All my life I’ve missed the point of this Gospel story. I thought it was just one of those “here’s what happened today with Jesus.”
But now, after having lived some life, after spending some quality time with Jesus and trying to follow this One that is love incarnate, I think there’s so much more to this Gospel story than: Remember that one boat ride with the Messiah?
The story starts like this: When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Let us go across to the other side. I don’t think Jesus is talking about the lake or the sea or a river. Jesus is talking about the other side…..moving from darkness to light, from death to life, from this world’s Kingdom to God’s kingdom…….Let us go across to the other side.
And then Jesus just settles down…..gets comfy….and falls asleep. Because for Jesus, it ain’t no big thing….or maybe Jesus knew it was going to get rocky….. whatever the reason, Jesus is definitely calm, cool, and collected.
But for those disciples……crossing over to the other side was a whole different story. It was risky. There was wind and lots of waves, their boat was getting swamped…..it was rocky and nauseating and they thought they were going to die.
Friends, for me this is a pretty accurate description of any time my worldview, my way of seeing and understanding things, has been uprooted and challenged….any time I have had to make major changes or I have had one of those personal growth experiences…..any time I have been confronted with my own ignorance or my own pettiness, my own darkness and brokenness….it feels like a storm a’brewin’ and just like these disciples…..I don't like it; I become fearful, often nauseated, and I want it to stop!
Crossing over to the other side might be nap time for Jesus, but it is hard, risky, life-challenging work for the rest of us.
This is true for the Church as well. Whenever the Gospel has demanded that the Church re-learn its truth, whenever the Church has had to own up and confess its own brokenness, it is some messy business.
In my life in the Church, I’ve experienced this a few times---most especially with women’s ordination and same-sex marriage. As I’ve lived through these issues, as a priest’s kid, as a faithful person in the church, as a mother raising kids, as a youth minister leading young folks, and as a priest finding her way and figuring out what it means to be a pastor, I have felt the wind in my face and have seen the waves swamping the boat.
Let me share two small stories with you when I’ve felt the storm shake my security. I went to my high school Prom with one of my good friends. We went to junior high together in Eau Claire, but then my family moved away, but I continued to return to Eau Claire regularly and see my good friends, so when Prom time came, one of the guys in our friend circle asked me to come to the Prom with him in Eau Claire. I said yes. It was fun, but not romantic. We had a serious, Prom-night conversation and decided we were just friends. And we continued to be good friends when I came to college in Eau Claire a few years later.
And then one night, my friend shared with me that he was gay. He talked about how hard it was for him to tell his brother and his family. He talked about how he often felt alone.
After our conversation, I really wondered about the church’s belief that homosexuality was a sin. I knew my friend; he is a good, loving person. He is kind and gentle, caring and compassionate. I wanted him to be loved, the same way I wanted to be loved by someone. I didn’t know what to do with what I had been taught, what I had believed my whole life, and the truth of who my friend is.
Several years later, I was serving as a youth minister and one of our youth was a foster child of a family in the church. She was a fragile young woman with several emotional issues. She and I had connected pretty well, and one day she asked to come in for a conversation. She shared with me that one of her very close friends believed she was gay.
She asked me if I thought this meant her friend was going to hell, if her homosexuality was a sin. I hesitated. I told her my truth at the time: I don’t know. I really don’t know. Because, you see, I had never really wrestled with the issue properly and completely. The chasm that had opened up between what I had been taught and my lived experience and truth of my friend was something I had just left gaping….I didn’t know how to close it up so I just didn’t walk too close to the edge. Then this young woman asked me if the Church thought homosexuality was a sin. I told her there was struggle and conversation in the Church about it, trying to hedge my bets, and then she said, yeah, but what does the Church really say…like, officially, about it?
Sighing, I said: That it is a sin.
That moment is etched in my memory. I know the pain those words brought to this young woman who was already so tender. I wanted to erase them, sponge them out; all I could do was love this young woman. And to tell her that she and her friend were loved by me, loved by God….that much I knew. That much was true.
Both of these experiences were the waves swamping my boat and the wind stirring up the water----I didn’t know it then, but I was crossing over to the other side…..and Jesus was in my boat whispering: Have faith; don’t be afraid.
Beloved: Humanity makes God into our own image; it is part of our brokenness. In our understandings and descriptions, God ends up looking and acting quite a bit like us; after all, we like calm seas. The voice and leadership of Western Christianity has been predominately male, white, privileged, and educated.** Therefore, our images of God have been predominately male, white, privileged and educated.** But here’s the thing: God isn’t male or female. God isn’t white or black, Asian or native. God isn’t cis-gendered or transgendered, heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual or bisexual. God isn’t any one of those things. God is all of those things. Why do I say this? How can I believe this? The Bible tells me so: Genesis, chapter 1, verse 25: Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us…
Humanity is made in the image of God, not the other way around. And humanity is female and male; humanity is white, black, Asian, Latinx, Middle-Eastern, and indigenous; humanity is transgendered and cis-gendered, gay, straight, bi, pan, and hetero. Humanity is all of these things, and so is God. If I want to know God—deeply and broadly---faithfully and as fully as I can—then I must come to know the width, depth and breadth of humanity, for it is in the full rainbow spectrum of humanity that God dwells, that God lives and breathes. It is the entirety of humanity that reveals God’s image and truth. The Bible tells me so.
My name is Jane Johnson. I am a heterosexual, cis-gendered female and my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I believe in the Holy, Beloved Trinity of God, who is no gender, and yet all genders and all the spaces in-between. God’s pronouns are they, them and theirs.
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
**Upon reflection: I should have added: straight and cis-gendered to this description.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself that house will be unable to stand.”
In today’s Gospel, we hear God’s call to us to be a united Kingdom, a united house. It seems to me that there are two ways to live toward a united communion, a united Kingdom.
The first way is to seek out folks that are alike and to “circle the wagons,” if you will; include in your kingdom only those who are like you in some way. We have seen this throughout human history because as humans we have created nations with borders, imaginary boundary lines on geographical maps, hierarchies of power and privilege, denominations of “same beliefs,” and even gated communities and segregated neighborhoods.
This way of building a kingdom through uniformity leads to warfare and bloodshed; it leads to racism and segregation, and it leads to isolationist nationalism. It places value on some lives, but not on all lives. It leads to children being separated from their parents and being kept in cages---and this in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” This very human way of “uniting” has only led us to brokenness, to sinfulness, to evil---perpetrated in the name of safety, under the guise of patriotism, but all driven by fear. Fear of the other---this fear that is so very much our American history, very much our human history.
But there is another Way---a truer way to build a united Kingdom. It is the way of common identity. But not basing identity on geographic origin or ethnic origin, not basing one’s identity on genetic factors or common languages, common customs or even common beliefs. But identity based on one simple fact: that God is the Creator of all life.
When we realize that our unity comes from the One who Created---then we begin to realize that we are not only connected to all of humanity, but also to all of Creation. And then, Beloved, then we can live lives and create societies and systems that places value on all life---humanity’s and Creation’s. In this way of building Kingdom unity, we recognize that each of us is only a piece of the whole, and that we are connected to all of Creation, so then we must be committed to honoring, building, and sustaining those connections, our connections to all of humanity and to this fragile earth, our island home. This is how Jesus builds Kingdom; this is how God binds us in communion.
Mother Theresa once said: “if there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
Baptism is a proclamation of this second way of Kingdom building—this Way of Jesus. For in Baptism, we are saying yes to God’s claim on our lives. In Baptism, through the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Jesus, we are declaring that we are connected to all others. And in Baptism we make radical promises:
Baptism is the invitation and entrance to an alternative community, a community that lives out this Jesus Way of a United Kingdom. Where we are all bound to one another because of who God is—our Creator---and because of whose we are----God’s beloved. But not only us here in this place, not only people who look like us or sound like us or believe like us---but all people—All people, no exceptions---and all of Creation. This alternative community we have joined through Baptism doesn’t look or think or behave like the world around us that continues to place value on some lives, instead of valuing all lives. This alternative community of love, of the beloved, is based on the will and the way of God, not humanity’s.
Maybe you think it’s all a pipedream---just nice words to put on a postcard or a T-shirt: A United Kingdom, a United House, a Beloved Community. Maybe, maybe it is. But let me leave you with a story.
There was a man who heard of a remarkable Master, a Master who did incredible things, miracles that changed lives. And the man wanted to meet the Master. So this man traversed land and sea to find his way to the Master’s land. When he finally arrived, the man met a disciple, a follower, of the Master. So the man asked the disciple: “Tell me, what kind of miracles has your Master performed.”
The disciple looked at the man and said: “Well, there are miracles and then there are miracles. In your land, it is considered a miracle if God fulfills the wishes and desires of the people. In our land, it is regarded as a miracle if people fulfill the will and desires of God.”
Sabbath: a gift that God has given us which we are well aware of, but a gift we choose to ignore. Sabbath seems to be a quaint notion--- a lovely idea that we’ve simply got no time for (which is a bit ironic because Sabbath is the gift of time). It is a law, a command from God, that we continue to set aside, somehow convincing ourselves that Sabbath just doesn’t fit in with our way of life today. In fact, in the book Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, Sabbath is defined as “A special day of resting that we think we are bigger than, even though God is not.”
Yep, God took Sabbath---God worked hard for six days, doing the work of Creation, the work of giving, saving and restoring life, but then God rested—rested in the good work of salvation already completed. And then God commanded that we do the same—that we take Sabbath---calling us to stop, every seven days, from the hustle and bustle, the running around of our lives and just stop---and rest in the salvation work already done. We are to rest in God---for 24 hours---every seventh day.
Today we hear that this command for keeping Sabbath is established for the sake of humanity---because we need it. We need it if we are going to be the people God has called us to be, if we are going to do the work we are called to do as citizens of the Kingdom and co-workers in God’s ongoing salvation work.
Sabbath, after all, is making space and time for God to work in our lives. Space and time for God to empower and equip us to do the creative, life-giving, healing work of salvation. Keeping Sabbath forms and shapes us so that we can choose to save life, rather than take it. Because, Beloved, the truth is that every day we are confronted with choice after choice of whether we will live in ways that save life or that take life; these are choices that affect us, other folks around us, and even folks halfway around the world whom we will never know.
For example, when I go to the store or the farmer’s market, I can choose a fair-trade coffee that is grown and produced in such a manner that I know the actual farmer and workers will get their fair share for their labor or I can choose a coffee (that is often cheaper) where the corporation is going to make a big profit off the backs of the laborers. If it is a struggle for me to afford the more expensive coffee, I might even have to make the choice to drink less coffee so that I can afford to buy the fair-trade coffee. In a very real sense, my choice can help to prevent poverty or to cause poverty. Enrich or impoverish.
Another example from day to day life: I can choose to bike or walk to a nearby meeting—which also means I have to choose to build in more time for traveling---using less gas and less fossil fuels, also causing less pollution in the air, thereby taking care of this fragile earth our island home---choosing to save the life of the planet instead of taking from it for my convenience's sake.
It’s these simple, everyday choices: deciding how I will use my consumer power, choosing how I will affect the environment, selecting how I will respond to people in my conversations and interactions, determining for whom to vote as we choose legislators who make laws about how we live together on this planet earth---these everyday choices are how we practice and live into resurrection.
Beloved, as Christians, as Jesus followers, we are people called to make these everyday choices by utilizing the same baseline that Jesus uses. A baseline, after all, is simply the minimum standard, the starting point of a decision, and it is made clear in Scripture and in today’s Gospel story that Jesus’ baseline is love—it is saving life rather than taking it. And, unlike the Pharisees in today’s story, Jesus refuses to parse out where and when the baseline comes into play. For Jesus, Love—the giving, saving, and healing of life—is always the starting point, the minimum, the baseline of how one is to choose.
This refusal to parse out when the baseline will serve his comfort or provide him more control means that for Jesus saving life, being love, always wins over any other choice. So yes, this Christian life calls us to protect the life of the unborn child, but then we must also protect and care for the life of the child at the border, and the child beyond the border. It means yes we honor and value the lives of the soldiers who serve, but we must honor and value those same lives after they have served and refuse to accept the outrageous situation we have before us of over 40,000 veterans who are homeless on any given night. This baseline of love means that yes, we support our sisters and brothers in Israel, but we are also called to love and support our Palestinian brothers and sisters with no less fervor.
For Jesus, and for us, there is no parsing out of which life has more worth and more value. All lives are valuable and worthy---all lives are redeemable; Beloved, remember, this Jesus is the One who turned to the sinner on the cross next to him and invited him to a seat at God’s banquet table. All of us are saints with a past and sinners with a future---there is no parsing out of greater worth here.
And Beloved, because Jesus rests in God’s love, making space and time for God to work in and through his human life, because Jesus keeps Sabbath, Jesus can see and hear where God is at work in the world, this work of salvation, and Jesus is ready and equipped to join in that work---even when the rules and the customs of the world around him demand a different response.
Sabbath is both a gift from God and a gift to God. Sabbath is established for us because we need it; if we are going to live into this life of Jesus we entered at Baptism and reaffirmed in Confirmation, this Way we pray and preach week in and week out--then we need to keep Sabbath. The world around us does not have this love of Jesus as its baseline; our American culture and society does not have this love of Jesus as its baseline; our great Western civilization does not have this love of Jesus as its baseline. But the Kingdom does. Our truest identity does. This Jesus movement does. Beloved: let us live into our promise. Keep Sabbath and live into the Kingdom. Keep Sabbath and let heart be changed. Keep Sabbath and change the world, not only for ourselves but for all others. Beloved, let us keep Sabbath.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.