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June 24, 2018

“Bank On It”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

2 Corinthians 6.1-13

Mark 4.35-41

June 24, 2018

I don’t know about you but there are times that I look at the world and wonder when the storm is going to pass. The news is filled with threats of war, critical language, violence, starving children, kids separated from their families, and more. When will it pass? There sometimes seems to be this cloud hanging over the world. Recently I looked at Rob and asked, “Has the world always been this bad?” When I said that, I thought of the many other times I’ve said that to him – after the shooting in Parkland, the shooting in Newton, and other horrific incidents.

Our world is anxiety driven. Stores overwhelm us – they are set up to bombard our senses. The news overwhelms us. Our senses are constantly inundated, and most likely, exhausted. Mix that with so many uncertainties and it is no wonder that so many people act out of fear and anxiety.

The disciples in the Gospel reading are overwhelmed and anxious. They have been traveling with Jesus, so they are probably a bit tired. After being around large crowds, the introverts most likely are overwhelmed. Jesus tells the group to go on the boat, and they do. The storm begins and they start to panic.

Now, on the one hand, coming at this passage from our context and time, we might wonder why they are so upset. These disciples weren’t dealing with the same issues we battle everyday – pollution wasn’t bad, violence wasn’t as big of an issue – what burdens were they carrying? Besides – they were fishers! Surely they knew how to handle a little storm!

On the other hand, we don’t know all the problems they were facing. Plus, their panicking might actually be a testimony to how bad the storm really was. If these professional fishers were freaking out over a storm and they had faced many storms in their professional careers, then this storm truly was one for the record books.

The disciples are panicked and ask Jesus: “Don’t you care? We’re dying here and you’re taking a little siesta!” They are assuming that he doesn’t care. Yet, we know he does care. He responds to them: “Why are you afraid?” Take note that he does not tell them “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”[1] This is an important distinction. If we go back to those anxieties, we know that there is plenty to fear in the world – some legitimate things to fear. Jesus is not shaming them for making up ridiculous fears, but calming them because they do not go the world alone.

One of the favorite children’s books in my house is a series about an animal called “Scaredy Squirrel.” To summarize, this squirrel has some anxiety and fear issues, and usually responds out of those emotions. His books are all “safety guides” that express how to stay safe in the world. A prime example is how Scaredy responds to an emergency situation. One book says: “In case of emergency: Step one: Panic. Step two: Run.” Eventually, something scary inevitably happens and he shouts: “This was not part of the plan!” because this Type A squirrel has exhausted every scenario except the one that happens, and then he plays dead until he deems the situation safe. This is how so many people respond to fear. This is how the disciples respond. Step one: Panic.

Jesus is our reminder that step one does not need to be “panic.” Step one is to be still. Be calm. Take some deep breaths. We need to do this. Whenever someone says something jarring, we need to be still. When someone posts a comment that upsets us, we need to be still. Before hitting that send button on an email when we are mad – we need to be still.

This story is told between two shores: one side has a group of Gentiles and the other Jews. Jesus calls the disciples to leave their places of comfort and go to a place unlike their own.[2] They must be brave – perhaps part of the symbol of the storm. They will encounter many storms in their ministries and they will need to be calm in the midst of those storms. Sometimes a storm comes out of nowhere and we must be prepared – bring an umbrella! Even when we don’t bring an umbrella, one must go with plan b, which is to get wet. We have to be flexible in ministry – something churches don’t always do well.[3] Scaredy Squirrel reminds us of that – his plans always end up with him playing dead. Instead, he could just try to go with the flow and adapt along the way.

The Corinthians are going through their own trials in the epistle we read for today. Paul is writing to them because they have had disagreements among them. Paul, as usual, lays it out straight for them and tells them to shape up. In previous passages he has called them “ambassadors for Christ,” and is challenging them to act like they are representing Christ rather than focusing on these petty arguments.

He ends by telling them to “open wide your hearts.” This reminds me of Henri Nouwen’s quote: “Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise whether it comes to us as sorrow or joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”[4] When we open our hearts we will receive a plethora of emotions and feelings. Sometimes that is joy, and sometimes it is sorrow. Many never open their hearts because they want to avoid sorrow, but I’m not sure sorrow can be avoided. When we approach the world with open hearts, ready to take the good and the bad, we are prepared. Perhaps we are not prepared like a Scout or Scaredy Squirrel, but we tell ourselves that we will accept what happens in the day, and go from there.

In our world, we must open wide our hearts, because so many are experiencing sorrow and need someone to be with them. When we open our hearts we make ourselves vulnerable, but we also bring others close who are struggling. A recent Presbyterian Outlook article talked about the struggles within our society and how to handle the anxiety they produce. We can freeze like Scraredy Squirrel, or we can act. Jill Duffield, the Editor of The Outlook wrote: “I refuse to live like a character in a dystopian novel.” In her article she describes a scene in a locker room where she overheard two people laughing over the tragic death of someone, questioning if they were left anything in the will. She was appalled by how common these sorts of backhanded conversations take place in our world. Maybe you’ve heard things in the news or in public and you’ve wondered, “Has the world always been this way?” Or perhaps even, “How can we change our world?”

We must open wide our hearts. Many times those who are making the comments, who are creating the anxiety, are anxious themselves. They have something to fear and they mask it through laughter, cruel comments, and crude actions. Yet, we have an opportunity to tell a different story. We don’t have to live in this “dystopian novel,” as Duffield puts it. We can choose to live in the realm of God, where we will still experience pain and sorrow, but we are surrounded by community and Christ, who strengthens us. We can offer hope in a world that seems hopeless.

Friends, the question isn’t whether the storm will hit, the question is when. The next is a question of how you will respond. Be still. Be calm. Take some deep breaths. Trust in Christ, and open wide your hearts. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Michael L. Lindvall, “Mark 4.35-41” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 166.

[2] Willie Dwayne Francois, III, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in Christian Century, Vol. 135, Issue 12, p. 20.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Ibid., 20.