Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Proper 7 B - Jun 21, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Proper 7 B – Sunday, June 7, 2015

Job 38:1-11
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Storm on the Sea of Galilee - Rembrandt van Rijn
In the early parts of the Gospels, a lot of activity centers around water. And pretty much anytime a body of fresh water is mentioned in the Gospels, it is the Sea of Galilea. Even if its called by another name, such as the Sea at Tiberius, it is the Galilea. And although today's passage never mentions, the name, the boat in which this adventure takes place is on the Sea of Galilea. So lets talk about the Sea of Galilea.

The first thing to note is that the fairly common name "Sea of Galilea" is misleading. The term sea is one we generally use to refer to large water bodies - like the Mediteranian... the North Sea... the Baltic... Purists hold that the term refers to expressions of the oceans. But we also think of great fresh water bodies as seas, in particular the Great Lakes - those great inland seas that hold something like a fifth of all the fresh water on earth. Or Siberia's Lake Baikal - itself as large as the great lakes combined. Seas are big... The only bigger thing is the ocean itself.  

But the Sea of Galilea is not big - not by world standards... It is about a quarter the size of Loch Lomond. Maybe half the size of Lake George. It is a bit bigger than our nearby Ashokan Reservoir... It is certainly not big enough to properly be called a sea. It is, at best, a medium sized lake. 

The Galilea is about 12 miles long and 8 miles wide and never more than 200 feet deep. While it is not particularly vast, standing on one shore you could not see the other shore. From the surrounding hills you could see all the lake, but once on the water, particularly in the middle of the lake, several miles from any shore, you could not see land. 

This medium lake appears in a many familiar stories. This is the lake where the sermon on the mount is given. On its shores Jesus defines his moral theology. Disciples are recruited on its shores. On this shore a few loaves and fishes feed a great multitude. This is the water that Jesus walks on... And the River Jordan, so central in the story of John The Baptist, flows from this lake - and by the way, the River Jordan is neither chilly, nor is it wide. Is  there may be milk and honey on the other side? I can't say... 

The disciples knew this lake very well, especially the fishermen. It was the center of their daily lives. So getting into a boat and setting out on the water was an ordinary thing to do. But while being on the lake in a boat may have been ordinary, the disciples would have been wary.
One of the weather features of this lake is that high winds can descend on the lake from the surrounding hills. And because the lake is relatively small and shallow, these winds whip up the surface in very dramatic ways - ways that are not possible in deeper lakes. So when the storm comes up and starts to threaten the disciples, it is really a frightening gale. The waves can easily swamp the boat. And their lives are truly in peril. 

All that is the setup... 

So the disciples are facing this truly dangerous threat. And Jesus is asleep in the back on the cushion. This is a little hard to imagine - and the temptation, just as we want the Galilea to be a big body of water, is to want the boat to be a big boat. In my childhood imagination, somehow this fishing boat had a below-deck hold - just like the boats that sail the Great Lakes or the New England coast... but it is a very small boat. It is odd that Jesus could be asleep, because he had to be getting wet... He had to be tossed about... What a sound sleeper he must have been... 

I like to read online commentaries on scripture, usually because they make me crazy. I read an article on this story that asserts that the entire point of the story is to establish beyond any doubt the full humanity of Jesus and the full divinity of Jesus: The full humanity in that Jesus is so tired and so desperately in need of sleep, like a human, that he is all but passed out in the back of the boat; and the full divinity in that the weather responds to his command.  

I don't suppose any of that is wrong... but it is resolving a dispute that is not going to come up until long after this story... And Jesus, when they wake him, doesn't say "see how fully human and fully divine I am..." First he rebukes the weather and then he rebukes the disciples: "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" 

So let's see... the disciples are out somewhere in the middle of this lake... their tiny boat is being swamped by a powerful storm... its dark... There is no land in sight... I don't suppose they had life preservers... Why are they afraid?...  

I've spent a good deal of time on the details of this story - but I think the meaning, at least for me, lies in metaphor. It is tempting to believe that following Jesus is a clear path - a highway straight through the wilderness. Certainly getting in the boat with Jesus should be the safest of things to do... and yet it is not. 

We seem to believe that following Jesus should free us from temptation, but it does not. Following Jesus should free us from conflict, but it does not. Following Jesus should save us from peril, but it does not. And Jesus never promises any of these things.  

Jesus never promises an easy life. Jesus does promise to be with us through the hardship and dangers and sorrows - and joys of this life. Its not that we will never weep... its that Jesus will wipe away the tears.  

The storm on the lake is with us today. When a group of faithful people gather at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to study scripture - to be in community with Jesus, to get into the boat as it were - it is easy to think that Jesus should keep them safe. And when an angry young man comes into their midst, his heart filled with racial hatred, it would be wonderful to think that their love and the power of Jesus will calm the storm in that young man's heart. 

But that isn't the story. The storm in that young man's heart raged until it had taken many lives. 

But that still isn't the story. For family and loved ones from Emanuel Church have now faced that young man in court and one after another expressed their pain, their sorrow, and their forgiveness. The disciples in the boat with Jesus are filled with fear - their faith is not yet strong. These disciples at Emanuel AME Church have an unshakable faith. In the face of unimaginable pain and sorrow their faith abides unshaken. 

No comments: