First Congregational Church
July 15, 2018
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Fresh out of business school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. He was being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself. "I need someone with an accounting degree," the man said. "But mainly, I'm looking for someone to do my worrying for me."
"Excuse me?" the accountant said. "I worry about a lot of things," the man said. "But I don't want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.” "I see," the accountant said. "And how much does the job pay?” "I'll start you at eighty thousand.” "Eighty thousand dollars!" the accountant exclaimed. "How can such a small business afford a sum like that?” "That," the owner said, "is your first worry."
I’ve been reading the last of a series by Bernard Cornwell, about an English archer from the 1300s who is on quests to find certain things. In this last book, one of the things he is looking for is the back story for a picture he comes across. It’s an outdoor scene, in the winter, and while there are a couple of buildings in the background, the focal point is of a monk, sleeping on the ground. It may sound rather usual, except that while there is snow piled up all around the monk, he is sleeping peacefully on the grass and there’s no snow on him. Scenarios like that painting, of peace while being surrounded by a tempestuous storm, is part of the picture that came to mind when thinking about this morning’s scripture passage - after thinking about it.
Before we get to the passage, there is a word that will come up in the version that will be read from The Message: the word signet. For the those who haven’t watched a lot of movies from the 13, 14 and 1500’s, a signet is a seal, either like a stamp or a ring, that is pressed into liquid wax or ink that seals a letter or marks the paper that people sometimes use instead of writing their name or in addition to their name, to make papers and letters official.
Ephesians 1:1-14 (NIV)
1-2 I, Paul, am under God’s plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus. I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.
The God of Glory
3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
Thank you, Peyton. There’s a pastor named Nadia Bolz Weber, whom I’d love to meet. She and I don’t bear much resemblance from any which way you would look at us. She’s tall, thin, wears sleeveless black shirts with tab collars like Catholic and Lutheran clergy wear - since she’s a Lutheran pastor. She often uses hair product to add to the style that she boldly wears on her long arms, that are covered in grand tattoos in vivid colors, which are just as vivid as her language. She’s currently looking for a new gig, having just resigned from the last church that she started, called The House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado.
In a sermon she wrote for a bunch of Lutheran pastors, she talked about worry. She said, “I began to realize that, on some level, worry is nothing more than fear. Fear that either I will not get something I want or fear that something I have will be taken away. And both of those fears seem to be centered on finitude.” She goes on to remind her colleagues that while there is finitude - limits and bounds - to the stuff of earth, that Jesus reminds us that there is no finitude to God’s grace and love.
It was at a miniature golf course on a brutally hot day when Lena saw a father with 3 kids. "Who's winning?" Lena asked cheerfully. "I am" said one. "No, I am" said another. "No," the father said. "Their mother is!"
I came across a quote this week by author Sam Keen that is just luscious. “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” Then there was this one by Nancy Gibbs. “What is it about summer that makes children grow? We feed and water them more. They do get more sun, but that probably doesn't matter as much as the book they read or the rule they broke that taught them something they couldn't have learned any other way.”
We are in the height of vacation time in Benzie County, including all the family and guests and celebrations that happen during these precious weeks. Even as I am thinking ahead to my tribe coming east for a week in August, I find myself thinking of all the things that we could be doing during their time, and in some small way, find that “thinking”, although it may not be worry, it is certainly an entity that lives rent free in my head, thus being robbed of opportunities to just “be” - with a movie or brushing a cat or sitting on a porch.
Maybe there are some others today, beside myself, that need the reminder to not get too caught up in “what to do” and just let things happen a little more. I’m guessing that there are not a lot of folks that have deep-seated theological angst among us today, but should there be, take another run at this morning’s passage, a phrase at a time, and let it ruminate in your head.
As theologian, Scott Hoezee said, “in a mere fourteen verses Paul manages to include every significant topic of Christian theology. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Redemption. The seal of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace alone. The doctrines of creation and providence. Eschatology. Faith. Sanctification. The proclamation of the gospel. It’s all here. Of course, each topic could be fleshed out, but by the time you finished fleshing them out, what you would have would be close to a complete seminary curriculum.
Hoezee finished his point with this. “But let me point out something even more remarkable. Throughout these verses–words that range over the height and breadth of all theology–we human beings are all but completely passive. God is the chief actor and is the subject of every active verb.”
One of the other passages that goes along with the one from Ephesians today is the 23rd Psalm, the shepherding psalm about lying down in green pastures, beside quiet streams and head anointing. Seems there’s more to that aspect of faith, too.
I saw a post on Facebook about sheep getting horrid little flies laying eggs in their nostrils which turn into worms and drive the sheep to beat their head against a rock, sometimes to death. I looked it up, and yes, sheep get diseases, their ears and eyes susceptible to tormenting insects. So the shepherd anoints their whole head with oil. Then there is peace. That oil forms a barrier of protection against the pests that tries to destroy the sheep. This passage from Ephesians 1, is like that protective barrier for our minds and hearts, that God has all things in hand, so that we can do the ultimate of unwinding in the gift we are given in lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
I don’t know about the veracity of the story, but apparently there was a timid older lady who approached the front desk of an insurance office during the great depression. When she was asked what she wanted, with trembling hand, she took from her well-worn purse an old policy and explained regretfully that she was unable to meet the current premium. She explained that it was hard for her to get work and what little she did get was hardly enough to clothe, feed her and keep a roof over her head.
After quick investigation, the clerk recognized that the policy was very valuable. He warned the lady that she was making an unwise move to stop payment. Did not her husband have anything to say? It was his policy made out to her benefit, he explained. “My husband? Oh, he has been dead for three years,” she remarked sadly.
Immediately the company officials went into action. They soon discovered that she was indeed telling the truth. What she didn't understand was that the policy was her husband’s and that she was the beneficiary at his death. The company rightfully refunded the overpaid premiums plus the full amount for which the husband had insured his life in her favor. The money was sufficient to keep her in comfort the rest of her life.
As the great Desmond Tutu puts it, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more” and “there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.” It’s a done deal, so if there is any worry about where you sit, in terms of the state of your heart and mind, you can check that one off your list, sit back in the sand, under the umbrella or on the rocker of the front porch, and sit a spell with the blessedness of being loved by the very God who did not send God’s Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Let us pray.
Merciful and Lavish God, we thank you for the abundance with which you bless our lives, most especially for those things to which we give the least thought. Help us to set aside some time in the coming week, if even ever so briefly, to bask in the glory of your love for us. Help tormented minds to unwind a little, that they can rest - really rest - in your love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, wisdom, joy and provision. Then out of that blessedness, help us to treat those around us a little more tenderly, with more kindness and patience than we can do on our own, that we take up our apprenticeship with you in the care of your kingdom a little more refreshed. For blessings and purpose and direction, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
July 8, 2018
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
“The Sacrament of Failure”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Holidays have a special way of making us look at life a little differently - including the Fourth of July. It just happened that I encountered a number of little kids this past week that had some tough moments, especially on Wednesday and the days after. It was my observation that not only was it ugly hot, but sleep patterns and schedules for children of all ages have been upset.
One little girl I encountered was so out of sorts, that when the diaper on her baby doll didn’t fit right she literally walked around the house with her head hanging down, so that she looked like the number seven.
Friday night, waiting my turn at the ice cream place by Family Fare, there was a four year that had a complete and total melt down. He didn’t want the ice cream cone that his mother bought for him because it was like the one the other little boy had, but he didn’t want her to throw it away, either, and only his mother could tell what he was saying through the wailing and tears, poor guy.
I think there are far more days than we care to admit, when we all feel like that. Perhaps it was the sea of people that have been around this week that has caught my attention, seeing things that I might not otherwise have noticed.
So I got to thinking about the word burglarize - noticing how it is what a crook sees through and polarize is what penguins see through. And I and I could see how an eyedropper is a clumsy ophthalmologist and parasites is what you see from the Eiffel Tower. And again in the medical vein - yes, pun intended - there was the thought of how a paradox is the equivalent of two physicians and a pharmacist is a helper on a farm.
Today’s passage follows a series of big stuff: Jesus calming the storm, healing a demon-possessed man, healing a woman with a hemorrhage, restoring a little girl to life, all of which happened around the Sea of Galilee. Today’s passage takes place in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, the same distance from the Sea of Galilee as from here to Benzonia.
Mark 6:1-13 New International Version (NIV), A Prophet Without Honor
6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Thank you, Paul. In the scripture passage from Mark, there are some details that have perhaps caught some of your ears. The home folk recognized him, pointing out that he was “Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” Jesus’ sisters don’t get names, but at least in this place, we get to know that he had some.
More than one commentator has sifted through these little descriptors to suggest that because it doesn’t say that Jesus was the son of Joseph, but rather the son of Mary, that Joseph had probably died by then. In fact, one of the commentators suggested that between the age of 12 and 30, the time of which we know pretty much nothing about Jesus’ life, was time that he spent in Nazareth, learning and working as a carpenter, the eldest male child providing for the rest of the family until they were able to provide for themselves.
Thomas Campbell was a poet at the turn of the 19th century, but his father had no sense of poetry at all. When Thomas' first book emerged with his name on it, he sent a copy to his father. The father looked at the binding, rather than the contents and said "Who would have thought that our Tom could have made a book like that?" Sometimes when familiarity should breed growing respect, it breeds an easy-going presumption or even a total lack of acknowledgement. It is to our own detriment that we are sometimes too near people to see their greatness.
One of my old commentary buddies, William Barclay, made the statement, “There can be no peace-making in the wrong atmosphere. If people have come together to hate, they will hate. If people have come together to refuse to understand, they will misunderstand. If people have come together to see no other point of view but their own, they will see no other. But if people have come together, loving Christ and seeking to love each other, even those who are most widely separated can come together in him.” Just in case anyone was wondering, Mr. Barclay wrote that statement between 1956 and 1959.
It was a Methodist Bishop named J. Lawrence McCleskey from whom I “borrowed” this morning’s sermon title. He almost made me laugh aloud with the opening statement about his take on our scripture passage. He said, “Jesus was a failure. At least in this instance that is the conclusion we draw if we take this passage from Mark seriously.”
That seems rather gutsy, at least to my sense of Minnesota nice background. I was raised to take a phrase like “he was a failure” and try to give it at least a little positive spin, something like, “he had some successes.” But Dr. McCleskey lays it right out there; Jesus was a failure at home. Even so, he taught the disciples how to shrug off that which may seem like failure and to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Failure is a rather ugly word, and we give its avoidance a whole lot of energy - consciously and unconsciously. But failure is a very human experience, and not one we should necessarily try to avoid, even if our world doesn’t even honor it. True, some of us may feel like we’ve had a much too familiar relationship with failure. Even at that, such feelings put one in an exclusive fellowship.
Thomas Edison's teachers said he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from his first two jobs for being "non-productive." As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was "sub-normal," and one of his teachers described him as "mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams." He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He did eventually learn to speak and read. Even to do a little math.
When Julie Andrews took her first screen test for MGM studios, the final determination was that "She's not photogenic enough for film.” Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling's book about a boy wizard before a small London house picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Apparently there is a professor at MIT who offers a course on failure. He does that, he says, because failure is a far more common experience than success. An interviewer once asked him if anybody ever failed the course on failure. He thought a moment and replied, "No, but there were two Incompletes."
The world doesn’t praise weakness nor reward defeat. Yet it was out of betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion that Christ demonstrated the ultimate shaking off of dust. It was out of the weakness of death that God brought salvation and life.
Our world loves success stories. Yet most of us know, at some time in our lives, what it means to fail, to lose, to be weak. For that reasoning alone, the sacrament of failure makes sense. Bread, wine, water, failure, all are inextricable parts of life, and yet God blesses them and turns them into gifts that ultimately bring greater life.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts is a retired Methodist preacher who put in 48 years behind a pulpit. If anyone understood the idea of relying on one’s on power that could ultimately result in failure, surely he had ample opportunity. He said, “The days and weeks in my ministry in which I have ended up in a state of frustration and emotional and physical exhaustion have been when I was operating out of my own power.” That statement is true for all of us, regardless of our occupations, ages or abilities. So let us delve into that power that is greater than ours.
God of Second Chances and Opportunity, thank you for giving us more than mere life on this globe. When it seems that we fail, help us to look for the lessons and to shake the dust off our feet, to go forward in the work you have for us. Help us to look often with fresh eyes to those around us, lest we miss potentials and greatness. When an apology is needed, help us to offer it with genuine authenticity and determination to avoid a repeat of the cause that required it. Remind us, God of Love and Light, that you give us a high road to travel not because of some weird, irrelevant reason, but because it is a holy road, one that is lined with people who need healing and inclusion and identity as a brother or sister in your kingdom. For all the blessings of second chances and forgiveness and wind-blown dust off shoes, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
July 1, 2018
6th Sunday after Pentecost
“While Jesus was….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Truth is sometimes a hard thing and sometimes a confounding thing. Did you know there are more airplanes in the oceans, then submarines in the sky?
People say love is the best feeling. But I think finding a toilet when you really gotta go just may be better.
It’s okay if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right.
Yes officer, I did see the “speed limit” sign. I just didn’t see you.
Did you know there is a species of antelope capable of jumping higher than the average house? This is due to its powerful hind legs and the fact that the average house cannot jump.
It would be interesting to know why the people who work on lectionaries make the decisions they do. Last week, that prescribed list of scripture passages had us at the Sea of Galilee, with Jesus sleeping in the boat and the disciples nervous about a storm. The lectionary people skipped a rather large section about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man - sending the demons into a herd of pigs and then drowned in the lake. The lectionary folks instead, chose the passage we are about to hear, one that is rather unique in its own way. As the ladies make their way up here, the scene is still around the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by hills and mountains.
Mark 5:21-43 New International Version (NIV) (Mary)
Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
Carolyn: A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Mary: 35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Thank you, Carolyn and Mary. There’s enough material for exploration in these verses that we could spend a month of Sundays looking into them. Like hands: Jairus asking Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter, the afflicted woman reaching out her hand to touch Jesus, and Jesus taking the daughter’s hand to stand. Even in our day, despite our precaution with germs, Jesus is someone people want to touch and is someone more than a famous personality with whom they can shake hands.
Then there’s the taboo issue. The afflicted woman wasn’t even supposed to be in that crowd. According to Jewish law, every person who came into contact with this woman had been made ceremonially unclean, which would have meant having to do ritual washing and all the hassle that required, including not being able to go to the temple for a week. No doubt, the woman knew she was wrong in going into such a crowd, and that in doing so, she risked being stoned to death. But she’d been socially dead for a dozen years, and although people might feel bad about that, there wasn’t anything they could do about it.
Take the scenario of that woman, and change the circumstances a bit, and it all comes much closer to home. One of the people on our prayer list is Carolyn Lalas’ daughter-in-law, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It is a series of connective tissue disorders that affect the skin, joints, and blood vessels. With six bulging discs in her back, scoliosis, and nerve damage, - and that’s not even when she’s got dislocated joints and/or battling through mind-numbing pain, one can imagine this person wanting to reach out or be touched into healing.
There’s another person on our list that has a closed-head injury she received four years ago in a car accident at the age of 19. The former fire-fighter is relearning to identify words and is working on getting the knack for driving her computer-controlled wheelchair. I’m guessing that she wouldn’t mind a little high-fiving or even and outright poke from Jesus, either.
We could be here until the cows come home, and then some, sharing stories of individuals who would most likely welcome a touch from Jesus, even if that touch had to come by irregular means. But since there are some here in need of healing from the heat….
Calvin Seminary Theologian, Scott Hoezee, had a great statement about this scenario. He said, “But before the imminent panic got rolling, (that of a contaminated, afflicted woman in a crowd) Jesus did an amazing thing: he called this woman “Daughter” and sent her away with a benediction. Jesus restored her to the community and so conveyed to everyone that the contagion of holiness that Jesus bore was now more powerful and more important than any potential contagion of unholiness that anyone else could possibly bear. And apparently it was enough to cleanse the whole crowd of people who had, technically, been ceremonially contaminated by her, too.” “the contagion of holiness that Jesus bore was now more powerful and more important than any potential contagion of unholiness”.
A famous evangelist was coming to stay at a pastor’s house for the night. The pastor’s eight year old son, who was excited about the important guest, asked his father if he could take the evangelist his coffee in the morning. The pastor agreed but told his son that he must knock on the door and say, “It’s the boy, my lord. It is time to get up.”
On his way upstairs the nervous boy was clutching the cup and saucer and practicing his words. He knocked on the door and the evangelist asked, “Who is it?” The boy replied at the top of his voice, “It’s the Lord, my boy. Your time is up!”
Like I said before, there are enough subjects in this scripture passage to keep us on our toes until the Viking win a Super Bowl. But, for this week, for now, see what your heart says about this idea - of unknowingly multi-tasking love.
It’s a take off of the third section from our passage - the one that started Mary’s second part of the scripture; “While Jesus was….” While Jesus was healing a woman who had butted to the head of line, another younger, innocent child died. It seemed like Jesus was indifferent to the family, allowing his attention to be taken up with a full-fledged adult.
I wonder if that sort of scenario bothers us more so at one time than another. It seems like God is healing some folks while others are ignored. I want God to heal this person because of this reason and this reason and this reason. And when God doesn’t do that healing, and instead heals other people in similar situations, well, that just doesn’t seem fair at all.
Except that God is far bigger than any one of us, than any one of our singular situations. And although God loves all God’s children, there’s no place in the Bible that says that any of us should get special dispensations over others. God can heal one at a time and God can heal a bunch of people at a time, and even more than that, none of us gets out of this life alive. God is God and try as hard as we can to think otherwise, all of us are merely spiritual beings having a human experience.
What if, instead of putting so much effort into our physical woes, we put our spiritual, psychological and woes of the heart into the front of the line? Because here’s the thing: we’ve all been healed. Christ’s death and resurrection was undertaken willingly on our behalves. We are no longer a people broken apart from God, but put back together by God’s grace and mercy. Christ was free in the giving of that grace, so that it becomes ours to pass on to those around us. There is no limit to this holy grace and divine mercy, so we don’t have to be careful in doling it out. And we can do that as we encourage people, support people, pray for people and even just acknowledge their presence.
There are a lot of folks that sit on different places of the political platform than you do, and that’s not a bad thing. There are a lot of people that have varying needs and desires for their futures, and that’s not a bad thing, either. While Jesus was healing, there were others dying and needing help, and that will always be the case - at least until he returns. So may we allow the grace and mercy bestowed on us overflow on to others, that we may all be filled with the divine holiness that God has always seen for God’s people. And let us start now.
Gracious, Merciful God, while Jesus was on earth, healing and saving humanity, he was apart from you, so you understand how it is when separation happens. Even though in the scheme of eternity, that time was a blip, but it gave you a window into the lives of your beloved ones. Help each of us this week to appreciate the separation that happens in peoples’ lives; for those who serve us and are separated from their families, for those who have lost loved ones before they were ready to let go, for those who are separated from the people they love by their address, from nursing homes to prisons and even schools. There are so many people around us that can use a little more compassion, a little more understanding, and we lose so little in giving those things. So send your Holy Spirit to each of us this week, to guide us into the paths that offer healing and restoration and wholeness, as partners with you in the upkeep of this world. For all the healing you have done for each of us, for that which is happening and for that which will be done - all in your name - all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
June 24, 2018
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
“Why are you so afraid?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Not everyone is aware that Minnesota gets it fair share of tornadoes. If the sky gets a distinct green color and the sirens go off, you’d better know what your safety options are. I read about one tornado that came in so fast, it whisked away part of the house, leaving just the foundation and first floor.
The woman was sitting in the bathtub, dazed, the only remaining part of the house left above the first floor. The rescue squad came flying in to her aid and found her unhurt. She was just sitting there in the tub, talking to herself. “It was the most amazing thing … it was the most amazing thing.”
“What was the most amazing thing, Ma’am?” asked one of the rescuers. “I was visiting my daughter here, taking a bath, and all I did was pull the plug and don’tcha know, the whole house drained away, just like that!”
Before we get to the scripture passage, and before you wonder just where they are, the scene takes place at the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake of Galilee as it is sometimes known. Actually, it’s also called the Sea of Tiberias, the Lake of Gennesaret, and Kinnereth, among it’s multitudinous names. Being so far away, we don’t really appreciate the topography of the area.
The Sea of Galilee is at the north end of the Jordan Valley, which basically ends with the Dead Sea. The lake is about four times the size of Crystal Lake, in a bowl, 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by mountains and rivers that “fall” into it. All this topography combines into a setting for potentially fast and furious storms.
Prior to our passage in Mark’s version, Jesus had been doing a lot of teaching with parables: the mustard seed, the growing seed, a lamp on a stand, and the sower, after a “conversation,” with his family and teachers of the law and appointing the twelve disciples. It was a long day, and Jesus was undoubtedly tired.
Mark 4:35-41 (NIV) Jesus Calms the Storm
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, Ann. In the second verse, it says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along.” I love that they were - apparently - aware that Jesus was exhausted, so they didn’t ask him if he wanted to go, or where he wanted to go - they just took him - to take care of him. And Jesus didn’t fight them - claiming other work to do or not wanting to inconvenience the guys - or requiring a change in his mental agenda. Sometimes the best things we can do is to take care of our friends, and the second best thing we can do is allow friends to take care of us.
We’ve all been there, when we were more tired than tired, not even hearing the storm and thunder waging outside. So in a way, there’s nothing really odd about this story - in the first two verses. But like any good movie, the plot builds with the storm squalls, and the disciples get rattled.
Remember, some of the guys in the boat that day were veteran fishermen. They were accustomed to all kinds of weather - on that particular lake. Because most of us don’t speak ancient Greek, we miss the fact that this was no ordinary storm, but a mega storm. That’s the word in the original Greek: mega. But the storm was not the only thing described as “mega” in this passage. There was the mega fear - or great fear - of the disciples and the mega calm or complete calm that came about when Jesus spoke to the elements.
The missing or absent language of this passage would have been helpful. We don’t know how Jesus spoke to the wind and waves. I can’t remember who said it, but I recently heard someone talk about the powerful quiet behind a mother reigning in a child in church. “You stop that right now!” Or maybe Jesus used his teacher-outside voice. “Knock it off!” The passage uses punctuation and other descriptive words like rebuked, but a little volume indicator would have been nice.
According to Mark’s version, the only time when the disciples are described as “terrified” is not when the storm was swamping the boats, but after Jesus rebuked both the winds and the waves.
We’re not told that the disciples were filled with wonder or that they asked the question of his identity with trembling joy or anticipation. We’re merely told they were “terrified,” perhaps that we can put ourselves more easily into the passage.
It’s interesting, too, that the disciples, who had spent a fair bit of time with Jesus, still didn’t feel “good” after this little / big miracle. They had seen him heal people, seen him eat with people of questionable repute and even performed an exorcism, and it wasn’t until this event that his actions began to get to them.
Saint Peter had a terrible cold and fever and didn't think he would last the day minding the Pearly Gates of Heaven. So he phoned Jesus to ask for the day off. "Why, Peter, you know your health is my first concern. Take as much time as you need."
As Jesus pondered who he might use to replace Peter, he decided to handle the job himself. It was a very slow day and no one approached the Gates until late in the afternoon, when in the distance, Jesus saw a bent, white-haired old man slowly making his way up the path with the aid of a gnarled cane.
As the man neared, Jesus said, "Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?”
"Well," replied the man, "I was hoping to enter the Gates of Heaven.”
"We would certainly love to have you," said Jesus, "but we do have certain requirements. Tell me, what have you done to deserve such an honor?"
"Actually, I have done nothing so wonderful myself," said the man. "I lived in a small town and led a simple life as a carpenter. But my son," he continued, "now HE was special!"
With pride in his voice he said, "I raised him to be a carpenter like myself and did my best to teach him right from wrong. And when he grew older, an amazing transformation overcame him and to this day he's known throughout the world and loved by all alike."
As Jesus listened to the story, a sense of recognition came to him. With a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, he threw open his arms and cried, “Father!" Emotional at this outburst, the old man threw open his arms and yelled, "Pinocchio?"
Although there are several questions in our passage today, there is one that seemed to pop out more than the others, and it’s Jesus’ question. “Why are you so afraid?” It’s Jesus’ question to those in the boat with him, and in our present day, that’s us.
If I were a trained counselor, I would probably be able to say this more eloquently, but I think a lot of why we act and react the way we do in life, has a lot to do with fear. We hold strangers at arms’ lengths, not caring about reaching out others, because we fear losing them one day. We invest ourselves, our hearts and if we’ve already had our fair share of death, then why sign-up for more heartache? Or we fear that which is different, people who we somehow think may have more power than we do.
Or maybe we fear death, so we cling to the things that make us feel alive - from material objects to radio or gossip. Perhaps we fear being alone, so addictions have fertile ground. We can so fear fear, that we even go so far as to say we don’t have any fear, attempting to convince ourselves that we are “above” such weakness. I would even venture to say that there are some folks that so fear being vulnerable, that they will say hurtful things about others, in the mis-guided hope that their own hearts will be protected.
Good, ol’ Stephen Garnaas-Holmes threw out a huge thought. He said, “You know, don’t you, that Jesus suggests that they go over to the other side of the lake, he never simply means the far side of the lake? He went on to list “other sides,” like the other side of life, the other side of the yourself, the other side of our heart, beyond the familiar, the safe, the manageable, the unseen.
But we have this account to remind us that no matter how ugly our circumstances or the environment, Jesus is in our boat. We will all encounter storms, and in their seeming chaos, our safety and even our sanity may feel threatened. It may seem as if God is asleep, inattentive, uncaring and no amount of crying out seems to be heard. And yet, if our boat sinks, we sink with Christ. He is in our boat of worry, and he’s at peace. If the guy who commanded the natural elements to obey him, did just that, then what is our real fear about?
If there were any perfect people - aside from myself - then I would suggest that no one would need to search their hearts for fear. But since there none, we best set to prayin’.
God of Comfort and Healing, there is much in our world that can give us cause for fear, even things we don’t recognize as driving us in that fear. So help us, each of us, think about that which fears us this week. Then help us to hear the words you would have us say to those fears. Help us embrace your words of peace and healing to our own hearts, that we find assurance rather than fear, fulfillment rather than stunted love, freedom rather than imprisonment of spirit.
Thank you, God, for loving us, despite our imperfections and mistakes. Help us to put the world to right, that we might all find security and safety in your Spirit. Lead us into futures of freedom and wholeness that reflect your holiness and commitment to human well-being. For the gift of your forgiveness, your insight and leading, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.