The “Other” Side

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5th Sunday After Pentecost; June 24, 2018, Year B

Job 38.1-11; Psalm 107.1-3, 23-32; 2 Cor. 6.1-13; Mark 4.35-41

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and peace to you from the One who stills the storm, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Today’s Gospel reading comes on the heels of last week’s reading about what the Kingdom of God is like.

Jesus teaches his disciples that:

The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

He also teaches them:

The Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed … and when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

It’s one thing to tell someone what the Kingdom of God is like; it’s entirely different to show someone what it’s like.

Today Jesus is showing his disciples what it can be like in the Kingdom of God, following him.

It’s the end of the day, and when everyone else is headed to bed for the night, Jesus says to them: “let us go across to the other side.”

No one says to him, “You’re crazy. This isn’t the time to go across the Sea of Galilee!” The story tells us that they take Jesus in the boat and start their journey to the other side. Jesus must have been tired because he falls asleep in the stern.

Can you imagine being the disciples in this situation? At this point in time you are not totally sure as to who this Jesus guy is. You are intrigued by him and felt compelled to drop your life and follow him. You witness him challenging the religious leaders and wealthy people, and teaching about this strange concept of the Kingdom of God, and he has just told you that you are going to cross a large body of water in the middle of the night.

Then all of the sudden a great windstorm arises and you think you are going to end up in the bottom of the lake. You look to the one who got you into this situation to begin with and he is sound asleep on a cushion.

I’m not sure about you, but I think I would be a little cranky about that, and also absolutely terrified.

The disciples shake Jesus awake and say: “How can you sleep through our dying?! Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Jesus responds by rebuking the wind, and speaking to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” And all became dead calm.

In a way it would be nice if the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Jesus breaks the silence with two questions: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

For years I interpreted Jesus’ questions as him saying to the disciples: “Why are you afraid of a storm when I am with you?” But what Jesus means by his question is: “I have calmed the storm and you are still afraid. You still don’t trust in me.”

Often times we think that if we could just see Jesus face-to-face, or experience a miracle, then we would finally believe and have faith, but proof is not what faith is. The disciples were with Jesus for years in his ministry and they often failed to trust, and still wondered at the mystery of who God is, especially when it came to Jesus.

Jesus continually invites the disciples and all of us along for the ride of his ministry and mission in the world. And unfortunately it’s often not a smooth ride. There is a very clear reason as to why this is.

Jesus keeps crossing over boundaries, both literally and figuratively. In our story today Jesus literally has his disciples cross over the Sea of Galilee to the “other side.” I hope you are wondering what’s on the “other side.”

Chapter 5 begins immediately after the disciples’ great awe and question: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It says: “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. As Jesus got out of the boat, a madman from the cemetery came up to him (Mk. 5.1-2).” The story continues that no one could restrain this demon-possessed man who lived alone among the tombs. Everyone was afraid of him.

He comes up to Jesus, and Jesus asks him is name. He heals the man and it changes his life. He’s finally in his right mind again and he can’t stop telling people what Jesus has done for him. But the townspeople become afraid of Jesus (not unlike the disciples after the calming of the storm) and demand that he leave their land.

The land of the Gerasenes, the “other side,” is not anywhere the disciples would have gone in their life if it’s wasn’t for Jesus. It would have been a place they would have avoided at all costs. The people on the other side of the Sea of Galilee were different …“other.”

Jesus telling the disciples to go to the other side couldn’t even wait until morning. It was important for them to cross that boundary of the sea and encounter another who was different from them.

Jesus does this in the Gospel of Mark over and over again. He challenges those who would be so bold to follow him, putting them in relationship with people they would never dream of associating with.

It’s true, that we tend to love and care most for people who are close to us: family, friends, colleagues, but Jesus is always stretching us to widen our circle. When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is he says: “Love God; love your neighbor.”

Not only that, but he takes it even a step further and says: “Pray for and love your enemies (Matt. 5 & Luke 6).”

We can then ask: Who is my neighbor? Who might I consider an enemy?

Our political climate is so divisive right now. People are quick to point the finger and demonize someone from the “other side,” whatever “other side” it may be. Perhaps we should all write down Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians and put them by our bed so we see them first thing in the morning and last at night: “Our heart is wide open to you … open wide your hearts also.”

How is Jesus opening your heart these days? What or where are the “other sides” in which you can encounter someone different and be changed?

The border of the US and Mexico and the separation of families are on many peoples’ minds and hearts. It is a literal border with people on the other side trying to cross over, or people trying to keep others out.

I lived on the border for a year before I started seminary. I met many people who had come into the United States seeking a refuge from gangs, drug cartels, and extreme poverty.

Meeting and hearing the stories of children blew me away. There was one young man at 16 years old who crossed the border by himself. A gang had come to his home and beat him up and told him the next time they come they will kill him if he refuses to join the gang.

He felt he had two options: stay and be killed, or try and seek asylum in the US. I could not imagine being faced with that kind of choice, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a choice at all.

No one will deny that our immigration system is a mess and that there are all kinds of stories from all different “sides.”

But the truth about Jesus is that he challenges sides all together. Theologian Matt Skinner writes:

Life stands toe-to-toe with death at many of the borders in Mark. … boundaries … keep outsiders away from insiders. That’s how dividing lines work: they allow us to keep what’s known on one side, and we banish whatever makes us fearful to the other side of the fence.

Either Jesus declares that those separations don’t work, or that if they do work he intends to tear them down.

He meddles with borders … because the reign (Kingdom) of God extends divine holiness and a commitment to human well-being to places that we might have thought were beyond the limits. To him, no place is desolate. No one is abandoned.

         [www.workingpreacher.org]

“Let’s go to the other side,” Jesus says. Are we so bold as to follow?

The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed …

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed …

The Kingdom of God is going to the “other side.”