Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pentecost 3 - Year B

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

A good question, don't you think?. Perhaps the ONLY question. That wasn't the first time it was asked. And it definitely wasn't the last. It's the question that haunts us. It's a question that maybe even haunts God.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

It's a question that all of us ask. Or WILL ask. It's a charmed life that doesn't need to ask that question. At the doctor's office. In the hospital bed. Behind closed doors. In drought-stricken Africa. On the streets of Tehran. This question is prayed through tight jaws and clenched teeth.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

It's as if Jesus set up his followers. The disciples weren't anxious to cross the lake. Especially at night. It gets dark on the lake. They didn't know where they were going. And worse than that, they believed a storm demon lived in the water. A demon they didn't want to arouse.

But, it looks like they did. The lightening from the distance hovered over their boat. The thunder drummed in their ears. The rain made their clothes feel like they were made of lead.

But Jesus is sound asleep. Dead to the world. It seems that not even ear-bursting thunder could rouse God's only Son.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus answers, not with a word to his followers, but with a word to the storm. “pephemoso” or “Peace. Be still.”

If you know your bible, you'll know it's the same word – pephemoso - that Jesus uses to subdue the demon-possessed man in chapter 1, verse 25. For Mark's first listeners, this wasn't a story about Jesus having authority over nature. This was a story about Jesus have authority over unseen forces.

“Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They ask each other. “Who is this, that even the storm demons are subdued by his word?” “Who is this that defeats the power of evil?”

Who is this, indeed?

The early church heard this story as about them. The Hebrew people would have remembered the story when God slept while God's people suffered in slavery. Now Jesus was sleeping while the disciples were in danger.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

This question didn't appear out of thin air. Mark's listeners had known danger. They had known suffering. The Romans had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. The Roman Emperor Nero was crucifying Christians upside down, when he wasn't cutting their heads off or turning them into lion food. They probably wondered if God was sleeping after sending them out in to the forces of darkness and evil.

But, in this story, they hear that they can rouse the power of God. They hear that God does calm the storm. They hear that God defeats the principalties and powers that threaten to destroy them. They hear that God hasn't abandoned them. They hear about hope in the midst of trial.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

That question no longer hung in the air, waiting for someone to take hold of it. The answer came, not with a word to the storm, but with a word to his followers struggling to make sense of what was happening to them.

And I think we struggle with that too. At some point in our lives, sooner or later we'll try to make sense of what's happening to us. A failing marriage. Job loss. A terrible illness. Devastating abuse. Paralyzing loneliness. Grief. We all – at one point – will try to rouse a sleeping God. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I love that this question is in the bible. It's a human question. It's a faithful question. It's a question that takes God's promises seriously and demands that God act in our lives.

That question also reminds GOD of our frailty. Our helplessness. Our weakness. It reminds US that we are not, at the end, fully in charge of our lives. That we need God to bring us to the other side safely.

Today, we baptize baby Sophia. “Sophia” as many of you know, if the greek word for “wisdom.” The bible reminds us that “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But the word “fear” doesn't quite describe what it means. A better way of saying it is, “Being in AWE of Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

This 'awe' of God that the bible describes is what the disciples felt after Jesus calmed the storm, subduing the storm demon. “They were filled with great awe” the story says, “and they said to one another, 'Who is this that even the sea and wind obey him?”

In the waters of baptism, God is saying “Be still! STOP!” to all the forces of evil that have their designs on Sophia. In these waters, the power of evil is put to death. And God grabs hold of her with a grip that will never be let go. Today she is marked with the cross of Christ and filled with the power of his resurrection.

So, when the day comes when she asks, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” She'll know that he does.

In what we do here, God is telling us that, no matter what happens to us, no matter what storms we face, no matter what demons threaten to destroy us, Jesus will calm the waters. And guide us safely to the other side.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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