20 June, 2021- Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, Proper 7B
Rowing against the wind…
Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Scene one (Mark 4:35-41): Jesus says to the disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side.” They get in the boat. A storm comes. Jesus is asleep. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” He stills the storm, and says, “why are you afraid?, have you still no faith?”
Scene two: (Mark 6:45-52): Jesus says, “you get in the boat and go by yourselves, ‘to the other side’, I’m gonna go pray.” They go. A wind comes up. They strain against the oars…all night long. He’s watching from the mountain. Early in the morning, he comes strolling up to them, walking on the water. They cry out, terrified…thinking he’s a ghost. He says. “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid,” and gets in the boat and the wind ceases. And, “they were utterly astounded for they did not understand about the loaves.” Which is a weird way to end that story, don’t you think?…but hang on…
Because there’s still scene three: (Mark 811-21): Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees. They want a sign from heaven. He says, “no chance,” and leaves and gets into a boat with the disciples and goes…”to the other side.” No wind this time…no storm…but the disciples are still afraid…why? Because, they have only one loaf of bread. Jesus knows one loaf is plenty, but they’re stressed out, and he says, “Watch out—beware the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” Which goes right over their head and they say, “It’s because we forgot to bring many loaves of bread.” But Jesus says, “Why are you talking about having no bread.” We have one loaf…that’s enough. “Do you not yet understand?”
Three scenes…three sea crossings “to the other side.” And some talk about yeast and bread…what is going on?
It has long been noted, in the words of one scholar, that “the enmity between Jew and gentile, which manifested at every level of politics and culture, was considered [during the time of the New Testament] to be the ‘prototype of all human hostility,’” (Myers, Ched, Binding the Strong Man, p. 230). Jews and gentiles are people who did not…who could not get along. The idea that Jews and gentiles could be integrated into a single, functioning community was inconceivable…We see Paul wrestling with it in every letter he writes. And maybe we can even think of some contemporary examples…Can you think of two groups of people who simply cannot…will not…may not ever…get along? And come together to form a single community? Imagine someone you trust deeply telling you…yes, they can be integrated…I know how to do it, and you’re going to help me.” Now you’re in the boat.
The first voyage “to the other side” (that we heard this morning) is more than just a cool narrative of how awesome Jesus is, it is that, but it’s also part of a much larger story that we are part of. A story of uniting groups that seem impossible to unite.
When this first voyage starts they are on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee. “The other side,” is the gentile side. So the disciples are already in a state of anxiety…and then there’s the storm, and Jesus asleep…but they make it to the other side… Where they are met by…a guy with not just one but a legion (…as in Roman legion) of unclean spirits. Which gets sent into a heard of pigs and drown in the sea. And the guy becomes an evangelist to the gentiles…spreading the good news…and they go back to the Jewish side.
Where there’s a bunch of healings…And he begins to send the disciples out… giving them authority to cast out demons, anoint with oil and cure many who are sick…all among their own people… And they do it…and it works, and it’s great…And they return and “tell him all they had done and taught”…and he says”come away to a desert place and rest.” But a crowd follows…how are we going to feed them all? How much do you have…5 loves and 2 fish…and all 5,000 are fed. And at this point, he makes the disciples get into a boat “and go to the other side” by themselves. Where, presumably they are to continue with…the healing, the return to wholeness…the integration…
But Voyage 2 doesn’t go so well: He’s off praying, they’re in the boat… trying to get across…but there’s a wind…There are forces that oppose the work of integration…there are strong winds of “DON’T CHANGE!” As one scholar puts it: ”all the power of the established “symbolic universe” of segregation oppose this journey.” “And no doubt the real-life social hostility to such a project of integration threatened to “drown “ [Mark’s] community. But Mark insists that Jesus will rescue this project and silence the winds of opposition.” (Ched Myers p. 197). The people on this side…and the people on “the other side” can not get along. Can not be integrated. Everyone, including the disciples it seems believes this. The winds opposing integration are strong. Only Jesus knows it’s possible.
In our own Christian work we are often “straining against an adverse wind.” And very often Jesus lets us struggle…
The second voyage is actually a failure. They don’t make it to the other side, The winds of adversity prevent them from crossing. They land back on the Jewish side. Where there is more healing. And the Pharisees step up their confrontation and demand a sign…but the only sign Jesus offer is, a very earthly vision of “a new order where all can “eat and be satisfied.” (Myers, p. 224) A vision of one loaf, that is enough for all..
And “They were utterly astounded for they did not understand about the loaves.”
So they fail to get to “the other side” by boat, but they do make the trek to gentile territory by foot…Where they are surrounded by a large crowd…How are we going to feed all these people? “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven” (and a few small fish). So just as he fed 5,000 on the Jewish side he now feeds 4,000 on the gentile side. And after another journey and another confrontation with the Pharisees they get back in a boat to go “to the other side.”… Where the conversation about the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod takes place.
The group Mark calls Pharisees is absolutely opposed to integration on the grounds of purity…on the grounds of maintaining proper social boundaries…and not mixing things that they think shouldn’t be mixed.
Another group (who Mark calls Herodians) supports a type of integration that means everyone has to adapt to the dominant culture and submit to the Empire.
The integration that Jesus calls us to…that Jesus knows is possible…and that we are to work for…is neither…it requires neither purity, nor assimilation…that’s why he warns that the “leaven” of either group is toxic to his project of true integration…the one loaf.
The Jewish side…the gentile side…separation or integration…with ”all the power of the established “symbolic universe”’ in opposition…all the real world hostility towards God’s project of wholeness and health and well-being for all…this is what Mark’s community and the communities Paul wrote letters to are constantly dealing with.
Do we know anything at all about this? Is the Gospel relevant to anything at all in our lives? Do we live in a world riven by intransigent, totally incompatible worldviews? We are very much in that boat, aren’t we? We are in that storm? Straining at the oars…straining against winds that blow hard against health and wholeness and enough for all. But hear the Good News of Mark… “Mark insists that Jesus will rescue this project and silence the winds of opposition,” we just have to keep rowing, keep doing the work…and trusting that with God no storm is too great, and one integrated loaf—that all can truly share—is more than enough.