For many, the sea conjures up delightful images.
Some enjoy the serenity of a quiet walk on the shore,
Or a cruise to a tropical island.
Modern images of the sea are typically tame and inviting:
Lulling us into associating the sea with a sense of tranquility.
The sea can be described in an endless number of ways.
It is refreshing, beautiful, and humbling.
But not so for our Gospel writer, Mark.
Mark’s sea is not a place for romantic cruises on crystal blue waters.
According to theologian Sharyn Dowd,
In Jesus’ time, the waters were considered to be demon-filled,
And threatened to leave widows behind whenever their loved ones set sail in pursuit of their livelihood.
Mark’s sea is where discipleship is challenged,
Where boundaries are impassable,
Where life hangs in the balance,
And where evil lurks as a formidable foe.
Storms happen—even to the best,
The smartest, and the most prepared among us.
Storms terrify us,
Knocking us around,
Threatening to destroy our stability and security.
We don’t know whether we can withstand them,
And we are uncertain of how long they will last.
At least, that’s how a storm at sea would be for most of us.
And that’s how it was for the disciples.
At the end of a long day of teaching,
Jesus needs a break and initiates a trip across the Sea of Galilee.
Although the water is usually calm,
The wind coming over the surrounding mountains can suddenly raise a tumultuous storm.
Even with Jesus on board,
They still encountered tremendous gusts.
There was no avoiding this storm.
Even as they faithfully followed Jesus’ instructions to cross the water to the other side, they were beaten by waves.
Even though surrounded by other boats—the wind howled--
And the boat seemed to be sinking.
The disciples were terrified that they would perish and Jesus was asleep:
Relaxing on a cushion!
So, they cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And it is then that Jesus calmed the sea with the words, “Peace, be still.”
We may have never crossed the Sea of Galilee,
But we’ve been in that boat.
This story is not just a story about a boat trip and stormy weather.
It’s a story about life--
Times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger have often been compared to stormy seas.
They come upon us weather we like it or not.
And life is like that.
We can avoid some storms by watching the weather forecast,
And by using some common sense.
We can avoid some emotional, spiritual, financial, and social disasters by being wise and following instructions.
But sometimes, bad things just happen--
Even when we’re minding our own business:
Doing what’s right,
Living out our baptismal covenant to the best of our ability with God’s help.
Sometimes, life places us in a boat and the storms begin to rage--
The storms of pain and loss--
The storms of rejection and failure--
The storms of illness and death--
The storms of pandemic and polar vortex.
Whenever or however they arise,
Storms are about changing conditions.
Life becomes overwhelming and out of control.
The weaves crash,
The boat fills up,
And we’re struggling to stay afloat.
For more than a year,
The storm of pandemic has taken us to uncharted waters.
We have a desired destination but are not sure of where we will end up,
Or how we will get there.
The water is deep,
And the new shore is a distant horizon.
We long to trade in our lament for the psalmist’s proclamation:
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”
Instead, we find ourselves crying out in fear,
“God, where are you? Do you not care that we are suffering?”
When the wind ceased and the waves became calm,
Jesus questioned the disciple’s fear and lack of faith.
It’s worth nothing that Jesus never said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The storm on the Sea of Galilee that night must have been extremely fearsome if seasoned fisherman doubted their own ability to keep the boat afloat.
We often confuse the two phrases, but saying,
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,”
Is quite different from saying, “Do not be afraid.”
The truth is that things that cause fear are very real.
Isolation, pain, viruses, the loss of jobs, the loss of relationships,
Illness, and death are all very real.
Like the disciples in our text,
We are also challenged to rediscover our faith in God’s word when we find ourselves in the midst of storms.
The questions Jesus asked the disciples are the questions he continues to ask us:
“why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
As we grow in faith, we come to understand that the things that cause us despair do not have the last word.
Yet, faith does not eliminate, change, or take us around the storms of our lives.
Rather, faith takes us THROUGH the storms:
Reminding us that Jesus is there with us.
We are reminded that the power of God is mightier than any wind that beats against us.
That the love of God is deeper than any wave that threatens to drown us.
Jesus invites us to stay with him in the boat saying,
“Let us go across to the other side, I won’t leaved your side. I’ll journey with you.”
And let’s not forget that Jesus was not addressing only one disciple when he invited them on their boat trip.
He addressed all twelve,
And Mark tells us that other boats were with him.
They were in community.
If the past year has taught us anything,
It is the importance of community.
People have worked so hard to stay connected to their communities:
Even while apart.
Just as the disciples set off for the other shore with Jesus in the stern,
We too, journey with our community,
Accompanied by the Master of the ocean and earth and skies,
Who promises, “The wind and the waves shall obey my will. Peace. Be still.”
After the last winds died down from Hurricane Katrina,
There was little optimism among those who remained in New Orleans.
But in the heart of the French Quarter,
In the courtyard behind St. Louis Cathedral,
They found a sign of hope:
A statue of Jesus:
Standing with outstretched arms on a white marble pedestal:
Amid the rubble, unscathed by the destruction all around.
A giant magnolia tree had fallen a few feet away;
So had an ancient oak.
Several burial vaults lay broken and smashed.
But there stood the risen Christ with outstretched arms, offering peace and calm.
When the storms of life toss us to and fro,
May we be reminded that the Master of the winds and waves is present in every storm and his response is always the same:
“Peace! Be still!”
And welcome to our annual meeting Sunday.
In the past, it has been my practice to give a sort of “state of the church” address as the sermon for an annual meeting Sunday.
I usually take the time to reflect on where we’ve bene in the last year.
What we’ve accomplished,
What we still want to work on,
And consider some dreams for the future.
It’s quite similar to a president’s State of the Union.
(Although not nearly as long: and with no references to political parties!)
But I will say this:
Despite all of the political turmoil in our country:
The state of the union is on the one hand, the presidents explaination of the condition of the nation,
On the other hand: it’s meant to be uniting.
That is after all, the root of the word “union”
To join together.
And today, our church is particularily gathered together as a union.
It’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel reading today:
“A house divided cannot stand.”
We must be united.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we always have to agree:
But we do need to take some time:
With ALL the members of our community,
And reflect on the state of our union.
The state of our church.
And this is precisely what annual meetings are for.
It’s an opportunity for us to all come together:
Not only the vestry, or other congregational leaders:
So please: If you are able to stay after our worship today,
I’m also very aware
That this is my first annual meeting with you all.
And I’ve hardly been here for three months:
Making it slightly difficult to do a traditional, “state of the church address.”
For this reason, Dan, our extremely faithful senior warden will lead us in our meeting today,
And I can promise you that next year I will be much more equipped!
But its also important to note that I do have SOME things to say about the State of the church.
And let me tell you:
The state of the church is GOOD.
The state of St. John’s church is GOOD.
After MONTHS: Actually over a YEAR:
Of not being able to worship in person:
Here we are.
And not only that:
But a GOOD number of us are here.
Before I say any more:
I want to be clear that what we do is not about the numbers.
Church is never about how many people attend.
Having a good amount of people attending can be a sign of health and vitatlity:
And that is GOOD.
The statistitians report that churches can expect to be at only 80% of their pre-covid attendance by this fall.
It’s June: and we’re already over our 80%.
As a matter of fact:
We had the same number in attendance on Easter Sunday this year, than on Easter 2019.
(Where most churches saw a significant decrease in attendance).
This is GOOD.
And not ONLY that:
But the amount of children here at St. John’s is ASTOUNDING.
I’m certain we host more children here than most congregations in our diocese.
This is GOOD
And not only THAT:
But the welcome and hospitality to people of all ages in this congregation is incredible. We are not just a church for the young. And we are not just a church for the old.
We are a church for EVERYONE. Where everyone is welcomed.
And I say this not just as your priest:
But also as a parent.
I have attended many congregations where my children were not welcome.
(or at least: were not welcome to be children: and instead expected to be tiny adults).
The welcome, care, and PATIENCE that you’ve shown my children means the world to me.
And I’m certain it does for every other parent and grandparent too.
And this is GOOD.
Your commitment to the larger New London Community is one of ministry and service:
One that most churches wouldn’t even be able to imagine.
Through the thrift store, and the food pantry, you feed, clothe, and care for hundreds.
This is GOOD.
And not only that:
But our healing prayer center just opened!
Your firm and unshakable belief that God can and does heal is powerful:
Making a difference in the lives of those we love, and the lives of those that we don’t even know.
Isn’t this GOOD?
And I’ll be honest:
Most of the things that I’ve worked on with congregations in the past:
You already have figured out.
All of that goodness that I talked about above is part of what drew me to you.
But not because it means that we can just sit back, relax, and revel in all our goodness.
Because here’s the thing:
There is absolutely NO limit on God’s Goodness.
Today’s collect opens by saying:
“O God, from whom all good proceeds.”
ALL GOOD proceeds from God.
And there’s no limit.
No point at which there couldn’t be more.
So what Goodness do you still long for?
What Goodness can we give out to the world?
The church’s annual meeting is a time where we take care of some of the “business” that needs to get done.
But it’s also an excellent time to dream and reflect:
To dream and reflect on the possibilities of God’s INFINATE goodness:
And how we can be a part of it.
Nothing is off the table.
We wont be able to do everything:
But we can consider anything.
We wont be successful at everything we try:
But we can try anything.
I wont know how to do everything!
But I’ll learn more about anything.
Will you join me?
Can we come together as the family that we are:
The undivided house that we are:
The UNION that we are:
To explore new options,
Ideas, and adventures for us and for all the people of God?
But one more thing:
We don’t have to figure it all out today.
We CAN’T figure it all out today.
But today marks a beginning for us:
To begin consciously thinking, exploring, and praying for what’s next for us.
What new good things we can be and do.
And there is no point when its all figured out:
When it’s all finished:
Because there is no end or limit to God’s goodness.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.