Gone Surfing

Do you ever read the synopsis on the lessons on your Celebrate insert. I don't know how many of you read those? Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't. For example, the one for Mark says, "Jesus' calming of the storm on the sea reveals his power over evil, because the sea represents evil and chaos. The boat on the sea is a symbol of the church, and invites us to trust God amid life's turbulence." Well, okay, I could say, yes, that is an adequate interpretation, but this time after reading all the verses I felt there was another direction to go - one that more fully expresses the reality of who Jesus is and what we are called to do. So, I hope that you will follow along with me. The first thing I want to do is to establish a different meaning for the sea.

When any of us stand at the edge of the ocean, we are facing a powerful source of energy, resources and awesome power. In the grand old summer time, like we should have been experiencing by now, we make a variety of choices about how to enjoy being in such close proximity to virtually another world. As a kid I was fascinated with the lapping waves that rippled onto the shore. I'd build sand castles and fight back the incoming tide. I'd take a skimmer board and throw it smoothly on the thin film of water that covered the sand, jump on the moving target and ride for a few feet before stumbling off as it came to a halt.

This boogie board is a modern adaptation of body surfing. My Dad taught me well how to watch the building mound of water and size up the power of the receding tide as two opposing forces met to form the crest. I knew when to start my strokes as I swam ahead, already moving as I caught the forward momentum of the wave. The ride could be gloriously long, OR, it occasionally folded me up and sent me tumbling along the bottom, scooping up sand into my suit.

When the sixties came, I was a ready candidate for the surfing craze. Beach Boys blaring from my 1962 Austin Healey Sprite, board secured to the roll bar with the top down. I joined all my friends at the end of the beach, where we floated far enough out straddling our boards waiting for even the smallest wave to give us a ride. We watched the movie Endless Summer over and over again, dreaming of our chance to ride the big waves.

Well, before you think I know how to surf, I need to tell you, that pretty early on after I got my board on one of my many wipeouts it hit me square in the chin and sent me to the doctor's for stitches. Then later that summer, we all attended the funeral of one of our friends who stayed out there too long trying to catch the bigger waves that come ahead of an approaching storm. No, I was just one of the bunnies (about sixty pounds lighter, too) that sat out there getting a tan. Oh, I knew the language, I knew the places to go, I knew all the local famous surfers, I had the technical expertise in my head, I understood the physical dynamics of the waves. After all, I had lived at the ocean all my life. I should have been a great surfer. But, I was not able to cross over from being a wanna-be, enduring the pain of wipe-outs and the ensuing embarrassment of mistakes. I was not able to trust what I knew of that ocean or of myself.

But the lure of the ocean was not over for me. A few years later, I decided to explore beneath the surface and took up Scuba diving. Tanks, regulator, mask and snorkel, I explored lakes, Hawaii and the Caymon Islands. Heck, I've sailed on it, fished in it, watched whales go by. I've walked on its frozen surface in the wintry shores of Alaska. For me and many others, the ocean symbolizes the very power of God, the very mystery of heaven itself. It is a place of deepest meditation and healing, and awe and wonder. And to be granted the opportunity to experience it felt like a privilege.

Listen again to God's response to Job when he challenged God because of his miserable lot.

"Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? - when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, 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!'

There is no evil here. But an offspring cared for - brought forth from the womb of God.

Clearly, the sea can have its dangerous face as well when violent storms turn the proud waves into a destructive force. Sailors frequently lose their lives and cargo to its power. It is easy to see how it could be seen as a symbol of the evils of life. But that is simply a way of expressing frustration over something uncontrollable something greater than one's own abilities. A boat adrift on rough seas must rely on the navigating skills learned over a lifetime of observation and experience, ultimately upon the Lord of Life. Try as we might, the ocean is something we can only appreciate and respect, not control.

So, while some ancient writers may have seen the ocean as a symbol of evil, I do not believe that is the most accurate reading of the storm story in Mark. Although it has its own intrinsic value of identifying Jesus' godly power, it also has a strategic place in the overall narrative of discipleship, representing the struggles we face as we change our lives and slowly allow ourselves to trust exclusively on Jesus. It actually falls between the choosing of the 12 apostles and their actual departure into ministry. In Mark 3:14, Jesus appointed some of the many enthusiastic followers to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.

Until the sea journey, Jesus had walked among the people healing the sick. He had taught them many things and shown them through parable and story what the Kingdom of God was like. Twice though (Mark 3:7 and 4:1) he actually drew huge crowds by the sea. So large that he himself had to stand in a boat on the water in order to speak to them. If you think about it, the seaside is not the best place to teach because the sounds of the waves and the breezes tend to drown out a person's voice. If Jesus was to teach, then the side of a mountain would amplify his words. No, I believe symbolically, the people had come to a place of decision. Would they continue to just listen and be amazed or would they appropriate what they had learned into action. Many years before, the Israelites stood afraid before the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army at their back. God made a way for them to cross over to the other side and become God's chosen people. So too do those who follow Jesus need to cross over and be transformed by the power of God.

The Apostles faced the same kind of moment in their lives, seemingly prepared to go with him into a new life. A life empowered to do what Jesus does - heal and teach. Go out two by two into the nearby towns and villages. So, in Mark 4:11 Jesus invites them to go across to the other side. By responding to Jesus' invitation, they were placing themselves in a vessel that had to rely on the very voice of God to bring them safely to the other side. And, if we remember the words in the Psalm,

"Some went down to the sea in ships and plied their trade in deep waters; they beheld the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep then he spoke and a stormy wind arose which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths. They cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them .. He stilled the storm to a whisper.

It was the voice of God that brought about the waves, and the voice of God that stilled them again. To do God's will is not always peaceful. It can be like a roller coaster, up peaks and plunged into valleys. It causes disruption in the status quo of our lives. It changes things from the way we've always done them. If you remember the passage from John 16 on Pentecost Sunday, (verse 8) "The advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. (verse 12) I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth. He will declare to you the things that are to come."

Things will not stay the same as God's will moves forward. AND change always brings a varying degree of anxiety and fear, sometimes even controversy. As the disciples experienced the turmoil of crossing over to the other side, they were fearful. Certainly if we read Paul's second letter to the Corinthians and hear of the hardships that he and his companions experienced, the Apostles had every right to be afraid of what might come in this new life. And, there - there was Jesus, asleep! With a word, he stilled their storm, but not just to a whisper, but it says to a dead calm. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the 12 to hear that silence - just the quiet lapping of the water against the hull, as Jesus just looked at them and asked, do you still have no faith?

As they safely approached shore, they immediately were confronted with a challenge and observed Jesus cast out a legion of demons. He restored life to Jairus' daughter and to a woman who had suffered for years.

THEN they were sent out and their lives were changed forever. When they returned, they could report to Jesus that they too had been able to cast out demons and heal the sick. What a joyful reunion it must have been for them to come home and share their stories, encouraging one another and seeing the satisfaction on Jesus' face as he saw their transformation.

What then are you being called to do? What is God asking of this congregation? What changes are in motion. What lies ahead? How many changes have you already weathered? The rogues gallery of pastors certainly speaks of many over the years. The time that Renata was here was a change. I have also been a chapter in the story of discipleship of this church. Pastor John is your latest change introducing the contemporary service at St. Luke's and the Comfortable worship at Mt. Zion? Have any of those changes moved you to a different place or created anxiety because of deviation from the way you understand things should be. If so, then God is at work in you, moving through this church like the waves of the sea. Trying to pick you up, offering you opportunities to ride those waves. You have spent your whole lives learning and preparing to be sent off in ministry wherever God's will carries you.

I look back and I never had the courage to surf the big waves off the North Shore of Hawaii. In fact, I never had the courage to ride the little ones at Wildwood Crest, NJ either. I even have to take Dramamine to ride on roller coasters. But I did face God's challenge to ride the waves of ministry even this late in life.

Just a couple Sundays ago, we celebrated churchwide the empowerment of the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit. At your baptism you were empowered by that same gift. And, as the Gospel of John prepared us, there are new things that will come for the church as a whole. And there are new things that will come for Feagaville. And for you individually. How well are you grounded in prayer, that you may hear the Holy Spirit speaking? How well are you grounded in Scripture that you may measure the value, purpose and meaning of the changes that will happen? Come stand at the edge of the sea and behold the majesty of God. Are you ready to cross over to the other side and live the life of ministry to which you are called? From the moment God set the moon in its place, God's will has moved across this earth like the movement of the tides. Like the sea, God beckons you hitch a ride despite your fears

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan