Sunday, June 24, 2018

Proper 7 - Year B: June 24, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Proper 7- Sunday, June 24, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Robert James Magliula
Beginning this Sunday and stretching over the next two weeks, Mark presents us with a collection of miracle stories intended to give us insights into God and ourselves. The bruising storm in today's Gospel is a recasting of the watery chaos from which creation is brought forth from God. 

The Gospel is juxtaposed with a reading from the Book of Job where chaos takes another form, reminding us of who God is in us and us in God. In both instances, the disciples and Job must face into the chaos as well as the feelings and questions that arise in them, and in us, as we navigate the chaos of our day.

In Mark's account Jesus' identity is still unclear to the disciples. Jesus is so exhausted from teaching the crowds that he falls soundly asleep in the boat. A windstorm is not an unusual occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of the storm, in fear and despair, the disciples wake Jesus and accuse him of not caring whether they die.

Fear, the visceral response of people, in a frail storm-tossed boat, resonates in our individual and societal lives today. We are afraid of these winds and waves that assail our fragile vessels---our lives, our church, our government, our nation. Personally, we fear disapproval, rejection, failure, meaninglessness, illness, and death. 

In these last weeks we have been confronted by the perils and abuse of the most vulnerable among us, conjuring memories of humanity's darkest past. In our past and present we have heard our Scriptures distorted to justify and promulgate injustice and atrocity. How we long for One who can calm both us and this storm. In today's Gospel, fear is confronted not with a burst of courage or resolve on the part of the disciples. They don't pull themselves together. They don't discover inner resources they didn't know they had. Rather, it is Jesus who calms both them and the storm with the power of his presence. Not surprisingly, their immediate response to Jesus' demonstration of power is not relief, but more fear. They witness Jesus revealing the paradox that human and divine are not separate, but one. It is beyond their comprehension.

Jesus never says to them or us that there is nothing to be afraid of. Jesus asks, "Why are you afraid?" Fearsome things are real, but they do not have the last word. Unless we give it, they do not have ultimate power over us, because reigning over this world of fearsome things is a God who is mightier than they. God's self-revelation to Moses at the Exodus denotes one who hears the cry of the oppressed. The name YHWH is inextricably tied to a God who redeems people in trouble, sustains them through the wilderness, and brings them into the promised land. God acts through history in fulfillment of promises made in relationship. It is not possible to talk of a God "out there" who is sovereign over the universe without relating to the God who enters the fray of history and politics, investing in us and expecting loyalty in return.

Time and again in Scripture the word is "Do not be afraid." The angels speak it to the terrified shepherds and it is spoken at the tomb when the women discover it empty. Not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days, but rather because God is with us, in us. Even though there are real and fearsome things. Evil need not paralyze us; lies need not have dominion over us; they need not own us, because we are not alone in the boat. To be sure our ego is challenged. Only when we have articulated our feelings of frustration and fear---and the anger beneath them---can we listen for a word from God. Only then can we hear, "Peace! Be still." God's word still destroys the forces that threaten to do harm. The question Jesus poses is asked of us when we are tempted to despair. 

"Why are you afraid?" Are we afraid to bear the burden of divinity in our humanity? If we truly acknowledged the image of God in which everyone without exception is created, if we recognize the Spirit of God within us, we would have to live up to this incredible dignity, freedom, and love. So many carry an unspoken assumption that we are damaged, guilty, and unlovable. Jack Kornfield writes:

"Our belief in a limited and impoverished identity is such a strong habit that without it we are afraid we wouldn't know how to be. If we fully acknowledged our dignity, it could lead to radical life changes. It could ask something huge of us."1
Stepping into our divinity is the ultimate paradigm shift.

Job holds up a mirror for us. When chaos comes knocking at his door, his framework for understanding life is shattered. He believed that those who lived a good life were rewarded with good fortune, health, wealth, and blessings. Those who sinned met misfortune, illness, poverty, and woes. This legalistic moral framework, so ingrained in the human psyche as a way to create the illusion that one can keep chaos at bay, focuses on right and wrong, and is considered the essence of justice. People get what they deserve. They reap what they sow. Job knows he has done no wrong but still he suffers. All he can perceive in his situation is injustice. He is desperate for his idea of justice to prevail. He demands to know "Why?" When faced with chaos his question is also ours. The chaos of our day offers an invitation to examine our own framework for organizing the unimaginable---to name the doubts and fears we only whisper in the dark on sleepless nights.

God responds out of the whirlwind as a poet. In a fierce and poetic litany, God describes the works of creation spanning the whole universe. It's a response that we need to take in this morning. Barbara Brown Taylor hits the nail on the head when she writes:

"Job's question was about justice. God's answer is about omnipotence, and as far as I know, that is the only answer human beings have ever gotten about why things happen the way they do. God only knows. And none of us is God." 2

God does not correct Job but dazzles him with the divine glory. We cannot always bring explanation to confusion, we cannot always arrange the rooms of our lives the way we want them. In chaos our hearts shout down our rational selves, and we, like Job, cry out to God.

We do not enjoy puzzling over mysteries we cannot explain easily. But that is what the Church does at its best. It summons mysteries that are not easily explained, it invites people into them, never in control of where those mysteries will lead, or what will happen to those caught up in them. The Church introduces people to the Living God. As our Bishop Visitor wrote recently:

"The world has never needed more the Church to be the Church, and the life of active faith and witness must be more than reflexive reaction to each new crisis." 3

Our readings today locate mystery primarily not in what is exceptional, but in what is natural and known---the stars, the sea, the clouds, the womb. They invite us with Job and the disciples to ponder the breadth and depth of this God. In this world unfurled for us in poetry, we find that our questions lead not to answers but to an awareness of how fathomless are the mysteries of God we struggle to understand. Faith, by its very nature, is not the product of right answers. The deepest places of our knowledge of God are often those places that we cannot explain.

At God's insistence Job must confront what he fears most. He faces the chaos and the cosmos, his immediate situation and the larger picture. As he does, his blinders fall off. He says, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you" (42:5). His narrow moral framework gives way to a cosmic vision of the Divine. His question is never answered. He is comforted not by an explanation but by a vision. The chaos is still there, but so is God, and that is enough. Job is offered something more than answers: he is assured of God's Presence.

Perhaps our vocation has less to do with explaining the root of the mystery and more to do with making space for that mystery within us and others, to make it known and share it. Our role is to support each other in the midst of these encounters so that we may see God's work, and do it, not just in times of chaos, but in the regular moments of life, where God can be known but never finally explained. Then we are able to further God's Reign. +Amen.


1. Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the universal teachings of Buddhist Psychology (Bantam Dell: 2008), 12.

2. Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, (Cambridge:Cowley, 1999), 165.

3.The Rt. Rev. Andrew M. L. Dietsche, Pastoral Letter, 20 June 2018.

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