Sermon June 23  To Get to the Other Side                                   Rev. Betsy Hogan
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? When I was eleven and we were on sabbatical in Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco in California, one of the things we had in school – because obviously it was earthquake country – one of the things that we had in school was ‘earthquake alarms’. 

Which were like the fire alarms we have here, only for earthquakes. So when it would go off, instead of lining up and getting out of the building as quickly and neatly as possible, we would all dive under our desks or put ourselves inside a door frame. Safest places to be when there’s an earthquake. 

The thing was, and I don’t know what brilliant mind came up with this, that the earthquake alarm was not a bell or a buzzer like a fire alarm. Instead, the earthquake alarm was, I kid you not, the actual sound of an earthquake.

Piped in over the PA system – the most horrendous din of crashing concrete and smashing glass you can possibly imagine. Talk about making sure that all of us were absolutely aware of exactly how serious an earthquake in northern California could be. You have never seen thirty kids dive under desks so efficiently in all your lives.

By the time I was grown and living in Vancouver, though, I’d actually experienced a few earthquakes – relatively minor ones – both in California and in Montreal. And so when there was a bit of a shake one day, while we were at supper in our dorm, it actually took me a few seconds to realize what it was before I ducked under the cafeteria table. While meanwhile pretty much everyone else just sat there. 

But under the table with me, clutching a little satchel in which I later discovered she kept her passport, pictures of her family, and a little bible, was a visiting student in our class from Tokyo. Head covered, satchel in her lap, she was hunkered down and ready. And once the very mild earthquake had stopped, she could not BELIEVE how blasé everyone else had been.

But of course the rest of them really had no idea of what the possibilities were. And boy, she really did, growing up in Tokyo. I found out afterward that she kept that little satchel with her all the time. She knew EXACTLY what to be scared of, if you’re living on a fault line, and she was always ‘on alert’.

Which is what the disciples are too, at the end of this very long day when we meet them in the reading we just heard from the gospel of Mark. Because it HAS been a very long day. This is just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of teaching and preaching and healing, but he’s begun it with a serious commitment of energy. 

He and the disciples have collected a huge crowd around him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He’s astonished them with several miraculous healings, and then he’s moved on to teaching. 

Story-telling, parables, words of wisdom – now that crowds have really begun to gather, he’s started to move them past simple astonishment into an awareness of something bigger. A vision of who God is and HOW God is, at work in the world and their own lives.

All day long. Listen, the Kindom of God is like this… A sower goes out to sow, and harvests thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. And Listen, the Kindom of God is like this… the tiniest mustard seed that spreads like a weed. And Listen, the Kindom of God is like this… no one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket. Listen, listen, listen. He teaches all day long.

And at the end of the day? He’s exhausted. He’s spent the whole day on his feet teaching, projecting his voice to be heard -- he’s completely done in. 

Which he would be anyway, after a whole day on his feet teaching, projecting his voice in order to be heard – but it’s even worse because the crowd was so huge that he’s actually been doing all that teaching from a boat moored on the side of the sea. So that the people could all gather on the hill at the seaside, and he’d be able to see them all. 

Teaching all day on his feet, projecting his voice to be heard, all while balancing in a boat. By the end of that day, he’s exhausted. And no wonder. 

So when nightfall comes, there are two options. Either step out of the boat onto the dock and into the crowd, where he’d surely be followed wherever he goes… Or untie the rope and cross to the other side and sleep on the way.

Mark doesn’t tell us that any of the disciples questioned that decision. Maybe none of them would have dared, he being Jesus… But Jesus was a carpenter and a carpenter’s son. There’s a reasonably good chance he has virtually zero experience in boats on the Sea of Galilee, particularly at night, but many of the disciples DO.

Many of them are fishermen. And heading out into the Sea of Galilee at night – that is not a recipe for restfulness. They know exactly what the possibilities are, when the cold air descends and the wind picks up. They know exactly what to be scared of, and why – and while Jesus falls immediately into sleep, they’re on alert. 

And they’re right. Crossing the Sea of Galilee at night, it is NOT a recipe for a good night’s sleep. It’s a recipe for absolute chaos. Cue the storm-at-sea alarm that sounds like an actual storm at sea, including the splintering crashes of little boats getting smashed into matchsticks.

But then it all ends fine. Like it WAS only an alarm – that Jesus, once they’ve finally managed to wake him up by yelling at him, just… turns off. Mark says he “rebuked the wind and said to the sea “Peace, be still!”

And the wind and sea obeyed him. Calmed right down, and all the disciples are so relieved and astonished that they barely even register that Jesus is sort of annoyed with them for being worried in the first place.

Because how were they supposed to know that even the wind and sea would obey him? It is manifestly not ridiculous that the fishermen amongst them would be on high alert from the start regardless, and it’s even MORE not ridiculous that they’d all have been terrified by the storm itself.

And surely Jesus would have understood that – the simple fear at least, if not the heightened alertness. Wouldn’t he?

I think he would. I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.

American New Testament scholar Matthew Skinner has pointed out a pattern in Jesus’ life and what he got up to with the disciples that Mark clearly wanted to highlight in his gospel – with the stories he chose to tell, and strung together – as being really important to Jesus’ message. 

And it’s this: all throughout Mark’s gospel in particular, what we keep seeing over and over and over again is Jesus moving into – and taking his disciples into – what are often called ‘liminal spaces’.

Spaces of transition or in-betweenness. The word liminal comes from the Latin limin, which means threshold. So the idea is that we’re no longer there (behind us), but we’re not quite there (in front of us). We’re just at the threshold, on the verge of something new, but very much not yet. Kind of hovering in the no man’s land borderline between not anymore and not quite.

Jesus seems drawn to those liminal spaces, all throughout the gospels, from the geographic liminal spaces of wilderness and mountains, to the political liminal spaces of borderlines between towns and regions like Tyre and Sidon, to even the social liminal spaces of the homes of tax collectors like Zaccaeus who “aren’t quite our class” or the deathbed of Jairus’ daughter, considered “ritually unclean”. 

He's drawn to those liminal spaces of transition and uncertainty and vaguely sinister riskiness – and he draws the disciples there too. Over and over and over, as they follow him through his ministry. Those are the spaces where he grounds that powerful gospel message of God’s unconditional love. Those are the spaces where he grounds that powerful gospel message of God’s capacity to haul goodness and healing out of what was, to guide us into being better, and to carry us into newness of life.

And you know where it starts? It starts in that boat, pushing out into the Sea of Galilee in the darkness, when Jesus says to the disciples after that long day of teaching “Let us cross over to the other side.”

To the region of the Gerasenes. Not even as far from where they are as it is from here to the airport – but almost certainly entirely unknown to them. Divided from them by this serious body of water it’s possible none of them has fully crossed before – but now to get there, they have to. 

Jesus makes them push out into that liminal space of being between – for the first time of what’s going to many more times of leading them into those liminal spaces of transition between not anymore and not quite yet. 

I think he wants to show them they’re survivable, those liminal spaces. Because he’s going to keep pushing them into them, all through his ministry. Those liminal spaces, they’re going to be the spaces where he grounds his gospel of love and forgiveness and healing, and I think he wants to show the disciples that they’re survivable, right from the start.

So “Let’s cross over to the other side,” he says to them. And they push out the boat, and at least SOME of them know enough about the Sea of Galilee to be on alert. They know exactly what to be scared of – storms that suddenly blow up out of nowhere – and they’re right.

But there’s a new sheriff in town, as it were. Who can rebuke that wind and quiet that storm and say to the sea “Peace, be still” – and make that liminal space of in between with all its vaguely sinister uncertainty not only survivable but now it’s a place of revelation. 

“Who then IS this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

He’s the one who’s going to keep challenging them, challenging us, to tear down artificial borderlines between peoples and people – between neighbour and stranger, between us and them, between tolerated and mattering.

He’s the one who’s with us in the boat between not anymore and not quite yet, and we’re on alert and we’re RIGHT, the alarm’s going off, the storm’s blowing up, the noise is unbelievable –

But he says, “Peace. Be still. Listen. The kindom of God is like this. It’s like a boat crossing the sea and the storms come and the wind and waves roar, but they cannot overturn it.” Amen.