June 24, 2018
In our readings today we’ll find a lot of storm and water imagery, always emphasizing that God is in command even of the storms. If you remember the beginning of Genesis, you may remember that at the very beginning of creation, when the universe was formless and chaotic, God made sense of the chaos. Throughout the Bible, the sea serves as a metaphor for chaos, and so it is remarkable to see God continues to have command of it – first in Job, as God reminds the suffering Job that God has been in charge from the beginning, then in the Psalm, and finally in the story of Jesus stilling the storm.
But there is even more to notice in Mark’s story. Today we see one of Mark’s themes: the fact that Jesus is always crossing boundaries to get to those on the other side, the outsiders, and furthermore, that Jesus’ ministry is often focused not on one side or the other, but on the edges, in that liminal space in-between. In the case of today’s story, that in-between place is the sea they are crossing. But we will keep seeing this: once they get to the other side, they’ll encounter a man possessed by many demons, who has been chained up on the outside of town. On the edge. When he returns to Galilee, in the story we’ll hear next week, Jesus is going to heal a young girl, and on the way there, he heals another woman whose ailment has placed her on the fringe of society. See, ministry on the edge, and on the way.
So as you listen to these readings, remember that the sea is often a metaphor for chaos to be overcome, and as you see Jesus minister in the in-between, consider how God has come to you during those in-between times, and been present for you in whatever chaos you may face in your life.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Like perhaps many of you, I have been consumed this week by what is going on right now on our southern border. In case you haven’t been glued to the news, here’s what’s happening: a new “zero tolerance” policy is in place that prosecutes all illegal crossings criminally, where previously an illegal crossing, at least the first offense, was only a misdemeanor, equivalent to a traffic ticket, or littering. Some sources have reported that though people have tried to come through legal entry points, many of those ports are closed, causing people to sit outside in the 100+ degree sun for days on end. So many take matters into their own hands and come across on a raft, then turn themselves in as asylum seekers, but then because of the zero tolerance policy they are arrested and prosecuted as criminals. Because adults are being criminally prosecuted, they are going to jail immediately, leaving any children, ranging in age from nursing infants and toddlers, up to teenagers, to be designated as “unaccompanied minors.” These 2500 or so kids who have been taken from their parents, sometimes forcibly, are being held in converted warehouses, contained by fencing. The trauma and possibly irreparable damage this separation from their parents has done to these young children is apparent in the cries, the behavior, and some other particularly devastating consequences we have seen.
The situation led to a national outcry, including from faith leaders from Franklin Graham to the Southern Baptist Convention to the Pope to essentially every mainline Protestant denomination, saying, “Scripture tells us over 100 times that we are to welcome the stranger and care for the weak!” and, “Jesus says we will be judged on how we treat the least of these!” They are right to say so – the biblical mandate is very clear that we are to love and care for the stranger and immigrant. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also weighed in, as to the damage this could do to young brains. President Trump responded to the outcry, and signed an executive order this week to stop this practice, but it is not yet clear how families will be reunited, nor is there enough personnel to do the necessary processing to be sure kids aren’t being trafficked, that the adults who claim them are in fact their real parents, whether asylum claims are real or fabricated, etc. They’re having trouble even finding which parents go with each kid. No matter your opinion on immigration policy, the fact is: this is a mess. It is devastating to see and to hear.
All of this has been very much on my heart and mind as I have studied this well-loved story about Jesus stilling the storm. I find myself praying that Jesus would shout out his peace and calm on the whole situation, and that this would lead to a solution. Another prayer my heart has cried out is, “Lord, don’t you care that they are perishing?” I imagine how empty the words, “Why are you afraid?” would fall on the ears of those children, who have probably never felt more afraid, alone and helpless. I feel guilty that, like the disciples, I feel like my faith is faltering, like I am losing an ability to trust God in the midst of this debate that has gone on for decades and seems to have no end in sight. I resonate with Jesus who is trying to get some rest in the stern of the boat, but can’t because a storm arises and people need help, because I, too, am tired from all the pain and need in the world. There is much in this story to resonate with – in light of this dark storm in our land, certainly, as well as in light of whatever storms we might be facing in our personal lives.
But as I grappled and prayed over this text this week in light of all this, I noticed something important: this impressive miracle, stilling the storm, doesn’t happen while Jesus and his disciples are here or there, home or the other side. It happens in-between. It happens in that liminal place, in the transition. And like I said before, this is a theme in Mark, that Jesus repeatedly does his ministry in the liminal places, the in-between, the times of life that are on the edges. Jesus ministers in the times and with the people who are physically, socially, or politically on the margins of life or society. On the border is always where we will find Jesus.
Waiting in a detention center is a liminal place if ever there was one. Memories of the past, and especially if one doesn’t speak English, uncertainty about the future abounds – will I be deported? Where are my children and when will I get them back? Are they safe? Is anyone even looking at my case? Will I be able to find my family who is already here? It is a liminal, in-between time in every possible way.
And, while that situation is heavy on the hearts of the nation right now, we all deal also with our own liminal, in-between times. Think for a moment about a time when you were between things, in the midst of a transition (could even be right now!). Maybe you lost a job and were looking for a new one, or you sat for days by a loved one’s bed as you waited for death to take them, or you were at the end of a pregnancy and waiting for labor to come, or you were in labor, or you had been diagnosed with a serious illness but didn’t know yet what treatment would look like. Remember how that felt. What are some of the feelings you remember from that liminal space? [wait]
When Jesus went out on the boat with his disciples that evening, he was exhausted. He had been teaching all day, and he was I’m sure looking forward to catching some shut-eye on the trip over. And yet, as often happened on the Sea of Galilee, especially at night, a storm kicked up. And how, do you think, did the disciples feel? Anxious… fearful… doubtful… untrusting… All things I have felt when I find myself in a liminal place. As soon as we are in-between, because of all those feelings that state brings up, it suddenly becomes all the more important – yet all the more difficult – to trust.
That is precisely why Jesus shows us, again and again, that ours is a God who shows up in those places. “Don’t you care that we are perishing??” the disciples call out to him. It’s a shout my own heart has uttered many times before. It usually comes out in the form of those elusive “why” questions: “Why are you letting this happen? Why did you take my loved one away? Why did you saddle me with this ailment? Why did you lead me here? Don’t you care that I am perishing?”
And Jesus comes out, stills the storm, and turns to me and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Anyone else ever feel like Jesus is always saying this to them? And I really do imagine him saying it that way: “Johanna, really? Come on, why are you afraid? Where’s your faith? Haven’t I always been there with you before? Hasn’t it always become clear? Don’t fret. Trust.” And because God’s word is always accomplished, a peace comes upon my heart. Maybe not right away – you notice even the disciples remained stunned and confused, even after he stilled the storm – but eventually that peace does come.
I don’t know what Jesus is going to do for the thousands of people in the liminal place of our southern border. But I do believe Jesus is there – I see him in the work of those working as advocates, providing care, seeking compassion and neighbor-love, and asking those in power for something to be done to fix this. I believe Jesus is there, because Jesus is always there, on the borders and margins, in the transitions, in those times when we are in the dark, stormy, and unknown places that so often fall between the knowns. Jesus cares deeply for those who are on the margins of life – that is why he is always making a point of going there.
And in case there was any doubt, Jesus finally goes to that place in the most profound way – hanging on a cross just outside of Jerusalem, on the city’s margin, lingering between life and death before finally giving in to death… only to overcome that liminal place by rising once again into life. Ours is a God who can always overcome the liminal, who enters into the stormy transitions of life to say, “Peace, be still,” and remind us that he is trustworthy. When God enters our liminal places, we can be sure that, once we get to the other side, we will find life.
Let us pray… God of the margins, it is difficult not to doubt and be afraid when we encounter the liminal transition times of life. Thank you that you are there. Open our eyes to see you, and prepare our hearts to trust you, that we would see the life to which you lead us. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.