Sermon delivered on June 24, 2012 – Season After Pentecost (4B)1 Sam 20:12–17
A tired Jesus slumps into a commercial fisherman’s boat, says, “Get me out of here!” and falls asleep. I bet it was a good sleep, too. Just yesterday I had been working on projects in the yard all day. We had dinner in the back yard, and I fell asleep in my chair. It was a good sleep. My daughter had been at a friend’s house the night before and stayed up very late. She fell asleep on the couch – barely waking when the dog was encouraged to lick her face. It was a good sleep.
This passage is one of those that affirms the humanity of Jesus for me. I know, he gets all metaphysical before it is over with, but the man was tired! And when he woke up he simply looked death in the face and said, “Peace. Be still.”
This word, peace – shalom in Hebrew – is not as simple a word as we might like it to be. In the tradition of the Jews it was used as a greeting – still is by some – and can mean hello or goodbye. Shalom means an end to conflict, yes, but it also means completeness. Shalom is also an expression of care for the other – an expression of hope that all is well with you. Even stronger – it is an expression of faith that all will be well with those who love the Lord.
Shalom is an acknowledgement of fidelity in the face of uncertainty and fear. When chaos seems to be reigning, shalom is a statement of defiance. Shalom is a statement of unity. Shalom is the acknowledgement that the One who has the habit of making order out of chaos is at work here and now.
And so Jesus looked at the storm and said all of these things in one word. And then he said another – be still. Of course, technically speaking that is two words. Not only that but the text is in Greek and does not say that he said, “Shalom.” Yet, I don’t think it is too big of a stretch to believe that Jesus said a word that meant the same – let conflict cease, let this storm be finished, let harmony and mutual well being replace chaos, doubt, and fear.
Many a sermon has been, and will be, preached about the obvious metaphor of the storms in our lives and the way in which Jesus will get us through the middle passage. That’s a good message. There is truth in it – except that it doesn’t always work that way. The storm does not always stop just because we have said the name Jesus, in fact it rarely does. I am not denying that Jesus can offer peace in the storm. In fact I would say that Jesus is the only one who truly can offer peace in the storm.
All of this makes me wonder about our expectations of Jesus, and that makes me wonder about the disciples’ expectation of Jesus. It’s not clear at this point – nor is it for the majority of Mark’s Gospel – if anyone other than Jesus thinks of him as the Messiah. He is definitely perceived as a Rabbi, maybe even a prophet, and also as a healer. Jesus has publicly claimed authority over sin – which is utter blasphemy for anyone, even in some messianic traditions.
Some are looking for a military leader, some a teacher, and some are looking for a prophet. But what have the disciples seen? They have seen a great teacher who has invited them to follow him. They’ve seen him heal the sick and cast out demons. That was not an uncommon claim for prophetic leaders of the day. So, what did they expect when they woke him up? Did they really expect him to quiet the storm?
The Rev. Mike Baughman, A United Methodist Pastor who contributes to the blog, The Hardest Question, asks this, “Were they handing him a bucket?” That may not seem like so hard a question until you stop and think about what it means for us as we approach Jesus in the midst of the storms we face. Rev. Baughman asks if we are expecting miracles or hoping for mediocrity. He offers these thoughts from his personal experiences:
I’m totally guilty of this…of handing bailing buckets to God when what God really wants to do is calm the storm. When doing pastoral care, I so often find myself praying for manageable goals instead of miracles. When I pray for the ministry I share, I pray for goals that can be attainable by a team of people and not for goals that are attainable by a group of people who have been empowered by GOD!
Sometimes I hand bailing buckets to Jesus because I don’t have faith—not because I’m weak but because I can remember so many storms that Jesus slept right on through. Sometimes I hand a bucket to Jesus because I don’t want to be disappointed when the winds continue to blow.
Sometimes I hand bailing buckets to Jesus because miracles are scary. Anyone who stares in the face of God and does not cower a bit is a fool. Miracles simultaneously humble and raise the bar of reasonable expectations for what we can accomplish in the name of God.
And so we stand here with our buckets in hand, looking at Jesus who just said – right in front of his Momma in Mark 3:31-35 – that “those who do the will of God are my next of kin.” We look at him and say, “WE are about to die. Do YOU not care about this?” We say it when we are anxious over the church finances, or membership, or staffing. We say it when we are hurting, and we SCREAM it when our loved ones are in pain.
Somehow, I have never seen him pick up a bucket. Instead he says, “Peace. Be Still.” Stop. Know that I am God, and you are not defined by this present conflict. You are defined by my love for you. You are defined by your awareness that you are a part of a greater purpose, a greater story, a more complex narrative. You, in your incompleteness, are whole and good and meaningful to God.
That doesn’t mean that we have permission to ignore our faults or an excuse to continue in patterns of self destruction. It just means that there is more to surviving the storm than the bucket in your hand. It means that even though we may get a grumpy Jesus that questions our faith, turning to Jesus is still the right thing to do. And Jesus says, as he always does, a word that we barely understand anymore – Peace.
I have to admit having a confused perception of this word myself – having grown up in the age of fond remembrances of the cultural upheaval of the late 1960’s. Film and media have watered down the pain and suffering of that time and selected the hippies and peaceniks as victors. The reality, I would guess, is that we lurched forward – for good or for ill – and claimed the best memories for our scrapbooks.
The one quote that I do think rings true from that time is one that I saw at the MLK Center in Atlanta recently. Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as saying, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” For King, justice did not mean retribution, but reverence. Reverence for God, and reverence for life. The presence of justice means that all people have the opportunity to experience a feeling of completeness and wholeness. The presence of justice means that we are constantly seeking each other's well being, never quite getting there, but always pressing toward the goal of peace.
The question is not whether or not we will be successful. The question is whether or not we will be faithful. The question is this – when we pick up our buckets, will we pick them up in hope or out of desperation? I would guess – if we are truly honest with ourselves – it is always a little of both.
But this much I do know – storms will rage. We will panic. God will be present – working toward completeness. In our vulnerability, we will find strength by pooling our resources, just as the early church in Acts. In our vulnerability, we will find comfort in our fidelity – just as Jonathan and David. In our vulnerability, we – as disciples of Christ – are in a good place to turn to Jesus and hear him say, “Peace. Be still.”
Sociologist, Benré Brown – in her virally popular TED conference presentation – found that people who are comfortable with their own limitations seem to be more at peace with the world. She suggests that the world would be a better place if we could see others as vulnerable, broken, and still worth loving. Not only that, but we must see ourselves as worthy of love even with our own vulnerability and brokenness.
And in our vulnerability and brokenness we look to Jesus. He looks to the storms that rage within and without and says, “Peace. Be completed. Be Still.” He looks to us and says, “How many times do I have to tell you? I love you. You are worth saving.”
Interestingly, the Greek text that is used has two verb forms. Peace is stated in the present active tense. It is an order to be completed right now. Be still is in the Past Perfect tense. It is an action that has already been completed. It reminds me of the childhood argument:
“You’re already made and too slow to know it!”
Yes, that is absolute nonsense – I know. But the reality is that our completion – the fullness of every task we expect of ourselves – is found in God alone. So, let us turn to God. Let us turn to one another. And let us be still and know that God is God. Amen.