12 OT B ~ "Sea Crossing at Night" ~ Rev. Richard Eslinger
Alongside the sea, the crowd had been taught by Jesus about God’s reign, God’s kingdom. In parable after parable, Jesus teaches how hidden and yet strikingly present God’s kingdom has become. Jesus lures them to see that kingdom in the act of sowing seeds, in sayings about putting a basket over a lamp, and about the scattering of seeds becoming a great harvest. Jesus spoke to them in parables. St. Mark adds that he did not even speak to them except in parables. But to the disciples, the Lord explained everything in private. At evening, though, it was time to put away the teachings about the kingdom of God. The crowd is dismissed. And Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “Let us cross to the other side.”
Now the disciples must have thought this an odd destination that Jesus had in mind. “Didn’t he know that on the other side of the sea dwell the Gentiles with all of their unclean habits and foreign ways? What was the purpose in all that? Hardly a place for a restful day or two apart from the crowds and their needs.” Still, the disciples eagerly hurry down to the shore and get in the boat, taking Jesus with them. There in that boat, for once, they were in command, doing things that were completely familiar to some of them. Since responding to Jesus’ invitation to follow him, they had been totally out of their comfort zone. They had followed Jesus all over Galilee, listened to his teachings, and had been jostled around by the crowds,… even being rejected by some, including Jesus’ own family. But now, in the evening, once again back in a boat, these disciples were again in charge. As they set sail and the boat gained some headway, those fisher folk among the Twelve may have even put on a little nautical exhibition for the others. You know, some “mariner-speak” like, “let her veer off a bit to starboard” and “hold her heading right there.” One of them pointing to the stern where Jesus was already asleep, his head on a cushion. (You know that feeling when new parents are driving along and they notice their little one peacefully sleeping in a car seat in the back. They share a smile and their hearts grow warm.) It does feel good to be about that which is familiar. When the evening breeze is just right and everything is good. Back in charge once more.
We know how that feels, lots of us. In spite of the usual, minor hassles, there are times when all is well. Our goals seem clear and we might even say they are being accomplished. We are, to borrow a phrase from those fishermen disciples, on our boat and in command. Now our well-being may have some satisfaction related to our own welfare and even that of our family and community.
Our 401 K investments are doing well, really well.
The annual Wellness medical checkup was rosy—just lose a bit of weight and eat better. But all in all, good news.
When asked, “How’s the family?” we smile and say “Great. Middle son just graduated from High School and is going to State.”
(Here, the preacher may need to shape other examples of such good times as pastorally appropriate.)
So this is how those fisher-followers of Jesus must have felt—that sense of being back in charge of their lives and doing things that they knew all about. A season when life is good, as it is meant to be.
Suddenly, Mark says, “a violent squall came up and the waves were breaking over the boat.” From “happy days” to “end of days” comes in an instant. They are about to be swallowed by a raging sea. Now they are in Chapter Two. You know, the one titled “The Wind and the Waves.” It slams the disciples there in that suddenly unfamiliar and terrifying sea. But they aren’t the only ones to get hit by this Chapter Two squall. It surprises us as it always does just when we think we have life together and heading in our direction. Still, deep down, we do peak now and then at our own Chapter Two, feel some of its scary fear and taste a bit of its threat to our very life. But most of the time, we much prefer to focus on the immediate situation and its modest but nice rewards. That is, focus on the immediate until that “squall” named COVID 19 hit. First some disturbing news from Seattle about a strange new disease. Then people getting real sick and dying. The thing spreading like wildfire, urban centers, suburbs, rural communities, Native American reservations, everywhere. In what seemed like just weeks, we were watching in real time as the virus infected people across every border and around the world. Hospitals became overwhelmed with the sick and dying, especially the elderly, and in some cases, our elderly. Then it simply took over. Life just ground to a halt. We were really in the midst of an unheard of new Chapter Two. Our own time of wind and waves breaking over our boat and everyone else’s, too.
It may even be hard now to recall how it felt in the midst of the pandemic—the isolation, the strange quiet that became its own symptom of the disease. The drone of TV news with the mounting infection and death tolls charted each night. We learned about masks, about how to use hand sanitizer, and how to mostly just stay away from other people. CDC guidelines changing almost day by day, it felt. Not even allowed to visit a grandparent in a nursing home except to wave through a window and blow a kiss. As usual, politicians attacking each other, hurling words like stones at their opponents, as if such rhetoric could in any way make things better. Instead, it just made them worse. Funny about these Chapter Two “Wind and Waves” seasons. They change everything, including whatever sense of normalcy and well-being we hold dear. In what seemed like such a brief time span, we went from “pretty okay” to “lockdown.” From “Doing well, thank you” to “We lost grand mom last week.” From “Got some money in the bank” to “Hope that relief check gets here soon.” Even when we allowed ourselves a glimpse into Chapter Two, we never thought it would have been like this. Never in a million years.
Meanwhile, in that little boat in the midst of the sea, the terrified disciples turn to Jesus, who is still fast asleep in the stern, his head on a cushion. They wake him and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Interesting what their wake-up call to the Messiah does, and does not say. On one hand, it reveals everything about their condition and how self-centered the crisis has left them. The basic information they want to convey to Jesus is that they are perishing and that he should really get with it and have some concern for them. On the other hand, the only thing they can expect Jesus to do is be concerned. They call him “Teacher,” which he is. But they have not yet learned what St. Mark told us in the opening line of his Gospel: that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of God. But that may be about to change. Jesus rose from his resting place, “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet!’ ‘Be still!’” The wind ceased; there was a great calm. Suddenly these twelve frightened souls found themselves in water as placid as a farm pond on a hot summer day. The panic and terror didn’t have time to go away when Jesus asks them: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
The Lord of earth and sea, of sky and the heavens asks that question to those in that little boat. Asks it of us who gather in this nave, this ship of the Church. The fears we have brought with us this day (evening) and the shaky faith we drag along in times too filled with those winds and waves. “Still so fearful, Church?” “Still have such little faith?” It is ironic that we have been baptized, have died with Christ and raised with him from the waters. Maybe this day we can really remember our baptism and be thankful, profoundly so.
There is a moment when an awareness hits us of the majesty and power of our Lord Jesus Christ. A moment in which we glimpse the glory of the One who calls us to follow and promises to be with us always. A moment of sudden shift from over-abundant self-concern to freedom, freedom to be Christ’s witnesses in the world. And in this strange post-COVID world, the gift of our freedom in Christ is an invitation to serve those for whom the wind and the waves endure and even worsen. Now we are given a moment to savor the peace and joy of the kingdom of God. And given a season of ministry to those who grieve the loss of loved ones or remain in fear and isolation. What better time to have this awakening? We hear the Twelve question, “Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?” And we joyfully respond, “It is the Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God.” So we sing, “Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.”