12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – June 20, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Job 38:1, 8-11; Psalm 107:23-26, 28-31; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
A Strange Year
This weekend, June 20th, marks the one year anniversary of my first weekend here at St. Mary. And as you are probably all aware, today marks my last weekend here at St. Mary. It’s bittersweet. Because of course I am excited and looking forward to the opportunity to be a pastor, to shepherd and serve in a parish on my own. But I am also sad to leave St. Mary, to leave this place and all of you. It was short-lived, but my time here has been an incredible blessing, an important time of growth for me, a true gift. And I am forever grateful.
It was a bit strange, though. I showed up at a strange time and during a strange year. The pandemic overturned our daily routines, jeopardized our health, economic security; it took lives; it filled our days with uncertainty and discomfort, often leaving us feeling helpless and afraid, for a thousand different reasons. Last summer, there were the many events that shocked our nation and prompted social unrest and a desperate cry for justice. And to top that all off—as if that wasn’t enough—we had an election that pushed the country into an even deeper divide, and drove a wedge not only between political parties, but through our families, through siblings, through parents and children, through friends.
These events—these real life, concrete, tangible events—these events woke us up and made us aware of things we had preferred to ignore. All of a sudden we realized how needy we are, how we are not as self-sufficient as we think we are. We realized that this sense of control we walk around with, walking around every day thinking we are in control of our own destiny and everything—we realized that we’re not. We realized how big and complicated and intricate and delicately balanced the entire world and society and our relationships are—and suddenly things got very overwhelming, very quickly. And we began to think, “Who will come to fix things? Who will come to save us?” Doctors, scientists, the police, those fighting for social justice, the NFL, the NBA, politicians, philanthropists? Who?
“Why are you scared?”
What this past year did was make very real and very concrete what our Faith has tried to point out to us our whole life. You know, we come and say these prayers and read these readings every Sunday, but usually they don’t sink in. And when the illusion was taken away, when we all discovered together that “everything is amazing but nobody’s happy”—all of a sudden, in the midst of the “amazing,” no one could avoid the fact that there was at least one thing that threatened them: threatened them and their health directly, threatened their sense of control, threatened their sense of self-sufficiency, threatened their whatever. As a world, as a country, a city, a parish, a family, individually—all at once the calm and “amazing” life we had evaporated.
We were scared, terrified. Scared for health, or for our country, or for our investments, or for our sports seasons—we were scared. Life became uncertain. Everything unraveled. There was a dark, ethereal, not-easily-identifiable evil at work, threatening to destroy the good things around us, the good people around us, the good things happening. And all of a sudden, we revealed what we truly believe. In the way that we reacted and responded to what was going on, we revealed our true beliefs. We were scared, terrified, because we thought we were goners, that the country was a goner, that society was a goner—and that everything was going to end. And we cried out: “Don’t you care that we are being destroyed?”
And the response? “Why are you terrified? Why are you scared? Do you not yet have faith? Don’t you believe yet?” The response was: “If you believe what you say you believe: why are you so scared? why are you so uncertain? why has your life fallen apart?”
The Power of the Kingdom
What this past year revealed to us is how we often tend to leave all of this—our faith, our supposed beliefs—all of this is left at the level of ideas about how to live our life, ideas about how to be a good person so that we can go to heaven when we die. “What is some good advice for this week about how to live my life?” Or, “That’s a good reminder about something I do or do not agree with, and now I can get back to my ‘real life,’ back to the stuff that ‘really’ matters.” If this is all just ideas and advice about how to be a good person, a little “take it or leave it” talk…what are we doing?
Because you’re right, Jesus gave us a lot of teachings and moral commands and moral encouragement. Last week, we heard about those parables of how the Kingdom of God is like a planted seed growing mysteriously, the mustard seed growing. So yes, there is a lot of ideas and teachings and such in what Jesus does.
But we’re wrong when we leave it at that. What Jesus is speaking about in the parables—the Kingdom, this power at work in the world, the new arrival of the power of God at work in the world—what Jesus has been speaking about and announcing, we see in very concrete terms and experiences here in our Gospel today. We see that God’s sovereign power is being unleashed, His kingdom is at hand, the same power at work in the beginning when He created the world and the mighty seas is at work again when the seas are calmed. This power—this real, tangible, concrete power is at work in and through this Jesus guy.
The disciples had left everything that Jesus was saying at the level of ideas. And now, when something comes along threatening their life, threatening their security and safety and control—now they are terrified. Their true beliefs are revealed.
When Jesus calms the sea, he doesn’t say, “Ta-da! I’m God! Now be a good person and hopefully you can go to heaven when you die!” No. Not at all. He exposes their unbelief! He ridicules them, gets upset with them for being scared! Why? Because they need to toughen up and learn how to not be such scaredy cats in the face of a storm? No. Because here is this new power at work in front of them, here is this new kingdom being announced and the power of this kingdom being demonstrated right in front of their face—and they still don’t believe it, they are still operating as if this were all just a bunch of nice ideas, and so they are still scared by the things that threaten their “normal life.”
“If anyone is in Christ, there is new creation.…Behold, new things have come.”
This is where you need to go and read that second reading from St. Paul, and read it over and over and over again. Sit with it. Pray with it. Paul says: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
For anyone who is in Christ, participating in him, living the life he offers us, being transformed by the power of his kingdom—anyone who is in Christ is a new creature. Sure, we look the same, we still suffer, there are no super powers. But we are a new and different creature, or more precisely, there is a newness being brought to fruition in us. In the same way and with the same power that God created the earth in the beginning, created the sea in the beginning, calmed the sea in this Gospel passage today—in the same way, the power of God at work in and through Jesus Christ, that power is being brought to fruition in you. You are being transformed into this new creation. The old way of being human is passing away.
Those things we used to have to worry about, the things that we should be terrified of, that should threaten us, that should destroy our safety and security and control…they are passing away. “Behold, new things have come.”
Until this sinks in, until our faith is this, until what we believe is really this—until we live our life constantly affirming the fact that there is a power at work in the world which is capable of “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, [due to] his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20)—until then, it is all just some nice ideas, and we are the most pitiable of people (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:19).
We come here each and every Sunday not to get some advice. We come to come in contact with this same Jesus we hear about in our Gospel. We come in contact with the one in whom there is a power at work greater than any storm. We come and are given a share in His life, a life which renews us, which transforms us. “Behold, new things have come.” Behold, there is a new creation.