First Congregational Church
June 20, 2021
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage.
The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.
The bird’s owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum cleaner, and opened the bag. There was Chippie - still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust, hair and all the stuff you find in a dust bag, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, a friend who heard about Chippie’s troubles contacted his owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore - he just sits and stares.”
Since this morning’s sermon title sounds a little like the final round on Jeopardy, the answer is 1. complaining, 2. blaming others, 3. negative self-talk, 4. dwelling on the past, 5. resistance to change, 6. the need to impress others, 7. the need to always be right and 8. the need for other’s approval. The question is? —- “Things to Give Up If You Want to Be Happy,” so it’s been said.
Prior to this morning’s scripture passage, Jesus had been gathering his disciples, healing diseases, and teaching to a gathered crowd spread out on a hill side next to the Sea of Galilee. Undoubtedly there were fields fairly close by, because Jesus referenced soil and seed, and last Sunday there was the tiny seed that grew into a huge multi-faceted symbol of life - even life eternal.
Before we get to this morning’s passage, I remind all of us that while this story is written in such a way that it takes us to that moment and time, the best of the ancient manuscripts date from the passage being put to papyrus around 70 AD or CE - for those of the most recent scholarly ways of marking time. That would mean that it was written down about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not as good remembering some of the things I did that long ago.
70 AD/CE is also the year in which the whole of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed by the Roman Empire, lead by the future Emperor Titus. As the heart of the Jewish world, the utter destruction was akin to the end of the world and certain - at least spiritual - death to the Hebrew people. It is an interesting listen when you hold the actual passage in one hand and the destruction of the most sacred temple in the other. Jesus said he was coming back. Forty years later, that promise seemed rather bleak.
Scripture Mark 4:35-41
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Thank you, Julie. In my study for this message, I ran across a person name Rick Brand, who said, “Of all the stories in the New Testament, perhaps this story is most symbolic of the Christian church.” Well, now that’s interesting thought, isn’t it? (Pause)
Because I wasn’t quite sure of his meaning, I continued with his explanation. “We are now the disciples in the boat. This very day you sit in what is called the nave of the church, and nave is the Latin word for ship.”
If we flip this room upside down, we are on the deck. The back of this church, the top of the stairs is properly called a narthex, which generally means a porch. In earliest days, the porch contained a basin of water, so that hands could be ceremonially cleaned before worship, which of course, transformed into the baptismal font. More Jeopardy information I’m sure no one anticipated this day.
And that “picture” of the nave/ship, reminds me of the old Moby Dick movie - from 1998 - with Gregory Peck playing Father Mapple, preaching from a pulpit shaped like a ship. While falling down that rabbit hole, I came across a rendition from the mid 1950s, in black and white, where Orson Wells played the priest, preaching from a pulpit that was also shaped like the front end of a sailing ship, complete with a huge cross that served instead of a mermaid, for no small message. When Wells goes into the pulpit, he climbs up a rope ladder and then pulls the ladder in. No control issues about who has the pulpit there!
Getting back to the ship/water theme for the day, Brian Stoffregen brought up the point that at the other extreme, having the wind stop is disastrous for sailing vessels. Continuing with the movie or series that make such disasters more poignant, Master and Commander with Russell Crowe and Cast Away with Tom Hanks and his volleyball, along with the very contemporary series, Vikings, all have that near-death scene with extreme heat and lack of water, chapped lips and prayers for even a whisper of a wind, not to mention the great rejoicing when the wind and rain come back. Too much wind, too little wind…
Jesus suggests going across the other side of the lake, which is actually the longest distance across Crystal Lake. If you recall the fact that it was evening, perhaps one can forgive the - maybe impetuous and ill-considered - trip and the potential for danger. Maybe the storm predicts a bit of what was to come; the word that is used for Jesus “waking up” being the same word for “arose,” as in up from the grave.
One time a father walked in on his 6 year old son who was sobbing. "What’s the matter?" he asked. "I’ve just figured out how to tie my shoes." "Well, bud, that’s wonderful. You’re growing up. But why are you crying?" "Because," he said, "now I’ll have to do it every day for the rest of my life.”
The big question sitting in the middle of the living room is the one that the disciples asked - or maybe yelled. “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
Before he got to the disciples, he addressed the wind. The two-fold command - 1. Quiet and 2. Be Still - is an order on both the storm and the disciples, that seems to be directed to all the different forms of evil, mistrust, and fear that work in the world. We know that God is real, that God is powerful and creative. But when we are vulnerable, weary and/or overburdened, our human nature naturally wonders, “does God care?”
A ministerial colleague of David Rogne tells of a conversation he had one day with a medical assistant in a doctor's office, as he was waiting to see the doctor. The woman recognized him because she had occasionally attended his church, though she was a member of another church. "I want to tell you about my experience," she said.
"I got saved in the Assemblies of God Church ... I gave my life to God ... and guess what? ... Life tumbled in! I developed a heart problem. My husband lost his executive job ... and he recently died of cancer." The minister says he tried to mumble a few theological sounding explanatory words about God's mysterious ways, thinking that was what the woman wanted. But she went right on with her story, indicating that she had repeatedly asked God, "Why me?"
"And what do you think God told me?" she continued. "'Why not you?' That's what God said. 'Why should you be spared all the crises of life that everyone else must go through?'" Then she wound up her story saying, "One day I said to God, 'Lord, you've forgiven me. Now I forgive you.’"
Mr. Rogne contines, “There is a woman who, from my point of view, has a healthy faith. (If you hear nothing else today, this is the big one.) Her faith is not a series of propositions, it is a relationship, and as in all relationships, it is one that changes and can tolerate challenges. It is vital because it is honest.”
Change is difficult for us all, and perhaps the most insidious of all four letter words. And we all know that everyone will have some rough times, storms that challenge us, throw us off course and even scare the living daylight out of us. Just like the disciples, God does not promise us a peaceful voyage. God does promise, however, that God will always be present.
The presence of Christ and his great miracles may still mean a lot of hard work on our part to get where Christ wants us to go. If Jesus wanted the disciples on the other side of the lake, why not just "beam them over, Scotty" rather than have them go through a storm and then to row the boats to shore?
While we may pray that Jesus would work miracles in our lives and in our neighborhoods and in our world, the miracles that come probably won't let us off the hook from doing some of the hard work required to do what Jesus has called us to do.
It’s an interesting consequence of Christ’s miracles, that we learn the lesson that because God - in Christ - cares for us - we are under an obligation to care for others. Jesus was in the boat for the disciples. We are in the boat for those with whom we live and love. And, of course, that is all on top of the very real world fears - personal fears - a deadline, a pink slip, a visa bill, a doctor’s appointment.
And I get that many of us are tired, retired, calendared to our eyeballs, not to mention stressed out, in and upside down. There are no excuses for unkindness, patience, and doing the work that Christ calls us to do, just because we think we are exempt for one reason or another, especially when we feel less than kind, patient or not wanting to reach out in Christ’s name.
It is only right to close out this message with another thought from Rick Brand, “There are no storms that by the power of Jesus Christ his people cannot endure. William Willimon: “Jesus cares but not always in the way we expect and want him to care. He cares by calling us, sometimes calling us to venture forth into the storm. Caring for people is something that most people try to do. Caring for people in the name of Christ is a much greater challenge. Let us pick up each of our oars that will enable us to do our best work, as we pray.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God, Almighty. Thank you for being in our boats, even when we don’t recognize your presence as such. Forgive us when we confuse our purpose in life with feelings of wanting to be happy. Remind us that joy comes from being in you, with you, surrounded by you, you in us as with each heart beat, as with each breath. Help us to remember that when we feel sucked in, washed up, and blown over, that those are feelings and feelings are not always reliable. Your love and your presence and your faith in us is steady and sure and even astoundingly the greatest thing in our world and in yours. Help us to help others, to the best of our abilities, despite our own “stuff.” For all your answers to prayer, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.