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Peace Be Still

UMSA Sermon

February 9, 2012
Adam Kelchner and Sarah Duffel
Mark 4:35-41
 

Adam: In 1987, as an infant, my parents handed me over to the Rev. Brant Hayes so that he could baptize me into Christ's universal church before the saints of Antioch United Methodist Church. Antioch UMC is a small, country church in southern Virginia that has seen many changing political and social landscapes during her 160-year history. It is a history that includes several generations of my maternal family. My baptism was a sign of my parents' faith and commitment to nurture me in a home that understood the strength of God's grace.

I grew up in the church, but when I reached those early adolescent years, I fretted about my salvation. I never underwent a crisis conversion. I often struggled to explain how important Christ was in my life. Church was just a part of my family's life. Amidst the anxiety of faith, I offered a good word one Sunday morning as an 11-year-old child who could barely see over the lectern. Yes, it was during this anxiety of faith that I first felt like I was being invited into my life's work—to pastor. From my present vantage point, I see in my adolescent and teenage years an invitation from Jesus Christ to cross over from a place of egocentric self-boasting to a place of self-giving. Christ issued an invitation to cross over, to leave behind a place concerned with the glory of material success and to enter a place where compassion, love, justice, and mercy reign supreme. That coaxing invitation is always before us.

As individuals, particularly individuals within a global church, we are constantly hearing invitations to cross over and cross through. I'm not just speaking about crossing over geographic boundaries or district and conference lines when the appointment season arrives. I'm speaking about crossing over and through deep-rooted prejudice and historical divisions in this country and Christ's church over the amount of money we make, where we live, the pigmentation of our skin, and the way in which we worship God Almighty. Let us not be deceived, crossing over these sorts of boundaries is not easy in public life, nor is the crossing over into new territory easy for the church.

So when we hear Jesus' invitation to the disciples to cross over to the other side by boat, we already anticipate the perilous storm, a sign of the impending chaos that nearly sinks the disciples' boat. While on the water, a great windstorm arose, the kind of storm that makes fishermen and sailors weak in the knees and sick to the stomach. This isn't a spring shower but a squall, filling the disciples' boat with water. The boat is swamped; the wind relentlessly throws waves into the boat; the disciples are in peril; and Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat.

It does not take much imagination or the work of recollection to remember when windstorms came up quickly engulfing our communities, threatening destruction to everything around. Just last spring, the very real and dangerous winds of tornadoes violently ripped across Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri, putting several communities in utter peril. But for many, it's not the real threat of nature's fury which prompts so much fear but the emotional and spiritual duress of life's windstorms. Perhaps the windstorms of marital infidelity and divorce presently threaten the livelihood of couples in our faith communities. For others the unrelenting waves of unemployment and economic anxiety exacerbate the fear of perishing.

And for the church, the United Methodist Church, we are on the edge of a great windstorm—if we are not already experiencing the threat of battering waves, structural shifts and ideological divisions. The clouds of fear and resignation are stirring. But brothers and sisters, this is not the first great storm that this church has weathered by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. For it has been the grace and direction of Jesus Christ that soothes the real fear of the church and her people that it is lost, without purpose and dying.

Imagine with me the ideological fracture of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844 over slavery. But the church, however badly wounded from the scars of slavery, sought to reconcile its Northern and Southern branches to each other. With the ideological fracture of slavery a fading memory, the Methodist Episcopal Church's internal restoration culminated in 1939 (but only through means of racial compromise and segregation). Then in 1968 this Methodist Church took up union with the Evangelical United Brethren. We cannot look upon those watershed events with sentimentality and idealize the workings of those General Conferences. Time and time again, this church has committed itself to Jesus' invitation to cross through ideological windstorms into unforeseen possibility. The church's commitment in faith to seek Christ even under duress has brought forth life on the not so distant shore.

We are gazing at the distant shoreline and yes, in due time, as a global church, we will find ourselves facing strong winds and choppy water. And when that time comes, may you, as members of Christ's body, recall the rich and resilient Wesleyan tradition of Antioch Methodist Church that weathered the ideological evils of slavery, the material destruction of America's Civil War, multiple ecclesial windstorms of the 20th century, and an ever-changing social landscape.

In our collective memory and vision for the near future, we must remember that we are all children of the God who has not abandoned us for the peril of the windstorm. If ever there were a time for us to commit ourselves to prayer and petition to God Almighty to sustain us and grant us peace in the storm, it is now.

Sarah: So here we stand—on the deck of a ship that is rocking with the pressure from the waves of current events. Looking around all that can be seen is water, not pleasant, happy water but ferocious waves and darkness. The disciples are trained fishermen; they have been through storms at sea before. For this storm to have scared them, it must have been terrifying. Just imagine the scene: a boat, bobbing like a toy just above the surface in the thrashing of a storm. Someone calls from one side: "All hands on deck." But all hands weren't on deck. Jesus was not there, his hands were not there at their sides. Come on Jesus, grab a bucket. "Do you not care that we are perishing?"

Sometimes it feels as if everyone's hands are busy, and it's just not enough. Every hand is working, but the tasks are overwhelming. Each hit, like waves into the boat, add more to your troubles. You are suddenly doing two, even three, people's jobs in the time of one; you are balancing the life of being a disciple of Christ called into ministry and needing to provide and be present with the crisis. Sound familiar? How often do we feel this way in the midst of our lives? We cry, "Do you not care that we are perishing?"

The disciples want his help; they want him to grab a bucket, but the question they ask cuts down to something deeper than the moment. "Do you not care about me?" "Do you not care about us?" "Do you not care about this church?" "Do you not care about the United Methodist Church?" "Do you not care that we are perishing?"

The miracle we seek is not usually the miracle we find. How often, when we face a crisis, do we want God to answer us in just the way we know to be right? We ask God to solve a problem by... more money, more people, less conflicts. Come on Jesus, grab a bucket. We need you to throw the water back into the sea. We need you to throw our troubles back from where they came . From our perspective, the only way to win this fight is to do more and to do it better. We need more buckets, bigger buckets and more people to use those buckets. That will solve our problem, except our real problem is that the waves will keep coming: the financial projections, the emptying pews, the chaos of unknown and uncertainty, the uncertainty of the appointment system, the fears of itineration, fears of losing the allusion of control. As people in ministry, we have a lot of which to be afraid.

But Jesus called us. Jesus calls us into ministry, into life. God gave us life and wants us to live it abundantly. She continues to call us, to get into the boat and into ministry. It was she who sent you into the work of transforming lives for the sake of the good news.

So it is in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the fear and darkness, in the midst of all of those things that keep us from resting as Jesus was, that Jesus says, "Peace, be still." And he says this not to the disciples but to the source, to the wind and the waves themselves. Jesus speaks to the root of our situation. He speaks to our fears of the future, the unknowns and the to-do lists that carry us there—he says, "Peace, be still." To the tests of our faith—peace be still. To the struggles of families, addictions and illnesses—peace, be still. To the pervasive evils of sexism, racism and classism—peace, be still. Jesus speaks to the trouble in our lives, to the doubts and the fears and our trepidation of the future. To all those troubles that crash against us, he says, "Peace, be still."

But just as he is speaking to the trouble, he is also speaking to us. To the core of our beings, "Peace, be still." He doesn't fight water with water, Jesus never picks up the bucket that we want him to lift; he doesn't toss any water back to the storm. Instead, Jesus answers in an unexpected way. We shouldn't be surprised. Jesus lives his advice, often retreating amidst the storms of life in ministry to find a quiet place to be in prayer. After Jesus received his call into ministry, he retreated into prayer; after healing many, he retreated into prayer; after feeding many, he retreated into prayer. It is a pattern and a rhythm in life. It is deep and soulful.

To seek Jesus in the difficult process of trying to cross over to the other side, we have to know which direction to go, and we won't know unless we seek the peace of prayer. Even after the waves of the water have passed, the waves of the disciples' questions keep coming. So will ours. The waves will keep coming. So to you, I pray that you may heed Jesus' command, "Peace, be still." Amen.