Sermons

Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 20, 2021

Mark 4.35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  Other boats were with him.  A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?’  And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

2 Corinthians 6.1-13

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!  We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute.  We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.  There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.  In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

The gospel story that Sue read has a summer-y feel to it.  The boat setting out across the lake, the sudden storm, the anxiety of the disciples, and Jesus napping, sublimely unaware.  Then his voice, ringing out across the water.  Be still!  The noise abates, the sun begins to sparkle on the lake, the water laps gently against the sides of the boat.  Peace.  And as the adrenalin of their fear dissipates in the cool air, all they can do is shake their heads and ask that central question of the Christian faith – who is this?

We may not describe it in quite the same terms, but many people have had experiences not unlike this one.  Lives do go through times of turmoil.  Sometimes without warning the weather turns stormy.  It could be illness, or relationship troubles, or a problem at work.  You may feel that you are struggling to survive as the waves break over the bow of your life.  But then suddenly in the midst of it, you catch a moment of peace.  ‘This will be alright’ says an inner voice.  ‘You are loved.’  Some people report that they feel the presence of Jesus. Or of something more delicate, something ineffable.  This does happen.  And it is to be celebrated.

But sometimes it doesn’t happen.  The letter that the apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth acknowledges that the life of faith is not always a matter of miracles and extraordinary moments.  He speaks to the early church, but his voice travels out to anyone who has lived through a time of difficulty.  Paul recounts the many hardships he and the people around him have been experiencing.  Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger.  It’s quite a list.  And through it all, he says, they have maintained their good efforts, they have persevered in virtue.  Paul encourages the Corinthians – encourages us – to do the same, to take on the difficulties that life presents with an open heart.  Despite everything, and all appearances to the contrary, this is what he calls the acceptable time, this is the moment when God’s grace surrounds us and saves us.

We have our own list of hardships and calamities right now.  Every single one of us has lived through a year and more of pandemic.  There is a range of individual experiences, but no one is unaffected.  Many have been sick, some have died, some have lost jobs and income and opportunities – loneliness and social isolation and impatience are wearing away at mental health.  And the delta variant is tempering our joy at the vaccine rollout.

Collectively too, we face a litany of reminders and new revelations of the deep divisions in our world.  Juneteenth yesterday – a celebration, but also a reminder of centuries of enslavement and oppression.  Of continuing injustices in voter rights and policing and incarceration.  Last week, a horrible attack on a Muslim family, a reminder of the malignant Islamophobia that lurks in our cities and towns.  Last month, the old graves of abused indigenous children revealed, amid renewed calls to unearth the full truth of that past and its lingering consequences.  The suicide rates among queer youth, among indigenous youth. The endless agony of simple people in Gaza, in Tigray, in Kashechewan.  There is so much to lament.  In a lot of ways, we are living in a bad storm.

And what Jesus says in the storm is not, oh you poor lambs, oh you hopeless cases.  Instead, he is bracing, challenging.  Come on, he says, Have you still no faith? But the faith he is talking about doesn’t require a miracle, or a complicated implausible theology.  The basis of faith, as we read in Paul, is simply an open heart.  A heart open to the reality of the world with its pain and its beauty.  A heart open to the possibility of change and of celebration.

On this day of summer solstice, on Father’s Day, in Pride month, on this Indigenous Day of Prayer, we are invited again to open our hearts.  Reminded to welcome the teachings that come to us from the earth, and from parents, and from our brothers and sisters both here and far away.  Summoned to feel the wind from the four directions, the breezes of new life and of God’s love.  Invited to watch for the spirit of grace dancing toward us over the water.

We open wide our hearts and give God thanks.  Amen.

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