Tuesday, 03 July 2012 00:00

"The Other Side", July 1, 2012

“The Other Side”
Mark 4:35-41
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
July 1, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Today’s scripture is a familiar one.  It juxtaposes the dim-witted disciples with Jesus.  The disciples, at least a third of whom were fishermen before meeting Jesus didn’t seem to know how to handle a boat in a storm.  They accuse Jesus of not caring for them.  Jesus accuses them of having little faith. Jesus calms the seas and then it’s a nice Sunday School lesson.  It is one of two weather-calming scriptures in Mark.  Mark also has two feeding the multitude stories.

If the story of the sower and the soil which opens this chapter is the key to understanding the parables and who is faithful and who is not in the Gospel narrative, the stormy sea stories are a metaphor for our lives, our journey to the Promised Land and the barriers and benefits of doing it right and wrong.

I asked my daughter Amanda about this story and she analyzed it well.  She told me the sea represents life.  We are all drawn to the sea.  It is the primordial soup out of which we come, the nutrients for our soil, the source of food and recreation.  The sea represents life.


The other side of the sea is our destination.  We can’t stay in one place forever.  We are on a journey.  We are met with normalcy and with Kairos on the journey.  Where we are born and where we will die are points in time.  The journey is what it is all about.  The other side is the goal, the destination.  The sea is life, the other side is the destination.

The storm is turmoil.  Seldom do we have an easy journey throughout our lives. We are storm-tossed and challenged along our path, especially if we have lived a fulfilled life—for the greatest gifts and insights we attain often come from living through the turmoil, the stormy seas.  We are bound to face storms in this life.  The sea is life, the other side is the destination, the storm is the tragedy, the triumph, the turmoil of life.

Faith is the means by which we live a fulfilled life.  It’s too much to live in fear all the time.  It’s too much to feel alone all the time.  Faith is what helps us to conquer the storms that stand in our way to the promised land, the other side.  Jesus, in this story represents not just the miraculous and mystical master of the weather.  The story goes that when we live a life of faith, we see a bigger picture.  We see the other side from God’s perspective.  We see the barriers as challenges and obstacles, not immoveable obstructions.  And we join with one another to make it to the other side.  The Sea is life.  The other side is the destination.  The storm is turmoil.  Faith is the means by which we conquer and live a fulfilled journey.

So what is the opposite of faith?  I think fear is a pretty good candidate.

Think of what we fear. Fear can feel like an uncontrollable storm.  It sets in motion a destructive force and makes us act in a primally protective manner.

Michael Lindvoll in the commentary Feasting on the Word wrote (p.164) “We fear disapproval, rejection, failure, meaningless, illness, and of course, we fear death—our own death, the death of those we love, and the potential demise of the communities we cherish.”

I think some of us fear not having enough resources to make ends meet.  Or we fear that another, someone we love, will not have those resources.

Maybe the storm-tossed sea represents our own confusion, our discomfort with anything that challenges our world-view. And it manifests itself as fear.

My friend and colleague Mary Foulke preached on this scripture last Sunday at Riverside Church in New York City for their Pride Sunday.  She said: “Gay people are not the storm.  The storm is our deep and abiding shame about sexuality in general the storm is all of our self-hatred of our own bodies.  The storm is the soul twisting sickness of our culture that allows horrific abuse of our children because we are too ashamed to see or to stop it.  It’s painful.  It’s a wound that has not healed because it has been covered up and it has not seen the light of day. All of the isms are the giant goliath, the philistine.  The sex trafficking. The illnesses of eating disorders, depression and addictions are all a part of it.  You’d think the insurance companies would want to stem the hemorrhaging of money at the causes, not the results.

The acceptance of the LGBT community is a distant shore for many people.”

The distant shore.  Did you notice that the scripture opens up with Jesus and the disciples not just getting into a boat for some R&R.  But they were crossing over to the other side.  And it was not just some distant shore.  It was Gentile territory.  Enemy territory.

Mark’s Gospel was written right after the temple had been destroyed.  The whole world was a stormy sea.  And the safe, predictable thing would have been to hightail it to familiar territory, to huddle down with people who knew them.  To stay in those caves and catacombs and wait out the storm.  But there is something about the Gospel that tells us that we can’t spend our lives hiding.  We can’t spend our lives in just the predictable hull of a ship.  The storm-tossed boat is a symbol for our lives and we long for the one who controls the sea, to calm it.

Jesus has the disciples cross to the other side of the lake.  To the Gentile lands.  To present-day Syria.  There he will meet demoniacs and at least as much hostility as he met among his so-called friends.  We know that the Gospel spread from that small tract of land in the Middle East to the four corners of the world.  It could not have happened if we all didn’t find some way to conquer our fears.

Beverly Zink-Sawyer in an essay in Feasting on the Word (p.167) wrote: “If Jesus stands as the example for the church today, this story raises for us the question, who are the strangers, the others whom we have neglected?  What are the people and where are the places left untouched by Christian hospitality die to ancient hatreds and fears? The gospel Jesus proclaims and demonstrates represents good news for all, transcending the human characteristics we use to separate ourselves form others.”

Why go to the other side, the other country?  What might we find there?  What storms might be brewing on the horizon?  Many of us have found some of our greatest adventures on the other side of the world, the other side of the state, the other side of the lake.  What would it be like to live in the shoes of someone who stands on the other side of an issue about which you feel great passion?

Kim today is on the other side of the Atlantic.  She’s on an Irish music tour with Kate Campbell.  She’s in Dublin now, where her ancestors used to live before taking a trip to the other side of the pond to the U.S.  What will she find?  What fears did they face before leaving behind their homeland, starving and in search of a new life?  What storm-tossed sea did they cross? The ocean was one of many storm-tossed seas. How did they muster the faith?  She’s also interested to hear what they think of the Queen’s recent visit to Northern Ireland.

Deidre Druk is in Nicaragua with our sister church, immersing herself in a language and culture different from hers.  A land that is poorer than we can imagine.  A culture so different than ours, a language barrier.  But she stepped into that boat, trusting that the one who calmed the seas might give her respite, wisdom and faith.  She told me abut the excitement of being in a parishioner’s home for a fiesta right before the birth of her son.  The very pregnant mother was doting on Deidre as a good hostess would.  She had the baby and then a day later the baby died.  The same room that held the fiesta now held a tiny coffin.  How difficult and different to live in a culture that lives so close to death.  Everything is so personal, the seas are raging.

Karen Swenson just got back from the Holy Lands of Israel and Palestine on a UTS Global justice tour.  They are still fighting over the land as they have on and off for thousands of years.  Where is Jesus in the midst of that storm?  What about Syria across the sea?  The storms are many and they are legion.  And yet, good people of faith are many as well.  And together we are called to bring healing and hope to the storm-tossed word.

We need to remember that all of life is not the storm.  Injustice, materialism, war, sexism, imperialism, these are the storms.  And the only hope is to cling to something/ some force that will calm the storm.  That’s the only hope.  And that’s why we dare to come to church on a hot summer’s day.  We come here to remember the one who calms the storms.  The one who calls us to venture forth into the unknown.  The one who calls us to be better than we are.  To imagine a world at peace, to imagine a people respecting one another, to imagine everyone pulling for the greater good instead of the greatest goods.

That’s what the Gospel is about and it can only happen if we are willing to venture off to the other side.  Step out of our comfort zone and be a voice, a presence for healing in this world.

You see, when we act out of fear, we act to protect ourselves.  We act without thinking.  And that’s what the enemy is counting on.  What upsets them so much more than an army is a nonviolent resister.

They know how to deal with an army.  They don’t know how to deal with the God-inspired masses.  They don’t expect the seas to be calmed.  Nobody, especially the disciples expects a miracle.  But that’s exactly what happens on way to the other side.

The other side is not the side of the weather forecasts.  It’s not the easy side.  It’s the constant challenge of Jesus to go away from our comfort zone.

The other side is where we meet the unexpected.  It’s where we confront our fears.  It’s where we see ourselves in a mirror, warts and all.  It is also where we learn the most and can perhaps do the most good.

So spend some time thinking this summer about what it might mean to go to the other side.  What might it mean to walk in the shoes of someone you really don’t understand?  What might it mean to speak your truth to someone who scares you?  How might we offer some compassion to someone who really needs it, even though it is beyond our comfort zone?

Think about the other side.  Know that the journey over there might be rough and the ship might feel a bit unstable.  But know also that one is there in the hull, asleep, waiting to be awakened, ready to calm the sea with you.  That one is ready to swim alongside you and guide you safe to the other side.

And luckily, we never go to the other side alone.  In a few moments, we will share a symbolic meal here.  It is a meal instituted by Jesus and carried on by the church which seeks to have us reflect on the sea of our lives, the journey to the other side, the storms that meet us on the way and the presence of one and dozens and hundreds and thousands and millions across the centuries who have sought to live lives of faith.  We eat this meal with one who calms the sea and calls us to garner strength for the journey to the other side.

The other side is the destination.  We get there in a boat over the storm-tossed sea.  And we have a companion in Jesus and shipmates who are willing to do our work to calm the seas and lead the ships across to the safe harbor of peace.

Peter Mayer put it well so well in this song:

Sun my sail and moon my rudder
As I ply the starry sea.
Leaning over the edge in wonder
Casting questions into the deep
Drifting here with my ships companions
All we kindred pilgrim souls
Making our way by the lights of the heavens
In our beautiful blue boat home

I give thanks to the waves upholding me
Hail the great winds urging me on
Greet the infinite sea before me
Sing the sky my sailor’s song
I was born upon the fathoms
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home