The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 4:35-41

 


THE CHURCH IS OFTEN SMYBOLIZED AS A SHIP; YOU ARE, AFTER ALL, SITTING IN THE NAVE. WHEN I WAS THE CHAPLAIN FOR EUROPEAN COMMAND HEADQUATERS IN VAIHINGEN, GERMANY, WE HAD A VERY CORDIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LOCAL EVANGELISH CHURCH. ON ONE OCCASION, THEY INVITED THE LUTHERAN AND COLLECTIVE PROTESTANT CONGREGATIONS FROM PATCH BARRACKS TO JOIN THEM FOR THEIR PARISH PICNIC. WHEN WE ARIVED EN MASS ON THE GROUNDS OF THEIR CHURCH, WE FOUND THEY HAD BUILT A MOCKUP OF A HUGH SHIP WITH A SIGN ON ITS FRONT READING, “DAS SCHIFT DAS HEIGHT GEMEINSCHAFT;” THE SHIP THAT IS NAMED FELLOWSHIP. THERE WAS A CHRISTIAN ROCK BAND PLAYING ON THE DECK, AND FREE BEER WAS HANDED OUT FROM ALONG THE SIDES; GOOD FELLOWSHIP INDEED. TO REPAY THIS COURTESY, WE INVITED THE GERMAN CONGREGATION TO OUR JOINT PARISH PICNIC, BUT I HAD TO GET PERMISSION FROM HEADQUARTERS TO SERVE BEER, SUBMIT THE NAMES OF THE GERMAN PARISH FOR SECURITY SCREENING, AND HAVE THEM EACH SEARCHED AT THE GATE. A SOMEWHAT POORER FELLOWSHIP.

THE IMAGE OF THE CHURCH AS A SHIP PROVIDES US WITH A METAPHORE THAT INDICATES WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, AND IS A COMFORTING THOUGHT ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP TO ONE ANOTHER. COUNTLESS SERMONS HAVE BEEN PREACHED ABOUT THE SHIP OF THE CHURCH, BUT SOMETIMES A SHIP IS JUST A SHIP; A MEANS TO GET TO WHERE WE ARE GOING. SUCH IS THE CASE IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY. JESUS HAD BEEN PREACHING FROM THE DECK OF A SHIP, AND, AT THE END OF THE DAY, SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES, “LET’S GO OVER TO THE OTHER SIDE.” SO THEY SET OFF, WITH OTHER BOATS FOLLOWING ALONG. NIGHT FELL AS THEY TRAVELLED, AND A SUDDEN STORM BROKE OVER THEM. THIS WAS NOT UNUSUAL ON THE SEA OF GALLILEE, BUT THIS STORM WAS SO SEVERE THAT EVEN THE SEASONED FISHERMEN AMOUNG THEM FEARED FOR THEIR LIVES. WATER WAS POURING OVER THE SIDES, AND THEY WERE, AS THE PSAMIST WROTE, “AT THEIR WIT’S END;” BUT JESUS SLEPT PEACEFULLY ON A CUSHION UNDER THE STERN DECK.

NOW AT THIS POINT WE GET THE TRIED AND TRUE SERMONS ABOUT “REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS IN THE BOAT WITH YOU,” OR “WHAT STORMS ARE TOSSING YOU ABOUT?” “WHAT BOAT ARE YOU IN RIGHT NOW?” OR EVEN, “HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN IN A STORM AND FELT THAT JESUS WAS ASLEEP?” ALL THESE ARE WELL AND GOOD, EXCEPT THAT THE BOAT BECOMES A SPIRITUAL METAPHOR FOR ALL SORTS OF THINGS RATHER THAN WHAT IT IS; A MEANS TO GET FROM ONE PLACE TO ANOTHER. JESUS SAID, “LET’S GO ACROSS TO THE OTHER SIDE,” BECAUSE HE HAS SOMETHING HE WANTS TO DO THERE, AND HE WANTS HIS DISCIPLES TO GO WITH HIM. WHERE HE IS LEADING THEM IS TO UNKNOWN TERRITORY, THE LANDS OF THE GENTILES, AND GETTING THERE IS NO PROMISED EASY JOURNEY. WHERE HE LEADS US IS ALWAYS INTO UNKNOWN TERRITORY WITHOUT THE ASSURANCE THAT THE WATERS WILL REMAIN CALM AND PEACEFUL.

LEFT TO OUR OWN DESIRES, WE WANT TO STAY RIGHT WHERE WE ARE. HUMAN NATURE IS TO RESIST CHANGE, TO STAY WITH WHAT WE KNOW AND WITH WHAT WE FIND COMFORTABLE. ONE OF THE PROBLEMS OF GOING WHERE JESUS LEADS US IS THAT HE TAKES US OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONE INTO THE UNKNOWN, AND THE JOURNEY TO CHANGE IS RARELY EASY. THIS IS WHY, WHEN THEY FINALLY WAKE HIM, AND HE COMMANDS THE WINDS AND THE WAVES TO BE STILL, HE CHASTIZES HIS DISCIPLES BY SAYING, “WHY ARE YOU AFRAID? HAVE YOU STILL NO FAITH?” THEY WERE WITH THE ONE WHO THEY SAW CAST OUT DEMONS, HEAL THE SICK, AND WHO THEY SWORE TO FOLLOW; AND THAT MEANS TO RIDE THE SHIP EVEN INTO THE TEETH OF THE STORM INTO THE UNKNOWN TO GO WHERE HE WANTS THEM TO GO.

ONE WONDERS, AFTER JESUS CALMED THE SEA, IF THE DISCIPLES WERE NOW MORE AFRAID OF HIM THAN THEY HAD BEEN OF THE STORM. “WHO IS THIS THEN,” THEY ASK EACH OTHER, “THAT EVEN THE WIND AND THE SEA OBEY HIM?” THIS JESUS IS THE SAME ONE WHO ASKED JOB, “WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I LAID THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH” . . . AND SAID TO THE SEA, “THUS FAR YOU SHALL COME AND NO FARTHER.” THIS JESUS IS THE LORD GOD WITH US, AND WHEN HE CALLS US TO FOLLOW HIM WHERE HE LEADS, YOU CAN BET ALL YOU ARE THAT HE IS GOING TO GET US TO WHERE HE WANTS US TO BE. ALL THAT IS REQUIRED OF US IS THAT WE TRUST HIM; TO HAVE FAITH THAT HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING AND WHAT HE WANTS US TO DO.

WE JUST HAVE TO LOOK AT ALL THE STRIFE AND STRUGGLE OVER SOCIAL ISSUES OF THE PAST TEN YEARS TO ILLUSTRATE THIS POINT. SO MANY PEOPLE JUMPED SHIP AND LEFT THE CHURCH INSTEAD OF HAVING FAITH THAT THE LORD WAS LEADING US TO THE UNKNOWN TERRITORY OF THE FUTURE. I COUNSELLED QUITE A FEW PEOPLE TO SAY IN THE CHURCH, TO RIDE OUT THE STORM, BECAUSE WHEN YOU JUMP SHIP IN THE MIDST OF A STORM YOU ARE IN DANGER OF DROWNING. NO ONE COULD SAY TEN YEARS AGO WHAT THE CHURCH WOULD BE LIKE TODAY, AND NO ONE TODAY CAN SAY WHAT THE CHURCH WILL BE LIKE TEN YEARS FROM NOW. EVEN LUTHER WANTED TO RIDE OUT THE STORM OF THE REFORMATION, UNTIL HE AND HIS FOLLOWERS WERE TOSSED OVERBOARD.

THE SHIP OF THE CHURCH IS NOT JUST A PLACE OF FELLOWSHIP; IT IS THE VEHICLE THAT CARRIES US TO THE FUTURE WHERE OUR LORD GOD WANTS US TO GO. THIS CAN BE SCARY, DOWNRIGHT FRIGHTENING AT TIMES, ESPECIALLY DURING TIMES OF TRANSITION LIKE THE ONE WE ARE IN NOW, BUT WE MUST ALWAYS TRUST THAT GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT IS LEADING US TO WHERE HE WANTS US. SOMETIMES, YOU JUST HAVE TO GRIT YOUR TEETH, AND STAY IN THE PITCHING BOAT AND HOLD ON FOR DEAR LIFE. AMEN

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