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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


We of Little Faith

Mark 4:35-42

4th Sunday after Pentecost - Year B

June 21, 2015

Jesus calms the storm. With a simple phrase, "Peace, be still," Jesus puts whatever is raging around us to rest. When oceans rise and the thunder roars, we can trust the captain of the boat to not only see us through the squall, but also ensure smooth sailing. That's the point of the story, right? That's why there are songs and paintings and sermons around three simple words: "Peace, be still." Right?

Except the captain is at the back of the boat asleep. Except he accuses the disciples of having little faith after they wake him. They obviously trust in his power enough to go to him when the sea is too much. When the storms of life are raging, we stand by Jesus. Isn't that faith?

So why does Jesus ask, "Have you still no faith?"

Jesus says it's time to go to the other side. The other side is almost always a scary or undesirable place, or at least we think it is. The "other side" of the tracks, the "other side" of the aisle, the "other side" of the sea. There's always a boundary we're taught not to cross. We're taught the boundary is there for a reason: for our protection, for our privilege, for our purity. It's a wall, a fence, a law, an attitude, or a demonic sea.

In Mark, the sea is a metaphor for demonic and chaotic forces that stand against the Kingdom of God that is even now at hand, and it's a boundary, literal and metaphorical, between Jew and Gentile. Though this sea, with devils filled, threatens to undo them, Jesus wants to cross it because the Good News of the Gospel is never for those on just one side of the sea.

In their attempt to cross to the other side to bring hope and healing and good news, the demonic forces within the sea, lying in wait under the boundary like a troll under a bridge, stir the waters into a horrible whirlwind of a storm. It's enough to terrify even the most veteran sailors. It's never easy to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to the other side.

Demons stir when God is on the move. Jesus knows this, but he chooses to sleep, because as he taught in the parable before they set off in their boat, God's power in the Kingdom is at work even while we sleep.

Jesus trusts the disciples to lead him to the other side, through the sea. A chapter earlier, when he commissions the disciples, he gives them the power to cast out demons. They have the power to rebuke the demons that stir up the wind and waves. They just don't have the faith.

My mother taught me how to do laundry. I was with her when she did mine, and she showed me how to sort my clothes and how to use the machine. I'd seen it done several times, and she even walked me through the steps so I could do it myself.

My laundry was piling up.

"Mom, I need my clothes washed."

"Okay, go wash them."

I did the smell test on a few shirts. I thought I could last a bit longer, at least until Saturday when my mom would be home all day. 

"Mom, I have no clean clothes for church tomorrow." That will get her to do my laundry, throw the whole can't-go-to-church-without-clothes bit in. 

"Okay, well the laundry machine is free."

I didn't want to do my laundry. I wanted Mom to do my laundry. Maybe I was scared I'd ruin my clothes. Maybe I didn't trust I really knew what I was doing and would ruin the machine. Maybe I just didn't want to have to do it myself when there was someone else perfectly capable of doing a good job of it.

"But you're my mother. You're supposed to do my laundry for me."

"No, I'm your mother. I'm supposed to teach you how to do your laundry because I won't always be here to do it for you."

The disciples, commissioned by the Son of God to cast out demons, cannot or will not rebuke the wind and the waves of the demonic sea. Did you notice they don't even try? They're too busy calming themselves to calm the storm. They're too busy casting out the water in their own boat to cast out the demons around it. "Jesus is in the back of the boat. He'll save us."

It's not the last time they fail in this way. When Jesus descends from the Mount of Transfiguration, he meets a distraught father whose son is possessed. The commissioned disciples cannot cast out the demon, so Jesus, again, laments their lack of faith and rebukes the demon.

The disciples know Jesus can cast out demons. They have faith in him. They've seen it time and time again. They just don't know they can, or they aren't willing to.

You disciples of little faith, you believe in Jesus enough to leave everything behind and follow him. You trust Jesus with your lives, you trust in his words, and you trust in his power, but you don't trust in his power in you.

Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, which means he believes they have what it takes to be like him. He gives them power to proclaim the good news, to cast out demons, and to heal every kind of disease and sickness (Matthew 10:1). He even tells them that the gates of hell cannot overcome them, but they are still afraid.

In Matthew 14, when Jesus comes to the disciples over the water, striding across the demonic boundary, he tells them do not be afraid. Peter, bless his heart, tries to trust in the power and promises of Christ to him and he walks out onto the water. He trusts that if Jesus says he can do it, then he can do it. He trusts the power and the promise that the gates of hell cannot overcome him, but the demons of the sea begin to stir again. He begins to fear. Fear causes doubts, and he doubts the power in him that is strong enough to stand amidst and atop the forces of evil. So he begins to sink. "Ye of little faith," says Jesus. "Why did you doubt?"

Peter doesn't doubt Jesus' power to stand on the swirling sea. He doubts his own. Ye of little faith.

We of little faith. Why do we doubt? We believe in Jesus enough to worship him. We trust him with our lives, we trust in his words and his power to bring life and to cast out sin and death, but we don't trust in his power in us.

We are given the power to cast out demons, but we stand trembling in their midst instead of rebuking them. We stand on the shore, fearing the storm that's sure to brew if we try to cross to the other side with the love of God because "those" people on "that" side are not worthy or deserving of the love of Christ, or so we're led to believe. Will we weather the storm if we try to cross that boundary? Maybe it's just best to stay on dry land.

We of little faith, why are we so afraid?

Every day, I see another panic-filled article about the decline and death of the church. We're terrified the church isn't going to survive the storm. We look around for Jesus and wonder if the church is going to die while he's napping. Doesn't he know that membership is down? Doesn't he know the budget is broken? Doesn't he know we're taking on water? He knows our prisons are too full and children's stomachs are too empty. He knows we craft laws that protect our right to discriminate while there aren't enough laws to protect abused women and children. He knows exactly the toll of the storm.

I'm not sure we do. We're too busy trying to calm ourselves to calm the wind and the waves that batter people's lives. We don't believe we have the power to stand above the forces of prejudice, hatred, bigotry, violence, abuse, and terror. So we do not stand. We do not rebuke. Instead, we huddle down in the bottom of our boats and watch the squall through stained glass. What else can we do?

"We're just disciples in a boat," we say. We follow. We worship and we sing and pray. That's all. He chose us for this, to be his church: his singing, praying, and preaching church. If a storm comes up that keeps us from going to the other side, well, then it's up to Jesus to calm that storm if that's where he wants us to go."

Is that faith? Jesus doesn't call his disciples to merely follow. He calls them to lead, to heal, to proclaim, and to cast out. He asks them to have faith in the power he promises and the work he commissions them to do for the Kingdom of God, whether that is spreading some seed and letting the power of God go to work while they sleep, or rebuking demons and watching the power of God go to work while he sleeps. Faith is trusting the power of God is always at work, in Christ, in the church, and in you.

Christ calls and commissions the church to be exorcists of the demons and healers of the sicknesses that plague our communities. Is there discrimination? Cast it out. Is there division? Heal it. Are there painful words? Rebuke them. Are there broken hearts? Bind them. Are there storms that would keep us from proclaiming that nothing can separate us from the love of God? Silence them. 

"But isn't that Jesus' job? What's he doing while all this hurt and pain and division is happening? If he wants us to go to the other side, he ought to make sure we can get there! Is he asleep at the right hand of the Father? Jesus should rebuke the demons. He should calm things down. Why is he silent in the midst of this storm? Why won't he do anything?"

There's a comic strip called B.C. that chronicles the humorous everyday lives of two cavemen, because what else would cavemen's lives be if not humorous? A few years ago, there was a strip in which two cavemen are sitting together under the night sky, when one says, "Sometimes I want to ask God why God lets so many bad things happen in the world."

The other asks, "Why don't you?" 

"Because I'm afraid God would ask me the same question."

When the disciples told Jesus the crowd who had been following him was hungry and had nothing to eat Jesus said, "You feed them."

They took what little there was available, five loaves and two fish, and began to pass baskets around to the crowd until everyone had had their fill.

Did the disciples feed that crowd or did Jesus?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Please join me in prayer. Almighty God, you are powerful, and you never sleep nor do you slumber. You are here with us, and you give us power to do great things. Help us to use the power that you give to work with you to bring hope and peace and joy and love to this broken world where demons still run amok. Help us to cast them out and proclaim the kingdom of God that is even now at hand. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.

 

 

 


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