Christianity 201

July 3, 2021

Called to Foreign and Fear-Filled Places

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re returning to Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital.  All his devotionals are also available on video, the one for today is at this link. Click the header which follows to read this at source.

Calming the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

For those of us who may be a little bit geographically challenged, the “other side” of Lake Galilee was the land of the Gerasenes which, roughly translated, means “over against Galilee.” This was Gentile territory, the land of the so-called “heathens.” It was the place where Jews did not want to travel. It was the place where “those kinds of people” lived. And so, I’m sure the disciples looked at Jesus a bit perplexed when he told them he desired to travel there.

But isn’t that like Jesus? He calls us to go to places that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. He calls us to leave behind the security and safety of the church and go out into a world filled with desperate people. A world that is in need of healing and hope. A world that has often felt rejected by the church and treated as “heathen territory.”

God’s people often hesitate to go to the other side, whether it’s a call to minister to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the poor, those without the benefit of health care insurance, immigrants or the LGBT+ community. Typically, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us; those who look like us and think like us. We even select our newspapers and televisions stations based upon our beliefs and rarely consult those whom we view as being from the other side.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about Jesus in thirty-three years of ministry (Beside the fact that he passionately loves ALL his children), it’s the fact that Jesus rarely allows us to remain in places that are comfortable and secure. He often calls us to places that challenge us and help us to grow. He calls us to places that are out of our personal comfort zones. Because this is where he went while we has here on earth; smashing through barriers of culture, class, sex and race in order to transform everyone with the radical, inclusive love of God. And so, Jesus invites us to get into the boat and travel to the other side. We must make a decision as to whether or not we will accept his invitation.

The story continues: “And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” This is certainly an unusual detail in the story. Mark is the only gospel that contains the phrase “Other boats went with him.” To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why it is there. But I do know that it means we’re not alone. Others have also accepted Jesus’ invitation to cross over to the other side.

It has been my experience that some of these boats come from other Christian denominations, Some of whom believe very different things about God than we Lutherans do. But they have answered the call just as we have. Some of these boats bear names such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and the like. They, too, have answered the call to cross over to the other side. I’ve worked side by side with these “other boats.” We’ve entered the so-called “heathen territory” together and ministered to the most helpless and hopeless among us. I know this makes some Christians uncomfortable. They would like to be the only boat on the sea. But our gospel lesson tells us there are other boats. I’ll leave you to ponder the meaning of this unusual detail.

The story continues: “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Storms come in many forms. Some of them are the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Our nation has been experiencing a great windstorm” this past year as we’ve faced a global pandemic, political unrest and conversations regarding systemic racism. Storms have raged, and continue to rage, all around us. They rock the boats of our personal lives, our families and friends, our church, our community and our world. This reminds us that no one is safe from the storms of life. We will all experience times of smooth sailing, as well as times when the waves crash into our boats and threaten to sink us.

The story continues: “But Jesus 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?’” It’s what I call the “Big God Question.” The “Big God Question” sounds something like this “God why are you punishing me?” “Jesus, why did you let this happen to me, to my family, to my church?”

We all ask the “Big God Question” from time to time. It’s human nature to do so. When the storms of life rage all around us, it’s natural to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering, fear and loss. Our gospel implies that we are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t care about our plight. He’s asleep at the wheel, or in the stern of the boat, as the case may be!

During these times of fear and uncertainty it’s easy for us to try and blame God or blame someone else in the boat as the cause of the storm. I don’t know why this is the case. But it’s hard for us to accept the fact that storms are a part of life. They are unavoidable. Some of them result from us making bad decisions. Others have no great evil behind them. They are simply part of the cycle of life that goes between periods of calm and storm.

The story continues: “Jesus 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?’”

The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus is NOT the cause of the storms that rage in our lives. Jesus is the one who is able to calm them. It has been my experience that the kind of calm Jesus offers us is not always smooth sailing and waveless seas. The kind of calm Jesus offers us is in here. In our hearts and minds and spirits. It is, as St. Paul calls it, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that recognizes we are in God’s capable hands no matter what kind of sea we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping in the midst of storm is not a sign of his indifference as the disciples indicated. Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping means he knew whether he survived the storm or not he was in God’s capable hands. Nothing, not even death, could change this truth. Therefore he slept, not as a sign of apathy; he slept because his heart and soul were resting peacefully in God’s hands. Nothing could alter this truth.

Now there is something to ponder! The challenge is for us to grow in our faith to the point where the storms of life don’t faze us in the least. This doesn’t mean we’ll never be fearful. It means we will remain confident that God is with us in the boat no matter how rough the seas get.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in our story is interesting. After they accuse him of being apathetic, he says to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Some people may take this to mean that faith means WE have to be the strong ones. I think the opposite is true. Faith means we trust GOD to be the strong one in the midst of our fear and doubt.

You see, I don’t think Jesus was chastising the disciples because of their fear of the wind and waves. He was disappointed because of their lack of trust in him. They doubted his ability to protect them and see them through the storm. We’re not supposed to be the strong ones. We’re supposed to trust that God is the strong one. These two things are completely different. Which one we choose makes a BIG difference in how we understand the meaning of the story.

The kind of faith Jesus expects of us is beautifully defined by one of my all-time favorite authors, Frederich Buechner, who wrote the following about faith: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

So, my dear friends, there is so much we can learn from our gospel lesson for today. There is much to think about, pray about and apply to our lives. It is my hope that today’s story will challenge us to have the kind of faith to get in the boat with Jesus and sail to wherever he wants us to sail. To have the kind of faith that trusts his guidance through calm seas and rough. May Jesus be the captain of our boat, both now and forever. AMEN

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission


Bonus article: Here’s another by the same writer, Growing the Kingdom.


Related: Reading the first part of today’s devotional, where Jesus takes his ‘guys’ to a place they might have referred to avoid reminded me of a study we did last year on the “Jersualem, Judea and Samaria” passage in John, and how the reference to Samaria is less geographic and more symbolic: Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions.

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