The Rev. Peter Faass
Several years ago, when Christ Church folks went on pilgrimage to Israel, we stayed a few nights in Tiberias at a hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was beautiful. Part of our tour included a trip in a boat that replicated the kind of boat Jesus and the disciples were in during today’s Gospel story about the storm on the Sea. While described as a sea, this body of water is really more aptly described as a lake; in fact, its alternate name is Lake Gennesaret, referring to the town of Ginosar on its northwestern shore.
The Bible says that the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus walked, preached, calmed the storm, and granted miraculous catches of fish, and upon whose waters Peter walked, at least until he took his eyes off Jesus.
Having been there, I find it difficult to imagine a really violent storm imperiling people on this body of water. It’s not big – on a clear day, you can see from shore to shore. It’s not really deep, although at the time we were there, Israel was heavily reliant on the Sea of Galilee for fresh water and the shores had receded dramatically – in places over 100 feet - from overuse.
While the disciples and Jesus (asleep in the stern) sailed the Sea, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Such was the ferocity of this storm that the disciples feared they’d perish. As several of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and familiar with the Sea, we can deduce that the account is authentic and this was one doozy of a storm.
In the various cultures of the ancient world, water represented disorder and chaos. In the Genesis creation story, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Out of this formless void of water, God begins making order, putting creation together. Creating out of chaotic water is a common creation theme in near-eastern cultures. The mythological and poetic imagery of God triumphing over the raging, disordered waters is something the disciples would have understood. It also makes the answer to their question about, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” when Jesus stills the storm, self-evident. Jesus has God’s power to still the storm; he has the power to make order out of chaos. Jesus has the power to save even in the worst circumstances.
This story reminds us that Jesus consistently puts himself into liminal places. He likes to show up at literal and metaphorical boundaries and thresholds - especially if they are dangerous, or the threshold is considered taboo in the society in which it exists. Jesuslikes to push the envelope.
In the passage immediately following this one. Jesus goes to the opposite, Gentile side of the lake shore. He encounters a man with an unclean spirit – most likely epilepsy - who had been chained in the local graveyard. It is also an area where vast herds of swine are grazing. This is a threshold place for a Jew to be: an unclean graveyard, Gentile territory and amongst unclean animals. Yet Jesus goes there and heals the possessed man. He does this despite cultural taboos and what religious authorities say about him.
In another instance, he goes to a tax collector’s home and he dines with people who were considered notorious sinners. Again, he did so despite prevalent establishment beliefs that this was undignified and unclean. Any time he contacts a person with leprosy or with an uncontrolled flow of blood, he goes to the border of a taboo boundary between what is considered holy and what is believed to defile.
In a culture that disregarded children, Jesus crossed a societal border when he took a child in his arms and stated, “If anyone causes one of these little ones . . . (we might hear, these little ones with brown skin and who speak Spanish) to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus repeatedly goes to liminal places where insiders have built borders and walls between themselves and perceived outsiders. And each time, Jesus crosses that border, ignoring what others think is right and wrong. He does this so that he can offer healing and compassion to the outsider, the alien, the sick and the despised. He does this to role model that only love is the way in God’s economy.
The Sea of Galilee is such a liminal, marginal place that was a significant physical border between peoples. Geographically it separated Jews, who lived on its western shores, from Gentiles, who lived on its eastern shores. Sociopolitically it separated the humble Galilean fisherman who depended on its fish for a livelihood from the Roman Empire who taxed those fish heavily. The Sea kept populations separate and it fed imperial appetites; appetites which needed to keep people under their control and living marginally, in order to be satiated.
That’s how dividing lines work: they allow us to keep what’s known on one side and banish whatever makes us fearful, unacceptable or what is unknown to the other side of the wall.
Each time Jesus goes to these dividing walls he indicates to us that these separations don’t work and that he intends to tear them down because they are not of God. They are not about loving neighbor as self.
Jesus meddles with borders because he wants to bring order and justice to the chaos and injustice that borders and walls inflict on people. He goes to the margins because the reign of God extends divine holiness and a commitment to human well-being to places and people that we have said were beyond the limits of our human compassion and caring. He goes to the margins to love people that we have said we don’t care about.
Jesus invites us into the boat with him. He is sailing to the borders, to those places where human fear and hatred keep people on the margins. The trip will be chaotic at times. The winds will rough and the boat will be in danger of being swamped by the violent sea. But the boat’s destiny is safely guided by the only One who can and will still the storm and bring order and justice out of the chaos we experience. When we are in that boat with him, we hear his voice saying "Peace! Be still!” It is his voice and love that will tear down all those boundaries and walls in the world that imperil us, so that we all may be one.
The Rev. Peter Faass
Five years ago, Anthony and I were shopping for a wedding cake. Yes, that’s already five years ago! Wedding cakes, like other wedding components, express the personal tastes of the couple. For foodies like us, it was paramount to select a great baker for a fabulous, delicious confection. I only wish that the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) had been around to advise us. Her lemon and elderflower wedding cake sounded scrumptious!
A friend of ours recommended a wonderful baker who makes unusually beautiful and delicious cakes. So, we visited this bakery to discuss their products and prices (I am still shocked by what a decent wedding cake costs per slice!).
When we entered this bakery, we explained to the woman who greeted us why we were there. While I wouldn’t say her response was happy and congratulatory about our pending nuptials, she was reasonably pleasant. Inviting us to sit at a small table, she produced two loose-leaf notebooks filled with plastic-coated photos of various wedding cake design options, cake flavors, fillings, icings and price ranges. She explained that the bakery owner took the wedding cake orders and was in the back of the store, but that he would meet us in a few minutes. She then left to tell the owner we were there.
For ten minutes, we leafed through the binders. I thought, “well people get busy,” so we continued looking. Another ten minutes went by. I asked the person at the bakery counter to remind the owner we were there. She went to the back room and did not come back. The prolonged absence of the owner and other staff at this bakery was deafening and sent a clear message. A few minutes later, I said to Anthony, “They don’t want to sell us a wedding cake because we are two men. Let’s go.” We left.
This past week, the Supreme Court ruled on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. This case involved a Colorado gay couple who wanted to order their wedding cake from a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop. Bakery owner Jack Phillips, who describes himself as a devout Christian, refused to bake a cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, because in his interpretation of the Christian faith, homosexuality is a sin. By a rather astonishing lopsided vote of 7-2 (thank you so much Justices Kagan and Breyer, and Kennedy), the Supreme Court upheld Phillips’ right to deny Craig and Mullins their wedding cake.
Anthony and I felt their pain and disappointment.
I am not going to comment on the legal aspect of this decision. I am told that it’s not as bad for the rights of same-sex couples as it initially appears. That’s cold comfort, since Ohio LGBT folks really have no rights to speak of. We have an abundance of lawyers in this congregation who can offer more accurate insight into the Supreme Court ruling.
I want to reflect on Phillips’ Christianity, especially as the majority Supreme Court opinion quoted him as saying that his “main goal in life is to be obedient to, 'Jesus Christ and Christ’s teachings in all aspects of his life.'”
So, his refusal to bake this wedding cake begs the question: Is he? Is his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex couple being "obedient to Jesus Christ and all Christ’s teachings?" I would posit that the answer to that question is a resounding no!
Despite homosexuality being well-known in the ancient world, Jesus never mentioned it. While Jesus talks about yeast and bread, he never mentions wedding cakes (although he – or at least his nudgy mother – had plenty to say about wedding wine). In the Gospels, Jesus clearly sends a message that includes those who others feel are not worthy of inclusion. Today’s Gospel account is a case in point.
Jesus’ life-changing teachings and healings are causing larger crowds to gather around him. He and his disciples are so hemmed in that “Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.”
These growing crowds are no surprise. When someone tells you that you have self-worth regardless of who you are, after being told your whole life you are worthless, this is going to attract a huge following.
The authorities were alarmed by the increasing crowds. What is all this stuff about respect and dignity Jesus is teaching, anyway? Their power structure depends on having worthy and unworthy classes of people. Of course the authorities are the worthy classes, so they feel threatened. In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ feeding and healing on the Sabbath so alarmed the authorities that they, “immediately conspired . . . against him, how to destroy him.” They are not happy campers.
Jesus’s family gets wind of how disruptive Jesus has become and they fear for his well-being, so they try to take him away.
“They went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
Others accuse Jesus of being Satanic. “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” This is a classic response by those who are threatened by people proclaiming a hopeful alternate message to their own: “They’re crazy!” “They are satanic!”
How often have conservative Christians said that about Episcopalians?
Satan’s got a hold on them
It’s false Christianity!
A member of a door-to-door denominational cult once told me that as an Episcopal priest I was a spawn of Satan. Regretfully both my parents are deceased, so I have no way of confirming this.
Jesus says something which changed everything. His family, more intent than ever to whisk him away come to find him again.
“The crowd tells him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Not only does Jesus resist the intervention of his mother, he renounces their claim on him. He doesn’t do this because he disdains his family, but because they want to keep him from proclaiming the good news of God’s abundant love and inclusion. He can’t abide by this. So, they remain “outside” while Jesus embraces those encircled “around him” in the crowded house.
Jesus redraws the lines of family and belonging, saying that those who do God’s will are siblings and mother to him. Thus, Jesus proclaims a new family. In a culture where identity was bound to kinship and tribal structures, Jesus’ pronouncement of a new family beyond blood or tribal kinship surely elicited gasps of shock. But it also brought gasps of great joy to many, especially people who find themselves estranged from their own families or tribes because of who they were. This still happens to LGBTQ folks in our own time.
Jesus’ new family is defined by “those who do God’s will.” Doing God’s will is about doing the rule of love: loving God, loving neighbor and loving one another as Jesus loves us. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry proclaimed, “Love is the way!”
There is no other way to follow Jesus. Love is the only way to obey Jesus Christ and his teachings in all aspects of life.
In Jesus’ family when you follow God’s will by loving all of God’s children, not only do you get your cake baked for you, you get to eat it, too. That, my friends, is one hell of a wedding feast!
The Rev. Peter Faass
Well, it certainly has been a great couple of months to be an Episcopalian! Whew, it’s been quite a ride! Who ever imagined that interest in the Episcopal Church, especially in the midst of the downward decline of institutional religion, would be happening in the spring of 2018? On Saturday, May 19 (the day of Meghan and Harry’s wedding), “Episcopalian” was the most searched word on GOOGLE. That translates into millions of searches, and that’s amazing! Based on these past few weeks, I’m sensing we may be seeing the beginning of a new Great Awakening in the 21st Century.
We can mark the beginning of this Great Awakening with the elegant and dignified funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush on April 21st. Her funeral was held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, which is the largest parish in our denomination (over 7,000 members!). Christ Church hovers around 350. Anthony and I checked St. Martin’s website. They have 14 clergy and over 120 staff. At Christ Church, we have one clergy and four staff. St. Martin’s is a big parish!
In addition to the beautiful liturgy, viewers of Bush’s televised funeral were touched by the sight of many Republican and Democrat leaders, past and present, who gathered to honor her. Political differences were placed aside as they treated each other with respect, dignity and even affection. A love for our nation and a desire to honor a woman who served it well bound us together.
Recently, we haven’t been accustomed to that kind of dignity and respect from the political class, much less the understanding that the bonds of being American trumps being partisan. This tableau of political comity offered us hope despite the muck and mire we experience these days, reminding us of the great values of faith and nation that go beyond partisan politics and personal gain. Those values certainly were the plumb line of how Barbara Bush led her life. All this occurred in an Episcopal Church. What better a setting for an opportunity to display what “justice and peace [for] all people, and respect[ing] the dignity of every human being” (BCP p. 305) looks like.
On May 19, the royal wedding fulfilled our American fantasies about royal life, and our secret desires to become a prince or princess. Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, preached an earth-shattering sermon about God’s love as the balm to heal our broken world.
He stated, “We must discover love - the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.”
Delivered in Curry’s powerful African-American, Baptist oratorical style, his sermon was a shot heard round the world to 2 billion viewers. Those who had believed that religion was moribund (if not dead) witnessed the revival happening in this Episcopal Church under Bishop Curry – and what he calls the Jesus Movement. Even professed atheists were having doubts about denying a God that was clearly palpable in this charismatic and holy man.
Curry is our LeBron James. I’ll let the delicious irony of that word play stand on its own in the midst of the NBA Finals between the Cavs and the Warriors.
In the midst of the depressing din and chaos we currently live in, when the news always seems to leave a dark pall hanging over our heads, these two services offered a brief Sabbath rest to weary and demoralized people everywhere.
When I say Sabbath rest, I mean more than a break from the demands of life. Sabbath is more than sleeping late and getting “some R and R.” Sabbath is a period of time which is life-oriented and life-giving. The Sabbath is meant to promote life and give hope, extolling God as a liberator from the world’s evil ways. Ultimately, Sabbath is about God’s love.
Life-giving Sabbath restores hope in the midst of hopelessness. What could be more loving than that? We poignantly experienced this in Bishop Curry’s sermon about love, which was so life-giving that it compelled millions to inquire, “Who is this Episcopal guy and what’s his Church about?”
Sabbath as life-giving is the point of what happens in the today’s Gospel of Mark, where two incidents occur on the Sabbath.
In the first incident, the religious authorities condemn Jesus for allowing the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath to alleviate their hunger. The authorities believed this violated the prohibition to work on the Sabbath. Sabbath as interpreted by the institutional religion had often become life-denying; a dark pall that hung over people’s lives like a claustrophobic shroud. It had become morally atrophied.
Jesus (clearly a better scholar of scripture than the authorities) recalls how the iconic David and his companions ate the bread of the presence when they were famished, even though that holy bread was reserved for the priests. By alleviating David’s hunger, the holy bread became life-giving and sustained the life of Israel’s great future king. Sabbath was literally life-giving, allowing David and his followers to have hope.
In the second Sabbath story, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. Despite the prohibition to “work” on the Sabbath, Jesus heals him (Jesus does not mock him, he heals him). The religious authorities are aghast that he has worked on the Sabbath.
Jesus contends that sometimes certain demands of the law are rightly set aside in favor of pursuing greater values and meeting greater needs, especially when those needs promote a person’s well-being and restores their lives. Both these stories are life-giving moments, leading us to hope when things seemed hopeless. Jesus conveys that Sabbath is about life, hope and love.
Jesus (and recently Bishop Curry and the Episcopal Church) remind us that God’s life-giving Sabbath love will keep us from deteriorating into a moral vacuum.
As a commentary I read stated, “If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t get to overlook those whose lives are being threatened on a daily basis. If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t get to pass over how the lives of others are being stripped of their worth and dignity. If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t have qualifiers or quantifiers for who deserves abundant life.”
This is what it means to be a part of the Jesus Movement. Proclaim your love of God, your neighbor, and one another as Jesus loved us. They are the message of the new great awakening which has begun in our beloved Church. It is life-giving and it will redeem us from the moral atrophy that threatens us. As Bishop Curry preached, “Love is the way.” It certainly is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian.
 Karoline M. Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.