Pentecost 4, Year B
This Gospel reading is a powerful one and very evocative, especially for people who have experience on boats during storms. People in this church have often told me that they experience God profoundly when on the water. Sometimes it is the peace and serenity, sometimes the beauty and sometimes the terror. This passage is primarily about fear. There are a couple kinds of fear that are going on. There is the fear of the storm itself. That is what we tend to focus on. The disciples were afraid that the boat would capsize and they would drown. It was night time and they probably could not see very much. All they knew was that they were in trouble and the person who they had seen accomplish miracles was asleep. It was the immediate fear for their safety that led them to call out to Jesus and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That was a real fear, the kind of fear that you feel physically and emotionally. It’s the kind of fear most of us are comfortable talking about. Of course we would call out to God if we were in a sinking ship.
But there was another fear that was going on here. They were afraid of the other side. They were not just taking a leisurely boat trip. They were not just out fishing for a couple of hours with plans to return to a familiar shore. They were going to an unknown territory. They were leaving Galillee (their home) and heading to Gerasenes. Most of them had probably never been to Gerasenes, nor did they have any desire to go there. The people over there were not believers of the one true God. They were Gentiles. In Biblical times Gentiles were not perceived well. They were the other. You would not eat with them, talk to them on the street, and you definitely would not go to their homes and minister to them.
So the underlying fear was not what would happen if the boat sank, but what would happen if they made it to the other side. They knew how to ask Jesus for help in a sinking boat. They were not sure how to ask for help when it came to their discomfort and disdain for an entire group of people. And when Jesus ended the storm with the words, “Peace! Be still!” they knew that this man was not a mere mortal. This man had power over the wind itself.
Our nation is reeling over the murder of nine individuals at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is so hard to know what to say in the midst of something so horrifying. All week I have been thinking about this text from Mark and the fear in this text. It occurred to me how connected hate and fear are. There is an underlying climate of fear in our world. And that fear leads us to separate from others. It gives us an excuse not to get to know people who are different from us, people who we do not understand. And sometimes, that leads to hate.
This fear is not a new thing. This fear was around in Jesus’ time as well and he did everything he could to combat it. Jesus was trying to bring people together. This crossing of the water wasn’t just a physical crossing…it was an emotional crossing as well. He was telling his disciples that he would not let anything separate him from the people of God….the children of God. And God’s love was not limited to any one group of people. It was open to all.
Jesus was determined to cross that divide no matter who or what tried to stop him. Water could not stop him. Storms could not slow him down. The questions and fears of the people around him would not steer him off his path. He was unwilling to back down. It was the love that he had for everyone, the commitment to all people that caused people to fear him and even hate him. In the end, it was that fear and hate that killed him. Yet what the people who killed him did not know was that not only could water could not stop him. Not only could people not stop him. Not only could fear not stop him. But death itself would not stop him from accomplishing his mission of sharing his love with all the people of this earth.
Sometimes we are inclined to domesticate Jesus. We talk about his love and kindness and he was all those things. But he was also powerful and strong. When his disciples woke him up, he did not say, “Hey there, it’s going to be ok.” He woke up and he rebuked the wind. He said, “Peace! Be still!” “Peace.” He then tuned to his disciples and said, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” He refused to let people keep him from his mission, from sharing the word of God with all people. So he rebuked the wind and he demanded Peace. He reminded his disciples that there was no room in that boat for fear, not as long as he was in that boat with them.
Just recently the families of those who were killed were given permission to address the shooter during his bond hearing. While they expressed their grief and their anger, they also spoke words of forgiveness and mercy. They asked that he repent and give his life to Christ. All of those words were extremely moving, but what touched me the most were the words, “Hate won’t win. We have no room for hate.”
This Gospel passage from today is often referred to as, “Jesus calming the storm.” This is a misnomer. This was not Jesus calming a storm, it was Jesus conquering a storm. There was no calm in the words, “Peace. Be still!” These were words of action, words of power. They call us, the people of God to action as well. We are called to stop fearing the other and to cross the waters of hatred and divide. We have no room for hate; not in our world and definitely not in our church. There is not even room for hate in an enormous body of water.
The apostle Paul was someone who knew what it was to overcome hate. He had been a persecutor of Christians. But Jesus came to him and said, “Why do you persecute me?” That changed him and he crossed the divide and became a Christian. Today we read part of his letter to the Corinthians. It ends with, “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return…open wide your hearts also.” God is asking us to open wide our hearts. That is scary because our hearts can be fragile. Hearing the words of the families who lost their loved ones is heart breaking. Sometimes, we have to let our hearts break a little to let love in and release fear.
People have asked me how I still have faith in a world like this, where there is so much hatred and violence. I don’t always have a good answer. There are times when I just can’t think about the big picture. I just focus on the things that are manageable, the people who can be helped. Yet sometimes I think we need to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the anguish of it all. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in the end of the 18th century so that African Americans could worship in relative freedom. The sin of racism is still alive and even today they cannot worship in freedom. We need to weep for what is happening our world, feel the weight of other people’s pain. We need to get in the boat, even when we are afraid that it will sink. I am sure that does not sound hopeful, but here is the hope. As long as we g et in the boat, we will find that Jesus is there with us. And when Jesus is in the boat with us, there is never room for hate. Love will always conquer hate.