When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, [Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 4th Sunday After Pentecost (June 21, 2015) on Mark 4:35-41. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Jesus is always moving, isn't he?
One thing we can say about Mark is that his Jesus never stops going. Jesus arrives somewhere, heals someone, drops a few parables and then moves on. And that's how today’s gospel starts. Jesus is moving again. He’s been hanging around the Sea of Galilee, around the towns and the villages he grew up in. He's preaching and teaching in the places that knew him, his family, and knew what he was supposed to be. But the time to only be hanging on the shore he knew - has grown short. He's going to move again. He tells his disciples to get in the boat because they're heading to the other side.
So what's on the otherside?
I've been thinking about this question a lot - ever since I woke up on Thursday to find my news feeds covered in what happened in Charleston, South Carolina. 12 African-Americans, gathered together for their usual Wednesday night bible study - we’re surprised to be joined by a young white man. They welcomed him in, engaging with him in study and in prayer, not realizing they were welcoming evil into their midst. Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, The Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza (Ta - wand - za) Sanders, The Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., The Reverend Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson - they didn’t know that they were targeted, that a racially motivated terrorist attack was about to take place, and they wouldn’t be going home to their loved ones that night. And now, a few days later and a thousand miles north - my thoughts and the words don’t come easily. It’s hard to know exactly what to say. They were - they still are - connected to us. And not just because we’re have the share the same faith - not only because we’re members of the body of Christ in the world. There’s more than just that. Those gathered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were gathered in prayer, digging into the parable of the sower - Mark 4:16-20 - words that we just heard two weeks ago. And two of their pastors were graduates of a Lutheran seminary, with friends and colleagues throughout our denomination, the ELCA. And their killer, that young white man, was a member of an ELCA congregation in Colombia, South Carolina. They were all gathered together, wrapping up their study of God’s word when terror struck - and 9 were killed because they were black.
The storm burst in on them.
And even though their killer was caught, arrested, and arraigned, that doesn’t mean the storm has stopped. The pain is still here. The questions still remain. The fear, anger, and anguish are all around us. And in the middle of this, we wonder - like those disciples on the boats in the raging Sea of Galilee - we wonder why Jesus is there, on a cushion, asleep. We wonder what he’s doing, why his presence feels empty, silent, or far away. We wonder if Jesus cares that we’re perishing - that African Americans are dying in the middle of our storm - in the middle of the legacy of slavery and racism. We wonder where Jesus is - and why, even when gathered around his words - these 9 weren’t safe.
So, just what, is on the otherside?
There’s an invitation in that question. An invitation that, at first, might be hard to see. If you’re like me, when the narrative of the story says that we’re going some place, I like to turn the page to see where we end up. I look for the journey, for the destination, first and foremost. And so, when we turn the page, we end up at the start of Chapter 5. We find Jesus and his disciples on the otherside - in an unfamiliar place - the country of the Gerasenes. Now, this is a country of gentiles - a country of others - of people Jesus really shouldn’t be talking to. And as they get off the boat, a man, isolated and described as demon-filled, meets them. The demons - this Legion causing pain, suffering, and violence - are casted out, sent into a bunch of pigs, and drowned in the sea. And the one who is saved - a gentile - an outsider - is sent by Jesus to go to his home and share all that God has done for him.
Jesus crosses the sea and gets to his otherside; a place filled with people who don’t look like him, who don’t talk like him, and who don’t believe like him either. But he doesn’t let the divide that we create - Jew and Gentile, Black and White, keep anyone from the love that God has for them. God’s wish - God’s desire - is that all feel Christ’s presence - Christ’s hope - in their lives. God’s love can’t be monopolized; it’s to be given out, freely, widely, and to everyone.
And this love is more than just a word; it’s Jesus heading straight into the storm. It’s Jesus not being afraid of the storms that come unexpectedly or the storms that we, as sinners and as human beings, have created or perpetuate silently and unconsciously. The chains of racism are still hanging around. The cultural narrative of who is the default American - of what they look like and sound like if we closed our eyes and imagine the default John Doe - that does not reflect the largeness and vision that God has for all of us. Our otherside can’t just accept these kinds of attacks as the new normal. We can’t pretend that the storm is the calm. We can’t be afraid to stand up, look around for Christ, and shout into the wind and waves a cry to God that asks “do you not care that your people are perishing?” We can’t ignore that this body of Christ has been battered and unequal for too long. And we must look to Christ - look to Jesus in the boat - in the middle of the storm - and see what he does. See Jesus turn into the storm, face it when his disciple cry out when their fear is strongest - and he shouts, simply, “Peace! Be Still!” And it was. Language ends the wind. Words stop the waves. And, after, only calm, safety, and comfort remain. The otherside of the storm does exist. Peace, love, and a thriving life for all is possible. The invitation is to look to Christ - to see Jesus fully - and to see in Christ our savior and our calling. That’s why Martin Luther said, so long ago, that we’re to be that Christ to our neighbors. We’re to face that storm and shout “Peace!” We’re called to change - to more fully reflect that God’s love in all that we do and say. We’re called to stand up to the storm - to face into it - to listen to the stories the African American community shares and to let them show what “peace” means and just how we might get there together. Because the love that God gives us isn’t to try and get others to be more like us; but to transform us so that we can be more like Jesus.
The disciples, on their way to the otherside, were caught by the storm. They were caught by the violence, by something they didn’t create but that was just there. So they cried out. They cried out to the God they knew, to the God who loved them, to the God who sent the Son to them. As they traveled to the otherside, they cried out - and so must we - because even when evil comes, even when evil lingers, even when it feels like God is gone - Emanuel comes. Jesus - God-with-us - is here. Christ stares into the storm and invites us as the body of Christ in the world to join him as he shouts “Peace!” And to live into that peace in all that we do.
We’re on the otherside of the disciples’ storm. We’re on the otherside of the Cross. We’re on the otherside of the attack on Emanuel AME church. So what is this otherside going to look like?
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