Sermon for June 24, 2012
When my daughter Joanna visited last week, we decided it was high time to explore the coastal town of Newport. Joanna has a long-standing goal to inject a love of all-things-Oregon into the heart of her native Wisconsinite husband, George. Our trip to Newport was a powerful component of that strategy; we enjoyed delightful, picture-perfect weather and, of course, Newport has much to offer.
I thought back to our time on the Coast while pondering today’s lesson about the disciple/fishermen’s fear on the Sea of Galilee when a sudden windstorm came up. In Newport we took a two hour sea cruise which started out in the sunny, calm waters of Newport but then ended up in a foggy, perspective-distorting environment farther out to sea. The captain of our little boat brought us quickly back to calm and sunny waters within sight of land. His experience has taught him: tourists distinctly begin to lose their lunches when they start to feel they are in the middle of the ocean without anything in sight except fog.
Theologically, I have always been taught the story of Jesus calming the waters for his disciples while aboard their fishing boat served the early church’s purpose to show Jesus’ cosmic powers. In the midst of great turmoil and persecution, the early church found great comfort in hearing again and again how Jesus was more powerful than even the wind and the sea. This passage also may recall to some minds the story of Jonah the prophet, who had also been asleep beneath the deck of his vessel when a storm came up, and who jumped overboard in order save his fellow shipmates from God’s judgment against him … which, he believed, was why the storm had come up in the first place.
Today, however, I am more taken with the question asked by the fishermen after Jesus awoke from his peaceful slumber, and the storm died down, and calm returned, and the subject of faith was raised. “Who then is this man?” they asked. I honor the fact that the early church found great mystery and meaning in the calming of the storm. No one who has experienced a great storm and then has seen it recede will take this sequence lightly. Yet my focus today is simply upon the first part of that question. It is the right question for Confirmation Sunday. Who IS this man, Jesus ???
My short time out on the Newport tourist boat gives me a recent frame of reference for that question. Some of you are sailors or like to spend time fishing or enjoy many forms of boating and water sports. So you, too, can picture the sea when it grows big with wind and waves, and you start to feel very small indeed, within your little boat. The Breton Fisherman’s Prayer says it so well, in just thirteen words: “O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” Is that a prayer for help or a simple statement of reality? Or, from a position of faith, are the two really the same thing: to state reality as a believer IS to seek God’s presence within reality?
(Such as …)“O God, thy final exam is so hard and I am so forgetting the verb conjugations I was planning to memorize.” “O God, thy marching band program is so complicated and I am so quickly finding out it’s hard to play my horn and march at the same time.” “O God, my future is so open and I am just a tiny rowboat trying to catch the current which will take me forward. How do I figure out school, and friends, and family, and world peace, and my own responsibilities, and what worship is, and who God calls me to be, and my faith??” Confirmation questions, all.
These and many others have been among the questions our confirmands have pondered during these months of Confirmation study. At the base of these questions has been a version of the question the fishermen asked each other on the Sea of Galilee: Who, then, is this man Jesus ?? Their answer which the confirmands have found to this question has led them to make a decision about Christian discipleship and about where to live out that Christian discipleship. MacKenzie, Bobby, Ali and Duncan all use different words when they speak of their faith. They all express their faith in their own way. (We love that in the United Church of Christ!!) But for each of them, it is faith in the Way of Jesus which calls them to confirm their baptism and say, “Yes, I want to be a Christian. I am a Christian.” And for each them as well, it is faith in you and me that makes them say, “I want to be a Christian here. This place to which my parents first brought me is now MY place. It is a worthy place. I can be a Christian in this place.”
There’s more, though. Let’s not forget that Mark tells the story of a storm at sea. The story we tell today is the story of fishermen being afraid, because they are smart enough to know the stakes are high when one is out on the water in a small boat. The story we tell today is the story of Jesus sleeping peacefully as storm clouds gather; and followers of Jesus feeling some understandable panic; and finally it is a story of a SHARED experience of the wind dying down, and calm returning. I must tell you that always before when I have read this story, I have read the words of the fishermen as a reflection of very different experiences between the fishermen and Jesus. Today, however, I think of it as purely a shared experience. I like that much better!
Here’s what I mean. When the disciples called to the sleeping Jesus and said, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” I had always read it is “WE are perishing … why don’t YOU do something???” But now I think of it as truly, “WE ALL … you, Jesus, and all of us, are perishing … why aren’t you as afraid as we are? And how in the world can you sleep at a a time like this?” It might sound like a subtle distinction that I am making, but it’s a distinction which makes all the difference in the world. If we live in relationship with Christ so closely and intimately that we share our storms and share our fears and share our questions … that is significantly different than being out on a boat at sea all alone, calling out and hoping against hope that someone will hear us and then swoop in from afar to save us. No … the story Mark tells says God is right here with us, going through the very same story we are going through.
That is the Christian way of life. It is both intimate and cosmic. It is the life which four young people affirm today as they confirm the baptism which already has been bestowed upon them by loving parents, so long ago. Today they say, yes, we are in the boat together. We are here with followers of Christ and as followers of Christ. This is the ship we ride as we chart our unique future. With occasional times of panic, but through an overriding sense of companionship with Christ, we affirm the community of disciples and believers who follow the One who rides out our storms with us, whatever they may be.
I will close with something rather unforgettable which I heard last week on a radio interview with poet Robert Pinsky. He quoted a favorite teacher of his who urged his students NOT to take notes when he reached a key point in his lectures. As a rather compulsive note-taker in lectures, this got my attention right away! But I loved the way Pinsky explained it. “This is really important!” his teacher had told the class. “Don’t write it down! I don’t want it on paper! I want it to penetrate and reverberate within you. I want you to own it and I want you to let it find expression in your life.”
That professor knew that sometimes we “students” dutifully write down what we know our teacher wants us to remember. But our memorization of the material when done only for the teacher or for the test can come at the expense of a deeper kind of learning. We want to ace the test, and so we write down what we think might appear. But some teachers hope for even more than a class full of hyper-memorizing students who spit back their words for the final, and then move on to the next class, forgetting what has become no longer timely.
Jesus is not out to have us memorize stuff for a test … although I must tell you we did have a bit of memorization in our confirmation class! But our memorization of scripture should only ever serve as a way of internalizing more deeply the promises and poetry of all that scripture gives us. If we memorize, it’s because we want the promises and the poetry to be there when the storms kick up! But memorization aside, hre is something you don’t need to write down.
The love of God is written upon our hearts already. Christ is the one who helps us to read the script. This is the promise of our faith. This is the life we live with Christ. This is the boat we climb onto as we sail the waters of our future. Today we celebrate four young people who climb on board with us as believers. Thanks be to God. Welcome and blessings to Duncan, Ali, Bobby and MacKenzie.
Let the church say, “Amen.”