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.