Change and Challenge. An unpreached sermon for Pentecost 5B, 23 June 2024

Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

+In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We love spiritualising bible accounts like this. Look, I’m as guilty as anyone. I was searching for a title, and came up with “We’re all in the same boat”. And yes, there’s real comfort to be found in the real fact that Jesus was in the boat with the disciples when the storm struck. Or, “Does Jesus care?” That was the disciples’ plaintive cry: “Don’t you care if we drown?” Even more insidious than pure (impure?) atheism, is Richard Dawkins’ notion of the Blind Watchmaker, an impersonal force which wound up the earth at Big Bang and then leaves it to unwind in chaos. Clearly, such a God doesn’t care if you drown. But sadder is when believers confess that Jesus cares about other Christians, just not about them. Storms strike, seas of trouble rise. “God doesn’t care about me because I’m … (insert unfashionable-in-evangelical-circles feature du jour).” That would make for a worthwhile treatment of the text, the Incarnation is all about God caring in Jesus for all sorts and conditions of people.

Might there be a simpler, at face value, way of looking at the story? Did Jesus want the disciples to, er, just get in the jolly boat? There was a disturbed man on the other side of the Lake in need of healing, of being made whole. And it was an imperative need. “That day”, says St Mark with his signature eye-witness journalism, that very evening, Jesus rounds the disciples up to go to “The other side”. They’re familiar with all that the Sea of Galilee might chuck at them, they’re fishermen after all, except they stuck to their own shore. Certainly not the opposite shore, inhabited by alien Gerasanes. And most especially not a Gerasenes madman. But Jesus had a job to do, for which in the strange providence of God he had a rôle for the disciples. Get me to the other side. We stick to our side, don’t we, to our comfort zones. The “Other” frightens us. Who knows what might happen if we make that crossing? And if the Holy Spirit calms our initial apprehension, so that we rustle up courage to go aboard, we’re even more terrified after the tempest of doubt subsides, because it looks as if we don’t have any more excuses to visit our neighbours right where they are, on the metaphorical opposite shore, opposite to our comfortable existence and experience. That’s why so often in scripture, confronted with God’s awesome power, the stories’ actors are frightened not only in holy awe, but also because they sense that things won’t be the same again, things have changed, something will be demanded of them. The nativity story shepherds are terrified, not only because angels appear out of nowhere, but because they intuit that they will have to go to Bethlehem and brave taunts as they recount the wonder. “What do you know? You’re a bunch of uneducated sheep herders, ritually unclean to boot probably because you’ve been around dead animals.” Mary Magdalene is terrified, not only because she has encountered angels and the risen Christ, but also because she has to go to Jerusalem and deliver this glorious news to the faithless disciples. “What do you know? You’re a woman, insignificant in our social hierarchy and a woman with a ropey past.”

Change is frightening. For the disciples, for you and me. But not for that desperately troubled man on the other shore. Mark 5. For him, change was demonstrated as folk who had long known him as mad - demon-possessed in the parlance of the time - found him “clothed and in his right mind.” Except. He wanted to go back with Jesus. A nice change, eh. And here, if we get too comfortable about the changes for good which God has wrought in our lives, is Jesus’ response. “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”


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