Sermon June 20 Mark 4:35-41 Why are you Afraid? Rev. Betsy Hogan
Why are you afraid?
It’s not a question I’m asking to start my sermon – my usual practice notwithstanding – it’s actually the question Jesus asks his disciples in the passage from Mark that we heard earlier.
Why are you afraid, he asks them. And they don't have an answer.
Or actually, it's more like they have too many answers. And they don't really know which one he's looking for.
Why are they afraid? Because of the storm. Because being in a tiny tiny fishing boat out on the sea, crashed into and crushed and terrifyingly swamped by the wind and waves of a huge storm – it's pretty terrifying.
So why are they afraid? Because they were perishing.
Or maybe not. Maybe, why are they afraid? Because suddenly they WEREN'T perishing.
Why are they afraid? Because he said "Peace, be still" and the storm stopped. Why are they afraid? Because apparently he has that kind of power. So why are they afraid? Because that kind of power is pretty terrifying.
One little question, why are you afraid? And in the moment the disciples have so many possible answers that they don't give him any answer at all. But Jesus doesn't let them off the hook.
Because focus, he says. Have you still no faith?
Because focus, he says. God is good. And yes, storms blow up, and yes, you might get shaken and slammed and swamped, but in this boat you're not alone. In this boat you’re carried, and in this boat you matter, and in this boat you're loved. So why are you afraid?
It's actually not a question. The moment itself is over. By the time Jesus says these words to the disciples, he's stilled the storm and they know they don't NEED to be. It's actually not a question. It's meant to be a very pointed challenge.
Which in some ways can feel hard to hear from Jesus. It's not exactly his most pastoral moment, gentle Jesus meek and mild.
It IS very much a challenge, and it's NOT his most loving and sympathetic moment, but every now and then he DOES get very pointed with the disciples, and with us, and this is one of those times.
We're getting pushed. The disciples are getting pushed. It's not always easy to keep ourselves solid – God is good, God is with us – the disciples themselves have yelled at him in the middle of the storm "Teacher, don't you CARE that we're perishing??" –
But we're getting pushed here. This isn't pastoral Jesus, it's challenging Jesus, it's pointed Jesus, it's pushing-us Jesus.
Because sometimes, that's what circumstances demand. Sometimes, like the disciples, we need to be challenged at arm's length from the actual moment with "why are you afraid".
So that we'll pause long enough, to think about it carefully enough, to realize that actually our answer is... "I don't know, because I don't need to be".
We spend an immense amount of time and use up an immense amount of emotional energy as individuals being afraid when we don't need to be. And that's hard to change. And pushing-us Jesus is probably manifestly less effective in that regard than pastoral Jesus – who doesn't challenge us with "have you still no faith" but instead reminds us gently that we're beloved and never alone.
But pushing-us Jesus does have his moments. And it seems to me that at a time when a whole lot of our shared self-understanding as a human family is being changed and being stretched by long-suppressed voices and ideas and constructs suddenly bubbling up to the surface of our common discourse, this may be one of those moments.
Because what are we afraid of. As Christians we follow the way and the teachings of a God who in Jesus was about lifting up and welcoming and including the downtrodden and the oppressed and the ignored. So what are we afraid of?
One of the key elements on the path we took as a country toward equal access to marriage regardless of sexual orientation was the growing realization, literally, that the only thing that was going to change was that MORE loving couples could get married. For the meaning of marriage, for the point of marriage, for those of us who already WERE married, it changed nothing at all.
So in effect, when pushing-us Jesus said "Why are you afraid?" we realized we didn't know. Because we didn't need to be. Equal access to marriage was just... expanding goodness. It was just drawing the circle wider. It was just right.
And I think the same can be said all these years later when NOW the long-suppressed voices and ideas and constructs bubbling up to the surface is about the meaning and parameters and limits of gender. As a social construct, as a biological construct, as neurological construct, as a strict binary.
Because really and truly, when what's being asked of us as faithful Christians is just to make loving space for those who all they want is to be fully themselves –
When what's being asked of us as faithful Christians is just to expand how we understand the variety of how God creates people –
Pushing-us Jesus says to us "Why are you afraid?" Because there's literally nothing about someone else's gender identity, or about the theoretical notion of gender as being something more interesting than a strict binary, that changes anything about our own identity -- or our understanding of our own gender -- AT ALL.
Nothing. It's just expanding the goodness of God's people being able to be themselves. It's drawing the circle wider. It's colouring outside the lines. It's just right.
Which is not, it's true, how we often think about colouring outside the lines. Because regardless of how carefully we might desire to foster creativity and encourage a vision that refuses to be limited by a manufactured picture on a page --
We all learn pretty early to stay inside the lines, and often – truth be told – to kind of like them. A picture that's meant to be a cow looks comfortingly exactly like a cow, if we've coloured inside the lines.
The construct, the picture, the lines we rely on to keep the picture looking like the picture, there's solidness in these that for most of us, at least, we kind of depend on.
Which is why, I think, when our essential constructs that keep the picture looking like the picture get shaken up, we can find that difficult. Not always! Sometimes it's inspiring! But often it's difficult.
Right now, there are long-suppressed voices and ideas and constructs bubbling up that are shaking up – a LOT – the picture of, the story of, Canada.
The nice neat familiar lines of these important people who did these important things on those important dates, laying down the nice neat familiar lines of practically perfect nation-building from the ground up. The tidy colouring-in of peace, order, and good government – all the civility of Britain-lite enhanced by commendable compromise with the French – and the pleasant consciousness always of not being American.
We've had a picture of who we are, and people and events and dates we've celebrated without question, as emblematic of our story. Our history.
And that's getting shaken up. By long-suppressed voices bubbling up with long-suppressed parts of that story. And if as faithful Christians what's demanded of us ALWAYS is an orientation toward raising up the downtrodden and lifting up the oppressed, then what those voices have to say has to matter to us.
The nice neat picture of who we celebrate and why we celebrate them -- what we celebrate them FOR – it can't just stay put for us, to be tidily coloured in, staying inside those lines.
And so pushing-us Jesus, whose example we seek to follow in our faithfulness, he says to us as those lines BEGIN to be dismantled and removed and taken off their pedestals, he says to us "why are you afraid?"
And it's a challenge. What changes with this expansion of our story, with drawing the circle wider and colouring outside the lines of celebrating practically perfect nation-building from the ground up?
What changes? Why are we afraid? What are we afraid of?
Pushing-us Jesus – he's not always fun. The disciples shrieking out their fear as the storm threatens to crush them and the waves are pounding from every direction, and "Teacher, don't you care that we're perishing" –
Pushing-them Jesus was not, for them in that moment, a whole lot of fun.
But what he said was what they needed to hear. Just focus, he says to them. Have you no faith? Then focus, he says to them. Why are you afraid?
And they realize – they don't know. Because they don't need to be.
May it be so for us too.