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Rev. Ann's Final Sermon

Jesus had taught all day (think Sermon on the Mount). He is tired. He instructs the disciples to take the boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As it is late in the day, these professional fishermen should know it is dangerous to cross at night but they don’t argue.

The water lapping at the hull of the boat along with the rhythm of the oar stroke put Jesus to sleep. As he slept a storm developed, as suddenly as our summer thunder storms with wind and rain. In danger of sinking, the disciples were afraid and yet Jesus slept peacefully.

Water in Hebrew symbolizes life and purification and the danger of chaos. As the Word spoke in creation bringing order to chaos, so here the Word speaks bringing calm.

One time while camping on the Eastern Shore, a friend and I had been out fishing from a canoe. We paddled up river several miles and as evening was near, we turned back toward camp. Midway back a storm came up and the wind was in our faces. No matter how hard we paddled, we were making slow progress. I kept looking at the shore, wondering if we could get to it through the thick lily pads. We were soaking wet when we finally got back to camp. Tired and relieved, we went up to the bath house to change and decided to drive to town for dinner rather than cook in the rain.

That same companion and I on another occasion took a canoe out into a lake crossed under a highway to explore an old mill house. As we approached the mill, we heard rushing water. Up ahead was a waterfall that if we didn’t steer quickly to shore would have taken us over in a tumble. As we got out and explored the old mill, we wondered why we didn’t anticipate a waterfall at a mill: it was obvious in retrospect.  We got back in the canoe and started back to where we began, but the water was higher and the space under the bridge was not very deep. Taking a running paddle like crazy start, we hit the space, ducked low, and skidded to a halt jammed in with cars and trucks passing steadily overhead.  My friend said, I’ll push up, to make the boat sit lower in the water, you move us forward with the paddle. That worked, we advanced a whole three inches. Several hours later, we were clear of the highway, but the light had disappeared and in the dark we had trouble finding our way to shore. We obviously survived and so did the disciples.

His response was interesting and instructive: “peace, be still”. The wind stopped, the waves quieted, and the disciples were filled with awe. Maybe they were as fearful of the one who could calm the storm as of the storm itself. They questioned: who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?

Most of us can think of moments when God did not seem close or responsive to our “needs” or “wants”. It has been helpful to have a spiritual director during the past five years.  Bill helps me see where God is active in my daily life and especially in prayer. He is not a psychological counselor, or a pastoral counselor, nor a confessor. He invites prayer, opening each session with silent centering before our conversation.

It has been my privilege to be at the bedside of the dying, to offer comfort and presence to those who must learn to live in a new way after the death of a loved one. We all grieve in different ways and as the days and months pass after a death, we may find it hard to relate to other members of our family who are grieving differently. Sharing the experience, talking through it, listening to the experience of another is an important step; one that I think invites the divine presence to bring calm to the storm.  

Everyone has stormy experiences – times when God’s presence is hard to recognize. It may feel like absence. The storm may be a loss of a close friend, spouse, child. It may be a broken relationship, abuse, divorce, loss of job, bankruptcy, cancer, heart disease. Any and all of these situations have the potential to drive us to feelings of aloneness, isolation, pain and fear. The fear blinds us to God’s presence. At such times we need those faithful words: Be NOT BE AFRAID. The presence of the holy is not something to fear. God always comes in love.

Change can invoke fear but we also know that God works in mysterious ways.  Don’t fear what you cannot understand. When you are confronted with mystery remember Mary’s annunciation, the disciples at their first resurrection encounter with the Risen Christ for which they had no metaphysical category for understanding his sudden appearance, his risen presence.

Do not be afraid of change in rectors. It is not quite like changing tires.  This community is alive and well. You are in a good place to call a new rector.  You do not need a burst of courage or new resolve. You only need to be aware of the one who speaks “peace be still”: Let that voice bring calm to the storm, let that voice guild and lead you.  The disciples did not find the way to overcome the storm. They called on Jesus and he acted. Put your trust in the one that calms the water.

Remember that crossing the sea meant they were entering Gentile territory. It is in Mark, the first time Jesus has taken the disciples into foreign territory. Often when we experience people very different from us, we are uncomfortable if not frankly fearful.  For Jesus, the deliberate crossing is so that he can demonstrate that his mission is not only to the home group but to strangers, others, even the enemies of the house of Israel. The Gospel Jesus proclaims is good news for all, transcending customs and traditions we use to insulate our tribe. They fear they are perishing.

In the church, our Episcopal Church, in the USA, the membership numbers are declining. Average Sunday Attendance is down more than 10% nationally. BUT NOT HERE! HERE the attendance is up. More than 150 strangers have come into this community, bringing new ideas, new life, new energy, and new names. Their children are often the ones who introduce them to other parents, or people who just taught Children’s Chapel, or did a special project with them in choir or VBS.

Peace, Be Still! When fear overtakes you, see Jesus standing on calm water where he guides us away from the fear and calls us to the calm waters of life. Take the words of Saint Patrick as comfort: Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.   Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of those who love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (James Martin, From Fear to Calm, Christian Century, April 16, 2014)


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