June 23, 2024 - Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

"Floating on Chaos"

Rev. Gary Percesepe

Mark 4: 35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side. ~ Mark 4:35

One winter I was flying home from a philosophy conference when I fell into a deep sleep and dreamed. I don’t remember what city the conference was in, or the paper I’d presented there but I do remember the dream: a disembodied voice solemnly intoned: Practice Losing Everything. I woke with a start and rubbed my eyes. I was exhausted, the hour was late, we were circling the airport, when the voice spoke these words like the oracle at Delphi: clear, unmistakable, inscrutable. Practice Losing Everything.

A week later I was summoned to the office of the Academic Vice President of the conservative religious college where I taught and informed I was being fired for publishing a feminist book that included the writings of LGBTQ+ writers.

I was forty. My two children were fourteen and seventeen. I’d taught at the college for twelve years. I’d been married for nineteen. Within one week my wife would lose her position as a middle school music teacher due to budget cuts. Our combined income would be slashed to zero. We’d be forced to sell a beloved home. The marriage wouldn’t survive either.

The AVP informed me that the publication of this book violated the terms of my contract with the college because the book contained essays that espoused positions contrary to the college’s understanding of "biblical Christianity"—that is, the book contained articles written by gays and lesbians.

The college officials explained that they hadn’t read my book. They didn’t need to. "You don’t need to lift the lid off the sewer to know that it stinks down there.” They continued in this general vein, but I’d stopped listening. It occurred to me that on that airplane flight I hadn’t ridden the currents of the jet stream, I’d been floating on chaos.

This Sunday we don’t have a story from Jesus, we have a story about Jesus. The shadows are lengthening, and it is growing dark. Jesus comes to his disciples with a strange invitation: “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.”

Jesus’s disciples begin their crossing in the half-light of dusk, that time of day when sharp edges begin to blur, and clear distinctions are hard to make. It is a time of day when light and darkness are not so neatly separated, not unlike the time of chaos before God began to create. A wind begins to blow across the waters of the Galilean Sea, a great windstorm, not the gentle breath of God’s brooding spirit. Waves beat against the boat, swamping it. Jesus is asleep on a pillow.

Who sleeps through a storm? Ask any experienced sailor in an open boat. A boat captain was once asked what he thought of this story. He said: It makes no sense. It’s only an infant or an idiot who could sleep at time like that. Sailors have responsibilities.

The disciples ask: don’t you care that we are dying? A rude question, but experienced sailors who know they’re dying are granted the right to be rude. Jesus wakes. He speaks a word and silences the wind and water. Then he asks why they are afraid. Have they no faith? Only then do the disciples understand what true fear is: tremulous with awe, more than during the storm itself, they ask: Who is this person? And who are we to be following him?

That day in the AVP’s office I began to understand that when you take a stand for justice in solidarity with those in this world who are catching hell, you can expect to catch the hell that was aimed at them. What made me think I was exempt from suffering? What pitiably small conception of justice made me believe I should be spared from what my friends and neighbors experienced, in their case not for something they did, but merely for who they were?

Who is this, the disciples ask, who takes his closest friends and puts them in mortal danger? Who is fast asleep when we are battling the waves? What kind of teacher treats his students this way?

I thought back to my dream on the airplane and understood that Jesus cares a great deal but not always in the ways we expect and want him to care. With “Beginner Mind” we believe Jesus is the solution to all our problems but in time discover a Jesus who asks us to cross over to the other side, a Jesus who leads us into danger and tosses us into the middle of problems we never would’ve had if we had not signed up with Jesus in the first place. Similarly, we think we know all about Ke Akua until the Holy One speaks in parables, hurling more difficult questions at us than cheap answers.

When Jesus sees the terror of his disciples, he marvels that they don’t have enough faith. What is faith?

Well, consider this: maybe faith is the determination to stick with Jesus even when he has the audacity to say to you, Practice losing everything. Maybe what you’re really losing is a faith that wasn’t worth a tinker’s dam in a storm. Maybe shallow faith is a faith well lost. Amene.

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