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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church


Teacher, the storm is raging. Don't you care?!

Proper 7, Yr B

Teacher, the storm is raging.  Don’t you care?!

 

A Sermon by Sheila N. McJilton+, at St. David’s Parish, Wilmington, DE

 

 

Proper 7, Yr B         25 June, 2006

Readings:                      1 Sam 17 (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49     Psalm 9:9-20             2 Corinthians 6:-13                     Mark 4:35-41

 

                  Chaos and confusion.  Storms on the sea. No one likes chaos, confusion or storms. Human beings have a deep place within us that needs order. A solid foundation. A strong framework out of which we operate, upon which we can depend.  Yet despite our deep desire for order, we often find ourselves in a boat, in the middle of the night, on a raging, stormy sea. Pick up any newspaper. Listen or watch any newscast. You will soon will wonder whether there is any order or solid foundation                   upon which we can depend. 

                  For example, a cursory review of Friday’s edition of The New York Times yielded the following:  Seven men were arrested in Miami this week. They were charged with a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, as well as a number of federal buildings in Miami.  The World Health Organization has confirmed the first case of human to human transmission of the bird flu—from a man in Indonesia to his son. The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining a big hedge fund for more cases of possible insider trading.[1] 

                  And lest you think that the Church is any calmer than the world, think again. This past Wednesday, the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church adjourned after nine days at sea.  When the General Convention ship reached the other side of the shore, it looked pretty beat up, storm-tossed and battered.  The survivors staggered onto shore, dazed and exhausted. No doubt some of the survivors wondered by then whether Jesus had even been in the boat, never mind wondering if he had fallen asleep in the stern. 

                  Last Sunday, there had been sunny skies and shouts of joy on deck                   when Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman to be elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. By Wednesday, the sky had turned dark, the winds began to blow, and the waves grew  more fierce. The waters of chaos and conflict washed over the sides of the ship. You could read the signs of  anguish, sadness, and tears on deputies’ faces as they cast votes on Resolution B033, “On the Election of Bishops,” which reads as follows:

 

“Resolved, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace the Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

 

“Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

 

                  I probably do not have to tell you that the first deputy had yet to leave the ship for home before the stormy sea reached the harbor.  Conservative bishops and deputies thundered that this resolution had not gone far enough to meet Windsor Report guidelines from the larger Anglican Communion.  Liberal bishops and deputies argued that the Church had, once again, sacrificed its gay and lesbian clergy who have the gifts and skills       needed for the episcopate.  As this priest has watched and prayed from Wilmington, Delaware these past nine days, she must admit to her people gathered here today that she has wondered.  Is Jesus asleep in the stern?  Is Jesus even in the boat?

                  In the wake of what happened in Columbus on Wednesday, I turned to today’s scriptures for strength and courage.  They remind me that our God prevails, no matter what human beings do.  In our first lesson, something unbelievable happens. A young shepherd boy named David, with one shot, kills Goliath, a giant of a Philistine who fights against, and taunts, God’s people. 

                  In our psalm, the psalmist promises that “The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in time of trouble.” Paul writes to his beloved church in Corinth:  “We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.  We have spoken frankly to you. . .our heart is wide open to you.”  And in Mark’s gospel today, we have another powerful example of a God who provides order in the midst of chaos and confusion. 

                  After teaching the crowds about the Kingdom of God, Jesus wants to cross the Galilee. 

This “trip at night across the sea [is] Jesus’ plan,”[2] not the disciples’ plan.  So when a furious storm arises, no doubt the disciples wonder why Jesus had insisted in crossing the unpredictable Sea of Galilee at night. Worse, here they are in the middle of a horrible storm, and he’s asleep on a cushion in the stern.  Mark’s gospel is clear that this is a violent storm. A fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee is not a dinghy. It is a working vessel—one that can accommodate an entire crew and their working provisions.  So when we read “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped,” we understand just how violent this storm is. Even the seasoned fishermen among them are hanging on for dear life.  With massive waves breaking over the sides of the boat, the disciples panic and make their way to where Jesus is sleeping. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Jesus, we’re trying to keep our balance and our whole world has turned upside down. This boat is floundering and we’re going to drown in this storm. Who’s in charge here? 

                  The disciples are hanging on for dear life. Scared out of their wits. But Jesus is peacefully asleep, because he knows who is in charge.  God is.  The very fact that Jesus can sleep in the midst of such a violent storm    is, in itself, revealing. “His own trust in God brings remarkable peace, even in the face of the storm, and [it] contrasts dramatically with the panic of the disciples

at the chaos of the sea.”[3]  However, the writer of Mark wants us to understand that it is not only Jesus’ trust in God the Father that is critical here.  It is that Jesus is God the Son. This Jesus, this God who has come into the world as a human being, has the same divine power to quiet stormy chaos and confusion as the God of the psalmist who offers refuge in times of trouble.  Jesus wakes up. He rebukes the wind as if it were a demon. He commands the sea, “Peace. Be still!”  And it is. 

                  The disciples suddenly look out over a sea that is suddenly as calm as glass in the moonlight. They are filled with awe.  In the face of such display of divine power, they must now acknowledge that “Jesus is not [just] a human being with unusual abilities to preach, heal, and exorcise [demons.]  They must acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God.”[4]  This is the power of God the Father, acting through God the Son, that calms a tempestuous wind. That calms the storm sea. That calms the chaos and confusion within a frightened human being.

                  So it is for those disciples.  So it is for you and me this morning.  We all have a deep desire for order. A solid foundation. A strong framework out of which we operate, on which we depend.  We look around us in the world, in the Church, even in our families.  We may wonder who is in charge here.  We may stagger from stem to stern in the midst of storms, hanging on for dear life.  Terrified that at any moment, we will be washed overboard to drown in stormy seas. 

In our panic, we cry, “God, don’t you care?  God, are you asleep at the wheel up there?  God, why have you left us in such bad shape, with no leadership, no vision, no one to offer words of hope”?

                  God has not left us alone.  If God had left us alone, Jesus would not be in the boat with us. But Jesus is in the boat. He is peacefully asleep, because he knows who is in charge. God is in charge. It is our human panic, fear and exhaustion that keeps us from seeing and feeling the power and presence of God in our lives. We must recognize that no matter how stormy the sea, no matter how wild the wind, no matter how dark the night, Jesus is with us.  He may look like he is sleeping, but he is there with us, no matter what. And when we pray, God the Son will respond to our cries for help.  God has been on board with us from the beginning.  And in the end, this is the Holy One who will bring us safely Home—home to the eternal safe harbor for which we have been bound since the beginning. There is our refuge.  There is our strength. 

There is our very present hope in trouble.  On that, my friends, we can, and will, depend. Amen.

 



[1] From the New York Times, Friday, June 23, 2006.

[2] Walter Bruggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, James D. Newsome, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B., (Louisville: Westminister/John Knox Press, 1993), 400.

[3] Ibid., 400.

[4] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol VIII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 580.


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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