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We won’t give up

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Mark 4:35-41

In the passage preceding ours for this morning, Jesus had been teaching by the sea. Such a large crowd gathered around him that they were pressing in on him, and he had to get into a boat and teach from there. Our story picks up that evening.

The story of God for the people of God.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Rev. Casey Fitzgerald, a professional biblical storyteller says that the hardest part about biblical storytelling is not committing it to memory or the fear of forgetting what comes next. She says that, for her, the hardest part is figuring out what tone of voice to use for Jesus. Think about it.

There’s a big responsibility in this, for the biblical storyteller is interpreting the passage for you through the delivery. What if I had delivered the line about having no faith with anger? Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? See, my tone of voices is communicating something important about Jesus.

Part of how we determine the tone of voice is by trying to figure out what Jesus was trying to say, or how he might have been feeling. We may be only in chapter four, but by this point in the story, Jesus had already cast out several demons and healed multitudes of people, and still the disciples had no faith. How did that make Jesus feel. In Leisurely Lectionary this week we looked at a list of emotions and chose some we thought Jesus might have been feeling. People chose: frustrated, discouraged, worried, sad, and isolated.

I chose to try to communicate an exasperated sadness. I think it’s the way parents feel when their children make the same bad choice over and over again. I think maybe that’s how God gets with me sometimes. Excuse the anthropomorphism, but I sometimes imagine God shaking her head at me and saying, “Oh, Cindy. Again?” Maybe it reveals a limited view of God – to have trouble being able to imagine God as patient with me. Maybe it’s not healthy to see God as exasperated with me. But I can live with it because I can identify with the disciples. I mean, sure, they had seen Jesus perform lots of miracles, but honestly—who knew he could control the weather?! I mean, that’s quite a bit beyond your average healing, which could be part power of suggestion, perhaps some reiki thrown in there. But how were they supposed to know he could control the wind and waves?! Even though some of the disciples were experienced fishermen, a great windstorm that caused waves to swamp the boat was still a cause for fear. They knew the water well enough to know when to be afraid.

But I’m not sure that’s the only kind of fear at play here. I’m talking about that word “awe.” After the storm they were filled with awe. A month ago when I was planning my Lent series, I chose “awe” as one of the things we wanted to hold onto. We need to hold on to awe. I was thinking of it as that sense of wonder, seeing the miraculous in the everyday, being amazed at what God can do in the world. I thought of the country music song, “I Hope You Dance.”

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.

 

Yeah, wonder. Let’s hold onto that. But that’s not what awe means. “On Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions awe is modeled as a combination of surprise and fear… Another dictionary definition is a ‘mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder.”[1] Still another defines awe as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear.”[2] And then there’s the original Greek to consider.  This “awe” is actually “Phobos megas.”Phobos—from which we get the word phobia—and mega, I’m guessing means big. The literal translation is “They feared a great fear,” which is something a child would say,[3] like when I asked my son if he was a little bit scared and he said he was a lotta bit scared. When I read this, that awe contains a lot of fear, I went running into the secretary’s office to see if she had printed the bulletin yet. Wait—I may have to change that cover! Maybe we shouldn’t hold on to awe, because I don’t want us to hold onto fear! She stood there by the copy machine an entire minute, bulletin in hand, waiting for me to decide whether to change the cover. I decided to let her print it as is. For better or worse, in Week One of Lent we are holding on to Awe. So let’s figure out what the heck that means!

Psalm 107 says “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad.” The people in the psalm were glad, but the disciples were not. They were in awe—a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear—because of Jesus’ power. Their scriptures and their worldview said that the power to control the world belonged only to God. Only God could control the wind and the seas. They suddenly realized that they were not simply in the presence of a skilled healer or charismatic leader. The question was real: “Who, then, is this?”

It is a deep theological question, a christological question—who is Jesus? who is Christ? Was he both fully human and fully divine, as tradition claims? If so, did he have complete knowledge of the future? If so, he knew a storm was coming and he led them out onto the sea on purpose. On the other hand, do we believe this whole story anyway? After all, it’s a miracle story and we’re not sure about real miracles. Sure, we believe in the miracles of birth and sunrises, but I mean the real honest-to-God divine intervention kind of miracles—we’re not sure they exist. So maybe we should just go “metaphoraging”—foraging for metaphors—and talk about what the boat symbolizes or how God calms our storms.

That’s all fine and I’ve done it before and probably will do it again, but it leaves me unmoved today, I want to get out of my head and just be with the disciples, in awe, not trying to figure out the theology or Christology but to just say we are in the presence of divine power and that can be a little scary—not because bad things will happen or because God can’t be trusted, but because we will be changed by the encounter. “In this story, the disciples witness a miracle, and they know in a flash of terrifying insight that this miracle will change them forever.”[4]

“It’s one thing to think you’ve hitched your wagon to a highly charismatic teacher and healer. It’s one thing to think you’re in the inside circle of one gifted human being. But things are different in case you realize you are in the presence of not just a gifted person but no less than God himself! Because if you have occasion to realize that you’ve been hanging around with God all along, suddenly you start to wonder about other things. Suddenly you wonder if all along he’s been able to read your mind, know your thoughts, see the envy and the anger and the things you didn’t say (but wanted to) and that were not all that kind. Suddenly you wonder if you’ve been sitting up straight enough and behaving well enough all along, if maybe the things you’ve done and said are going to have consequences well beyond the momentary…. The presence of God. It’s what we want, and yet what terrifies us, too.”[5]

That’s part of the sense of awe – wonder, yes, at the power of God by whatever name we use for that power, but also a little bit of fear. Why fear? Because we know that encountering God will change us. Why fear? Because we know that the power of God is not the power to destroy but the power of love. And once we encounter that power, the power of love, there is no room for evil. Once we encounter that power of love, there is no room for despair. Once we encounter that power of love, there is no room for self-loathing, there is no room for revenge, there is no room for anything but grace. And that’s scary. And it should be. Because we will be changed. And what’s even scarier is that, because we were created in the image of God, a tiny fraction of that power lives in us—which takes away our excuses for doing nothing.

 

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Oxford Dictionary

[3] Hoezee, Scott. http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-7b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

[4] Lose, David. Partners in Preaching. davidlose.net

[5] Hoezee.

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