Saturday, July 14, 2018

Speak Truth To Power

Look At The Plumb Line - Live for the Praise of His Glory
To make clear once and for all that Jesus is NOT John the Baptizer, Mark gives us a detailed account of how John loses his head (Mark 6:14-29). It is a story drenched with all the political and religious intrigue, scandal and backstabbing violence as any that commands our attention in today’s social, political and pop culture scenes.

John had simply done what needed to be done: he spoke Truth to Power. As always, Power does not like be reminded of what it is doing that is wrong. He reminds Herod it is not lawful for Herod to have married his own brother’s wife. And yet, we are told that this particular Herod, for reasons unexplained, somehow enjoys listening to John. He likes having him around. Herodias, his current wife, formerly his brother’s wife, however, is tired of listening to John and employs the charms of her own daughter to have John’s head delivered on a platter.

All in the name of keeping a scandal quiet, although it rarely works to kill the messenger. The word is out, and reputations are already discredited.

The Prophet Amos is a prototype for John (Amos 7:7-15). After seeing a vision of God with a plumb line in his hand, Amos is sent to deliver a series of messages to King Jeroboam II, messages that are not at all encouraging. The message is that not only is the King going to die, but all the people of Israel”s northern kingdom, Samaria, will have to pay the price of his unfaithfulness. This unfaithfulness includes over-reliance upon military might, withdrawing the ten northern tribes from the Davidic alliance, a growing disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor, and a return to idolatry, setting up temples devoted to the Golden Calf in the northern kingdom. It is Amos who declares that what YHWH the God of the Exodus cares about is doing righteous deeds for those in need, not extravagant or correct worship, let alone idolatry.

One has to love the comical depiction of the King’s own advisor/protector and priest, Amaziah, as he attempts to head off disaster by running Amos out of town. Amaziah suggests that Amos could make more money back in the southern kingdom of Judah by issuing his prophecies there. That’s always the temptation: to follow the money.

Amos says, “Nothing doing. I’m not in it for the money! I am no prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son. I am a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees. The Lord took me away from my flock and told me to bring this message to you and your boss.”

Speaking truth to power: Amos and John the Baptizer, two of an endless series of such prophets in the Bible – and forerunners of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus: sent to speak truth to power.

God shows Amos a plumb line, after which Amos and John become the plumb line. God says, just put this plumb line next to the wall I have built – the wall being a metaphor for Israel and Judah, for God’s people, and as far as we are concerned, for the Church. Does it look plumb to you, Amos? Are the walls still as I built them? Or, are they out of line?

It interests us that between these two lessons lies the letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians might be said to describe the plumb line. It talks about our sole purpose: that we might live for the praise of God’s glory and to serve others.

That’s it. The rest is all about God’s doing, not ours. And what God does is substantial.

God blesses us with every spiritual blessing. Not some, not many, but every spiritual blessing.

God chose us as His Beloved before the foundation of the world. Before “In the beginning…”

God destined us for adoption as his children according to the good pleasure of his will!

God freely bestows his glorious grace making us his beloved!

God forgives us our trespasses.

God makes known to us the mystery of his will set forth in his prophets and in Christ.

God has a plan to gather up all things to himself, things in heaven and things on earth.

In Christ we have also received an inheritance, as we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.

God does all this so that “we might live for the praise of his glory.”

With cases like Herod, Herodias, Jeroboam and Amaziah, like all the well-publicized cases of our own time, it is easy to see when things are out of plumb; things are out of line. Hang the plumb line in the midst of our world and what do we see? Are we as a nation, as a community, as a church in line with the God who does all this for us without our asking? Do we live for the praise of God’s glory? If yes, Alleluia! If not, what needs to be done? Who among us is like Amos and John the Baptizer in speaking Truth to Power? Do we grasp God’s concern for alliances among the various tribes of God’s people? Do we grasp God’s concern for the growing disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor? And if so, what do we do about that? Do we yet grasp that it is right behavior every day that praises God, not some notion of right worship? Or, worse yet, turning to idolatry, which in the end is only religion cast as money?

We say we believe that everything we say and everything we do will proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. We say we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our selves. We say we will strive for justice and peace for all people and respect the dignity of every human being (BCP 305). We pray that we have a reverence for earth as God’s creation, and that we will use its resources in the service of others and to God’s glory and honor (BCP 388). Our catechism says according to the gifts given to us we will continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world (BCP 855). Not in the parish, not in the church, but in the world. Does our encounter with Christ and engagement with the world show that we are a people who live for the praise of God’s glory? Dare we look at the plumb line, repent and follow Jesus?

As Paul writes elsewhere, the world is on tiptoes in anticipation waiting for us to speak truth to power and work to make the world right-side up again. Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dodrupchen Rinpoche

Dodrupchen Rinpoche. Following my time at Trinity College, and serious consideration to convert to Judaism (forever grateful to Rabbi Stanley Kessler and Bernice Saltzman who encouraged me to remain a Christian and to embrace my religious tradition), I began to explore some Eastern religions and philosophies. In particular, I had come across the writing of Sri Aurobindo who at the time (mid-1970s) led a community in India in Auroville. Sri Aurobindo incense was also widely available in those days when I would travel into Cambridge, MA with the Outerspace Band to play, most frequently at Jack’s on Massachusetts Ave, and Club Zircon in Somerville.

Space was living in Wendell, MA, a small town of about 700 people and half a dozen rock bands. Eric Weiss was our main manager and booking agent. One day Eric asked me to drive him to what we discovered was a small temple of devotees of he Tibetan Lama, Dodrupchen Rinpoche. Eric was going to purchase a car that was for sale in the paper. When we got there we discovered, much to our surprise, that Dodrupchen was visiting along with a companion, Lama Jingtse at The Mahasiddha Nyingmapa Center, in Chesterfield, MA at the time. Before buying the car we were introduced to the two Lamas, sitting in a circle on the floor in the meditation room. After a lively discussion, Dodrupchen taught us the Om eh ah hum vajra guru padma sidhi hum chant sitting in front of a shrine decorated with Christmas tree lights! I have used the chant throughout my life for over 43 years. It remains the primary focus of my mindfulness practice, and I am forever grateful for this chance encounter that has so enriched my entire life in ways that are simply inexplicable.

The meditation room in Conway

As we sat in the circle, Dodrupchen would ask what we did, while Jingtse would interpret. When I said I played drums, Dodrupchen seemed perplexed, so Jingtse began to wildly wave his arms and legs in the air, while still seated on the floor, making some noise to demonstrate! The Rinpoche nodded in understanding. Before purchasing the car, an Oldsmobile as I recall, we were invited to watch the Rinpoche eat his noonday meal, which we did. Such a chance meeting, occasioned by a classified ad for an automobile, resulted in one of the most important episodes in my spiritual journey. The chant is a fixed part of my very Being, and reconnects me with Dodrupchen and the eternal spheres of the divine every time I employ it.

About the same time, we met a young woman in Cambridge who went by the name P Susan, Susan McCaffrey, who was the first of several devotees of Meher Baba I would meet back in those days. It was Baba who coined the phrase, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, which later became, of course, a Top 40 hit with a bullet by Bobby McPherin. P Susan gave me a book of Baba’s teachings, and another devotee gave me a photograph of Baba playing a drum! Baba did not speak for the last several decades of his life on earth, but rather communicated with hand gestures and with a letter-board. It would be Pete Townshend of the Who, however, who would be perhaps the most famous of the Meher Baba devotees. And it was Baba who inspired much of the Who’s music, just as George Harrison was advancing the teachings of ISKON, the Society of Krishna Consciousness, and the guru Srila Prabhupada, through his music and that of the Beateles. Oddly, when Space moved out of the Big House in Wendell on the Green, the Hari Krishnas moved in! Since they shaved their heads, and I still had the barber kit my father, Robert A Kubicek, used to cut my hair through my high school years, and at the time I had not had me hair cut for some seven or eight years, I gifted the electric shears and scissors to them as a house warming gift of sorts. Although considered a nuisance at airports and on the streets at the time handing out copies of the Bhagavad-gita, years later I would find myself teaching the girls at St. Tim’s from that very same book of Hindu wisdom, which itself is a portion of the longer poem, The Mahabarata. In the Gita, Lord Krishna shares much of the same wisdom as our own Lord Jesus in conveying a message that we are all together and individually the Lord’s Beloved.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Jesus Movement Continues

Another Sabbath in his hometown synagogue, and the Jesus movement continues. At first the people are astounded at his words. Then the arguments break out regarding the wondrous things he does and says, but how dare he? He’s just one of us they say. We know his relatives they say. Yet, all this is exactly the sort of faithful response one should find in a faith that is named “Israel,” which we recall means “he wrestles with God” after father Jacob who spent all night long in such wrestling resulting in a life-long limp. To refuse to argue, to debate, to question, would be a sign of disrespect. The synagogue congregants honor Jesus with their arguments.

But still, it ends badly. They “take offense.” Jesus chews them out: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Then we are told he could do “no deed of power there, except to lay hands on a few sick people and heal them.” That’s all. For the rest of us to heal anyone would be a pretty good day’s work!

Then just like that, off they go to other villages. But not before Jesus calls them two by two and commissions them to do the work he has been doing: he gives them authority over unclean spirits. He also gives instructions: “Take nothing … except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts… wear sandals and not to put on two tunics… If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. “They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” [Mark 6:1-13]

Altogether this can seem somewhat bizarre to us unless we remember what’s going on in Mark’s gospel and what is going on in Israel at the time. For the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God is a call to action. There is no cozy birthing scene of a wandering family among animals in a cave like stable as in Matthew or Luke. No shepherds and angels. No star in the heavens pointing the way for a caravan of Magi making pilgrimage to welcome the tiny baby who was born to reintroduce God’s shalom for and die at the hands of Rome in the process.

The good news begins with John baptizing outside Jerusalem, outside the corridors of power, issuing a call to action: Repent, for we have lost our way, the way, the way of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our own people like the Herod family, the priests and the aristocracy, our historic leadership in the city of peace, the city of shalom, no longer are interested in working God’s purpose out, but have sold out to the brutality of the Empire, of Rome, of those who claim Caesar is God. The people are over-taxed, over-worked, and forced to worship and serve only the regime instead of the living God who had brought them out of bondage in Egypt. Now Israel is become Egypt and they are once again slaves of an Empire. The Empire. John says it is time to turn it all around, to repent. It is time to turn the world right-side-up again.

Thus it is in Mark the very opening scene is an adult Jesus making his way down to Jordan’s stream to sign on, to join with those answering the call of John. Thus it is, in Mark we find Jesus and his companions portrayed as a resistance movement to Roman pagan domination. His conflicts are with the those who have been chosen liaisons to the Romans: The Temple, the priesthood and the aristocracy in Jerusalem are on the payroll to keep law and order in the land. Against all this Jesus and his companions are portrayed as living out a deeply Jewish program of return to the life of the covenant with their God. A life of God’s shalom for all.

There’s a rabbinic saying: “A person’s representative is as the person himself.” Unlike Jesus who “could do no deed of power” in Nazareth where the force to repent and resist is not strong, the disciples are sent out two by two and they “cast out many demons” and “heal many who are sick.” They have been sent to fight against the forces that have been arrayed against Israel and humanity. Although it is not an overtly political mission, in Mark’s story demons are portrayed as allies of Rome, while diseases are foes that weaken the body of Israel. They are sent out to canvass the villages and towns to urge people to repent and join the resistance movement. It is a bold move. But business as usual will not get the job of God’s shalom accomplished.

We need to be reminded that this Jesus movement is no volunteer organization. This is a community called and commissioned by Christ himself. His representatives are to be as Jesus is himself. That is who we are: called and commissioned to be as Jesus himself, those people sent by Jesus to cast out the demons of the Empire and build up the body of the faithful.

Jesus’ instructions are for a lean and unencumbered corps of representatives. The call not to be burdened with an excess of clothing, money and food is a call to simplicity. As one commentary notes, traveling light leaves them free from bearing unnecessary burdens and free from the temptation to turn the journey into venture for profit. His instruction is worth reflection in these days when the church faces its own loss of status and power and struggles to know how to position itself for the future. Travel light and nimble; travel swiftly to recruit as many as possible into the Jesus movement. The mission is one of extreme urgency. Carry no excess baggage.

And finally, we are to take the reality of rejection and the dangerous nature of the mission seriously. There is no promise that people will want to listen as the disciples bear witness to the good news and echo John’s and Jesus’ challenge to the Empire. Not everyone will repent. So, don’t get bogged down in endless debate and chatter. Move on and shake the dust off your feet.

Feet. Such action with feet in the face of danger and rejection can still be seen in today’s middle east. Recall the Iraqi gentleman who hurled his shoe at President George W. Bush for starting a war in his land over the flimsiest of excuses. Or, those Iraqi men who took off their shoes and pounded them against the statues of the former rulers. Jesus is directing his representatives to insult those who do not receive them and their mission using their feet. Who knows, such a bold response to complacency may wake people up and rouse more people to the cause! And after all, as we have seen, Jesus received similar rejection from the religious officials, the people of his hometown, and even his own family.

The successes we hear of in the casting out of Roman demons and restoring the health of the nation Israel are set in stark contrast in the verses that follow in the sixth chapter of Mark, for they tell of the beheading of John by Rome’s stooge-in-Chief, Herod. And we listen closely as Herod ponders whether or not Jesus is the Baptizer come back to life. John’s body lies a-mouldering in a tomb, but his spirit marches on. Jesus and many of his followers will meet the same fate as John for their attempts to wake people up and spur them to action. Yet, we are those people who know the rest of the story. How after three day’s rest Jesus rises again from the dead. The Jesus mission of shalom for all people cannot be stopped and will not rest until there is justice and peace for all people, and respect for the dignity of every human being, every creature under heaven, and for creation itself. And the people say, Amen.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Poems for America

5 July 2018
John Shea tells a story of a teacher who gets presents from some of the students every Christmas. He comes to know that a long narrow box means handkerchiefs. He gets in the habit of stacking them up in the closet without opening them until one at a time he needs a handkerchief. Some years later he opens one of the boxes to find a gold pocket watch on a chain. It had been there all along for who knows how many years. Life is like that. We often don’t know what gifts we have been given.

Chris Staiger was a young man in our confirmation class one year, the same year as Kirk Jr. Chris was getting married and wanted to get confirmed in the church. Soon after came the marriage and then his father died. I had visited his father in the hospital in Carroll County, the same hospital where my mother years later would begin her journey home. When Gene Staiger died, I accompanied his wife, Janet, Chris’s mother, to a quiet little cemetery on a hilltop in western Maryland for the burial. It was a full day’s journey, but one could find no more beautiful and serene final resting place. While waiting for the funeral director to arrive, Janet and I watched Eastern Bluebirds flying around about the business of their day. 

After that, Janet began to volunteer in the St. Peter’s office, helping with the bulletins, the newsletter and such. She decided we needed new doors and got Pella to come out and install two new doors into the office as a gift to the church. After some time Janet became ill with cancer. I would bring her communion at home, visit in the hospital, and we would talk about God. She always wanted to know more about God and Jesus, until it was time for her to join her beloved Gene on that quiet hilltop far away.

One Christmas Janet, knowing of my love of poetry, gave me the gift of a book: Poems for America: 125 Poems That Celebrate The American Experience, edited by Carmela Ciuraru. The dust jacket has a picture of a somewhat tarnished 48 star American Flag, a paining by Jasper Johns from 1954. I sent my thank you note, and thanked Janet in person, but like the teacher in the story, laid it aside to be opened down the road apiece.

When I did, I was teaching American Literature and American History at a girl’s boarding school. The girls were from around the world; 24 different countries and across America. The book is pure gold. American history, its triumphs and its failures in verse. Three Hundred Years of what Billy Collins rightfully calls “the full chorus of America singing!” One learns on the first page that the first published poet in America was Anne Bradstreet. A woman, living in the seventeenth century colonies. Less than a hundred years later the first African American published poet is Phillis Wheatley, a woman, and a household slave. The last poem in the book is by the contemporary American Indian poet, Sherman Alexie. In between are the experiences of nearly every kind of American imaginable, offering deep insights into what some call the American experiment.

Time spent sitting with any one of these poems promises deep insights into what American has been and what it still can be. The chapters of this experiment have still to be lived, experienced and written. We rarely stop to take the time to do this in the ways that these 125 poems do. One needs more than one box of handkerchiefs to wander through the 300 years of poetic reflection on who we are and where we have been. Poems for America, edited by Carmela Ciuraru. Thank you, Janet, once again for the gift of your spirit as it lives in these poems. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Ode to the Fourth of July, 2018

Ode to the Fourth of July, 2018

Today the President suddenly acts all historical
While the immigrants on the border are hysterical
And divisions run rampant from sea to shining sea
Saying I must hate you and you must hate me
Philosophy that can’t be beat
In any town on any street
Black and white discrimination
Still flares up across the nation
While talking to the Russian oligarchs
Republicans morph into commie pinko-loving Meadowlarks
Singing Trumpian praises day and night
While gearing up for the next Supreme fight
Tear it down, tear it apart
Till there’s nothing left
But ashes, dust, and broken hearts
As the dream that once was America the free
Becomes ever dimmer for you and for me
So, its O say can you see
And America, America
God sheds her grace on thee
No more
For Free press is now the target
For Second Amendment zealots
Leaving nothing but blood on the bullpen floor
Bodies torn asunder, faithful servants of truth slain
While emails of glee only add to the pain
Denials that racism still is a sin
As both Dems and GOP swill their whiskey and gin
Once upon “The mighty mother of a mighty brood,
Blessed in all tongues and dear to every blood,
The beautiful, the strong, and, best of all, the good.”*
Now Lady Liberty’s torch is losing its strong light
Happy Fourth to us all
And to all a good-night….

*(from Ode to the Fourth of July, 1876 – James Russell Lowell)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Lightning

For two weeks now on our southern border, children as young as infants have been separated from their mothers. We have seen pictures of children caged, sleeping on floors with only space blankets. While many question how this can be happening, other commentators have offered that it’s “like going to summer camp” where they’re better off than with their parents [Laura Ingrahm], or that the children are “child actors reading off scripts” [Ann Coulter]. All sense of the Bible’s particular concern with women, orphans and resident aliens aside, most people can agree it has been difficult to watch. There is a palpable sense of desperation playing out right before our eyes.

Then breaking news interrupts all of this with a targeted attack on a newspaper office, the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, our state capital. A 38-year-old white male blocked the rear entrance of the building, blasted his way through the front lobby, killed five and wounded several others before being apprehended. Having narrowly survived a targeted shooting in my church office in Ellicott City six years ago, a host of feelings from sadness to anger to fear rushed back to the surface knowing what the survivors at the Gazette and their families must be going through and will for days, weeks, months and years ahead. Again, a palpable sense of desperation is playing out right before our eyes, and in news rooms across the country asking themselves who will be next.

It is against this backdrop that in Mark 5:21-43 we get a story of crisis for two women, one a twelve-year-old girl, daughter of a prominent leader of the community, dying at home; the other, a woman who has had a flow of blood for twelve years, spent all her money on doctors to no avail, only to be worse off than ever. The father of the girl pleads with Jesus for help. The woman with the flow of blood for twelve years uses what little strength she has left to push through a crowd of people around Jesus on his way to the leader of the synagogue’s house with urgency. Her goal is to simply try to touch him or the hem of his garment. The desperation of the father and the woman in the story is no less palpable than that on our southern border, in Annapolis, and across the country.

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time and scores of other books on the intersection of faith and life, offers this take on the woman with a flow of blood for twelve years – the length of time the girl who is dying has been alive. It is about the woman, but it can be about any one on the border or in Annapolis, or, indeed, any one of us at any given time. While pondering L’Engle’s poem we might consider who this woman is in our world today:
Storm   By Madeleine L’Engle
When I pushed through the crowd,
jostled, bumped, elbowed by the curious
who wanted to see what everyone else
was so excited about,
all I could think of was my pain
and that perhaps if I could touch him,
this man they said worked miracles,
cured diseases, even those as foul as mine,
I might find relief. I was tired from hurting,
exhausted, revolted by my body,
unfit for any man, and yet not let loose
from desire and need. I wanted to rest,
to sleep without pain or filthiness or torment.
I don’t really know why I thought he could help me
when all the doctors with all their knowledge
had left me still drained and bereft of all that makes
a woman’s life worth living. Well: I had seen him
with some children, and his laughter was quick and merry
and reminded me of when I was young and well,
though he looked tired; and he was as old as I am.
There was that leper –
but lepers have been cured before-

No, it wasn’t the leper,
or the man cured of palsy,
or any of the other stories of miracles,
or at any rate that was the least of it;
I had been promised miracles too often.
I saw him ahead of me in the crowd,
and there was something in his glance
and in the way his hand rested briefly
on the matted head of a small boy
who was getting in everybody’s way,
and I knew that if only I could get to him,
not to bother him, you understand, not to interrupt,
or to ask him for anything, not even his attention,
just to get to him and touch him….
I didn’t think he’d mind, and he needn’t even know.

I pushed through the crowd
and it seemed they were deliberately
trying to keep me from him.
I stumbled and fell and someone stepped
on my hand and I cried out
and nobody heard. I crawled to my feet
and pushed on and at last I was close,
so close that I could reach out
and touch with my fingers the hem of his garment.

Have you ever been near when lightning struck?
I was, once, when I was very small
and a summer storm came without warning
and lightning split the tree under which I had
been playing and I was flung right across
the courtyard. That’s how it was.
Only this time I was not the child
but the tree
and the lightning filled me.
He asked, “Who touched me?”
and people dragged me away, roughly,
and the men around him were angry at me.

“Who touched me?” he asked.
“I did, Lord,” I said, so that he might have the lightning back
which I had taken from him when I touched his garment’s hem.
He only looked at me and then I knew
that only he and I knew about the lightning.
but he was not angry.
He looked at me and the lightning refilled him,
and he smiled at me
and I knew that I was healed.

Then the crowed came between us
and he moved on, taking the lightning with him,
perhaps to strike again.

Note that this woman who has been ritually impure for twelve long years, has had no social life, no place in society all this time, is just as important to Jesus as the daughter of one the most prominent leaders in town. Jesus is in a hurry to help the girl, but takes time to stop, talk with, get to know, and relieve the woman of her dis-ease, suggesting that there is an important place for people on the outside and margins of society in the realization of God’s reign on earth.

Also note the number of people who, like the doctors and others, see both this woman and the girls as lost causes and not worthy of Jesus’ time and effort. When he arrives to the home of the girl and announces that the girl is not dead but is only sleeping, we are told, “And they laughed at him.” Yet, for Jesus there are no lost causes.

Finally, we might note that despite their vastly different stations in life, the father and the woman with a flow of blood share several things in common: both come to Jesus, not he to them; both are persistent in getting to Jesus; both have absolute faith in the power of Jesus to make things right. The desperation of both the father and the woman is as palpable as anything we experience in the world about us.

Expressing our desperation and acting on it is the beginning of healing for all of us. “He was tired and emptied/ but he was not angry./ He looked at me and the lightning refilled him,/ and he smiled at me and I knew that I was healed.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018


We hear an awful lot about chaos: whether it is caused by weather disturbances like hurricanes, wildfires, floods and blizzards; by immigration and enforcement policies at the southern border; chaos in world markets; chaos of terrorism; chaos in the White House. We forget that the entire biblical record begins with chaos: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” That is, the wind, the ruach of God, the spirit of God, sweeps  over the formless chaos and deep darkness of the seas. Then God begins to bring sovereign order to the formless stuff that was already there and that resists God’s ordering.

Chaos in the Bible is more than disorder. For the Bible, chaos represents that active agency that is engaged in challenging the rule of YHWH-HaShem, the Lord. Chaos seeks to undermine the possibility for life and seeks to negate all prospects for well-being. Think the life of slaves in Egypt, the Israelites in Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, and Israel under Greek and then Roman occupation. Totalitarian states such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome enact chaos techniques to undermine social order as cover for their evil ways at the expense of those enslaved and colonized.

Often the biblical narrative associates this chaos with the sea: water, deep, dark waters, which ultimately are forced to submit to the Lord’s intentions for life and the well-being of creation.  YHWH-HaShem marshals the flood waters to attempt to eliminate human sin, or, holds the waters of the sea back just long enough for the slaves to escape Egypt, and then lets waters loose in time to demonstrate that Pharaoh, with all his military might, cannot tread water.

As the fourth chapter of Mark [v35-41] chronicles the night-sea journey of Jesus and the disciples, one way of interpreting the story is that it is a reminder: that forces of evil chaos frequently threaten the community of God’s people, and the counter-narrative that reminds them and us that ultimately in the long-term, God prevails over the chaos.

Note that the boat journey across the sea is Jesus’s idea. This is not meant to be leisure time with the disciples, for at the end of the journey they are greeted by a man so possessed by demons that he has been chained in the tombs, chained among the dead, so as not to be a burden to those in the village or city nearby. This is a missionary journey to liberate, to offer freedom, to one whose life has been in mortal danger for a long, long time. Jesus seeks to destroy the chaos that has been the man’s life and provide him a home once again in a safe community.

The unruly power of the sea and the wind makes the journey itself dangerous. The text is clear, the boat is about to be swamped. The disciples are thrown into desperate, chaotic fear and cry out to their Lord, “Do you not care that we are perishing?!” They are in great distress.

Meanwhile, Jesus is asleep in the rear of the boat. Asleep amidst the torrential wind and waves threatening to capsize the boat and disrupt his mission of liberation and freedom. His own trust in God brings remarkable peace, even in the face of the storm, and contrasts dramatically with the panic the disciples display at the chaos of the sea. He knows the story of past similar events in the history of God’s people. He knows that it is only God who can and will still the storms of life. He sleeps while we fret. Later, he will fret in Gethsemane while the disciples sleep.

Once again, as God instructs Moses during the Exodus, Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, while offering the disciples a mild rebuke as well: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? The disciples we are told are filled with awe and ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They tremble with fear appropriate for those who have experienced the presence of almighty God. Who is he, indeed! The one who says, I am who I am.

The disciples are stand-ins for us whenever we find ourselves tossed to and froe by the winds and waves of chaos. The disciples are stand-ins for us all and our collective amnesia, forgetting that it was God who tamed the waters of chaos in the beginning. Then there’s Job, another stand-in for us, who found his own life turned upside down by chaos, who while defending God from the complaints of his companions exhibits tremendous hubris suggesting he knows all there is to know about this God. God emerges from a whirlwind [Job 38:1-11] to remind Job that the ways of the Lord are inscrutable: “Were you there when I laid out the foundation of earth? Were you there when I told the sea you shall come no further, and here shall your proud waves be stopped!” Like the disciples and Job, we forget how the Psalmist sings that when “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, he delivered them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper, and quieted the waves of the sea.” [Psalm 107:28-29]

When we find ourselves amidst cultural upheaval and collapse of the ‘old order,’ widely experienced as moral, economic and political chaos, we find ourselves frantic like the disciples, or at the other end of things self-assured like Job that we and only we know the ways of God. Our collective amnesia prevents us from re-membering these stories from beginning to end in the Bible of how the wind and waves of chaos, forces that challenge all possibilities for life and negate all possibility of well-being in the name of some kind of human law and order, stand over against the laws and order of the Lord. As Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves he means to remind the disciples and us to return to ways of God.

When we do, we are given the freedom to acknowledge the present reality of chaos in God’s world, while at the same time remember the sacred assurance that God ultimately governs the chaos to provide order and justice and peace for all people of all origins and all orientations. It’s easy to forget: God cares for the well-being of all people, especially those in danger for their lives. St. Paul urges the Corinthians that just as God’s heart is open to us all, “open wide your hearts also.” [2 Cor 6:13] It is easy to over-romanticize biblical Hope. The hope is real, but it does not negate our acknowledging the negations of life and liberty that continue to walk the earth. The chaos is real and evil. We must remember, the falseness and chaos of this world is ultimately bounded by a larger truth. God’s truth and God’s love for all creation and all people.

An anonymous Anglo-Saxon in the fifth or sixth century likened life on this earth to a Seafarer who travels the dangerous seas alone while others feast lavishly in mead-halls on land. He laments the earlier days of great kings and heroes have passed recognizing that the accumulation of great riches does not protect one from God’s judgement when the time comes: “Blessed is he who lives in all humility/what comes to him in heaven is forgiveness.” The one hundred and twenty-five verses conclude: “Let us ponder where our true home is and how to reach it/Let us labor to gain entry into the eternal/to find the blessedness of belonging to the Lord/joyfully on high/Thanks be to God who loved us/the endless Father/the Prince of Glory forever/Amen.”
Jesus says, “Let those who have ears to hear, listen!” [Mark 4:9]
[The Seafarer, translated by Mary Jo Salter in The Word Exchange]