“Stand”

 I meet regularly with a really wonderful group of clergy colleagues. This week, after we took some time for silence and shared our check-ins, we got to talking about recent events, about the unnerving sense that hate-filled violence is just around the corner. Law enforcement gunned down Winston Smith with a complete lack of transparency and accountability. Then an enraged driver rammed his car into the protest that followed, taking the life of a young woman. Last weekend, a gay man was struck and killed in his own driveway by a next-door neighbor who had long expressed homophobic views. In my neighborhood, I recounted, some folks graffiti their own house with ugly, hateful, violent threats. And all across the United States, our Jewish neighbors are terrified. In a wave of anti-Semitic violence, synagogues are being vandalized and Jews threatened and attacked. As the group pondered all this, one person confessed that they themselves are more and more tempted to hate those with politics oppose their own. After all, so much is at stake in our work to end white supremacy, to establish economic equity, to protect creation and avert climate disaster. It’s hard not to despise those whose resistance keeps us from enacting the deep change we need simply to live.

In light of all this, I am struck by what preaching professor David Schnasa Jacobson says about today’s Gospel story: “Jesus is not offering therapy for our fears but an exorcism for a world out of whack.”[1] In Hebrew mythology, the sea is a symbol of the chaotic, destructive forces that threaten to undo God’s good order of creation. The sea of Galilee, in particular, was a site of Roman exploitation, feeding the appetites of empire even as ordinary people endured poverty, hunger and sickness. And at the time when Mark’s Gospel was composed, around 70 CE, life for the Jewish people was particularly tumultuous and difficult—a revolt against the Roman Empire had ended in siege and defeat. “Jesus is not offering therapy for our fears but an exorcism for a world out of whack.” Indeed, when Mark says that Jesus rebukes the wind and commands the sea to be still, the Gospel writer uses the same verbs to describe Jesus’ exorcisms, Jesus’ work of freeing individuals possessed by evil spirits. In other words, Jesus’ calming of the storm symbolizes his ministry of liberation and proclaims that the healing he offers at an interpersonal level will also unfold on a larger scale.

In today’s story, Jesus, masters the forces of harm. He calms them, quiets them, and calls a halt to their rampage. Notice that Jesus does not allow himself to get caught up in the storm—the wind and waves raging all around him, the fear bubbling up inside of him. Amid the pounding waves, the sinking boat the panicked shouting and desperate maneuvering, Jesus sleeps. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” the disciples ask. It seems that to them, to “care” means to join them in their in their panicking and handwringing. Instead, Jesus cares for himself, for his followers, and for the world, by disengaging from crisis and chaos in order to stay connected to a deeper and greater power.

When Jesus does awaken, he continues to be anchored in stillness. He doesn’t begin frantically bailing out the boat or pulling on the oars. He is just there, fully present. Jesus’ posture reminds me of today’s gathering words. There is a great strength in the feet, in those 26 little bones that work together to hold us up, to connect and to ground us. Standing firm in the storm may not look like real work, but it makes all the difference. It changes everything when we are able be unmoved in the face of chaos, danger, or evil. That day in the boat, Jesus, with his presence and his words, shares the peace that he has cultivated within himself; he extends this peace to the wind, to the waves, to the disciples and to a world out of whack.

One evening, during this hot, crispy-dry week, the youth and their families gathered to go swimming. We settled down at a table in the shade for some food and a brief reflection time. I had decided to tackle Paul. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Well, these words are a bit intense and intimidating for a summer picnic. So I got out a favorite puzzle. Consider a single puzzle piece.  Apart from the rest of the puzzle, it is small and isolated. Its identity is incomplete; it cannot reach its full potential. However, when that one piece gets joined to its neighbors, and finds its place in the larger scene, it becomes more itself, a self held in community, while still a unique individual.

So, the flesh is not the body. It is the lone and lonely puzzle piece, the disconnected way of being. And the spirit is that energy that connects us to the greater whole. When we set our minds on the spirit, we focus our energies on connection, on tending and nourishing our belonging to the bigger picture. I’ll ask you the same question I asked the youth. What are those other puzzle pieces that are all around you, supporting you, strengthening you, completing you, and creating beauty and meaning along with you? Maybe those other pieces of the puzzle are friends and family, or church community. Perhaps they are books, or music, time outdoors, or sports, The question is, what do you do to stay connected? It takes effort to tend our spirits; it is work to nourish our belonging to God’s Spirit that weaves within all things.

The incredible stresses of this time in which we live are battering all of us, pushing us toward the limits of our patience and compassion. All around me, I sense there are people on edge, people simply reacting without thinking, people in danger of coming apart at the seams. And I count myself among these people some days, even when I take time to care for myself, even though I have a lot of support. I notice this lack of grounding when drivers speed through stop signs and tailgate with rage, when public figures and ordinary people alike spew hate-speech as if it’s just how we talk now, when those who have issues with their neighbors resort to violence, as gunshots ring out day after day after day in this city.

Jesus and Paul instruct us: we have an important choice to make about how we show up in the world, how we respond to storms swirling around and within us. Will we allow the wind and waves to throw us into a panic? Will we meet fear with fear, and hatred with hatred? Will we lash out violently? Will we set our minds on the flesh, walking the path that leads only to death and more death? Or will we lean into the way of being that Jesus models for us? Will we stay grounded, nurture connection, and stand firm in resistance to chaos and destruction? Will we find our place, and our true selves in the full picture of God’s peace, beauty, and strength? Will we, in this world out of whack, become a conduit through which God’s power of liberating love, healing justice sustaining peace can flow? May it be so. Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-12-2/commentary-on-mark-435-41-5