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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Anke Deibler
- Job 38:1-11
- Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
- 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
- Mark 4:35-41
Grace be to you and peace from God our father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus and his friends are in a boat. The boat has long been an image for the church. I grew up along the shores of first the North Sea and then the Baltic Sea in Germany. Most churches there have a big model of a ship hanging in the nave. The word nave, an old word for the sanctuary or the worship space in a church, actually comes from the word for ship. You can hear it: nave – navy – same root.
Calvary’s nave was actually designed with a ship in mind. Look at the ceiling. It is meant to resemble the hull of a ship. We are today’s friends of Jesus. We are the followers of Christ who are in the boat with him in this day and age.
In our gospel story today, the boat of disciples is tossed around by a huge storm and they are scared. We can relate to those feeling, right? In our private lives as well as in your life as a church, we remember times when we were accosted by chaos and felt scared about the future. Maybe you are experiencing a time like that right now.
Being in a storm at sea is a situation where absolutely nothing can give you solid support. The sails are no use; they are either railed in or shredded by the wind. The anchor is no use; there is nowhere to drop it, and in a storm with high waves you really don’t want to be tethered to a chain anyway. Big rocks or solid land, usually a place of safety, are now rather dangerous, because the storm could crash your boat against it and shatter it to pieces. There really is nothing at all to hold on to for dear life.
I am reminded of the last great storm that hit this congregation 10 years ago. I have always described Calvary’s situation then as the perfect storm. After a period of struggle, the long-time pastor of this congregation left. As a result, many people left, as always happens when a long-time pastor leave. Others left because of the way the pastor had been treated. Others left because of the things the pastor had or had not done. Others left because at exactly the same time, the ELCA met in its national assembly and voted to allow congregations that wanted to to call a gay pastor.
All of this combined rocked the congregation to its core. Half the membership left. The other half sat here with a mortgage of over a million Dollars and no pastor. Truly, a perfect storm.
The congregation indeed felt like it was adrift, helpless, tossed about. There was nothing to hold onto, except Jesus.
Jesus rallied what was left of the congregation. Jesus provided amazing lay leaders. Jesus blessed the people with a diaconal minister who made sure worship and Bible study and prayer would continue faithfully. Through these gifts of the presence of Jesus, the congregation’s fear diminished, hope increased, and eventually Calvary arrived at calmer shores.
Calvary emerged from the storm transformed. There was deeper faith, a better awareness of the need for dedicated discipleship, a stronger devotion to service in the community. The storm had landed Calvary on new shores.
The same is happening in the gospel story. All day, Jesus had been teaching the crowds. Then he encouraged the disciples to get into the boat and cross the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is not that big. Some would say it is more a lake than a sea. You can see from one shore to the other. And yet, I am quite certain that none of Jesus’ followers had ever been to the other side. Back then, people stayed in their local area for their whole lives. The idea of travelling just to see what other parts of the country were like, was foreign to them.
When Jesus suggests they cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side, the disciples are probably surprised. And they are probably uncomfortable, insecure, uncertain of what this will mean for them. A new territory? People they had never met? Scary stuff.
The storm on the sea mirrors their internal turmoil. Jesus is leading them into totally new regions, and they are afraid.
It is always scary when we are asked to set out to new shores. We feel that inner turmoil when we start a new school year at a new school, when we begin a new job, when we move to a new town or country, when we get a new diagnosis, when we retire. Every time we are asked to do a new thing for the first time, we experience fear. We have that storm going on inside us.
And often when we are in those times of turmoil, we feel abandoned by Jesus. The disciples in the boat can’t believe Jesus is sleeping through the storm. “Doesn’t her care?” they wonder. How many times have we felt like Jesus was asleep while we are experiencing times of trial?
The disciples learn that Jesus does indeed care, and that he has power to calm the storm and land his friends on the other side. Calvary learned that Jesus was indeed there, present in Bible study and communion and the love of faithful people, and Jesus landed Calvary on the other side. Many of us here can tell stories of scary times that we were able to survive because Jesus was with us.
In fact, that’s exactly what the psalm for today does: tell stories of how God has helped God’s people in times of trial. In stanza after stanza, this psalm gives us the voice of people who praise God for helping them. Today, we read the stanza about people in a storm at sea because it matches the gospel. There are other stanzas there, about being healed from disease, saved from perishing in the desert, and released from prison.
The psalm tells powerful stories of God protecting and helping and supporting his children. It gives us hope and comfort to hear stories like that. I encourage all of us to share those stories. Tell of the time when you were scared and the presence of Jesus helped you. Tell of the time when you were in mortal danger and by the grace of God emerged alive. Tell of the time when you crossed over to new surroundings or new chapters in your life and the presence of God and God’s people made all the difference.
Tell those stories. They renew all of us in faith. They are especially helpful to those who are going through times of trial right now. For when we are in the midst of the trials, it is so easy to see only the danger. The disciples in the boat saw only the waves, the wind, and the water in the boat. That’s all they saw. Until they woke up Jesus and focused on him. Then calm returned.
When we are scared, all we can see are the things threatening us. We easily overlook the good things that are still going on in our lives. We easily overlook God and the blessings he still sends us. Hearing stories of God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ power helps us see that and where God is active in our lives right now, in the midst of our troubles, lovingly at work to calm our storms. At work to transform us and get us to the other shore.
As the people in the boat with Jesus today, this is good news. For once again, the church is going through stormy seas. Not we as a congregation, but the church as a whole. Times are really changing. One book called “Canoeing the Mountains” describes the church’s situation with the analogy of the Lewis and Clarke expedition.
President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clarke and their Corps of Discovery across the continent to find the waterway across that everybody believed was there. The corps followed the Missouri River, climbed the mountains to its source, and expected to climb down on the other side, set their canoe into the water there, and float through a landscape much like on this side until they would reach the ocean.
However, what they found beyond the Missouri River was not gentle slopes to the Pacific Ocean, but the Rocky Mountains. A totally new landscape opened up before them. The canoe wasn’t going to be any good to them. They had to adapt to a new reality, decide what to take and what to leave behind, so that they could fulfill their mission.
The church has just discovered that we have hit the Rocky Mountains. The world before us is completely different than we had assumed. What was useful to us in the past, is no longer useful. What has worked in the past to raise generations of people of faith is no longer working. Jesus says to us: “Come on, we’ll cross to the other side of the sea.”
We are just as terrified and uncertain as the disciples in the story.
We don’t know how long this crossing will take. We don’t know what the situation on the other side will be like. We don’t know how we will have transformed by the time we get there.
But we do know that Jesus is in the boat with us.
The LEAD process we are engaged in right now is helping us navigate. We have listened to Jesus in scripture. We are now listening to you, the people of Calvary, for your sense of calling and for your understanding of what needs this new world around us has. That’s what the focus groups are for, and we hope that everyone here will participate in one of them. And then we’ll listen to the community itself. Through all this, we will hopefully be transformed into the kind of church that faithfully ministers in new ways in these new circumstances, so people can learn about the love of God.
We don’t yet know what the outcome will be. But we do know that Jesus is in the boat with us. And with Jesus’ support and guidance, we will get to the other side, to be blessed and to be a blessing. Amen.