The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 24, 2018
“Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus had been teaching the crowds, he had been preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. So many people had gathered to listen to him, the crowd had been so great, that Jesus had to climb into a boat to get some space. They sat on the lakeshore and he used that fishing boat for a pulpit. Then it says, evening had come after that long day of preaching and teaching. Jesus turns around and looks out across the lake. He says, “let us go across to the other side.”
What an absurd command. To cross the sea, in the evening, with a brewing windstorm out there on the horizon. Why not stay there? On the safe side of the lake? Why go sailing at night with the wind and the waves after that long and grueling day?
It’s absurd, “Let us go across to the other side.” There were plenty of people on that side, their side, the safe side, that Jesus could spend his time with. Why waste the time and the energy to go to those other people, on the other side?
I think what we see here is Jesus using his imagination. He imagines people out there, on the other side, who are in need of what he has to offer. It’s on the other side, over there, that even more people need to hear about the Kingdom of God. Still others need to be healed. Even more are afflicted by demons. He has the ability to imagine that his work is not done, he can imagine the plight of those souls on the other side. He imagines them, held captive in helplessness. And so they set sail, in the dark, with the windstorm brewing, to cross to the other side.
The other side. Can you imagine the other side? It seems to me that we, as a culture, have lost the capacity to imagine the other. Or, even simpler, we have lost the capacity to imagine. We have surrendered our imaginations to television and movies, because they visually stimulate and imagine things for us. We have lost our love of poetry, and with it the ability to imagine new meanings for old words. We have become seduced the brutality of data and statistics. We have ceased to wonder, to imagine what life could be like on the other side.
Imagine, imagine for a moment, what it would be like to live on less than a dollar a day. Imagine if you lived with violence every night and day; if drug cartels dictated your life. Imagine life on the other side. Imagine fleeing with your family to escape that horror-scape. And imagine those same children behind bars. As disturbing as it may be, imagine life on the other side.
Imagine waking up in places like Flint, Michigan, knowing that your water is poisoned. Imagine waking up with nothing in the refrigerator and a hungry family to feed. Imagine being sick but not having the money to see a doctor. Imagine life on the other side, and we imagine what Jesus imagined. Remember, right after this passage is when Jesus confronts the man who is possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus sets him free, releases him from his bondage. This is precisely the point of crossing to the other side – so that those who are bound by the evils of this world can be set free.
And when evening came, the disciples set sail with him across to the other side. It says, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Sailing to the other side is risky business. You must leave behind the safety of what you know and enter the danger of the unknown. You must confront your fears.
And that is the key to the Gospel of Mark. Fear. Fear is all over this story. Notice that it’s not that faith and doubt are opposite from each other. No, it’s faith and fear that are opposite. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Have you still no faith to imagine crossing to the other side? Are you still afraid of what you might find there?
I tell you, the world will continue to sell us fear as long as we keep buying it. They will give us all the fear we want and it will be fear that shrivels up our imaginations for what could be. Fear will shrink our minds and our souls so that all we think about is ourselves. Fear will so twist our minds and our hearts that somehow, we will turn our backs, even to children.. We will not care that the water is poisoning our communities. We will not care about anyone except ourselves. Fear will drive us to trust not in God, but to trust only in our money and in our weapons. Instead of imagining the other side we will be afraid of the other side.
In our fear, Jesus turns with steely resolve, and he looks at you. He looks at me. He looks at the church and he commands us to cross over to the other side with him. Can you imagine if we actually did that?
Can you imagine what life would look like if we all hopped in that boat with Jesus? Imagine if we actually cared about the people on the other side? Imagine if we woke up everyday, and instead of scheming of ways to make ourselves richer, we found ways to enrich the world. Imagine having the courage to cross over to the other side.
Admittedly, I have a hard time imagining this kind of life. Because this side of the sea seems just fine to me. I tell myself that it’s too dangerous to sail at night, into the wind, into the waves. I tell myself that life on this side is okay, and maybe the people out there, on the other side, don’t even need my help. I tell myself that, if they really wanted help, they would figure it out. I tell myself that I’m too busy, that I don’t have what it takes. I tell myself that I’ll do it in the morning, when the weather forecast is better and when the wind has died down. But by then I’m too enamored by this side of the sea and I stay right where I am. In my comfort zone. I have surrendered my imagination. I stay on this side.
We can come up with all the excuses in the world, but still Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side.” If we truly want to follow Jesus, if we want to be Christians, we will have to go out there. Where the wind is blowing and the waves are crashing. We will have to go out there, in the dark, beyond safety and security, we will have out there to where the other people are. Yes, we are sailing far from the shore and leaving behind what we know. Make no mistake, our voyage will be treacherous, we will get wet, the wind will whip our hair. The critics will say that Christianity should just be about Jesus and little me. The crashing waves will say that we should let the other side take care of itself; that there are plenty of people here, on this shore. The wind will say that we should only care about life after death. But it seems to me that plenty of people are living death out there, on the other side. And they will say that this sermon sounds too political. They will say that we should stick to religion.
You know, the world would be all too happy if we did. The world would be all too happy if Jesus were to set sail in that boat and drown in the waves. Because then, we wouldn’t have to deal with Jesus’ absurd commands to be with the poor and the oppressed, the resident alien and the forgotten. We wouldn’t be bothered by his silly notion of loving one another as he loves us. If Jesus would just go down with the boat we could get on with our lives. Then the world could keep on with its ugliness and no one would call it to account. Remember, it’s fear that is swamping our beat. Fear of speaking truth to power. Fear of what other people might say about us. But Jesus never said the voyage to be with other people was going to be an easy one. Fear swamps our boat every time the Church loses its courage to stand up for the people on the other side. Or, as the Bible puts, the poor, the oppressed, and the resident alien. Fear is drowning us.
Swamped by our fear, with the boat going down we turn to Jesus, “do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you not care that people are saying bad things about us? Do you not care that people are dying, actually dying, because this world is so broken? Do you not care that we are going down? Jesus is asleep. When you think about it, this is an image of Good Friday, of when he died on the cross. Jesus was dead to the world, dead to our cares and concerns. Jesus is asleep, on a cushion, in the stern of the boat.
But you know what’s in the stern of the boat, don’t you? It’s the rudder. What appears to us as sleep is actually the Lord God navigating us through the storm. What seems to be death is only the path to resurrection. The cross looks like defeat, but it is actually victory. The storm looks frightening but it is only there, in the middle of the sea, that we witness Jesus calming the wind and waves. Caring for the poor, the alien, the oppressed looks like weakness but it’s actually the strength of God. Standing up for the little guy looks silly but it’s actually the only way to follow Jesus.
And so the captain turns to us, and commands us to go across, to other side. Will you follow the calloused ways of the world or will you follow Jesus? Will you harden your hearts or will you use your imagination? Will you hate the people on the other side, or will you love them?
Will you drop anchor or will you set sail?