Sunday, June 21, 2009

Teacher, Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing? - A Homily for Proper 12, Year B

Homily for Proper 12, Year B, 2009
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 4:35-41

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
- Mark 4:38

The feeling of being “afloat at sea” can be a frightening feeling. It is a metaphor that we might use when we feel as though things are out of our control or when we are unable to reach our destination, to get to the other side. How many of us have felt the distance of the horizon and longed that the wind would pick up and move us more quickly toward our goal, closer to our destination? Then the wind comes, and instead of the gentle breeze that will carry us closer, it begins to toss us to and fro until we find ourselves caught in a raging storm. Being “afloat at sea” maybe wasn’t so bad after all. For a moment the destination is not all that important. Instead, we focus on surviving the tempest that rages about us and we are likely to cry out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

The disciples were on a journey with Jesus. He gathered them about him and went from place to place teaching, casting out demons, and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come near. As we have said many times over this past year as we have journeyed through Mark’s story of Jesus, the disciples are not always sharpest knives in the drawer. Clearly, Jesus’ miracles, his parables, his exorcisms, and his prophetic utterances, were all intended to point to the reality that in him God’s kingdom was already breaking through. Yet, as we know, the disciples did not quite understand his message or actions. Time and again the misinterpreted him and misunderstood him. They expected the kingdom to look very different from the kind of kingdom he proclaimed. Thus, they longed eagerly to “reach the other side,” to get to the place where it all made sense, where the kingdom (as they understood it) would finally come on earth. They missed the point that in Christ Jesus it had already come.

Thus, as they journeyed across the sea and a storm arose, tossing them to and fro, they were afraid that they were going die. Even though they had their Lord in their midst, they feared that as the waters crashed over the edge, this day would be there last. Surprisingly, an unworried Jesus slept in the stern, apparently oblivious to the whole thing. In a moment of final desperation they cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke, uttered the words, “Peace, be still.” And the wind and rain stopped, and the sea went calm. They muttered amongst themselves, “who is this that even the wind and sea obey him.” Even as he calmed the storm about them, they still were not sure what to make of him. They still did not realize that the kingdom was breaking through in their midst.

Earlier this week as I was considering this text, I read it to my wife, Athena (and I do share this story with her full permission and blessing). When I got to the part in which the disciples cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” She responded with a resounding “no!” Athena is, of course, a teacher. As she approaches the end of the school year and moves into exams, there are many students, who in spite of her best efforts, have done very little and have not cared much about their learning. It is often these ones that panic in the last moments of the academic year, and who are prone to call out to a teacher exhausted from trying every angle, every multiple-learning style, having adjusted and modified the curriculum in every imaginable way, to a teacher who feels like hiding and sleeping in the stern of the boat, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I think most of us can empathize with such a teacher and would be inclined to join in the resounding “no!” After all, every chance has already been given. Of course, the teacher that lives in my home is a compassionate teacher, as are most teachers I know, who really do long for the best for their students. Yet, who can blame them for shaking their heads at those who refuse to learn? Can we really begrudge them that secret “no” that they harbour in their hearts when the student cries out “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

But “no” is not the answer that Jesus gives. While we may seek to identify with the frustrated, tired teacher, who has done his or her best, we are actually meant to identify with the floundering disciples, who unwisely prayed for the wind and got a storm, who time and time again misunderstood the message and missed the mark, who long to be anywhere else but where they find themselves, even when where they find themselves may be the most important place to be. Let’s face it, most of us are poor students of this classroom we call life. Most of us make mistake after mistake, desire the things that are not best for us, wish our lives away and long to be anywhere or anytime else than our present place and present time. Most of us fail to recognize the kingdom of God amongst us, much less the presence of our Lord. Even if we do believe our Lord is with us, we may believe that he is sleeping and does not care.

The truth is that Jesus is with us and Jesus does care. When we call out he does answer and if we are wise and teachable, we will see that his presence is real and his kingdom does indeed come among us. Consider carefully what Jesus does. He does not immediately transport them to the other side, but he does still the storm. They do not immediately get to where they are going, rather, they learn the value in being where they find themselves. And most importantly, they learn that they are not alone when they seem adrift on the calm waters of the sea – they learn that the Lord is present amongst them.

Thus, we may find ourselves adrift, with the other side seeming so far away. We may find ourselves in the midst of a tempest, with waters crashing in over the sides of the boat, but what Mark means to tell us in this story is that getting to the other shore may not be the most important thing. Rather, it may be simply realizing – no, let me say it more emphatically – simply believing that even in the midst of being adrift or being tossed to and fro, that Jesus Christ is with us and will not forsake us. It is believing that the kingdom of God is to be found not in the arriving at the other side, but in the tempest that tosses us about. Perhaps the waters will crash about us, but we will know in our hearts his abiding presence and his assuring words, “peace, be still.” Yesterday, today, and tomorrow his words are the same. With the eyes of faith we will know his peace in the midst of the storm or when we are adrift, and we shall fear nothing.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. Not to be reproduced or redistributed without the express, written permission of the author.

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