and fury of unexpected, debilitating storms. But all of us can name our particular storms. I know mine have specific names.
Perhaps you are even naming your own storm right now sitting here in the Nave of St. Mark’s.
“Jesus, don’t you care that I am perishing?”
Hear what the prophet Isaiah says about storms:
Is. 43:1 ¶ But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, . . .
he who formed you, . . .
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Is. 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Is. 43:3 For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
The way things are at the moment, Isaiah tells us, is not a reflection of how things will be. Today’s Good News is that no matter what it is that you are presently experiencing, there is more to life than just this moment and the circumstances of this time. You will pass through the flood waters to the other side. And all because God is with you now just as he has been with you before.
“Peace! Be still!”
~ o ~
Look up (at the Cathedral beams): Can you see an upturned boat above you which has now become a shelter for you? This boat was not designed to be permanently anchored and moth-balled, a museum attraction in permanent safe-harbour. The wind may blow and the waves may roll, but this ship – Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – was made to travel in just such waters. Expect the ride to be lively from time to time. It’s a sign of life!
Look around you: You are not alone; you have companions on the way. There is a collective lifetime of experience and faith in this holy place. Some of you may have known this place all your lives: you were baptized here; confirmed here; married here, ordained here – and for some of you this will be the place for your final “homing”.
Some of you are finding a new home here – perhaps after a time of exile or as a refugee from another church. Whatever brings you here today, whether this is a well-worn path for you or a newly-found home, God knows the plans He has for you and he will not be thwarted by any storm. Every child of God has a destiny.
~ o ~
And I can’t preach here in this place without acknowledging the real storm we’re in the middle of right now in the Anglican Communion over sexuality – and homosexuality in particular – over which parts of the boat gay women and men can freely move about in, and where, for some, the limits of their leadership is exceeded. For some American Anglicans, the storm-fear has become so intolerable that, having reached their limits, they have left for safer harbours in the Southern Cone and ports as far-flung as Nigeria. And even some of us here are weary of the ongoing debate and wonder when the storm will quiet down and things will return to “the way things were.”
But Jesus, today’s Gospel reminds us, is continually calling us to go over to the other side, away from “the ways things are,” on a journey he initiates. Jesus is always calling us to leave something behind — our narrow self-interest, our need for power or control or stability, some particular attitude that binds us, from ways of doing things that are no longer fruitful — Jesus is always calling us to move on, to grow up and mature, to progress.
~ o ~
Whatever it is that we dread most, that troubles us and keeps us up at night, or causes us to panic and despair, Jesus absorbs them all into his death.
He nails our fears to His cross.
He buries our grief in his tomb.
He speaks a word that no trouble can stand against: “Be quiet, be still.”
This morning, as we come forward to receive the Eucharist in thanksgiving for who we are: “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” – just as God created us and redeemed us to be, loved by him beyond our wildest imagining – come and abandon your fear, your anger and your grief – your heavy burdens – at this altar.
From here, we, who have been “. . . graciously accepted as living members of Jesus Christ, and fed with the spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood”, are continually sent back into the world in peace.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
That’s the power of His word. He knows your storm intimately, and the condition of your boat.
“Why are you so timid and fearful? Jesus asks us today: “Let’s cross over to the other side.”
 New Revised Standard Version
 Praise my soul, the King of Heaven, Hymnal 1982, 410.
 Psalm 46:10, NRSV.