(Mark 4:35-41, Mark 5:1-20)
Jesus says to those who follow him, “Come, let us go across to the other side.” Let us go across the sea, between the deeps and the sky, and get to the other side. Let us move forward on this journey together, and get to the place where we hope to go, to the other side.
So his followers go onto the boat with him and sail out.
It seems to be going well … until dark clouds appear on the horizon.
“I hope it doesn’t come here,” some in the boat say. Others say, “No, don’t worry, it won’t come here. The storms of the past are over.”
But the wind picks up, and the sky gets bruised and green. The clouds march closer, strong and dense like fists, booming with thunder. Closer, the rain pouring down a wall of iron nails that cuts across the water. The waves swell, the boat heaves, and the people brace themselves.
It hits hard. With the power they feared.
The rain of hate cuts cold and pushes heavy, pushes their shoulders and presses their breath.
The winds of anger tear across the sails.
The waves of fear beat and pitch the hull and pour into the precious hold of the little boat.
“We’ll get pulled into the ocean! We’ll sink into the deeps! The little lights of our lives, the lights of our loves, the songs of our harmony, it’s all getting snuffed under the forces of Chaos.”
“Where’s Jesus? We need Jesus!”
“He’s asleep? Fast asleep! In all the rain and the wind and the waves, in all the hate and anger and fear … it’s all going to hell and he’s asleep!”
“Wake up Jesus! Don’t you care about us? We’re your followers, we’re trying to go with you together out here in this little boat afloat between the deeps and the sky, between chaos and clarity, between the primal and the celestial, between the demons and the angels of our nature. And we’re trying to get to the other side, we’re trying to get to the distant shore, to the object of our hopes, the object of our dreams, the land where we can live together in a good Way, in the Way you, Jesus, are teaching us. But Jesus, we’re out here sinking! There’s a storm of hate and anger and greed and fear, and it’s pressing us down and tearing our sails and pitching us into chaos. How can you be asleep?”
Jesus opens his eyes. He stands.
His voice rings out into the wind, clear and strong:
“Peace! Be still.”
The winds drop. The rains cease. The waves fall away. And a great calm stretches out across the water.
“Why were you afraid?” Jesus asks. “With everything I’ve helped you through, don’t you yet have trust?”
And the followers are filled with awe … awe, as they float, in the calm little boat, between the deeps and the sky.
Now, with this peace, with this balance, what happens once they arrive at the other shore and step out? Immediately, there is work to do. You here what I’m saying right now? There’s work to do. What kind of work? Confronting demons, the demons of our nature.
Jesus steps out of the boat and immediately meets a man in the throes of violence. He is possessed. The storm rages within him. The winds of hate, the rains of anger, the waves of fear, all storm within him.
The people can’t contain him, he breaks the chains they try to put on him. Part of why they can’t contain him is that this demon, as the story goes on to say, is not just an individual psychological problem, it’s collective, it’s a collective demon – it’s called Legion, it turns out. This refers to the Roman Legions, who occupied Galilee and Judea and Gerasa, and who were famous for their brutality. That’s the name of this demon. So this is about being possessed by collective violence and collective trauma.
This is about slavery and lynching and – to this day – arson against Black churches and – to this day – the KKK (who’s having a field day, these days, by the way).
The people try to bind these forces back but they break out again. Bind back, break out, bind back, break out.
And the question is, Do they really want to contain it?
After Jesus heals this man possessed by Legion, the people are angry at Jesus, and drive him away. They’re not happy, they’re not thankful. They’re angry. Somehow, they wanted this man to stay possessed by violence, thrashing out and spitting venom. Now, to their credit, they didn’t follow him as their savior. But still they weren’t ready to let go of the drama of all this lashing out and storming around and spitting venom. And so they were upset with Jesus for freeing them of this storm.
Now, that’s pretty telling. That’s actually kind of damning. They weren’t happy for Jesus to tell them that the problem is not just this one man lashing out and storming around and spitting venom. He’s just a symptom of a larger problem, a problem they all share, a problem that is their responsibility.
One of the things I love about Jesus is that his love is the kind of love that calls us all to account, calls us into responsibility for the consequences of our actions, the consequences of the demons of our nature. In the storm he rebukes the wind. He speaks directly to it and commands it away. In the story of the man possessed by Legion, Jesus names the demon and speaks directly to it and commands it away.
This kind of love is a confronting kind of love.
Jesus loves the neighbor and loves the enemy, enough to confront hate and called out hypocrisy, and with those most vulnerable to the abuses of the powerful Jesus stand & he suffers in solidarity.
And here can be our peace, here can be our courage.
We’re in this boat together, dear church. We are a sanctuary together, floating between the deeps and the sky, between chaos and clarity, between the demons and the angels of our nature. We are journeying together to the other side, the distant shore, the land where we can live together in a good Way. And there’s a storm raging, lots of hate and anger and fear. Now, some of us are in safer parts of the boat than others. Those who are at the edges are those who are most vulnerable to the waves and the rain and the wind, the hate and anger and fear. They have been named specifically as targets – LBGTQ folks, People of Color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants. So we have to pull close, the most secure with the most vulnerable, deeper into the sanctuary, deeper into the protection of Christ’s love.
For we are each and all beloved children of the living God. And too many people don’t understand that.
So let’s all remind each other, that we are beloved. Let’s see that in one another.
Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, you are a beloved child of the living God.”
Turn to your other neighbor and say, “Neighbor, you are a beloved child of the living God.” Look into their eyes. Don’t be shy. “Neighbor, you are a beloved child of the living God. And turn to your other neighbor or someone behind or across the way and look them in the eye and say, “Neighbor, you are a beloved child of the living God.”
Let’s not forget that as together we float on in this sanctuary in the storm.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered November 13, 2016 at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)