Pentecost 4B, 2012
Mark 4: 35-41
A Liturgy is also available
FEAR, BUT OF WHAT? DEATH OR LIVING?
Fear is a very powerful thing in our lives.
It prompts us to seek protection in times of very real danger.
It motivates us into needed changes and surprising adventures.
It serves as a constant reminder that we are fragile, limited, human.
On the other side of these impulses, we know fear also
prompts us to lock the doors of our lives
from the mystery and wonder of the unknown
and run into places of isolated hiding.
Very few emotions are stronger than fear.
This morning’s gospel story by the one we call Mark, is about fear.
But fear of what?
When Mark retold the story of ‘the stilling of the storm’
it is very likely his small community was either facing or recovering from,
persecution in every direction.
And in the face of this persecution or threats it seems their fear
was directed at the silence of God.
Or God’s felt absence (Webb 2007).
So it is possible, their fears, their concerns, were expressed
in these felt needs or similar words:
Is God indifferent to our suffering and persecution?
For our tradition goes on to tell us, Mark told them this story.
But I wonder if this story was heard? Really heard, that is?
It can’t be traced back to an event in the life of Jesus...
All reputable scholars agree with that.
There are also strong hints this story has been influenced
by the Hebrew story of Jonah.
Or perhaps told as a counter story to the fame of Apollonius of Tyana,
a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth
“who was regarded as the master of storms, of fire, and of perils of all kinds” (Funk 1998: 77).
And according to one myth which was widespread at the time,
the original act of creation involved God in a desperate,
but finally victorious, contest with the forces of chaos and evil,
which were identified with the waters of the sea.
As a consequence, Mark and other storytellers of the day
saw that the ability to control the sea and subdue storms
as characteristic of having ‘divine power’ (Nineham 1963: 146).
But staying within this story, I wonder if the telling of it
worked as an answer to the community’s fears.
My suspicion is: it did not.
So back to my original question: Fear of what.
When I was again feeling my way around the story for this sermon
I remember receiving some advice to consider an old Buddhist saying.
To let the saying stand parallel to the story.
And that saying goes something like this:
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
Still not convinced this saying by it’s self was going to be of any help,
I finally sought the wisdom of biblical scholar Walter Wink
who had also commented on this Buddhist saying.
And he wrote this:
“We fall in love with our mentors or set them on pedestals, refusing to see their flaws and regarding them as bigger than life. We project what we long for, into them” (Wink/LookSmart web site).
But later on Wink is a bit more forthcoming:
“A storm threatens to engulf them. Jesus is asleep in the stern. They might have reproached him with, Don't just lie there - bail! Instead they attack him personally: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ They personalize the storm, almost as if he has sent it against them spitefully. They address him not as another available hand in a crisis but as their teacher. They project on(to) him concern for their well-being and survival, and are thus emptied of the inner resources to deal with the storm themselves - these weathered seamen!” (Wink/LookSmart web site).
Now, I find Wink’s comments helpful in answering my original question: Fear of what.
These experienced fisher folk weren’t just surprised by, or afraid of, the storm.
Been there. Done that.
The Sea of Galilee was notorious for storms.
Every day they ventured out, was to engage in some risky business.
Neither were they suddenly regretting the fact they hadn’t clicked
onto the Weather Company web site for the latest advice,
before they set out.
Yet, here they are, all “at sea on water”! (Carroll 2007: 46).
They are afraid of themselves.
They had lost their courage.
They had developed a dependency on Jesus.
Again Walter Wink is helpful, I reckon, with this comment:
“They awoke (Jesus) with reproaches, not the cry of believers for help. They also lacked faith in themselves. You deal with the storm. You are the seamen here. You had the resources, and you failed to call upon them. Exercise your own faith!” (Wink/LookSmart web site).
Now that is interesting…
Confront your fears.
Forget your dependency.
You have the resources.
Exercise your own faith!
While these fisher folk were probably afraid of death in this moment,
Jesus’ challenging of them in this story by Mark
shows they (and by implication, Mark’s community) were also terrified of life!
“...they had given up their courage by entering into dependency on Jesus. And so they experienced the storm not as challenge, but as evil threat... Where had their courage fled...?” (Wink/LookSmart web site).
They had not yet seen or heard the Gospel of Thomas (which didn’t make it into the Canon) says:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you” (GTh 70. Quoted in Webb 2007: 133).
Could that be the broad answer to my question: Fear of what?
About four years ago my friend and ministry colleague in
Melbourne, Dr Francis Macnab,
unleased a storm of protest when he suggested the church should issue ten New Commandments.
Ten New Commandments or guidelines which assert a new
that is meaningful for the way we will need to live, now.
Let me briefly introduce them.
And as he did, I invite you to mentally give them a tick or not.
Believe in a Good Presence in your life. Call that Good Presence: God, G-D, and follow that Good presence so that you live life fully: tolerantly, collaboratively, generously and with dignity.
• Would you give that a tick?
Believe in a God-Presence in your life that will lift you constantly to live harmoniously in yourself and with others, always searching for your best health and happiness.
• Would you give that a tick?
Take care of your home, your environments, your Planet and its vital resources for the life and health of people in all the world.
• Would you give that a tick?
Be kind and caring of the animals, the birds, and the creatures of land and the rivers and the seas.
Help people develop their potential and become as fully functioning human beings as is possible from birth, through traumas and triumph to the end of their days.
Be magnanimous and excessive in your support of good causes, and use your affluence and material goods and scientific skills in altruistic concern for the future of the world.
• Would you give any of them a tick?
Study ways to encourage and sustain the dignity, hope and integrity of all human beings and study ways to help all human beings embrace their dignity, hope, and integrity.
Be alive to new possibilities, new ways, and to the unfolding mysteries and wonders of life and the world.
We often focus our lives on many things and pursuits that promise our fulfilment. Study the deeper things of the Spirit, and the things of ultimate concern for all human beings. Be part of an evolving life-enhancing Faith that will also bring a new resilience to the future.
• Any ticks there?
Take time to worship the great Source of all the positive transforming energies of life, and search to be at one with ‘the spirit of the good, the tender and the beautiful.’
Ten Commandments, suggests Francis Macnab, are:
“positive, plausible and powerful. If you embrace them, really put them into practice, they will change your life. And they will change the world” (FMacnab. St Michael’s UC web site, 2009).
Especially, I reckon, on those journeys which take us through fearful ‘storms’.
Carroll, J. 2007. The Existential Jesus. VIC: Carlton North. Scribe Publications.
Funk, R. W. (ed) 1998. The Acts of Jesus. The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. NY: New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Nineham, D. E. 1963. Saint Mark. The Pelican New Testament commentaries. GtB: Hammondsworth. Pelican Book.
Webb, V. 2007. Like Catching Water in a Net. Human attempts to describe the divine. NY: New York. Continuum International Publishing.