Swamped. That’s how Mark describes the boat. Most of us have been there. Maybe we’re there, now. Trying to have my kid every place they need to be, trying to plan the family schedule and family budget, trying to keep up with work, trying to keep up with health care, trying to keep up with the community. Friends and family get sick or hurt or exhausted or they die, and the world acts like this doesn’t happen to other people so you need to pull it together. And in all of it our actions fit into the grand scheme of life, which My God, who can bear the news anymore? There’s an acute human rights issue on our southern border, itself part of a broader question of human movement in our time. There’s an institutional church smaller than most of us remember it once being, just as it seems the world could use some Jesus. And there are the ongoing local sagas: housing, racial inequality, anti-LGBT bias, and frankly I give up on the paper at that point.
Part of why I feel swamped is that I carry all this stuff here to church hoping to follow God. That seems important. We’re talking the creator of the universe who is mysteriously at work even now. I want to think about what God might be up to. I want to be open to what God may say. At the center of my faith is the mystery of death and resurrection, and I feel like it should mean something terribly profound. Instead I am swamped, and it feels like Jesus is asleep on the cushion. I suppose he is tired, after preaching all day.
Mark writes that Jesus was going to teach by the lake shore, and the crowd was so large he got into a boat and taught from it. That’s where he preached the parables we read last week. That Jesus the Word preached from this boat leads many to believe that the boat is a metaphor for the Church. We could christen this boat the Parable Pulpit.
Jesus tells the disciples he wants to go, literally, “into the beyond.” This little boat—The Parable Pulpit—is taking the Word someplace no one yet sees. The disciples know they’re going, they know they should go because Jesus told them and he seems important. Still, it’s the “beyond.” You know what’s probably waiting for you, there: all that stuff that was making it hard to see God in the first place! I bet over there they also keep immigrants and refugees in for profit prisons while struggling to provide adequate housing and employment for people already there.
We find ourselves, thus, on the sea. We’re going somewhere we’re not sure why. God is calling us (we think) but we’re not sure what God is thinking. We’ll be bearing witness in difficult situations. We’re taking the Parable Pulpit to the beyond to spread the Word amid an acute humanitarian crisis at our borders and less dramatic everyday crises in our community. Then, the sea picks up. The sea tries to stop the work. It doesn’t need a colossal killer wave to do this. It can bat you about or run its current against you. The sea can silence the Word.
The sea eddies around and round, the boat goes in circles, as you take the crises to the authorities and they tell you, “It’s complicated.” I’m acquainted with “it’s complicated.” It’s what adults told me as a child when they didn’t want to deal with a question. People say it to make you feel stupid and go away. But we keep going against the waves. The waves knock you to one side. “It’s a problem, but someone else caused it.” The waves knock you to the other side. “It’s not a problem at all, in fact, it isn’t happening, and I don’t believe the data.” The waves knock you backward. “It’s being dealt with if you’d just leave us alone, we’ll have something for you next year.” Yeah, next year when hopefully we’ve lost interest. The waves push you up. “Ooh, it’s getting dealt with!” The waves let you down. “Oh, God! The proposed solution was even worse!” Thus, the waves silence you. Too much other noise. Too much counter current. Too much beating against you.
A cry pierces through. Maybe the cry for you was a literal cry. Maybe you heard the recording of children crying as they were separated from their parents. Maybe you saw pictures of the children screaming in terror. Or, maybe the cry was an event a little close to home. Maybe you saw a black family not getting served in a restaurant. Maybe you just saw a neighbor having to scrub hateful graffiti off their car. Whatever pierced through, it made you say, “I know this issue is big and complicated but what we are doing about it cannot be right, cannot be adequate, cannot be just.” That cry is the cry of the disciples. “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”
At that, Jesus rises. He “rises to the challenge,” as it were. The cry pierces through the raging sea and he is up to tell the sea to back down. He tells the sea, “Be silent! Be muzzled!” Muzzled, like a dog that hasn’t figured out how not to bite. That’s what the sea had been doing. All that batting up and down and round and round was meant to muzzle the Word, and to muzzle the cries of those who need to hear it and experience grace now. Jesus turns it around and muzzles the muzzle. “Be silent!” That’s the silence the sea wanted. Jesus silences the silencer. There is a dead calm, a flat surface of water. The voyage can proceed. The Word will get to the other side. That’s the next verse after today’s reading. Immediately, “And they came into the beyond.” And, in the beyond—we don’t read this story—Jesus gives a local man (foreign to Jesus) back his humanity and lets him talk about it. Jesus doesn’t go into the beyond some First Century version of the White Savior imposing his culture and putting his words in other people’s mouths. With the sea silent, there is room to hear what others say. And indeed, that next scene ends with the man Jesus heals heading off to tell everyone his story. Jesus rose to the occasion.
More than that, Jesus rose from the dead. Sleeping is a common New Testament metaphor for death, awakening a common metaphor for resurrection. Want the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection to mean something? Well, here’s something. All those waves while Jesus sleeps are death at work in this world. We try to draw attention to something and are met with it’s complicated, wait a year, it’s someone else’s fault, and it’s not even happening. That’s death, the ultimate silencer. Unfortunately for death, that’s the most it can do. After death there is resurrection, and death has no answer for that. Jesus rises surrounded by death, by the muzzling, silencing waves batting against the Church, and at a word those things are no more. Ponder the mystery of death and resurrection. Death is the silence imposed by the powers of this world, the muzzling of the marginalized, underpaid, mistreated, lonely, and hurting. Death is silence as a noun. Resurrection is Jesus thwarting the powers of this world, Jesus muzzling the muzzle so that the marginalized, underpaid, mistreated, lonely, and hurting can be seen and heard. Resurrection is “silence” as a command on the lips of God, directed at death.
Like the disciples aboard the Parable Pulpit, we in the church follow as best we can the call into the beyond, not entirely sure what will happen with this project, that change, that ministry, this public witness. And, like the disciples aboard the Parable Pulpit, we are here because Jesus called us here. We were here to hear the cries because Jesus put us here. We noticed. That’s something. And not everyone who hears responds the way Christians should. Read the comments section on any news story and you’ll quickly find that people do not automatically respond faithfully to cries. So, Jesus may have us taking the Word into the beyond just by putting us here to see the way the sea beats against the boat, the way the powerful beat against the weak, the way death beats against life—to say, “Yes, that’s real. Death is real. Pain is real. Being swamped is real.” And Jesus puts us here to witness God telling the sea, the powers, and death to be silent—to witness the resurrection as room for the silenced to speak.
This is Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, and resurrection means something right now. The resurrection of the dead is right now when the Holy Spirit uses us to bear witness out in the beyond. Resurrection is silencing the sea—refusing to take “it’s complicated,” “it’s not really happening,” “it’s someone else’s fault,” and “wait ‘til next year” for answers. Resurrection is muzzling the muzzlers. The church may be smaller than some of us remember, but we can say, “I think we’ve heard from the powers on this one. Now, let’s give a platform to the marginalized.” Resurrection is stepping onto that alien shore in the beyond, saying, “God has silenced the storm, and we can hear you loud and clear.” And resurrection is living faithfully into the Spirit’s call to tell the world that these things are resurrection in the midst of death, God at work in the storm of life, even (perhaps especially) when we feel swamped.