2 Corinthians 6:1-13
This is a good Gospel reading for an outdoor service, I only hope the wind and the river continue to obey him!
We might have thought this story of the Disciples on the lake would be one that they would be at home and comfortable, since several of them were fisherman and they were probably in one of their own boats. But they usually stuck very close to the side of the lake, and very close to their own side of the lake. I say “Their own side of the lake,” because the other side was Samaritan territory. It was a different country.
Job had stayed on the safe side of his lake, too. He had been faithful and followed all the commandments. He was close to God, but stayed in calm, safe waters. He had no idea what was right around the corner.
We like our safety, too. Who could blame the disciples? We like our little church, and our friends, and our familiar hymns. We frequent the same stores and cook the same food and like our peaceful lives. We are close to people like ourselves, same culture, same race, same age, same socio-economic status.
But sometimes our little boat gets pushed out into the middle of the lake. Sometimes we find ourselves with a serious illness, or a close family member is ill. Sometimes we lose everything in a fire, or lose our job. Sometimes our kids take away the car keys or invite us to move halfway across the country to a place we’ve never known. We find ourselves very far from the shore we have known so well. Suddenly we don’t feel very safe. We don’t have control over the forces and powers around us. We might start to feel afraid as the storm whips up, as chaos swirls around us, as our boat starts filling with water. We don’t know if we will live another day. We don’t know how we will live, how we will get across to the other side.
God is not afraid or absent in the storm. God loves crossing over. I especially think of when God crossed over the lake that is the division between God and humankind. Those waters of the womb surrounded the little Jesus and when those waves crashed, he came into this world. It must have been a stormy beginning for a stormy little guy, that turned into a stormy man, who crossed every river and lake to engage every kind of person in the vision and work of God’s Kingdom. God’s work is about crossing boundaries, coming together, and riding out the storms together.
The Israelites found themselves out in the storm. They’d left a bad situation, enslavement in Egypt. Now they were out in the wilderness, in the chaos, afraid, feeling powerless, and ready to exchange this storm for the misery that they had known before. They actually showed up at the land that God was leading them to within a year or two from when they left Egypt, but they got scared after sending in a group of scouts, and ended up doubling back and spending 40 years wandering until they finally learned to trust God and begin the new life God was offering them. And then their trust and faithfulness was short-lived, very much like our own.
Job found God speaking out of the whirlwind, storm. We might think that storm was him losing everything and everyone he loved. Actually, that storm was his friends who come along and instead of simply accompanying him and holding him in his pain after the deaths of everyone in his family and the loss of everything he owned, tried to explain that he deserved it and tried to theologize his situation and pontificate until he’d just had it. Out of that storm, God speaks. God actually invites Job, who is crumpled on the ground, defeated, defenseless, hopeless, God invites Job to stand up and have a conversation between equals, to look each other in the eye and talk and listen and relate. And God shows Job what God sees, the bigger picture, the power of God, the accompaniment and boundary-crossing of God.
In the same way, the disciples in their storm, at first feel abandoned. They wake Jesus up, who is asleep in the boat because he’s completely exhausted from healing and being chased by the crowds like the Beatles in Hard Day’s Night. I’ve seen these paintings of Jesus in the boat calming the storm. He always looks so powerful, regal, awake. This time when I read the story, I pictured him rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. I bet he was sleeping there, the disciples woke him up accusing him of not caring, he sits up all sleepy like, then with a flick of his hand and a loud voice says, “Silence. Be still.” He accuses the disciples of being afraid and having no faith. Then immediately he returns to sleeping. This is the reason I think he goes back to sleeping, because he exits the conversation and where is he going to go in the boat. The disciples start talking about him like he’s not even there, “Who is this, that even the wind and seas obey him?”
If we are sailing in still waters near the shore, if we are safe and comfortable, if we are in our patterns, hanging out with people like us, God says that is not abundant life. That is living in fear, clinging to our side of the lake. Even if it feels good, it is not working for someone else who is out on that lake or waiting on the other side, in need of connection with us. If it is working for us, it is not sustainable. Do we cling desperately to the shore, or do we have the faith to go forth with Jesus to see what else this world has to offer?
On the other shore of the lake is the Kingdom of God, relating with people who are different, a view of our life that reveals more truth, a wider view of what is most important and life-giving. In between there might be a storm or two, but it is nothing compared to the power and glory of God.
God invites us to cross the borders, all the time. We are to cross when we see someone in need. We are to cross when we are comfortable. We are to cross when God calls us to new life. We are to cross to stand up against unjust laws. Crossing is scary and dangerous. But we can’t stay where we are, and in the crossing we learn faith, practice faith, realize we can’t do it ourselves and that we’ve never done it ourselves. That’s where we learn we are powerless and God is powerful, relationship is powerful, we are more powerful together.
The Bible is full of stories of crossing over. Can you name some? Go ahead. The wise men. The shepherds visiting Jesus. The exodus. The woman at the well. Jesus with the children. The 23rd Psalm. We have countless stories of those who have gone before to inspire us and keep us going.
If we are already out on the waters and the storm is threatening to sink the boat, God is with us. God has been on many sinking boats, including the arrest, and crucifixion of his own Son. God does not abandon sinking boats, but goes down with the ship. But God also promises there is more than the shore of this life. There is another shore, which is new life and connection and peace.
This congregation has had so many stories of crossing over boundaries and lakes. When pastors have misbehaved or left, you have sometimes found yourselves in stormy seas, and I know you found God there with you, and you crossed to the other side. But you didn’t stay there. God asked you to cross again, and you did. And each time, your faith grew. You crossed when you couldn’t pay the bills and you sold some property and began to look to ministries outside yourselves and had enough faith to tithe to synod ministries and needs. You went out into stormy seas when you started the food pantry. Sometimes those 2nd and 4th Thursdays still feel pretty stormy. But we know God is with us and with our friends and partners in all those other boats all around us. You have faced storms when you left the safety of your shore and had a frank conversation with someone you were struggling with. And you even left the safety our cozy little church, to worship in the chaotic outdoors, to feel God’s presence, to see God at work outside our walls, to sing and praise without a building, to go out and meet God in the forest, in the world, to sing along with the birds and learn from their example, to take a risk, to let go of knowing and being comfortable to open yourselves to God’s vision, to the new life that happens on the other side of the lake. And we still haven’t arrived. We are not done crossing through the storms. Jesus isn’t just going to snap his fingers. But we do know that he is the one with the power to bring us through to new life. And if the wind and sea obey him, wouldn’t it be amazing for us to do so, too?!
God doesn’t call us to be a harmonius, calm little community by the shore. God calls us to something more. It is absolutely not smooth sailing. However, it grows our faith, brings us together, and is meaningful, hopeful, abundant, connecting, and exhilarating. It is the only thing worth doing, crossing, crossing again, and meeting Jesus in the storm.