Fourth Sunday after Pentecost- Sermon
6/21/15- Year B
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I’ve been working on preaching around three-points in a sermon, some texts have been difficult to summarize into three points or topics for a homiletic outline. Some though have come rather easy, none as easy as today’s sermon. They came to me or were rather revealed to me earlier this week as I was reading the Gospel lesson in its original Greek. Reading in the Greek, I came upon a triad of things that has held my imagination as I reflected upon this sermon and the tragedies of this week. Mark in succession talks about a lailaps megalā, a galānā megalā, and lastly a phobon megan. Your ears already have probably picked up on Mark’s repetitive use of the word “megas.” This Greek word “megas" is familiar to us in English by removing the final consonant, “s.” Thus, the cognate “mega,” from which we get the old video game hero MegaMan or the lottery’s Mega-millions. Mega means “great,” “large,” or “huge.” These three megas, I believe, are Mark’s outline for his story. They seem to me to be an appropriate outline for this sermon as we talk about, A Mega Storm, a Mega Calm, and lastly a Mega Fear.
A Mega Storm
The disciples and Jesus set out on what was to be a normal ordinary trip across the Sea of Galilee. We know that it is routine trip as Mark’s Gospel has them sailing from one side of the sea to the other at least once every chapter, sometimes twice. Even more is this a boring trip in that it has put our Lord asleep. When I preached earlier on the parallel text from Luke at Bethany, I gave our Lord’s napping in the stern as prima facie evidence for taking my own nap taking. If the Son of God needs a nap, how much more do I a son of Adam need one. Napping aside, the journey from one land to the other is a common ordinary occurrence in Mark and would have been for the disciples.
It is not surprising then that this image of the disciples with Jesus aboard a ship became throughout the centuries, from the very earliest of days, a symbol for the entire Church. It is part of the reason Danish Lutheran Churches always have a wooden ship hung from the ceiling in their sanctuaries and also why the interior of the Church, where you all are sitting is called a nave, meaning ship, related to the word navy. Thus when we come to Church, we come aboard the nave and continue our regular ordinary journey from this land to the Promised Land and Jesus is aboard with us. Fortunately so far none of you have fallen asleep.
Now what was to be a routine trip has deviated from the norm, as the winds begin to pick up and blow with ever growing velocity. They begin to swirl and with them bring loud claps of thunder, flashes of great lightening, and ever perilous darkness. As the wind blows harder and harder against the sails and the hull of the ship, the waves swell to greater and greater heights. The ship pitches to and fro in ever growing degrees. The water breaks from its pillared waves and crashes onto the deck of the ship. With wave after wave the ship begins to take on water. What once was sea mist upon the faces of the disciples has now become flood water rising over their feet to their ankles and knees. The ship is being flooded and broken apart and the disciples fear for their very lives, “we are perishing.” Literally in the Greek, “we are being destroyed.” The ship, the naus, the nave is going down at the hands of this mega-storm.
It is of no surprise then that the persecuted Church saw this story as chiefly a parable about themselves. For the Church is a ship, a navy, a sail on stormy waters. And these storms come in many different faces. The storms rise and crash against the Church and break onto her decks and has from her very first sailing. She faced the mega-storms of Nero and Diocletian and Roman persecution. She encountered upon the sea the storm of the Turk who conquered the Holy Land much of the Holy Roman Empire and who at the tip of the sword said “convert to Islam or be destroyed.” The storm of Isis bears that same message wielding the very same weapon and comes in a most horrific terror. Evil swirls around the Church all the time, no greater than in the face of a white man in his twenties who entered into a nave with thunder and the lightening flashes of a gun and murdered nine of our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. There in Charleston the Church felt in a horrific way the storm of this world and shared in the cry of the disciples, “we are being destroyed.” I had the great honor to know Pastor Clementa Pinckney as we attended seminary together. He was a good, faithful, and holy servant of God–full of life, light, and humor. We his friends mourn his death, but together with Christ we as the Church, the Navy suffer with all the people of Emmanuel AME. Against every storm that the Church faces she will need an intervention of the One who commands the wind and sea to obey.
The disciples aboard the ship, realizing the demise of their boat do a most logical thing, they wake Jesus up. They go to Christ, they pray to him and share with him their greatest fears. They seek Jesus’ intervention, not knowing exactly what that intervention might be. They don’t know what he will do or how he will act, but only that he will do something. He who cast out demons and who has healed the sick must surely be able to do something about the storm. They run to Christ seeking and imploring him to do something, to wake up, to save them who are perishing. Rising from His slumber Jesus emerges from the hull of the ship stands aboard the deck and looks with intent upon the face of the darkened storm and he rebukes it. He says to the chaotic waters rising and pitching the boat and to the swirling winds and to the claps of thunder and flashes of lighting, “Knock it off! Calm down! Be silent!” And Lo, and behold, it is. Indeed the Lord God who created the waters can indeed calm them. What was a mega-storm has become at the Word of Christ a mega-calm.
The first thing, then we as the Church, do when facing such storms is to turn to Christ and his Lordship over the sea and the waves. What we do not do is grab a bucket and start throwing water overboard ourselves, thinking that we can save ourselves. For we are not dealing with the storms of flesh and blood, but of brooding darkness of which St. Paul writes, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In the face of such evil, the Church, we only have one recourse available to us, to run to Christ. To pray to Jesus to take up His word and run daily if need be to His holy Sacrament and be strengthened by His body and His Blood. It will take a divine intervention. It will take the power of God who alone has command over the storms to tell them to be silent. In the face of such mega-storms, you and I need a mega-word from Christ.
This, beloved in the Lord, was modeled perfectly for us this week by the family and friends of those who died in Charleston. For they stared into the face of brooding evil at bond hearing and what did each of them say to him? Turn to Christ. May peace be with you. I forgive you. No greater words of peace of calm of Jesus can be spoken to such storms than the words of God’s peace and of His forgiveness. That my brothers and sisters is what the Church does in face of storms. It speaks the Word of Jesus Christ. It speaks words of peace and of forgiveness. For that alone is God’s intercession for us. That, my brothers and sisters, is what Divine Intervention looks like. For it is the same word that Jesus has spoken to each of us, to our own darkness to our own sin. He says to us, “Peace. Be Still. I forgive you.” God in Christ has rebuked our sin upon the Cross and He has given each of us peace in our hearts. Thus it will take nothing less that the forgiveness and peace of God to be spoken to turn a mega-storm into a mega-calm. A peace and a calm which surpasses all understanding. The peace and calm of the martyrs themselves.
The result of such a mega-calm after a mega-storm is a mega-fear. By fear here we mean awe at the result of such a deed. This too, if you have been watching any of the news coverage this week has been modeled for us in the faces of countless news reporters who stand with mouth ajar as prayer, love, and forgiveness has been the response to the storm of Charleston. They are blown away by the response of forgiveness and peace that has been shown by the family members of the victims. They are in awe that Christians would ever respond in such a way. To the bystanders and even to us, great fear is the natural response, because that is the natural response to seeing God do what He does. He alone commands winds and waves and nature responds at once to His Word. This is a fear producing reality. It is a mega-fear, because it is a sign that we are not in charge of our lives nor do we of our own power and strength control our lives. God commands the universe and it obeys, while we realize that we cannot even command our own bodies to obey us.
Eternal Father strong to save
Whose arm has bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Christ, whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at the Thy Word,
Who walk'st on the foaming deep,
And calm amid its rage did sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
"Eternal Father Strong to Save" by William Whiting 1860.