On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Let us pray…
Holy God of wisdom, by the power of your Holy Spirit and through your Holy Word, settle now into our hearts and illumine your will for our lives. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
The disciples were in for a rocky ride. They probably didn’t know, when they first made the decision to follow this young carpenter from Nazareth, just what kind of ride it would be. At this point in the story, Jesus has been teaching and healing, and it’s been exciting, but so far, he hasn’t really rocked the boat of convention too much. Oh but he is about to. It’s made clear from our reading this morning that Jesus has no intention of taking the easy way out, he has no intention of giving his disciples a smooth ride. And I’m not just talking about the physical storm that happens in this story. I’m talking about the very first line, which reveals Jesus’ intention to rock the boat, not just literally, but symbolically as well.
It’s a rather revealing first line, if you’re paying attention. On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ At first hearing we may not realize it, but this is when the storm starts to brew, with these words: ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ To us, these words seem rather innocuous and perhaps even insignificant. Jesus has had a long hard day of teaching, and we think he just wants to get away from the crowds. So why not get in the boat and cross to the other side of the sea of Galilee, where the crowds are less inclined to follow him. But if you do just a little bit of digging, you find something quite significant in this seemingly insignificant line. You see, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee was gentile territory. It was territory that Jews did not venture into— were not supposed to venture into. It was unchartered territory and in many ways it was forbidden territory. Therefore, crossing over to the other side, in this instance, would surely raise a storm of disruption and controversy. Jesus was asking the disciples to take a big risk and make a big change. He was drawing them away from what was safe—from the shores of what they knew as fishermen in Galilee, to the distant shores of transformational discipleship. “Let us go across to the other side,” Jesus says. Right away, in the very first sentence, this story lets us know that if we get into the boat with Jesus we are in for quite a ride.
We’re in for quite a ride because getting into the boat with Jesus means we cross boundaries and challenge the status quo. Getting into the boat with Jesus means we allow ourselves to be called away from what is safe and what is known-- to the distant shores of change and new beginnings. And that, as anyone knows, is not always easy. In fact, like the experience of the disciples in this story, sometimes the results of getting into the boat with Jesus may be so difficult that it feels like we are about to perish. But perhaps one lesson we can learn from this story is that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Just because the waters may get a bit rough doesn’t mean God isn’t calling us to try. Just because it risks disruption and change, and it requires us to confront our fears, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get in the boat—for certainly, though the waters may be rough, we are never alone in the boat.
So getting into the boat with Jesus requires us to take risks and cross boundaries. And that alone may rock the boat and shake us up. But the text can take us even deeper into the storm if we let it. And maybe going further into the storm doesn’t sound like the most appealing option on a breezy summer Sunday morning. Why intentionally travel into a storm? But if we allow God to take us into the storm, we may just find a deeper sense of healing over on the other side. So I ask you to go a little further with me this morning, knowing that we are not alone in the boat, knowing that God makes the journey with us.
It is telling, perhaps, that the very first thing that happens when the disciples actually get to the other side of the lake, at the beginning of Mark 5, is that the disciples and Jesus encounter a man possessed with demons. The text says that the man had been living among the tombs, he was so much an outsider from his community. It says he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, for when unrestrained he would howl and bruise himself with stones. In other words, having gone through the storm, having crossed over to the other side, the disciples and Jesus immediately encounter intense suffering. And so getting into the boat with Jesus, in this case, means allowing oneself to encounter suffering up close and personal—not averting one’s eyes, not pretending it doesn’t affect you, but truly encountering it, and seeking paths towards healing and alleviation of that suffering.
This week, dear friends, our brothers and sisters in the city of Charleston, SC are in a place in intense pain and suffering. Many of you have most certainly heard the news by now. A lone gunman entered Emmanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston and opened fire in a church at prayer. Nine people were killed, including the church’s pastor— Reverend Clementa C. Pinkney who also happened to be a state senator. Also lost were Cynthia Hurd, a regional branch manager of the Charles County Public Library system; Sharon Coleman-Singleton, a speech therapist and girls’ track and field coach; Tywanza Sanders, a recent graduate in business administration; Myra Thompson, an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; retired local pastors Daniel L. Simmons and Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor; Ethel Lance, a grandmother who worked for 30 years at the church; and Susie Jackson, also a longtime member of the church.
It was a senseless crime, but as one social commentator pointed out, not exactly unthinkable, for indeed the perpetrator who was apprehended not long after by the authorities had clearly given the matter a lot of thought. And not unspeakable either, for we as a country cannot afford not to speak about these things. If we want to heal, we must speak. We must talk about the things that keep our communities in chains of violence. We must talk about the things that keep us shackled to suffering. Getting into the boat with Jesus means we confront suffering with our eyes wide open. It means we get into the boat not only with Jesus, but with our brothers and sisters in Charleston. It means we enter into mourning with them for this terrible crime, and we pray for and with them. Getting into the boat with Jesus means we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who suffer. And we work together to break the chains that keep them shackled. It means we work to confront and eliminate racism and prejudice where we see it in our own communities, and maybe even where we see it in ourselves. It means we reach out across boundaries of race and culture and any other barriers that keep us from recognizing the beautiful image of God that resides within all of us and unites us across all differences and divides.
It can be so easy to feel helpless at times like this. It’s one thing to say we have to get into the boat. But then what? Well this morning, we are going to get into the boat, and we are going to do the thing that we Christians do best, we are going to pray. And so I invite you to do the following: in your bulletins this morning you all received a blue card. I invite you all to write down your prayer for the people of Emmanuel Church, for the people of Charleston, SC, and for any people who suffer from the results of hatred or racism. Write down your prayers for peace and justice. Write down your hopes for healing and reconciliation of all God’s people. Your prayer may take any form. But the important thing is that through our prayers, we are getting into the boat with Jesus. We are sailing into the storm, confronting suffering, and doing our small part, to bring about healing and change. Brothers and sisters, let us get into the boat with Jesus. Let us reflect and pray…