The Other Side

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Preached at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church – Tifton, Georgia

Mark 4:35-41

 

“When evening had come,
Jesus said to his disciples,
‘Let us go across to the other side.’” [1]

*   *   *

As your pastor, preacher, and priest,
I wish to make a confession.

For most of my life,
I have read the Bible wrongly,
and for many years,
I taught you to do the same as well.

What I mean is
every time I used to read the Bible,
I would always to try to find myself in it,
always to try to find us in it.

When we read David and Goliath, for instance,
we saw ourselves as young David,
the determined underdog who could do anything.

Or when we read the gospels,
we saw ourselves as the disciples,
except, unlike them, we liked to think that
maybe we could actually get a few things right.

Searching, searching, searching the scriptures
for stories of our own heroics
and promises of our current and future glory.

That’s exactly how I did it
until a couple years ago
when a theologian friend of mine said,
“Lonnie, don’t you know?
Don’t you understand that you are not
the most important person in the Bible?
And by the way, neither is David,
and neither are the disciples.

The most important person in the Bible,” she said,
“is always, always, always God,
and therefore, in the Gospels,
the most important person
is always, always, always Jesus.

“Keep your eyes on him.
Point to him.
Preach about him.
That’s where the Good News is.”

Everything else is just us
trying to be our own heroes.”

*   *   *

I mention this today
because we have a story in the Gospel
wherein it would be extremely easy for us
to take our eyes off Jesus
and miss the point entirely.

“When evening had come,
Jesus said to his disciples,
‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

Maybe you’ve heard this story a thousand times,
or maybe today is your first time ever.
Either way, you know what happens:

They get into the boat;
Jesus falls asleep;
and all hell breaks loose.

A massive windstorm comes along,
churning up the primordial chaos of the sea.
The storm is so monstrous and big
that even those veteran fisherman in the boat
are terrified out of their minds.
They yell, “Teacher, do you not care
that we are perishing?” [2]

And so Jesus stumbles up out of the stern,
bed-headed and bleary-eyed,
probably with drool in his beard.
He barks at the storm, “Peace! Be still!”
grumbles at the disciples for their lack of faith,
and—for all we know—
crawls back to the stern
and falls back asleep.

*   *   *

Here’s the thing.

If you keep your eyes
only on the disciples in this story,
then this is just a fable
all about our fears.

If you keep your eyes
only on the storm in this story,
then this is just a fable
all about the world’s chaos.

But what happens when
you keep your eyes on Jesus?

You quickly realize that
the most important line is not,
“Peace! Be still!” or
“Why are you afraid?”

No, the most important line is at the top:

“When evening had come,
Jesus said to the disciples,
‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

Keep your eyes on Jesus,
and you soon realize that
there’s something going on from the start.
Jesus has something in mind.

They aren’t boarding those boats
just to go on a pleasure cruise.
This is not some three hour tour.

Jesus is standing
on this side,
on the safe side,
on the easy side,
pointing his finger
across the sea,
across the boundary,
across the border,
and saying,
“Boys, get ready,
‘cause we are going
there.”

And where exactly is ‘there?’
‘There’ is the land of the Gerasenes.
‘There’ is the land of the Gentiles.
‘There’ is the land where no respectable Jew
would ever want to go.

To the Jewish mind,
‘there’ was a land of lawlessness and sin;
‘there’ was a place of debauchery and filth;
‘there’    was   the    wrong    side   of    the   border. [3]

But that’s exactly where Jesus wants to go:
to the outcasts,
to the unsavories,
to the ones whom his followers don’t even think of as people . . .
so that he can love them,
and heal them,
and treat them like human beings
loved by an extraordinary God.

When you know that—
when you keep your eyes on Jesus—
you soon realize this is no story
about disciples and thunderstorms.

This is a story about a Savior
who is heaven-bent and determined
to get to the people on the other side,
and he will stop at nothing to get there.

Even the storms of chaos on the angry sea
are but a minor inconvenience to our Lord
when he is determined
to go across
to the other side. [4]

*   *   *

Of course, none of this should surprise you.
This is the business in which Jesus
has always been engaged.

Long before this story ever took place,
back when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
were sitting together in eternity,
they looked across
the greatest boundary,
the greatest border,
the greatest sea . . .
the one that separated heaven and earth.

And God said, “Look at them.
They are all suffering in anger, and evil, and chaos.
Do we not care that they are perishing?”

To which the Holy Spirit said,
“Yes, but the only way to save them
is to go there ourselves . . .
to cross the border,
to have skin in the game,
to heal them from within.”

To which Jesus said,
“Fine. will go.
will cross the border.
will show them who they really are,
so that I can show them who we really are,
and I will make a way home for all of them.
I will probably lose my skin in the process,
but it will be worth it.
It’s the only way.”

And so he did.
And so it was.

*   *   *

Obviously, I say all of this today
in the dark light of everything
we’ve all been watching, hearing, and reading this week
about the stories of children separated from parents
at the southern border.

Unfortunately, I do not have all the answers
to the immigration crisis,
and neither, probably, do you.

What I do have is a Savior
who outright demands to cross the borders,
who brings peace to chaos,
and who looks at us today and says,
This?
This arrangement?
This way of handling things?
This is the best you could come up with?
This is not the way.”

And lest any of us who already know that
pat ourselves too firmly on the back
for our righteous outrage at the separation of families,
I would remind you that the separation of families
has been going on for a long, long time
right here in our own backyard, just one county away.

If you don’t know what I mean,
recall my sermon from a year ago
about officiating a wedding
at our nearby immigration detention facility
where the bride and groom were separated by plexiglass,
and the husband was most likely deported
the very next day.

This week was worse,
but it’s really nothing new.

*   *   *

All of that, of course, is a word of judgment.
Let me close, then, with a word of grace.

Late this week I had lunch
with Deacon Leeann Culbreath,
an Episcopal deacon
who was raised up right here at St. Anne’s
and whom many of you know.

Over the past many months,
Leeann and others—including some of you—
have been instrumental
in opening a hospitality house
near that same immigration detention facility.

It’s meant to be a haven
for those affected by immigration issues—
families who come to visit,
or detainees who are finally released—
where they can be loved, fed,
and treated in the way that Jesus might command.

In recent weeks, however,
the big question had become,
“What about our relationship with the facility?
What about our relationship with the warden?
We could make it adversarial.
We could try to keep this place off the grid,
hidden from the powers that be.
We could live into the chaos.
We could churn up the storm.

“Or . . .

“We could go across the sea.
We could try to cross the boundary.
We could speak a word of peace.

“In other words,
we could . . . invite the warden for lunch.”

And you know what?
That’s what they did.

It was awkward.
It was hard.
But soon there was laughter at the table,
and the sharing of common humanity,
and the breaking of much delicious bread.

I don’t want to Pollyanna-ize this
or make it into something it wasn’t,
but it was a start,
and a much needed tonic
to the anger and mistrust
infecting all our hearts these days.

Two sides of a very difficult issue
came together to break bread.

It was the crossing of a chasm.
It was the calming of a storm.
I was a new beginning, from both sides.

To put it in church terms,
it was grace . . .
and to my thinking,
only Jesus could have done that.

*   *   *

Here is the awful truth of our times:
the winds of anger
and the storms of chaos
are swirling all around,
and the fact is
people are perishing.

For God’s sakes, brothers and sisters,
keep your eyes on Jesus and listen to him,
because I swear
he’s not just trying
to tell us something . . .
today he’s trying
to take us somewhere.

“When evening had come,
Jesus said to his disciples,
‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

Amen.

 

 

[1] Mark 4:35
[2] Mark 4:38
[3] Skinner, Matt. “Commentary on Mark 4:35-41.” Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3677. Accessed 20 June 2018.
[4] Ibid.