Sermon: Get in the Boat

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Sunday, June 24, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Our gospel reading for today begins with an invitation.  Jesus says to the disciples: “Let us go across to the other side.”  Jesus had been casting out demons and healing and preaching to the multitudes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  He’d just finished preaching several parables, including the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed.  By the time he finished, it was evening, and the disciples were probably pooped and ready for bed.  But instead of calling it a day, Jesus decides: no, we need to get in the boat right now and sail across the Sea of Galilee.  And that’s what he and the disciples do.  There is an urgency to this story that we’ve kind of come to expect from the gospel of Mark.

We’ll get to the storm part of the story in just a little bit, but first I have to wonder: why? Why did Jesus need to get to the other side of the sea in such a holy hurry?  And where exactly was he going, anyway?  As it turns out, Jesus was actually headed for the country of the Gerasenes, which was Gentile territory.  At the beginning of chapter 5 – which is the very next chapter – Jesus steps out of the boat, and “immediately” he is approached by a Gentile man possessed with a “legion” of demons.  This man has been tormented by these demons; they cause him physical injury and the people of his own community have repeatedly tried to chain him up.  Jesus shows compassion for this man.  He demonstrates his authority and he casts the demons out, and he leaves the man restored to health and community.

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This act of healing and liberation seems to be the sole reason that Jesus decides to cross the sea. Because right after this story, he and the disciples hop back in the boats and sail back to Galilee. It seems to be very significant that Jesus called his disciples to this mission – a mission of compassion for someone of a different nationality, someone with a different background and a different native language.

We are no strangers to this kind of mission here at Peace Lutheran.  We have been called to imitate Jesus, to extend compassion and hospitality to others, especially to people of other backgrounds and languages.  It’s a mission that this congregation has accepted and carried out in many ways.  We serve and accompany the struggling and the hungry in our community.  We are known for our welcome of people of all genders and all sexual orientations.  And we have opened our hearts to show hospitality to our siblings from Central America and Mexico, who have come through storms of their own just to get here. Jesus has said to this congregation: come; let us go across to the other side and, like the disciples, we got on the boat!

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Well, the last several weeks on this boat, it’s felt like we’ve been sailing together through one hell of a storm.  We’ve watched with horror as families have been ripped apart at the border by brutal new immigration policies.  Over 2,000 children have been scattered across the country, with no idea where their parents are, and our government seems to have no plans for how to reunite them. Even this new order to detain families together will keep many refugees and their children locked up, instead of releasing them to plead their cases for asylum.  These policies are needlessly cruel and inhumane, and as Christians called to a mission of compassion, we must resist them.

I feel sick with grief and anger and worry for these families.  I keep seeing the faces of the people we have welcomed here – young children and exhausted parents, grateful just for a safe place to rest on their long journeys.  And I worry about how this might impact our ministry; I wonder how long we will even be allowed to continue providing hospitality for people who so desperately need our kindness.  This week, I feel the cry of the disciples in our gospel reading, crying out to God, “Lord do you not care that people are perishing??”

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But, as we see in our reading, God does care.  God profoundly cares.  Jesus crosses a stormy sea in the middle of the night to rescue just one person.  When the disciples are terrified for their lives and call out to him, Jesus has compassion for them and stops a hurricane in its tracks.  And even our first reading, from the story of Job, when Job cries out to God for justice and relief from his immense suffering, God has pity on him and fully restores him to health and prosperity.

God deeply cares about this world and about all the people in it.  God sees our suffering and the suffering of our neighbors.   And God is always at work to bring justice and healing and liberation, even though we can’t always see it.  It can be frustrating and difficult sometimes to see the good works that God is doing.  Sometimes we are just clinging to the rigging of the boat for dear life as we get tossed around by the waves.  And even though we know that Christ is always with us, it’s easy sometimes to feel like he’s fallen asleep in the back of the boat and doesn’t notice that we are struggling.

But Jesus’ response to the disciples and God’s response to Job show us otherwise.  Granted, the rebuttals they give do come across a little harshly.  After he saves them, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith, and God basically says to Job: who are you to question me?  where were you when I made every single thing in creation?  But both Mark and the author of Job are trying to point us toward the authority of God, toward the power of God to act in this world in ways that are beyond our imagination.  God cares deeply about the suffering of the world.  God has the power to bring healing and liberation.  And God unfailingly chooses to do so, even when we can’t see it.

And God calls and equips us to participate in this work, just as God in Jesus called the disciples. God gives us each gifts to use in carrying out this mission.  I mean, for example, I’m sure it’s no accident that so many of Jesus’ followers were fishermen – he spends so much time on boats!  It makes sense that he wants people who know what they’re doing. In the same way, God empowers us and works through us, through our hands and through our gifts.  Even though it may feel like we are only able to do small things that won’t make much of a difference, God is working through us.  The good that we do is amplified by God and becomes part of the great work of liberation that God is carrying out.

So take heart.  And know that you are part of something that is much bigger than any one of us, a force of good that cannot be stopped.  The storms around us may be fierce, whatever shape they take.  But God is with us in the middle of the sea, guiding our hands, and giving us hope.  Today and every day, God invites us into a journey of healing and liberation.  So come, my friends; get in the boat!  And let us go across to the other side.  Amen.

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