Sunday, June 23, 2024

5 Pentecost, 2024-B: Receive the peace

Note: You can watch this being delivered live at Emmanuel Episcopal Church during our Sunday, 10 am service of Holy Eucharist, live-streamed on our YouTube channel. 

Lectionary - Track 2: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

En el nombre de Dios, creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

Whirlwinds and stormy seas. Stillness and peace. The imagery in our readings today is so relatable. We all know what it feels like to have to weather a storm which can be happening to us or within us.

Storms happen. They’re part of life. In every storm, God is present, aware of the storm and its effect on us, and never fails to help. God’s word still calms whatever chaos we find ourselves in today.

In our Old Testament reading, “The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Wind, breath, from the Hebrew word ruach has always been a reference to the Spirit or Essence of God. A whirlwind, however, is a turbulent wind, a swirling, often destructive maelstrom. This story illustrates Job’s confusion and fright as God reveals and smacks down Job's hubris.

The whirlwind was part of Job’s journey into right relationship with God. This storm didn’t threaten Job’s life – it saved it. Hubris will destroy us – and others, as the Psalm illustrates so well. But God will stop our proud waves with “a whisper.” In the stillness that results from this breathy, softly spoken word of God, our joy is restored, and we realize that God has saved us from ourselves and brought us to safe harbor: which is God.

Paul affirms this in his letter to the church in Corinth. Quoting Isaiah (49:8), Paul reminds us that God has said, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” This is that day, Paul says. The time is now.

The time is now to open our hearts completely to the grace of God. In order to do that, we’ll have to die to a few things. We have to die to our hubris, as Job did. We have to remember that God is God and we are not and only God can save.

We also have to die to the notion that God is other, out there. Objectifying God has done so much damage to us. God is our creator who breathes life into us. Scripture tells us that God is steadfast, faithful, merciful, and of great kindness. Yet, we have created and weaponized a frighteningly vengeful, punitive, distant God, out of our fears and sense of unworthiness. Objectifying God also leads us to objectify one another, which does its own kind of damage as we can see with homophobia, racism, sexism, all the …isms that divide us and result in the oppression of some by others.

In the story of the stormy sea in today’s gospel, Jesus directly addresses our objectification of God. The traditional approach to this story is that it is a story of Jesus’ divine spirit being made known to the disciples. With a word, Jesus can calm a storm. Even the wind and sea obey him.

That is true, but it is only one side of the story, the outer side. I would like to invite us to go to the “other side” of this story, the side that speaks to the storms that happen within us as we journey into right relationship with God, self, and other, much like Job did.

The context is this: Jesus has just finished teaching the crowds about the kingdom of God, that is, what right relationship with God and one another looks like. He does this through a series of parables, which he explains in private to his disciples.

As I mentioned last week, the disciples come from a tradition that promises a Messiah who will set them free from oppression. Jesus has just begun teaching them that this liberation, this salvation, is so much bigger than they imagine. It is not just liberation of the children of Israel, but liberation of all people.

While they’re trying to wrap their heads around that, Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side” meaning the other side of the Sea of Galilee – the Gentile side. This was more than a geographic relocation. It was a journey into right relationship with God, others, and even themselves.

Following Jesus meant they had to choose to leave behind what was familiar to them and head toward what seemed a less than desirable destination. They did go, but it wasn’t long before they began to experience a great windstorm within. This storm was so strong they thought they might die.

Does following this teacher mean their death? Yes. It does.

It means the death of their small understanding about God. It means the death of their understanding of their own identity as God’s chosen people and their habit of seeing others as unworthy, unclean, and unwelcome in the kingdom of God. It means the death of their expectations about the Messiah and salvation. And it means the death of their objectification of God.

In the midst of this interior, existential storm the disciples cry out to Jesus: Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing? Why did they call out to their teacher instead of their Lord or Messiah? Because they wanted to understand but their minds were in a whirlwind. Jesus replies, “Peace! Be still!” to the disciples – to storm within them. Then he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 

The disciples have to let this death happen. So do we. It won’t destroy our life; it will save it!

But they still didn’t get it – or at least the gospel writer didn’t. I suggest that the great awe that filled them was that reverential fear mixed with wonder that always happens in the presence and power and overwhelming love of God. It creates a kind of whirlwind in our minds, spinning us off balance until we let go and let God be God for us and in us.

It is the peace of Christ that calms all our storms. When storms happen, and they will happen here and there as long as we live, we can remember and cling to the foundations given to us in our Scripture. In Ezekiel, God says, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. (37:14) In Joel, God says, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” (2:28) Then, of course, there is Jesus, who, in the gospel of John, breathed his own spirit into us saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (20:22)

Journeying into right relationship with God is our choice, and we make this choice knowing that we will have to die to our need to understand so that we can live into being the truth of who we are, the truth that we are vessels of God’s own Spirit, dwelling places of God, embodied Love.

Being this truth is only the first step. Then there’s the doing – as Jesus did - being present to others as they are tossed about by their inner and outer storms and giving voice to the spirit of God in us to speak peace to them.

When I studied in England as part of my doctoral work, I visited Coventry Cathedral where I watched a video of King George VI speaking to the people of England from the bombed-out rubble of that beautiful church destroyed by the Nazis. He called for a response of peace and forgiveness. It was transforming.

A month later, in his Christmas message, King George quoted a portion of the poem, “The Gate of the Year” by Minnie Louise Haskins. Here’s what he shared: 
 “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ 

And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And [God] led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”  Source
Whatever our storms, whether in the world around us or within us, let us faithfully put our hands in the hand of God and receive the peace and salvation only God can give. Amen.

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