As I prepared for this week's sermon, I was fortunate in that the lectionary brought me face to face with my old friend, Mark 4:35-41. I have dwelt in the passage for nearly 15 years. Each time it speaks to me of courage and confidence. As a message of hope to the suffering Christians of Rome, Mark's gospel doesn't pull punches. For instance, there's the ongoing acknowledgement of fear. The word for fear (afraid, frighten, etc) are slathered liberally through this gospel. In fact, the original ending, Mark 16:8 ends with fear. But in the face of this fear, here is Jesus, tired Jesus, asleep in the boat. Now that's confidence. Either confidence in the fact that Jesus said, "let's go over to the other side" therefore they were going to get there, or maybe Jesus had confidence in the navigation skills of his disciples. At any rate, the tired, kenotic Jesus is asleep.
But Mark tells us, "there were other boats with him". All these boats, the disciples boat, caught in the storm, and these other swaying and sinking boats were in the same storm, too. But what was their experience? How did they understand the experience?
I remember as a kid, finding weathermen who complained about rain to be irritating. Now I realize they probably came from elsewhere, like Seattle, maybe. They had no awareness of Arizona desert weather. I realized that my experience of the rainy weather wasn't something to complain abut, regardless of what the self- centered weatherman said. Rain doesn't ruin plans. Maybe just human plans. However, I digress. My point is, this: same event, different understandings of the meaning.
So back to the boats in the storm.
What did the other boats experience? How did they understand what was happening? Were those travelers in the other boats thinking about the storm? It's likely they simply accepted it as a part of the reality of sailing on the Sea of Galilee.
I've never been to the Sea of Galilee. I must take the word of other more knowledgeable people regarding the changing and precarious actions of the lake. Like Menachem Lev, a spokesperson for the professional fisherman of Israel (The Times of Israel, "Israel Inside" section, 24/3/12), who said there was rise of "plankton and even salmon in the lake...the Sea of Galilee has a thousand faces and can hour to hour." I can imagine the crews in the other boats with Jesus figuring it is just another day on the lake. A storm popped up. Nothing new.
Eventually, all the boats came to shore. Some told the story this way:
"how was work today, honey?"
"oh, nothing new, storm kicked up on the lake, no big deal."
Others told a different story. The one that Mark passes along to us. About more than a simple squall roused up by the wind and sea. It was all the same event, but a different story.
Interesting are the ways in which different stories gain traction. How do we, traveling with Jesus, tell the stories of the events of our days? Often positive stories about the shared events of our shared lives are hard to find. Christians are in a fine place to tell the story of the events and the meanings of our shared lives - lives shared with those who do and those who don't sail with Jesus.
Earlier this week, Ed Stetzer blogged about the venomous preaching of certain people against GLBT people. While Stetzer himself likely holds to Southern Baptist doctrines regarding gender issues, he powerfully condemned the words and methods of these preachers in a blog post, "The Unfortunate Link Between Cultural Castigation and Pitiful Preaching," Stetzer wrote, "When you preach your anger and venom against someone else, you don't preach the Scriptures--you preach your opinions as the Scriptures."
This got me thinking, how many other misguided people are out there trying to tell the story of our shared lives to the folks in "other boats" so they know the meaning of these days? For instance, there's the Kansas preacher who interprets our shared experience of the pain and grief arising the the deaths of soldiers in Americas wars. These are not heroes, they are not victims. No, Fred Phelps sees them as being smitten by God in judgment against the USA and its tolerance of homosexuality, because "God hates gays" he wants us to know. But that's not all, there were some preachers explaining the reason God wreaked havoc on New Orleans with the hurricane Katrina. It was God's act of judgment against the subculture of the region. Out of curiosity, I searched for stories of God's judgment against Japan in the form of a tsunami. They are out there trying to weave God's judgment into their telling of the story.
Who knows? Maybe they are all on to something. But really, I don't think so. Not at all.
Again, thinking about the storm in Mark 4. That's what storms do on the Sea of Galilee. They show up, blow hard, then dissipate. No one stops to ask about God's judgment. That's just what storms do. Unattributed. Without explanation or comment. It's just that tough stuff happens. There is fear and suffering. There are hardships from war, weather, and human cruelty all the time. Some of these things are what we do to ourselves, some is what the constantly changing face of creation does to us. It's not lightning bolts from the sky sent to whack us. It's just life. Sometimes life is scary, sometimes it is violent, sometimes it hurts.
The storm just comes from a storm. But the calm - the calm comes from Jesus. Jesus' grace calms the sea, and not just our boat, our disciples’ boat. Other boats were with them. They get the good stuff too. Some will tell stories of anger and judgment about where the storm came from. But who is going to tell the story about where the calm came from? How will they know, they who have shared the same experience, but missed the intimate details? Who will tell the others about God's pervasive, overpowering, indiscriminate grace?