Sermon preached by the Reverend Donna Downs
There is a lot going on this 21st day of June. It is Father’s Day, it’s the summer solstice and first day of summer, it’s my goddaughters 16th birthday, and it is the anniversary of my being ordained a deacon 6 years ago in the Episcopal Church. My vocation as an ordained person began a new journey for me and my family; first as a deacon and then as a priest 6 months later. While going through the process for ordination, I was continually reminded that being ordained meant that I would be called to serve in a parish or more than one parish along the way. Staying in one church would no longer be an option for me. So, here I stand at what I think is the most difficult part of ministry. Saying goodbye.
In this morning’s Gospel of Mark, as evening came, Jesus instructed his disciples to take their boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had spent the day sitting in that same boat under a hot sun telling the crowds who had gathered on the shore parables about the kingdom of God.
Being the obedient disciples that they were, they pulled up their anchor at Jesus’ request and set their sights on the opposite shore; the other side. The other side that Jesus and his disciples were going to represented Gentile territory, the “country of the Gerasenes” the place where Jesus would be met by a demon possessed man.
Jesus in going to the other side was venturing into a foreign region to bring his ministry to Gentile territory. He was reaching out to strangers. While he and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee, they became caught in a great storm, heavy winds and high waves threatened to capsize the boat. And the disciples panicked. Experienced fishermen in my mind would have been able to handle that situation, so what was different about this time on the Sea. As I thought about it I realized, that they were going to the other side, new territory, as Jews they may have never traveled to Gentile territory before and I wondered if they were afraid. In their distress and fear the disciples woke Jesus up because he had fallen asleep in the back of the boat. They said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Have you ever said similar words? When the problems and uncertainties in our lives seem too great to handle, we are apt to cry out, “God where are you and do you even care?”
Jesus woke up and told the wind to stop and said to the sea, Peace, Be still! And the wind ceased and the sea grew calm. He turned to the disciples and said “Why are you afraid?” He acknowledged their fear. The disciples looked at Jesus in awe and wonder for he even had command over nature. Jesus doesn’t expect us to be anything but human in our responses. The disciples and we as well, don’t have to pretend we are unafraid, uncertain, or full of faith. God knows our framework. In Christianity we have a notion that if we believe in God and live a certain way that we won’t ever experience problems and never be afraid.
In this passage Jesus leads them into the storm to get to the other side. It is often while we are in the midst of grieving the loss of a loved one, watching someone die, job loss, divorce, transitions in our lives when we feel so helpless, that we are most apt to say, God where are you! Do you not care that I am perishing? And we hear only silence. Seeming betrayal by God. When we are able to acknowledge our feelings of anger, fear, can we also be still and listen for a word from God.
Jesus speaks Peace! Be still! I find it easy to forget that God still speaks in our busy lives and in the chaos of the world.
We as a church and people who serve God need to remember that God is still speaking and calling us to the other side. While we are going to the other side it won’t always be smooth going, it will be windy and chaotic and scary. We’ll be expected to be hospitable to people we don’t normally speak or live with; that can be uncomfortable. But Jesus speaks, Peace, Be still. I’m in the boat with you. It is during those times that we can rediscover our faith and the nature and love of God.
We as a community, in this place and in this time, take great care to be hospitable to the person(s) coming to our church for the first time. Please remember that that person might be in the midst of a storm and needs the love and peace that this place offers. Don’t forget to continue to care for one another.
I thank you for the last 5 years – for the joys, the sorrows, the many changes; the good times and the hard times. I thank you for giving me the privilege of traveling to the other side with you.
We both will be facing many changes. I’ll have a new parish; you will have a new assistant. I must say, Cindy is lovely and she will take you to new places and you will take her.
Before I end, I want to thank you for helping to shape my ministry. It might sound corny but I love these words from the play Wicked when Elphaba is saying goodbye to Glinda: “It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime so let me say before we part so much of me is made of what I learned from you – You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart – And know whatever way our stories end I know you have rewritten mine – Like a ship blown from it’s mooring by a wind off the sea – I’ve been changed for the better – because I knew you”. God Bless you all.