Sermon for June 24, 2018

A Sermon from the 1st Congregational Church, UCC, North Yarmouth, Maine
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the 1st Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Yarmouth, Maine on June 24, 2018.

Scripture Mark 4: 35-41 Jesus Calming the Storm

This story is one of the most familiar stories in the Gospels. Because so many of us grew up attending Sunday School and learning this story in particular, it is quite often preached as a divine miracle story demonstrating that Jesus has divine power, that Jesus is the Son of God. It is definitely that and I have preached that before myself. But it is also something else. It has been a long day of teaching the crowds – this comes right after the telling of several parables – the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed and Jesus even takes the opportunity to explain these parables to his disciples – those who are closest to him for even though we are told that these parables will only be fully understood by those in the inner circle, they did not understand their meaning. Then, Jesus says ‘Let’s go across to the other side’.

The other side represents Gentile territory – a place no devout Jew would go – it was a place that could be dangerous and inappropriate. So Jesus is saying to his followers that his mission is not just for them but for the ‘other’. By going into Gentile territory, Jesus is reaching out to strangers, even enemies of Israel.

So they get into the boat to go across the sea and Jesus falls asleep in the stern on a cushion. And a storm comes up suddenly. On a recent visit to the Sea of Galilee, while the water was quite calm, we were informed that indeed storms can come up quickly with even 10 foot waves. Several of the disciples in the boat were experienced fisherman and this storm was so fierce that even they feared for their lives as it was swamping the boat. They woke Jesus, ‘Do you not care that we are perishing?!’ Jesus woke up and said ‘Peace! Be Still!’ and the wind ceased and the water was dead calm. Then he asked them these 2 questions, ‘Why are you afraid?’ and ‘ Have you still no faith?’. And honestly the story ends without the disciples declaring their faith but a collective questioning of ‘Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?!’

Jesus led them into unknown territory – a place where their traditions and beliefs told them not to go. They were afraid – terrified even. Afraid of what they had been taught all their lives that people in Gentile territory were bad and evil and ungodly for they did not believe in the God of Israel, God’s chosen people. They never went near these people so they had no first-hand experience of them. They had learned from birth that these people on the other side were not God’s people, that they should be avoided at all costs. Jesus, a devout Jewish man, the one whom they have chosen to follow, is leading them into presumably dangerous, unknown places and expecting them to follow. There was no discussion beforehand to prepare them for this new terrifying adventure. Jesus just said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go to the other side.’ And addressing their fear he questions, ‘why are you afraid?’ , ‘where is your faith?’ Jesus has been with them for a while now, teaching and preaching and showing them how to love one another and he expects more – he expects them to follow him and do as he has taught them – reaching out not just to each other but to all other people in the world in love and compassion and inclusion in this new ministry to all God’s children.

I titled this message ‘Fear or Faith?’ and I want to now give it a subtitle: ‘the Elephant in the Room’. Over the past few weeks, we have been witness to the separation of children and parents at our nation’s borders. We have all seen the news that now more than 2,000 children of people entering our country are being separated from their parents and held in shelters. People on all sides are assigning blame and the slings and arrows are flying fast and furious – all this while innocent children are being detained away from their parents. I have tried to educate myself on what the background and issues are for what is going on and I encourage you to do the same. And yes, there are other situations in our land where children are removed from their parents’ custody – some justified for protection of the children and some seemingly not and these instances should be addressed.

Our nation and our world right now are in some very stormy times. Jesus calls us as followers to care for the least. Our Bible even before the times of Jesus repeatedly tells us to take care of the stranger, the alien in the land, and also to care for the least, the widows and the children. Jesus reiterates that same message in the Gospels even going so far as to say when you take care of the ones shunned by society, the prisoner, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the lonely, anyone in distress, then you take care of Jesus himself. And when you do not, you are rejecting Jesus. Jesus expects us to care for the least, to take care of the stranger, those we don’t even know in our world. I know we all have different opinions about the best way to handle the humanitarian crises in our country and our world. I do not believe anyone here would say we should not feed the hungry or care for those who have fallen on hard times. I would be surprised if anyone here said separating children from their parents is OK.
Jesus calls us to hold on to our faith, to act in love especially in stormy times. We need to search our hearts of faith and ask ourselves, ‘does what I feel about this situation, how I think this or that situation should be handled, do my feelings and actions align with my faith in Jesus?’ And yes there is a lot going on out there in our world and we have children right here in Maine who are food insecure and whose families need help to survive and many others who also need help. This is not an either/or situation, it is not a choice we must or should make but a both/and situation. We need to care about all of those in our world who are struggling to survive. Why do we think it must be one or the other? Are we afraid? Jesus asked his disciples that and he asks us that as well. Why are we afraid? If Jesus is with us then there is no need to fear.
For as we proclaim that we are followers of Jesus the Christ , no matter what we feel about immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, terrorizing children by separating them from their families is not the way Jesus has taught us that we should act in our world. We must search our hearts and question our beliefs and answer the questions Jesus asked his disciples on the Sea of Galilee: ‘Why are you afraid?’ ‘ Have you no faith?’

I pray we will put aside our fears and act in faith. Jesus is love. Jesus showed us how to love and continues to show us what love is. Love not just for those we know and who are closest to us but also those we do not know – the ‘others’ in our world. Let us act in faith and love. As followers of Jesus the Christ, let us venture into the unknown, go to the other side with Jesus in our boat. Amen.