Do You Not Care?
Trinitarian Congregational Church
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Anthony S. Kill
June 17, 2018
Texts: Mark 4:35-41
I want to start today’s sermon with an historical footnote for this week. You know what happened in late June 376 years ago, in 1630? Here’s a hint (hold up a fork). Yes, it’s a fork. On June 25, 1630, John Winthrop, the first governor of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony introduced the first fork to these shores as an eating utensil. Did you know that throughout most of human history, people didn’t eat with forks? They ate with the utensils God gave them – their fingers. If they had to cut anything down to size to get it into their mouths, they used a piece of sharpened stone or bone or metal, which later became the knife. If they needed to scoop something up, they used a bit of bread, or they used a piece of flattened or rounded wood or bone, which became the spoon. Who needs a fork, if you have a knife, a spoon and your fingers? The fork actually was invented long, long ago – the ancient Greeks even had them – but most people never used them at the table. So Governor Winthrop was the first colonist to bring a fork with him to the new world.
A few years ago, when some of my clergy colleagues and I were remarking on this bit of historical trivia someone reminded us of a story that was making the rounds on the internet at the time. (So, as they say, I don’t know if this ever really happened this way or not, but if it’s on the internet, I know that the story is true!) Anyway, I think it’s not unrelated to the message of today’s Gospel. The story is about a young woman who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and was told that she only had a few months to live. So she started putting her affairs in order. And one of the things she did as part of that was to make an appointment with her pastor to plan her funeral service. The pastor came to the house, and they discussed the participants in the service, and the scripture readings, and the hymns, and special music. She even told his what dress she wanted to be buried in.
Everything seemed to be in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something else. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “This is very important. I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor just looked at her quizzically. The woman explained. “From the time I was a very young girl, I always remember that at big family gatherings and church dinners and special occasions, when the dishes from the main course were being cleared away, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork, dear’. It was my favorite part, because I knew that something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and rich. So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What’s with the fork?’. Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork….the best is yet to come.’”
The pastor was in awe. He then knew that this woman had a deeper faith in God and a better grasp of heaven than he did. She KNEW that something better was coming.
And sure enough, at the funeral, people walked by the woman’s casket, and saw her with her Bible in one hand, and that fork in the other, and over and over the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?” During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had had with the woman shortly before she died, about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. He said he couldn’t stop thinking about the fork, and now they probably wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it either.
So the next time you’re at table and you reach down for your fork, you might think of Governor Winthrop and the first fork in North America. But you might also let it remind you, oh so gently, that the best is yet to come.
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped” The sea was a symbol of Chaos in the ancient world, because violent storms could blow up so quickly. This particular storm happened on the Sea of Galilee, a pretty good sized lake (13 miles long by 8 miles at its widest point) Storms could appear suddenly and without warning. Several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, and had surely experienced bad storms at sea. The fact that they were so afraid tells us that the danger was serious. An experienced fisherman would not over-react to a moderate storm, but would never get over the fear of truly dreadful storms. There is an ancient and well-attested fear and distrust of the sea and all things nautical in the Hebrew people, and it is well attested in the Bible. According to the Genesis story, the first thing God had to do in order to start the creation of the world, was to put the waters in their place and make them stay there or else the forces of chaos would take over again.
Several psalms use imagery of a stormy sea to describe the powers of evil and destruction from which God alone can deliver them. Psalm 69, for instance: Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. Or from Psalm 18: The breakers of death rolled over me, the torrents of perdition assailed me; In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
Or Psalm 124: If the Lord had not been on our side, when our enemies rose up against us, then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters.
There is much in our lives that is not in our control. Disease and illness, certainly, and acts of nature, and accidents of fate. Things that blow into our lives and the lives of our loved ones, unexpected and uninvited. Also, in the realm of human society and human relationships, so often we are not in control.
At work, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our nation, situations and events happen, conflicts arise, difficult choices have to be made – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, sometimes we just don’t know till later and we’re not really in control of how it all turns out.
And we can try to hunker down and protect ourselves by just not choosing, not acting, denying, not making any more waves or rocking any more boats than we absolutely have to.
But that avoidance can be paralyzing, and we still have no assurance that tragedies, conflicts or difficulties won’t happen in our lives.
And so we hear Jesus’ words of invitation and command. “Let us go across to the other side.” Not “Let’s stay here on this peaceful shore tonight” but “Let’s go across to the other side.” As I said, the sea was a symbol of Chaos in the ancient world, because violent storms could blow up so quickly.
So this was no small thing Jesus was asking his disciples to do: “Let us go across to the other side”.
And do you know what would be awaiting them over on that other side of that lake? What Jesus and his disciples would find when they got there? hostile strangers – gentiles. swine herders; and a shoreline full of tombs, where a wild man possessed by demons ran naked, howling and thrashing about night and day. That was the chaos that waited across the lake. But Jesus simply says, “Let us go across to the other side.” And the disciples obey. They leave the crowd that Jesus had been teaching all day, and head into the unpredictable sea, and the harsh and alien land beyond. Sometimes, to be faithful followers of Christ, it’s not an option to settle in for the comfortable and familiar and peaceful. Sometimes we even need to choose to launch out into the unknown, fully aware that danger and discomfort and uncertainty may wait there. Even some chaos may await there.
And when we face danger or discomfort or uncertainty or chaos in our lives, how often are we tempted to respond like the disciples: “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Not just “Lord, come fix this” but “Don’t you even care?” “What are you, sleeping through all this?” “I’m about to die here! Aren’t you at least as anxious and upset about this as I am?” How could Jesus be so serene as to actually nap through the storm?
Sometimes our fear, our anxiety in the face of crisis or danger, can be a bigger barrier to our peace and wellbeing than the crisis or danger itself. The disciples were afraid because they all they could see was the storm. Their eyes and minds were fixed on it. How could they have any peace when they were focused only on the wind and the waves? The crisis had their whole attention. It’s hard to see the Christ in the boat when our attention is riveted on the waves outside the boat. When our attention is so consumed by the storms of life that we cannot see Christ, or turn to Him, or trust in Him, then there is no peace, no hope, but only worry and despair.
So our panic, our anxiety about our predicament, and our fears about what might happen can be as big a problem as the predicament itself. Then we too don’t have sufficient faith. We don’t trust that God has power over the wind and the waves that buffet us, the chaos that threatens to unbalance us. We don’t believe that there is a calm power in our boat, in our lives, in our church, who can say “Peace. Be Still.” Christ can bring calm in the midst of the storm.
The storm might still rage around us, but in the bosom of the Lord of the Sea, there is peace. There can be healing on the other side of that turbulent lake, even in that unfamiliar land. For all that may confront us and challenge us along the way, we need to remember, something better lies ahead, and Christ will ride with us through it all. In fact, “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”