“Get in the Boat”
June 21, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Cartersville GA
Rev. Julie A. Jensen
(Listen at: https://soundcloud.com/knittinpreacher/mark-4-35-41)
I have a confession to make. This morning, I am jealous of comedian John Stewart. For those who are not familiar with the name, John Stewart is the host of Comedy Central’s the Daily Show – a nightly “news” program that uses satire and comedy to talk about the news of the day. But Thursday night, he did something different. Rather than an opening monologue poking fun at politicians with an acerbic wit that points out what is sometimes painfully obvious about who we are as people, he opened his show with these words:
“I have one job, and it’s a pretty simple job,” “I come in, in the morning, and we look at the news, and I write jokes about it … But I didn’t do my job today, so I apologize. I got nothing for you, in terms of jokes and sounds, because of what happened in South Carolina.”
“And maybe if I wasn’t nearing the end of the run,” Stewart is nearing the end of his tenure as host of the show “or this wasn’t such a common occurrence, maybe I could have pulled out of the spiral, but I didn’t.”
I’m about to break a whole bunch or rules about preaching this morning, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I don’t really have three points and a poem to offer. I don’t have many answers for us. I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m going to try not to be political. I’m going to do what I learned how to do when I trained to be your pastor – turn to the Bible, and hold up what I think God is saying to us today, offer that with prayer and study and let the Holy Spirit do what she does best by taking the words I write and speak and transform them as you hear them.
The good news is that this is not a comedy news show, and we don’t have “nothing”. Today we have two powerful passages of scripture that allow God to meet us where we are this week. I spent a good portion of the week thinking about what God appearing to Job in the whirlwind and Jesus stilling the storm had to do with us here at FPC. These texts seemed to speak to us as a congregation as a whole, as well as where we maybe individually. And it all starts with a boat.
Someone I turn to often when I am preparing sermons is Dr. Caroline Lewis at Luther seminary. Her commentary on the passage from Mark this week struck a chord with me – she begins by saying, “Sometimes, it’s just a boat.” This passage is one that preachers like to take and turn into allegory – we become the disciples, the storm becomes something other than wind and rain, and on and on and on. We can make an allegory out of everything in this passage. And that’s not bad. But sometimes, a boat is just a boat.
This boat is a traveling vessel. It is what gets the disciples from point A to point B – from one side of the lake to the other. As Dr. Lewis says, maybe the point is that Jesus is trying to get us to the other side.
The other side. Reading that, it hit me that we as a church are trying to do just that. With all the transition of this year, members of the congregation keep asking “how long until the permanent pastor will be here? How long until we can form a search committee?” Those questions and others are all really a way of us asking, how long until we get to the other side? I’m not the one with the plan to answer those questions – we’re all in this boat together. Moving from the safety of the shore of what we once knew out onto the sea of Galilee, which we seem to associate with storms. In her commentary, Dr. Lewis says that left to our own devices we would rather stay where we are. It’s human nature. We, as people tend to like our comfort zones. We like what is known and safe – we like our theologies, our lifestyles, our practices. Even when the known becomes unbearable, we often choose to stay in the unbearable rather than get in the boat and set out for the other shore. Jesus knows this about his disciples, and he knows this about us. You will notice that there is not a time for the disciples to stop and think about whether they want to get in the boat. There’s not a 48 hour discernment period, not a chance to really make a choice, or even any information about what’s on the other side. What we know as we read the next chapter in Mark is that they are going someplace really different. The next encounter the disciples and Jesus have is with the Gerasene demoniac – a man who lives in the cemetery possessed by demons that Jesus casts out into a herd of 2,000 pigs who then jump into the lake. There isn’t a chance to ask “what if there’s a storm? What if I get seasick?” Jesus just says “get in the boat.”
Actually, what Jesus says is “let’s go across to the other side.” Let’s – let us. Jesus goes out with them. He knows it won’t be easy, he can guess that there will probably be a storm – how many times do we read in the Gospels about Jesus getting in a boat and there being a storm? But Jesus crosses with us.
So they get in the boat, and – surprise. There is a terrible storm. This is the part where I think about Job, and our first reading. Job has been put through more than any one person should ever have to endure, and he asks God why. Why have you done this to me? Why – to use the language of the Mark reading – did you put me on this boat and in the middle of this storm? Why? God, where are you? God replies back in a manner that can be either really comforting or really sarcastic – God asks Job “well, where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Where were you? Are you the one who measured it out? Are you the one who placed the mountains? Are you the one who went to the bottom of the seas and placed the wonders there?” As God continues beyond the reading for today – God talks a really long time in Job – God talks about two of my favorite creatures in scripture – the Behemoth and the Levithan. In my minds eye they look like the Loch Ness monster and the blue whale. Giant creatures that we cannot control. But when God talks about them to Job, God describes them divine pets, with rings through their noses and the Levithian – the one that I see as the Lochness monster in my imagination – on a leash.
God’s point to Job is this – I’m the one who is in control and you have to trust me. What Job needed at that moment was not a recitation of the history of the universe and the coordinates of where God placed the stars in the heavens, but rather a conversation and an encounter with God to remind him that he is not alone or abandoned. God’s question “where were you?” is not to belittle, but to remind.
“Where were you, when God laid the foundations of the earth?” Tell me, 8 “‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
For those in the boat, it offers comfort that mortals did not tell the sea where her boundaries would be, or that mortals did not contain her. We know from history that we cannot control the seas. We cannot control hurricanes or floods – the people of Texas and Oklahoma can tell us that this spring. But when we are in the boat, we are not alone.
I love boats. I love the feel of the wind, the sights you see from a boat that you cannot see from the shore. Your perspective changes. In a kayak there is a deep peace, in a canoe there is company. I rarely return from a boat ride the same as when I left the shore. I am able to leave worries, fears, and anxieties out on the water, and find a peace that I may have been lacking. But, here’s a secret you may not know about me – as I break one of the rules of preaching and use another illustration about me. I’m scared of drowning. The summer of 2004 when I was working in Texas, I spent the weekend of 4th of July at my friend’s lake house in Austin. Her father built kayaks, and he had finished a sea kayak earlier that spring. Saturday afternoon we took the sea kayak and a canoe out onto the lake and decided to row our way out to the buoy near the main channel. I was by myself in the kayak with John and Suzie coming alongside in their 2 person kayak–we had a wonderful time. However, as we got close to the main channel, a speedboat raced by, ignoring the custom of slowing down so that it’s wake would not capsize us. I was not an experienced open water kayaker, and could not turn my kayak in time to avoid the inevitable. Spoiler alert -I didn’t die. However, the kayak flipped and I flipped in it and could not get out from under it. I was wearing my lifejacket. But I panicked and swallowed some water. As I struggled to get out from under the boat, I felt a hand grab my lifejacket and pull me to the surface. John and Suzi pulled me up to breathe, I got into the regular kayak, and one of them took the sea kayak and we went back to shore. Getting in that boat changed me. To this day when into deep water in the rivers of the South Carolina Lowcountry, I have a moment of uncertainty when I jump from the edge of the boat into the deep water to swim.
Getting in the boat changes us. It puts us in places where we cry out to God, “Why?” It puts us in places where we are not the same when we get to the other side. Yet we are to get in the boat.
What does that look like for us, here today in our lives and in our world? I think there are three ways we are being called to get in the boat and head to the other side right now.
With Pastor Ted’s retirement, and Pastor Coile’s arrival as our interim, Jesus has said, “get in the boat – I’m taking you to the other side.” We didn’t have much of a choice, we don’t know what is coming, but I assure us of this – God is with us. Jesus is with us. There may be storms. It may be scary – the disciples didn’t stop being scared until after the storm ended. But we have been called to go to the other side. As a congregation we will be changed when we get there, and as individuals we may be changed too. We are being called out of our comfort zone into new territory, and Jesus wants us on board. How do we do that? Be open. Be open to a change in perspective – see what the view looks like from here. Stay active – the disciples didn’t fall asleep, and neither can we. Continue to serve the church, to participate, to give your money and time. I know it’s easy to want to jump ship, to find a place that’s easy and not in transition, but change is a part of life, and right now it is part of ours. Pray for the church, for the staff, for the leaders. Find a ministry that needs you and participate.
We are also called as individuals to get in the boat. To see the places in our lives where change is happening. Perhaps we feel like we are in a storm of illness, despair, depression, transition, hopelessness. Perhaps the changes happening are good – new jobs, young men and women going off to college, new babies. What is the “other side” you are hoping to see? You can’t get there unless you get in the boat. Unless you open yourself up to the possibility that it may not be a smooth ride. That there will be times when we want to scream out to God “where were you?” And that’s Ok. Scream. Cry. And then listen for the voice of Jesus. Pray, hope. Be open to the possibilities of the new perspective that will come when you reach the other shore. Help others see those possibilities.
The last way we may be called to get on the boat is in response to what happened this week. A week before the shootings in Charleston, I spent a day of my vacation on a walking tour of the historic city. I heard the stories of South Caroline welcoming all, and the diversity of the port city. I heard the stories of men and women who were sold as property – slavery, and stood outside a market where people were sold, and shopped in a market where the stalls that now sell t-shirts and benne wafers and art used to sell men and women and children. A colleague of mine posted this week about one of the victims that “she was one of us”. This victim was a mother, a track coach, and a pastor. And I heard Jesus whisper to me “get in the boat.” Which led me to my jealousy of John Stewart. It led me to my moments of crying out to God “Where were you?” Where are you? As we watch churches and the community in that area respond, I feel powerless. But, I know a couple of ways we can get in the boat. On Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 Katie Orth is organizing an event for children and families specifically, though all are invited to attend. We will be making peace cranes to send to the congregation of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. At 5:00 she will be leading a time of prayer. This is one way we can do something tangible to send our love and support to our brothers and sisters in Christ. You can also participate in the conversation that happens monthly here in Cartersville to talk about race. You have heard from the pulpit about the Thursday morning coffee group that meets at Starbucks – local pastors meet for a time of friendship and conversation. The Bartow Community Diversity Council is a gathering of local pastors and community members who want to find ways to bridge the racial divide in our own community. They meet on the 4th Tuesday of each month at 7:00 at the Civic Center. Harold Parker is one of the faithful attendees, and can give you more information on how to join them.
“Where were you?” we ask God when we are swept up in the waves. Where were you? This is where I run out of answers and words. I see God at work after horrible things happen – to quote Mr. Rogers – who was a Presbyterian Minister – “”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” God is there in friends and family who step up in times of crisis and turmoil. God is there in the aftermath. God speaks to us from the whirlwind and Jesus is in the boat with us. What I know today is this – Jesus is calling us to get into the boat and be carried to a new shore and a new place. It happens to us all the time – as a congregation, as individuals, as society. We will arrive on the other side changed, but we will not have made the journey alone. So, lets get in the boat and go together. In the name of the Father, Son, and HS, Amen.