Going to the Other Side

Lectionary 12B, June 24, 2018

Job 38:1-11, Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“When evening had come, Jesus said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”  Now, let’s remember what’s just happened.  Jesus has only been ministering for a short while.  He called the apostles and began teaching, healing, and casting out demons.  He’s had a rather nasty confrontation with the religious leaders who called him a demon because they didn’t like him.  But, on the bright side, lots of people love him.  The crowds are following him, and he’s really popular!  That is, he’s popular in Galilee, where he’s from, and where all his disciples are from.  Jesus is popular among Galileans, who are Jewish like him and his followers, who worship the same God who is Jesus’ Father, the God that Jesus is one part of.  The Galileans don’t just worship the same God, they share the same culture.  They speak the same language, eat the same food, share the same ethnic background, dress the same, etc., etc.

The people on the other side of the lake are not Galileans.  They’re not even Jewish.  They are pagans who worship many gods, none of which are the one true God.  They are a different ethnic group, eat different foods, speak a different language, wear different clothing.  And I wonder what the disciples thought about that.  This is the first time Jesus has led them out of familiar surroundings.  At home, they are close followers of a local celebrity.  They have influence, and respect.  Across the lake, no one has a clue who they are or who Jesus is.  And even without the celebrity, they’re comfortable at home in Galilee.  They know what to expect, and they know there will be food they like and things that they know how to deal with.  They may only be going to the other side of the lake, but it’s a different country and one they may never have stepped foot on.  They’re going from comfort and celebrity status to being strangers in a strange land, random foreigners.  This is not like the sort of church mission trips people go on today, where there are already Christian groups there to join up with.  They were completely, totally, and utterly on their own.  I wonder how the disciples felt about it?  The Bible doesn’t say, but I can’t imagine they were too happy about the idea.  I bet they wished they could stay home where it was comfortable and safe and build on the successes they’d already had, rather than going someplace weird where they would be starting from scratch.  At the very least, I bet they were nervous and apprehensive.

Then the storm started.  Now, the Sea of Galilee is a lake surrounded by really tall mountains.  It’s not like lakes we have here, where you can see things coming.  Things can go from sunny clear skies to major storms in a very short period of time.  And the fishing boats used in Galilee in those days were really small and flat-bottomed.  Great for fishing on a calm day, or when you’re close enough to shore you can row to safety in time.  Not so great when you’re in the middle of the lake, and it’s too choppy to row, and the wind is so strong that it can literally blow the boat over unless you take down the sail.  In those small boats, you are at the mercy of wind and wave if you get caught out in the middle of the lake during a great storm.  And this is a great storm.  It is huge.  The disciples probably weren’t all that happy to be sailing across the lake anyway, but Jesus told them to, and so they did.  And then they get caught in this huge storm that could kill them, and they wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Jesus, and what is he doing?  He’s SLEEPING!  It’s his fault they’re in danger, and he’s not even paying ATTENTION to them!

So they wake him up.  “Teacher, don’t you CARE that we’re DROWNING?”  Jesus wakes up, orders the storm to stop, and turns to them, and asks them why they’re scared.  It’s still early in their relationship with Jesus, but they’ve seen him do some pretty incredible stuff.  Why don’t they trust that he will protect them from the storm, too?  Why is their first reaction to be afraid and blame people, instead of trusting that Jesus will be with them?

Did you know that one of the earliest metaphors for the Christian community is a boat?  If you go to some of the earliest Christian churches and catacombs, you will find pictures of boats all over the place.  You see, a boat does two things: it protects you from the water and wind and storm … and it takes you places.  That’s the thing about the Christian community.  We’re not called by God to sit still where we are.   We’re not called by God to be safe and comfortable. We’re called by God to grow in faith and then go out into the world and spread the healing love of God through word and deed.  We’re called to go out, tell the story of Jesus, heal the sick, free the oppressed and the prisoner, forgive the sinner, and bring reconciliation to all in the name of Jesus Christ.  Like a boat leaves the harbor to sail across the sea, we are called to leave our comfort zone to go minister to and with people who are different from us.

And those people who are different from us may be across the country or across the world, but they may also be the people across the street.  The people who don’t come to church, who are struggling and isolated and alone.  The people who think differently than we do, and live differently than we do.  The people who desperately need good news, because precious little ever seems to go right.

And you know what?  That’s dangerous.  It’s dangerous to try to build relationships with people who are different.  It’s weird, and in order to do it you have to be willing to set aside your own assumptions, even just for a little bit.  You have to be willing to change, to ask the hard questions.  You have to be willing to look at your own traditions and ask yourself if they serve the Gospel or only your own comfort.  You have to be willing to see the world through your neighbor’s eyes, to see what healing and reconciliation and good news they need.  And sometimes, you get rejected.  Sometimes, it doesn’t work out.  Sometimes you fail, and sometimes you get hurt in the process.  But Jesus still comes to us and says, “Get in the boat.  Let’s go across to the other side.”

The sea is a dangerous place, full of storms and uncertainty.  Lots of ships are lost.  Even with the best modern technology and safety equipment, sometimes things happen.  But still ships go out.  A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.  Ships are for taking people places, and protecting them on the way.  Lots of people these days seem to think that being a Christian means your life will be perfect and happy and easy and good.  But that’s not what Jesus calls us to.  Jesus calls us to get into the boat, and go, knowing that there will be storms, and there will be problems, and there will be things we don’t know how to handle, but that Jesus will be there with us in the midst of those troubles.  If, as a Christian, your life never has storms, if you never take risks or allow yourself to be uncomfortable or do things that might change you, you’re like a ship that never leaves the harbor.  And when those storms come, the Christian answer is not to panic and look for someone to blame, as the disciples did.  The Christian answer is to trust that no matter what—whether the storm gets better or worse, whether the ship is saved or not, whether you succeed or fail—Jesus is with you through it all, working to keep you safe.

And you and I might not always see what’s so great about going to the other side.  I’m sure the disciples didn’t—going to those weird foreign people and trying to do ministry with them was hard and not very rewarding.  But if Jesus’ followers had only stayed ministering to and with their own people, you and I would not be Christian today.  If they hadn’t gone out into the world, following Jesus when he called them, Christianity would have stayed nothing more than a small sect of Judaism, if it had survived at all.  The sea of life may not be safe, but it also comes with great rewards.

Just like the disciples weren’t really sure what was waiting for them on the other side of the lake, I don’t know what’s in store for Augustana and Birka as you head into this time of transition.  I don’t know what sort of pastor you will get, and I don’t know what exactly God is calling you to do as you move forward.  But this I do know: God is calling you forward, and there will probably be storms along the way, and God will be with you no matter what.  I hope and pray that you will follow God and trust in him on your way.

Amen.

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6 thoughts on “Going to the Other Side

  1. Oh my, Pastor Anna, you mean you are leaving Augustana and Birka? Being a Cumberland Presbyterian minister,I really don’t know anything at all about Lutheran polity, so I don’t know if you have a “tour of duty” like my UMC pastor friends do, but I have followed you for a few months, and I can tell you are a powerful preacher and loving pastor, and truly called of God. As a retired middle/high school special education teacher (my first call) and chaplain to a group of men with various different abilities (because if we say they are “dis-abled,” we miss the abilities they do have), I love how you own autism, and speak on it. Your preaching style is so beautiful that I know that where ever your next pastorate is, they will love you and be very blessed by your shepherding. I have a pastor friend, my mentor in my education and ministry, who really needs to read this, so I am going to forward this to her. I hope you continue your blog in your new church home.

    May the Lord continue to bless you in everything you do!

    Lee

    • Thank you for your kind words. No, in the Lutheran church we don’t have “tours of duty” and are not assigned by a central authority; instead, when you first graduate from seminary you are assigned to a synod and are to look for a call in that synod. Once you’ve been there for three years, you are free to take a call anywhere you like. (The bishops help in the matching process, but it is the congregation that calls the pastor, which the pastor can then accept or decline.) I will indeed be continuing this blog in my new call; I had it years before I started here in Underwood.

      By the way, as an autistic person, I very much prefer disabled to “differently abled.” I hope you will not see this as rude or confrontational, but since you not only used the term you tried to be evangelistic about why it’s The Term We Should All Use, I’m going to explain why I disagree. I’m only 35, but in my life I’ve seen a parade of terms come and go, handicapped, special needs, disabled, differently-abled, etc. And each time the new word we “have” to use has come in, it’s been because people don’t like disabled or neurodiverse people, and there is a considerable stigma against them, and somehow the idea is that if you change the terms people are using that will somehow change the stigma so disabled and neurodiverse people will be more accepted and less discriminated against. And it NEVER works. As soon as a term makes it out into general use, WHAM comes the stigma glomming on to it. And instead of directing all their energy at fighting the stigma, parents and educators look for the new term that will magically fix the problem, and direct all their energy at getting everyone to use the new term. It’s respectability politics, and it does nothing but waste time and energy.

      “Differently abled” in particular makes me roll my eyes because of the implication that to be of “value” to society you have to have SOME ability. It’s taking the general view of society (that people are useless drains on society unless they are completely independent and abled and productive) and saying that the basic framework is fine, we just need to expand it a little. Well, I think the basic framework is absolutely wrong. What about the people who aren’t “differently abled” because their physical and mental impairments are simply overwhelming and they have no ability to do anything besides lie there and be cared for? They are still human beings with every bit as much importance, human rights, and dignity as any other human being on the planet. I know that’s not what you mean when you use the term, but it is an implication baked in to the switch from “disabled” to “differently abled.” At best, it’s leaving people behind; at worst, it’s throwing them under the bus in an attempt to make the less-disabled people more acceptable to society at large. “Yeah, they’ve got difficulties, but they’re not the BAD kind of disabled, they’re just DIFFERENTLY abled! They still have SOME use to society!”

      I much prefer the approach of another marginalized community, the queer community of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. They realized that the problem wasn’t the words used as slurs against them, the problem was the underlying hatred and disgust. So instead of trying to find the magic words that would somehow make their existence palatable to the larger community, they stood their ground and refused to flinch. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” They stood up in public and flaunted their difference and said “we are not ashamed of who we are and you cannot make us be ashamed.” They said “we deserve the same human rights as everyone else.” They were visible, and public, and loud, and confrontational, and they built communities of mutual support, and they got right in the face of the haters and didn’t back down. You know what else they were? Effective. They got the issue right out there in the open, and they kept hammering away until things changed.

      It’s not a perfect approach, but it’s better than the respectability-politics “let’s just find the right word that will magically not be used offensively!” approach. First, the problem isn’t the words people use, it’s the attitudes that drive them, and no amount of finding the nicest word possible will get rid of our society’s underlying disgust, fear, and hatred of those who are disabled or neurodiverse. As long as that survives, any word or phrase you try to use WILL be turned and twisted into something ugly, and the only way to deal with it is to stand up and name the problem. To say, “all human beings, of every ability level and neurotype, are human beings with human rights, we are all beloved children of God, and your bigotry is wrong.” Human worth is not derived from economic productivity or physical ability or mental ability or neurotypicality. And if anyone thinks that “disabled” or “handicapped” or even “crippled” is a bad thing to be, a slur they can use to demean people, the problem is not that they’re using a bad word, the problem is that THEY ARE BIGOTS. And bigots never change if they’re coddled. They take silence or soft answers as meaning “you agree with me, you’re just too chicken or too nicey-nice to say so out loud.” They’ve done studies on this, on bigots of multiple flavors. (Racists, misogynists, homophobes, etc.) The only way a bigot will realize that they are not just saying “what everyone thinks but is too chicken to say” is if people confront them about it and visibly disagree.

      Second, there’s the effect on disabled people ourselves. The more you keep looking for the right “nice” words that won’t become stigmatized, the more you make our identities and self-respect hostage to the approval of society. “We’re not crippled, we’re handicapped! … oh, no, they used that as a slur, can’t use it. We’re not handicapped, we just have special needs! … oh, no, they used that as a slur, can’t use that.” and on, and on, ad nauseum, constantly racing to find some sort of way of identifying ourselves that people won’t hate. Or we can pick a term, and when the haters start mocking, make it clear that it’s not because of us, it’s because they’re bigots. The second option allows us a lot more freedom to build identity and community and self-respect, because we’re not spending all that time and energy deluding ourselves that if we’re just nice enough, abled enough, normal enough, if we just find the right words, they will magically not hate us any more. We can actually deal with the reality that we live in.

      All of which is why there is a big difference in what I see and hear from the communities of people I know who are/have disabilities themselves (whether physical or mental), and the people who are able-bodied and neurotypical but are parents/teachers/care professionals attempting to advocate for their children/students/clients. The able-bodied neurotypicals focus a lot on making us look “respectable” and “normal” (and finding new words that don’t yet have stigma), while the people with disabilities are far more likely to have an attitude of “we’re here, we’re diabled/autistic/Deaf/blind/whatever, get over it.” It’s not a universal difference, but it is a fairly common one.

      My question is, does the “differently abled” language come from the men you are chaplain to? Does it come from other people with disabilities? Or does it come from other nondisabled neurotypical people such as social workers, teachers, etc? If it comes from the community you’re working with, great, ignore me and continue using the terms they have chosen for themselves. If not … how do they refer to themselves, and why is it so important to you to describe them in ways that are different from how they describe themselves?

      Blessings on you and your ministry, and on the community you minister to and with.

      • Dear Pastor Anna, I am so sorry for offending you and others. Please forgive me for being presumptuous. My background is in public middle and high schools, where we constantly had to remind other students, teachers, and administrators that our students indeed had real abilities and talents, and/or they did have real disabilities and that it was appropriate and honest to make reasonable accommodations and modifications. I have used both terms over the twenty-nine years I taught, and have friends and colleagues in my field who do. As for what term my men use in reference to themselves, they don’t use any- except for one who calls himself “slow,” probably because that is what he heard, and another, 71-year-old gentleman who remembers a time in 1957 when a school official told his mother that he was “r——-” in front of him, and to take him home because he couldn’t learn. (I am not being dramatic-I just can’t write it.) I want other “nice” people to know that they are not “pitiful” or “just like little children,” but that they are adult men who do have abilities, as well as disabilities, just like other people in the world.

        I do appreciate your comments; you have made very good points. It has always angered me that any descriptive word or term that is applied to disabled people gets hijacked by bigots, bullies, and elitists, and becomes a term of derision and hate. You are right; I tend to “evangelize” too much, I think, trying to get the rest of the world to stop the put-downs, both intentional and unintentional, which most likely sets us up for more attention to the “different” and less attention to the “ability,” and I thank you for helping me see that.

        Blessings,

        Lee

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