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To the Other Side

Mark 4:35-41 and The Crossing by Ruth Moose

Sunday June 20th, 2021

Happy Sunday and thank you again for joining us for this worship service on this Fourth Sunday after Pentecost on what has been an extremely hot week here in the Mountain West. We are grateful to have a bit of relief as we come together today to connect with ourselves, with Spirit and with one another.

I invite you to take a few deep breaths, to let yourself arrive, to be in a position of openness. And as you are comfortable, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Let us go across to the other side.” That is what Jesus says to them- to his friends and his followers, the faithful fragment right in front of him. This was likely after a long day and the crowd still remained. Let us go across to the other side… And because of where this story lands in the Gospel of Mark, because it follows passages about the realm of God and the Kin-dom of Heaven, many scholars believe that this phrase isn’t simply an invitation to find a new beach somewhere, to seek out a spot with whiter sands and smaller waves. No, as Beverly Zink-Sawyer writes, Jesus was speaking of “more than a change of venue…” She goes on, “the other side is the Gentiles, the Gerasene’s, to what might be considered a dangerous and even inappropriate destination…Jesus reaches out to strangers, the others, even the enemies…”

So when he says, “Let us go across to the other side,” he is asking something significant of them, but maybe they said yes, because they didn’t know that yet.. Because some of them agree to get in the boat and they begin to make their way across the Sea of Galilee. And while we aren’t told how much time goes by, it was long enough that at some point, the weather changes character, the clouds change color, a storm emerges and their boat is swamped.

And, somehow, through all of this, Jesus is sleeping.

Upon reading this story right now, I find myself wondering if this was something like a test? Take them all out in a boat to see what he would do without his guidance? Or was he simply so exhausted and exhilarated from his speaking and healing and organizing that he collapsed comfortably to the rocking waves and hadn’t considered anything beyond that? Or was this just a moment that captured real life, where something incredible is followed by a storm that is followed by something beautiful that is followed by something surprising and on it goes?

As the storm rages, the disciples seem to become a bit frantic and so they wake him up. And with all that is going on around them, Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Amid a downpour, where it is hard to navigate, hard to see, hard to know where to move, Jesus is asking them about their faith. I would be annoyed by that… But I wonder though, is this something Jesus is asking us now too?

With all of the storms that are raging, with familiar behind us and comfortable far out of sight, what are we afraid of? We have already left all of that behind. Maybe the question is more about knowing what it is that is driving us, what it is we truly fear, or I am noticing that we can live unexamined lives, driven by our small self, our ego, our need to control. We end up living out of our fears if we don’t examine what they are. Instead of our faith- faith in a love between us, faith in the gift of this day, faith in yourself and in one another. Life looks so different depending on where we have rooted ourselves.

As we have been discussing over these weeks and months, we are in a time of rapid reforming, a reset, that could let us leave some things behind, because in some places we know, what is, isn’t working or simply won’t ever be again. Which means this is also a time where many are living in, rooted in and operating from a place of fear- responding out of worry instead of wonder, fearing the worst and waiting.

In the days leading up to our most amazing Guns to Gardens event last Sunday, many people asked us and asked me, “Aren’t you afraid?” “Aren’t you worried about all that could go wrong?” I know others involved were asked similar questions. And I know that I wasn’t the only one who lost sleep for most of the days leading up to the event, rather it was that we chose not to let it be the loudest voice in the room.

I tend to be someone who feels the need to get something just right, but we are living in a time that needs us to keep being willing to get it wrong because we dared to go first, because we cared so much we couldn’t help but try. That’s what we did last Sunday. And people told us they could do it better and people told us to worry because what we were doing was out of our reach and people told us to fear. And still we found the courage to move ahead knowing we wouldn’t have the cover of someone in front of us- just a boat in a huge storm with a group that decided to do something that many considered dangerous and even inappropriate in the name of justice and love, with Jesus at the helm.

And from what I have learned about you over these past 2 1/2 years I think this is in the DNA of this church. This has been and is a congregation willing to leave the safe, protected and familiar shores… This has included standing on street corners holding peace signs to stop the wars in the Middle East, leading the way on things like Right Relationship with the Hananahei, Interfaith connections in our community, sanctuary and immigration reform, dismantling racism, daring to talk about addiction and recovery, preventing suicide and raising awareness for non-binary ways of being, leading the way on things like natural burial and dying well and doing something big about ending gun violence. You have said again and again and again Yes! when the Universe has said “Let us go across to the other side.”

I believe we are living in a time that needs this, that needs us, to keep being willing to get it wrong because we dared to go first, to put ourselves out there because we care so much we can’t stay where we are. I am experiencing that people are hungry for this, which is why our congregation is growing and now we are a church that is defying the blueprint of the building for the sake of Building Beloved Community. People of all kinds continue to be drawn to the idea that faith is not just a philosophy, but a shared commitment to certain kind of life, a certain way of showing up for our Greater Love, for ourselves, for one another. People of all kinds, you, are drawn to this church, to you, to us, in part because we are a congregation of courage.

Like many areas of life in this country, the pandemic has increased the pace of existing trends, and so it has been too in the life of our church. These shifts started before my time here, but the pandemic has illumined for many people, both what is at stake and what is possible. These changes have happened over a decade or two in part because of demographic shifts and the cultural trends away from religious community, but growth here has also happened because we are willing to be courageous.

Some of our leaders have begun drafting a vision statement for this new season we are in, attempting to put into words what we see now for who we are and where we believe the Spirit is calling us to go. Vision is Videre, which is to see… It is not a plan, or a strategy, rather it is more like a way we plan to be together, in whatever storms come our way, how we protect one another from the sting of the sideways rain, what we want to hold onto and whom, in a world that is moving fast and often without intention or direction.

Here is the draft of the new vision statement: Community United Church of Christ is a Welcoming Community of Spiritual Seekers, with an ever-evolving progressive view of the Holy, that is actively engaged in building a world with justice for all creation.

It is aspirational in the sense that we won’t always be able to live up to it, but a vision, like a covenant is something we can return to again and again as a touchstone, a reminder of who we said we want to be and where we want to go, a vision we hold for who God wants us to be in the world. How are we widening our welcome? How are we open to spiritual seekers and those less familiar with tradition? And at the same time, how are we holding onto the best of our tradition and still grow from those seeking to be spiritually fed in new ways? How do we evolve in generative and gracious in depth and practice, knowing a rut can become a grave? How do we express our changing views of the Divine, especially as we ourselves are changed by our faith in what is and what we are seeing when we have faith in one another? And how do we let go and let our boat be taken sometimes, even knowing storms will come, but that passing through them is the way to building a just world for all, all the way to the other side?

We are a congregation of courage. And it is clear to me that we are living in a time that needs this, that needs us, that needs a community to keep being willing to get it wrong because we dared to go first, because we cared so much we couldn’t stay there and still we got it right. The world needs us to find the grit to move ahead even when we don’t have the cover of someone in front of us, of someone or something bigger or better than us. What is needed is us, as we are- just a boat in a huge storm with a group that decided to do something that many considered dangerous and even inappropriate in the name of justice and love, with Jesus at the helm.

“Let us go across to the other side.” May it be so. Amen.

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