Fourth Weekend After Pentecost (B/RCL): “Be Muzzled!”
June 20-21, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Some of you may have been among the 200,000 people who visited Belmar last weekend for the Seafood Festival, and if so you know how crowded it was! The headline on the front page of Thursday’s Coast Star was “Sea of people causes oceans of weekend trouble in Belmar.” The crush of humanity was so great that between 3 & 7 p.m. on Sunday all entrances to Belmar were closed off. This was to prevent further local chaos.
The news, as always, has been full of examples of chaos near and far. An overpopulated seafood festival is the least of the world’s worries. Our nation grieves over the shooting by a racist gunman of 8 Bible study students and their leader/pastor/state senator Clementa Pinckney at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday evening.
Further away, in Georgia (as in the former USSR, not the Peach Tree State), Mother Nature created chaos. Massive flooding washed out a zoo, resulting in the loss of some of the zookeepers and half the animals. A white tiger was trapped in a warehouse and mauled a man who entered the building…. Photos captured a bear on a second story windowsill, a crocodile prowling around cars on a washed-out road, a hippo nibbling on a tree.
The top headline on the Thursday edition of The New York Times was this: “Nearly 60 Million People, Half of Them Children, Fleeing Chaos, U.N. Says.” Nearly a quarter of those refugees fled their homes in this past year. Nearly a quarter have landed in the world’s poorest countries, least able to support their own citizens no less desperate newcomers. That immense number of 60 million only includes those fleeing war or persecution. It does not include the countless others who flee poverty.
Chaos is a theme in this weekend’s Scripture. To the land-loving, ocean-fearing people of Israel, the sea was a prime example of chaos. The lesson from Job describes God initially taming the water’s chaos in the act of creation, as if it rushed out of a divine amniotic sac:
“…who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb? –
…and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?” (Job 38:8, 10-11)
(Lord of the Rings buffs: doesn’t this sound like Gandalf commanding the Balrog in the depths of Moria: “You shall not pass!!”) The Lord is speaking “out of the whirlwind”; the same word is used in our Gospel for the “windstorm” that blew up on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:37)….
Our assigned psalm for the weekend is part of Psalm 107. Once again we hear of the perils of the sea, and of God’s creative and saving acts. Listen for echoes of Jesus and the disciples’ experience on the sea:
Some went down to the sea in ships,
plying their trade in deep waters…
Then God spoke, and a stormy wind arose,
which tossed high the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens and descended to the depths;
[I nearly get seasick just reading that verse!]
their souls melted away in their peril.
They staggered and reeled like drunkards,
and all their skill was of no avail.
Then in their trouble they cried to the Lord,
and you delivered them from their distress.
You stilled the storm to a whisper
and silenced the waves of the sea. (Psalm 107: 23, 25-29)
In The Message paraphrase of the Gospel, as Jesus snores in the stern and as the wind whips up and waves slosh over the gunwales, the disciples shriek,
“Is it nothing to you that we’re going down??”(Mark 4:38)
Jesus answers by waking up, rebuking the wind and commanding the sea:
“Peace! Be still!”
“Quiet! Settle down!”
Rebuke is what Jesus did to cast out the unclean spirit who showed up in the synagogue in the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:25). “Be silent!” He said, the same word translated, “Be still!’ “Be silent!” in Jesus’ command to the sea. Jesus is exorcizing a demon of storm in this story. He has power over nature as well as over Satan. He had hoped His followers, the disciples had already picked up on this, but they were slow learners, just like us. After He calms the sea, He scolds them:
“Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” (Mark 4:40)
How about this insight into our fear and God’s power to save? As we cower before the whirlwinds and windstorms and near drowning experiences of our lives, “God does not share our panic.”1
Pastor Eusun Kim from St. Andrew Methodist Church in Spring Lake preached at the Manasquan High School Baccalaureate on Thursday evening. One of the questions he asked the graduates was, “What is the opposite of faith?” The answer wasn’t doubt or unbelief. The answer was fear. We are afraid that the chaos of life will overwhelm us like a monster rogue wave. We are afraid that God is unaware or uncaring that we face a trial that seems unbearable or a hurdle that seems unclearable. But God does not share our panic. Jesus asks us:
“Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
If Jesus is in our boat, it will reach shore safely. God is still able to “still storms.” The Holy Spirit is able to muzzle the voice of the Deceiver, the devil, who says that all is lost, or that you aren’t worth saving, or that God isn’t powerful enough to tame chaos.
Those of us blessed with loving, strong, healthy fathers could (or still can) count on them to “tame the chaos,” right? To hoist us up onto their shoulders and protect us from harm, to teach us right from wrong, to live out the virtues they taught, to forgive us when we chose the wrong way, to love us unconditionally and yet to exercise tough love when we needed a firmer hand.
Our sending hymn this Fathers’ Day weekend is “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” It’s known as the Navy Hymn, of course, because of its association with the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. It was FDR’s favorite hymn and was sung at his funeral. It was played as JFK’s casket was carried up the steps of the US Capitol to lie in state. The tune is called Melita, the Latin name for the island of Malta on which St. Paul was shipwrecked, on his way to imprisonment in Rome. Its first verse echoes today’s lesson from Job, about God binding “the restless wave,” and bidding “the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep.”
Our Father in heaven and our Savior sometimes still the storms of life directly, but often use us as agents of grace, as earth angels to do the divine bidding. Our love and care for God’s children of every race, our strong voice advocating for justice that we may have peace, can cast out the chaos created by racism. Our outreach to and advocacy for refugees can resolve the chaos created by war and poverty. Our care of creation can address and reduce the chaos created by the destruction of the environment.
In the 3rd verse of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” we beseech the 3rd person of the Trinity:
O Holy Spirit, who didst brood upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease, and give, for wild confusion, peace:
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee, for those [experiencing chaos of any kind!]
When we are afraid, “muzzle our fears” and grant us faith, we pray, that You can still cast out any demon and still any storm. Amen
1The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7. NY: Abingdon. 1951. p. 710.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham