"The Other Side"
This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on June 20th, The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
“The Other Side”
June 20, 2021
Jesus Stills a Storm
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘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. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 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?’ 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. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 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?’
I think it was last Sunday night sometime in the middle of the night when a huge clap of thunder BOOMed outside and it felt like it was with me in the room. I instantly woke up and was so startled by the storm that I never got back to sleep. I was very sleepy all the next day and decided to try to take a nap in the afternoon. No sooner than I had drifted off to sleep and again, BOOM, another clap of thunder felt like it was right beside me. I have heard from a couple of you that you had similar experience of being awoken storms this week. And then others of you have chimed in to say that you slept right through the storms! I have to confess that this has left me feeling a little jealous and also shocked.
The storms this week have been strong and loud, accompanied by heavy rains,
sometimes hail, and also wind. I don’t want to go so far as to say these were
intentional on God’s part, but the storms and the resulting sleeplessness this week has been good preparation for our scripture reading today. What we have here today is a direct pick up from where we left last week, although the setting changes dramatically. If last week’s lesson was a calm telling of a parable, this week’s lesson is a dramatic real-life experience. This is what happens. At the end of the day after teaching his disciples about the kingdom of God with the seed parables, Jesus asks them to take him “to the other side.” “The other side” is not explained here by Mark, but later parts of the passage reveal this to be Gentile territory on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Normally the logistics of the travels of Jesus and his disciples are not covered in great detail. They just appear in different places. But in this case, Mark focuses in on the journey.
Why? Because the space in-between matters here. The shore the disciples have left behind is their home territory; their safe place; the place of their upbringing; the place where Jesus nurtured them as disciples with stories and metaphors. The other side, the shore on the far side of the sea is another country with people who are very different; they worship a different god and they have a different culture. Jesus wants to take his message of God’s kingdom on the road and out of the comfort zone of his home territory. His good news about God’s love and healing was for everyone, no matter how different. So everyone gets into their boats and they set across the Sea of Galilee as the sun goes down. Jesus goes to sleep, curled up in the stern of the boat, it is night after all. Meanwhile the disciples steer and row the boat across the sea. And suddenly great big storm comes up on them. Big winds, big waves, maybe even thunder. Storms while sleeping in a warm cozy house are one thing; storms on a boat, I imagine, are an entirely different thing. The disciples are terrified! And these are fishermen experienced with boats, no less. They think this is the end for them. They are so terrified that panic and wake up the one still sleeping who is both an exhausted human being and also their savior, a supernatural deity, the son of God. And in a moment they ask a question of Jesus a deep and painful question, they ask him if he cares.
Jesus stands up from his sleep, hears what they are saying, and addresses the storm, saying, “Peace! Be still!” In a literal translation of these words in Mark’s gospel, Jesus says “Peace, Be muzzled” the same language Jesus uses other places Mark in his healings and exorcisms. This is to say that Jesus erases the terror of the storm by extracting its power to cause terror. Clearly Jesus cares. He then turns then to his disciples and asks them sincerely, not reproachfully, why they let their fear get the better of them. “Have you no faith?” he asks. It’s not so much that fear is not a natural response; it’s that fear doesn’t need overpower us if our faith is sure. Let me say that another way; fear is the natural and right response, but Jesus is saying that fear doesn’t need to overpower us. Faith is the stronger current. Suddenly the passage between the two sides has become a lesson all in itself. Faith is the stronger current, no matter where you’re going, where you’ve come through, or what you’re going through. Faith in God will always be stronger than the storms you pass through in your life.
Speaking about faith being stronger than the storm, have you heard about a woman named Opal Lee. Opal Lee is the 94-year old Black woman who has worked her whole life to make sure people knew about Juneteenth, a holiday some of us are becoming acquainted with for the first time this week. We have Opal Lee to thank. Juneteenth is the anniversary of the day when the slaves in Texas were finally told that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, a proclamation that had been given 2 and ½ years earlier. For 2 and ½ years Black people in Texas had continued to be held in bondage, waiting for some good news. On June 19 th , the good news finally came and this day has been celebrated and lifted up by African Americans all over the nation ever since as an Independence Day. Opal’s family had always enjoyed June 19th as a day for picnics and celebrations. But on the June 19th when Opal was 12, in 1939, a very different thing happened. Opal watched as her family’s house was burned to the ground while the police stood by and did nothing. It was an act of racist violence that was never prosecuted, like so many. You would think that that horrific act would have colored Opal’s impressions about that day, but it did just the opposite. She became more convinced than ever that June 19th was a day of freedom and that the real problem was that not enough people truly knew about this freedom. And so she gave her life to the work of opening the nation’s eyes to the struggle and perseverance of formerly enslaved people of color. Opal, and every single slave who ever waited in faith for their deliverance, had a strength that could not be shaken by any storm, no matter how long that journey of waiting was. In
fact, the storms along the way just made their faith stronger. I am still learning a lot about Juneteenth, but I am struck by the resiliency and faith that its mere existence required.
We are not all cut out of the same cloth as Opal Lee, but we do proclaim the same
faith. As a life-long Christian, Opal’s faith in God is what helped her journey through
uncertain waters. For each of us that journey looks different, but we are, no doubt, all of us, on one kind of sea crossing or another: a place in our lives where we can look back and see the shore we came from, familiar and comfortable, while also looking ahead to a shore that is unknown and maybe even a bit scary. Stepping from one shore to the other is not as simple as driving over a bridge. Transitions are bumpy. Goodbyes are hard; plans are fickle; healing is slow; grief is unpredictable; reality doesn’t always match up to expectation; people can disappoint. Storms come out of nowhere. They wake us up; they make us afraid; they shake our foundations; they weaken our resolve.
Oh! to just have Jesus sleeping somewhere on the boat with us when we’re in the
middle of one of our storms. He makes it all go away so fast in this story. Just have a faith, he says. The voice in the back of our head is saying, easy for him to say as he wields the super power of taming storms.
But that’s not it, is it? This is a not story passed down in the scriptures through the
generations to be taken only on a literal level. There is a truth here in this story that
applies to our lives even when we don’t have a sleeping Jesus to run to our rescue.
The deeper, timeless truth here is that Jesus brings good news for every circumstance in our life where fear has taken hold of our in-most being. And that good news is freedom. Freedom that says fear only has the power over us that we give it: this goes for fear of the literal storms in our life and the figurative; fear of the tragedy that befalls us or might someday befall us; fear of the unfamiliar waiting for us on the other side; fear of death; fear of life; all of the fear in all of the world has only the amount of power over us that we give it. Faith in something stronger than fear will always have the power to overcome the storm. Jesus gave us this freedom that day on the boat, and each day afterward that we dare to believe.
One of the earliest symbols of the church was a boat or an ark. This is why in
cathedrals the main place where people sit is called the nave, a word related to boats, think “the navy.” Our lives are just one journey after another through stormy and uncertain waters. But the good thing is that we are all in this boat together and Jesus is our captain and people like Opal Lee going ahead of us and inspiring us. Fear has only as much power as you give it. Instead of letting it control your life choose instead to follow Jesus confidently across the stormy waters to the other side and whatever waits there for you.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Anna Blinn Cole