Message by Rev. Jenny Carter
June 24, 2018
“Based on Mark 4:35-41”
It is good to be together. I love Sundays. No matter what life has presented us with over the course of the week, no matter whether the news on the television is good or horrendous, we can come here on a Sunday morning, and in the supportive environment of this faith community of fellow humans who, like us, are seeking a good path through this world, we can find what we need. Sometimes we find it in a word, or a song, or a friendly greeting, or sharing something of our life over a cup of coffee, but if we are open, we will find what we need.
Sometimes we find comfort or insight. Sometimes we find a new direction, a sense of forgiveness, and, hopefully most Sundays, we find a sense of renewal. Renewal is important. It’s important because the world, and our lives in that world, can sometimes wear us out and wear us down.
We all have a lot going on. A former moderator, Rev. Dr. Peter Short, used to say that “behind every pair of eyes is a struggle for life, and since we don’t know the struggle, we simply need to remember to be kind and compassionate”. I believe this statement of his to be true. Behind every pair of eyes in this place, yours and mine, is a struggle for life that no one knows about. And so, for an hour or so on a Sunday morning we can lay our struggle down, if only for a while, and let the Spirit hold us in love. That is what renews us. This place, the company of fellow seekers, and the Spirit, all holding us in love.
I have always said that I have the best job on the planet. And I do! I love my job. Throughout the week, my work takes me into your lives, and into the lives of our neighbours, and on Sundays I get to stand up here and delve into the stories of our faith, where hopefully on more days than not, I can be a part of your weekly renewal, by bringing some aspect of our shared faith to bear on a given topic. Which we then take in to the week ahead that is about to unfold, and where it can inform our living.
When we gather on a Sunday, we engage in a dance of sorts. We all have our parts to play. The things we do here on a Sunday, and the order in which we do them, is called the liturgy. And the word “liturgy” literally means “the work of the people.” So we gather together for the work of renewal. Each one of us has been gifted with a task in this communal work.
Your Sunday job is to enter into this time of renewal – to listen for God’s voice amid the words spoken and the songs sung and the prayers that we pray. To listen for that still small voice of hope and love that is ever present, but often over shadowed, by the clanging voices of the world that tells us that everything is awful and where some people are “good” while others are beyond the reach of our care and concern.
My job, my Sunday job, is not about telling you what to believe, or how to live your life. My only task on a Sunday is to remind you of things you already know. Every bible story tells us something about God – about the holy and divine – that place of spirit we all exist in and where we find meaning and a sense of purpose. So on Sundays I bring something up for exploration, and with the help of the Spirit, you take from those topics those things you need for your own spiritual growth, and your own spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual growth can sometimes be a bit painful, but it is made bearable by being together, and it is important for our overall sense of wholeness.
I would invite you to go to that place in you that is that place of deep knowing. That place where the Spirit speaks and you hear and understand what is truly important. That place free from the worldly chaos of competing opinions. That peaceful place of deep knowing. It is in that place that God can be heard and understood best. In this deep place, we know what faith is all about. In this deep place we also know what life is all about. It is about love and compassion and forgiveness and sharing.
The story about the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, where a huge storm came up, and their boat was being swamped and their friend Jesus was fast asleep in the back of the boat, is speaking directly to this deep place within us all. That place of faith.
The story just before this one, tells how so many people came to listen to Jesus that he had to get in a boat and push a ways off shore in order to address them all. How that after the crowds left for the day, Jesus tells his friends that they should all go to the other side of the lake. The other side of the lake is an interesting place for good Jewish people to go, and is a mind boggling place for a Jewish rabbi like Jesus to go. The other side of the lake is where “foreigners” live. The other side of the lake is where the Samaritans are. And, in those days, Jews did not cross over the borders of the Samaritans, and Samaritans did not cross over the borders of the Jews.
Yet this is where Jesus wanted to go, and as the stories after this one tell us, that is where he went. He crossed a border he had no business crossing.
Our story takes place in the middle of the lake, an in between place, dividing these two peoples. I can’t help but think there are two storms raging in our story. The storm that comes with wind, rain, and high waves – as well as the storm that comes when we are being asked to go to a place we don’t think we should be going, and to be among people who are “not like us”, to begin a process of coming together. So the disciples have good reason to be afraid, because the two storms must feel overwhelming.
I think that the two questions Jesus asks of his friends are the key to understanding this story, and are worthy asking of ourselves. He asks, “Why are you afraid?” I don’t think this question applies to the obvious situations in our lives. There are some things that are simply frightening, and it is only human to respond to them with fear. But its’ one thing for us to feel fear, but it is quite another to live in fear. Too often, we don’t just feel fear, we turn it into something that occupies our whole lives. We don’t just experience it, we let fear move in and take up residence, and once there it can turn into a category five storm that sends us running for cover and cowering in bunkers.
The other question Jesus asks is also good to ask of ourselves. Have we no faith? This has less to do with the content of what we believe so much as our ability to trust in God no matter what. We say we believe God is a God of love, and that God loves unconditionally. But the real challenge is to entrust ourselves, our loved ones, our hopes and dreams, our very lives into the care of this loving God – especially when we are afraid.
The only way we can do this is to let go of whatever it is we are afraid to lose – whether it is our health, our financial security, our relationships, or even our very lives. It is not that those things are not important – it’s that we have no ultimate control over any of them. If the essence of fear is trying to control an uncontrollable situation, then the essence of faith is letting go.
We all know that. Yet, as I said earlier, my job is to remind us about how we need to let go of our fear and live in that place within us of deep faith. That place where we know that we are held in love, and where compassion and trust and kindness becomes our response.
If there was ever a time we all needed to be reminded about resting in that place of faith, it is now. If there was ever a time where we needed to remember that we follow the One who calls us to cross borders and reach out to those who we have been told are so very different from us that we need to fear them, it is now.
To the south of us is a country that has become so controlled by fear, that they are separating parents from children, and locking them up in prisons. Literally prisons. So controlled by fear, and in their response to lessen that fear, they didn’t even keep records of which children were taken from which parents and sent to which institutions. It has been reported that there are over 2300 children in custody, many of them younger than 5 years old, many of them just babies, where there is no mechanism to reunite them with their parents. It is believed that many of those children, especially the little ones, will never see their parents again.
Imagine what those parents are going through. Imagine having to flee your country due to extreme poverty, or gang violence, or war – imagine seeking sanctuary in a country that calls itself a Christian nation, daring the trip so that your children might have a chance to live, only to be called “a criminal illegal alien” wanting “to infest” that country, and have your children permanently removed from your life? It is important to remember that every person on this planet has the legal right to seek sanctuary. While they may not eventually be granted it, they have the right to seek it. It is their human right.
Remember we have been this way before. Nazi Germany, the Indigenous peoples of this country, and the shameful internment of Japanese citizens during the Second World War, are all examples of a nation full of people letting fear take up residence in their hearts. There is no doubt that the world is in the midst of a category five storm. Wars, violence, gangs, poverty and racial violence are swirling around us all. That is why Jesus’ words from our story are so appropriate: “Let us go to the other side” “what are you afraid of?” and, “Have you no faith?”
From the deep places within us, we all know that this is not how the world should be. From that deep place within us, we all know that we need to let go of our fear – which is a vain attempt at controlling the uncontrollable – and live into faith by letting go of the things we are afraid of losing. It is only by doing that, and be responding with kindness, compassion and love, that the storm will be stilled.