June 24th, 2012, Rev. Cyndi Banks
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 7—Year B
I Samuel; Psalm; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Mark 4. Jesus calms the storm. This was my favorite bible story as a child. My family had a Good News Bible—anybody else remember the Good News Bible from the 70’s? It had these really cool little pencil drawings, and those drawings absolutely fascinated me, and I absolutely loved the pictures that went with this story. I think I also loved this story because I grew up on the Ohio River, and I know what it’s like to be caught out in a storm, and I can remember my awe of my father as he would pilot our boat to safety.
So the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. It’s not a very big body of water; you can see all the way across it, and it’s surrounded by these glorious steep hills. It can be so peaceful out there, but fierce storms can blow up like that. So a great windstorm arose [I need some wind] and waves beat into the boat and the disciples pulled hard on the oars and didn’t make any progress and the boat was being swamped and the disciples were terrified. [freeze]
Have you ever felt like you are rowing as hard as you can and not making a bit of progress? Have you ever felt like you are just being swamped? Have you ever felt like the winds are swirling around you, and you are being tossed about by forces beyond your control?
We live in a time of windstorms and waves and tumult and chaos and it feels like we are being swamped.
Close your eyes. Think in terms of your life, think in terms of our community, of our nation, of the world, of the earth, think in terms of our institutions—call out the storms that are raging…
Economies that don’t work for the poor, for the middle class, or even for those at the top.
Governments that don’t work.
Kids that go to bed hungry in India and Africa and Watauga County.
People that can’t pay for medical care.
Broken families. Broken relationships. Kids and young adults who felt absolutely lost.
Institutions that are broken.
Working harder, rowing harder, only to see yourself losing ground.
And where is Jesus in all of this?
We look around, and he feels irrelevant, in the background, in the stern, asleep on the cushion. We cry out with the disciples, “Wake up, Jesus! Wake up and smell the coffee! Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” And Jesus woke up, and he rebuked the wind, and he said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Then he turned to the disciples, and he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The disciples thought Jesus was the one who was asleep, but here’s the deal—in our anxiety, in our fear, in our despair, in our lack of faith, we are the ones who are asleep. We are the ones who aren’t awake to the possibilities. It’s not that Jesus is asleep; it’s that he’s not anxious, and when you stop pulling so hard against the wind, when you stop trying so hard to make progress, when you realize that God is in the boat with you—peace descends upon you, stillness descends upon you, the waves don’t overwhelm you, but the dead calm holds you in its Presence.
And out of that stillness, out of that calm, out of that peace that passes all understanding, out of that space, new amazing possibilities emerge.
I have spent the last 3 days at the Wild Goose Festival, the Wild Goose being the celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. This event is outdoors in tents on a farm in the center part of the state where it has been well in the 90’s with hundreds of people from every walk of life. There are white people and black people and brown people and Native American people from all over our country and from across the world. Catholics and mainline Protestants and Orthodox and Evangelicals and people who are “spiritual but not religious” and people of no faith at all. Wise, wise elders and kids and more young adults than I have ever seen at a conference having to do with God. People who love the church and people whom the church has wounded and people who are cynical about the institution but who are passionate about Jesus. People who care deeply about the gospel and justice and compassion and “the other” and are seeking new ways forward in these tumultuous times. There are speakers and artists and musicians and activitists and lots and lots of lovers of Jesus committed to his Way.
Yes, the storms are raging all around us, and these people are eyes-wide-open about these storms, but they are not paralyzed with fear. Jesus does care that we are perishing, but he’s not the one who needs to wake up—we are!
We’ve got to release our anxiety and our fear. We’ve got to let go of our obsession with progress and reaching the perpetual other side. We’ve got to be still and practice peace and get real comfortable with that eerie dead calm because that’s the space where new life is born, that’s the space where new dreams are dreamed, that’s the space where the impossible becomes the imperative. These storms raging around us can be places of transformation, but only when we give over our fear and sit in the dead calm.
So here are some of the transformative possibilities that caught my ears and my heart as I listened the last 3 days.
I heard about the soul of the new economy where a triple bottom line drives business—an economic bottom line and an environmental bottom line and a social bottom line. An approach where success is measured by how well all three of these bottom lines do, and not just the dollars and cents because, and here’s the take-away line, “what gets measured is what gets done.” “Regenerative economy” they call it, and really big corporations are beginning to catch the vision.
I heard young adults, “the Jon Stewart generation” one called himself, and some older adults who are cynical about the church, and yet, who yearn to become post-cynical Christians.
I heard challenges to the values that are driving us and killing us and destroying the earth, and I heard afresh the ways the gospel can set us free for the abundant life that Jesus promises us.
I saw a way of dialoguing where people engaged one another, challenged one another, speakers and listeners alike, but all done in a spirit of building up and not tearing down.
I heard speaker after speaker invite us to live with big, compassionate, clear-eyed, openheartedness and to extend that embrace to “the other”—like Jesus does.
The more we wake up, the more we will be able to see as Jesus sees, and then the more we will be able to live as Jesus lives and to die as Jesus dies and to discover resurrection as a lived reality, not a proposition of doctrine. The storms will still rage, but they will lose their power to frighten us—we’ll know how to rest while the winds blow and the waves beat because we’ll know that a deeper peace, a deeper calm, a deeper stillness dwells in our midst.
Tumultuous times don’t just rock our boat; they open up new spaces to see new possibilities because, frankly, the old ways just aren’t working anymore.
As you think about the storms that are raging, in your own life, in the world, how is Jesus calling you to wake up? What do you see as your eyes open? If you are still, what possibilities rise up?
The Teacher has stilled the waves. Sit with him in the boat in the midst of the dead calm that he has created. Sit there, just sit there. Be present to his Presence. Wake up and smell the life that is in your midst, and then do whatever you can to spread that life, that calm, that stillness, that peace across this storm-tossed world. The last 3 days have taught me, Jesus does care that we are perishing, and I know this because the people who make up his Body care. The storms are still raging, but we don’t have to be afraid—we have every reason to have a crazy amount of faith and an insane amount of hope. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 24, 2012