July 1, 2015
The passage from Mark where Jesus has his disciples take him in their boat across the Sea to the other side is so full; it is hard to know where to start. I think Brigitta’s recent sermon definitely hit the major highlights including how incredible it was that they got in the boat in the first place to head out to sea for a new, unknown land. They didn't even seem to question it at all. They just got in and headed out. Then there was the sudden storm and the miraculous calming of said storm. The writer or writers of Mark told a dramatic story that focused on people who were willing to follow Jesus wherever he led and that Jesus was no ordinary person; he was someone who could tame the elements and bring his friends to safety against all odds. There also seems to be a strong message that trying for the other side is not without risk but Jesus will see one through.
The bits of the story that caught my attention are smaller and less dramatic but I think were likely quite intentional and are perhaps revealing of subtler but (equally?) important messages. The first is “....they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.” Why add “just as he was?” Of course he was just as he was; everyone is just as they are even if they are trying to appear as they are not. Whatever the reason, this was important enough to note. He was welcome in their boat and they were willing to risk crossing a large, open body of water at his behest and he was completely who he was at that time and in that place. Was he tired and dirty? Grouchy and distracted? Maybe Mark is implying that we can get in the proverbial boat and cross to the other side just as we are too. Nothing special or momentous needed. We don't have to dress up or put on airs, we just need to get our regular old selves in the boat and head out. Or maybe he was saying that we need to accept Jesus as he is and not insist he be someone or something else. I'm not sure this idea useful since people project their own ideas of who Jesus really is/was onto him and it's impossible to know what “just as he was” meant or means, but it could still be interesting to consider. It might be most useful to take this phrase to mean that Jesus was in the boat just as he was and we can get in the darn boat just as we are, too.
The second thing that strikes me as odd, but again was likely super intentional, is that Jesus got in the boat and went to sleep on a cushion! Really? A cushion in the stern of a rough fishing boat? Sure, he was probably exhausted from all the exhorting of the large crowds and what not, but that seems like an odd thing to do; get in someone's boat and tell them to take you somewhere they've never been before and promptly go to sleep. It's wonderful. He basically checks out and takes a nap with all indications that he could have slept through pretty much anything. We'll never know whether he would have woken up on his own at the last second and done his storm calming deeds before the boat really was swamped, but in the story, Mark has the disciples wake him up. They had to wake Jesus up since he was catching up on his sleep in the midst of a storm in a small open boat out in the middle of a sea. Doesn't that seem strange? It’s too odd to be in there by chance. When they woke him up they said “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I assume by “we” they mean all in the boat, including Jesus. So before any miraculous intervention happens or is even a glimmer of possibility, they are just shouting to wake this sleeping guy up because they are all in grave danger and don't want someone to drown in his sleep. It's like any of us would raise the alarm in a house on fire full of sleeping people. Wake up! We are going down and we need all hands on deck. Jesus had to be awakened so he wouldn’t die at sea. Sure, in the story he not only wakes up and rebukes them for not having sufficient faith (which seems silly given that it would have been stupid to sit calmly while he slept and the boat went down), but he also calms the storm. Who, other than the gospel architect, knew that was going to happen? I think whoever wrote this gospel was trying to tell us that we can't passively wait for Jesus (or God) to do his thing because chances are; he's asleep and doesn't know he's in danger or that he's needed. I think the message is that we have to take the initiative and say out loud what is going on and what we need. We might even have to yell over a loud storm to be heard.
It feels odd to talk as though I think Jesus could now know what we need since I don't really think that is true. I also don't think he could literally calm storms. I do think ideas people ought to get, come as they are and that it’s on us to speak up and say what we need rather than passively wait for a divine being to wake up and save us are both important. How do we make space for these ideas now? I suppose the concept of radical hospitality takes care of the “just as he was” aspect, though isn't it interesting that it's Jesus who the disciples needed to be radically hospitable to in the story rather than him showing them radical hospitality? Then there's the idea that we sometimes need to shout out loud to let the universe know what we need. We have to be aware that we are in need and that our leaders might be asleep and have to be woken up – that we have to risk putting it out there in ways that can be heard. We may or may not be answered and we might be rebuked, but certainly if we stay quiet there's almost no chance our needs will be met. It reminds me of a beautiful passage by Goethe that I share regularly with my clients:
“The moment one definitely commits oneself, and then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Mark tells us the disciples woke Jesus up when they were all in dire straits and that he came through for them. What if we were clear what we, as a congregation need, and start moving in that direction, saying out loud to one another and maybe even to people outside our circle what we need and what we are doing to head toward it? What if we need to wake up our leaders (not meaning Brigitta or Brandon) who are asleep in the stern of our boat and might otherwise go down without even really knowing it? If we do these hard things, maybe Providence (the universe, God?) will move too and issue forth a stream of events that are so dazzling we'd never have dared dream them.
I still don't know what to make of the cushion in the stern of the boat but I guess I'll leave that mystery alone for now. –Peace, Tracy Simpson