JESUS’ AWESOME LOVE
Mark 4:35-41; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Have you ever stood in awe of Jesus as the disciples did in our gospel lesson for today? It seems like wherever Jesus went, people always were amazed at the miraculous things that he did or the astounding words that he spoke. Here we have a combination of these two dynamics as Jesus said, “Peace, be still,” and immediately the wind ceased and the water became dead calm—not just calm, but dead calm. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus’ disciples that he had just chided them for their lack of faith. They were so awestruck by Jesus’ capability to calm the sea that his critique about their lack of faith went right over their heads.
However, I am curious! When you visualize Jesus in this boat with his disciples, do you see any women in the boat with him? Why not? The disciples were only crossing the Sea of Galilee to get to the other side. They weren’t going out fishing, which generally was a man’s occupation in those days. So, why wouldn’t some of the women who faithfully followed Jesus and stood in awe of him as well be included in this transit across the sea? Then again, if some of the female disciples of Jesus had been in the boat, perhaps they might have demonstrated a little more faith than these men who were afraid for their very lives. Jesus obviously wasn’t too concerned about dying. He was fast asleep in the stern of the boat. So, why were these men, several of whom were experienced fishermen, so terrified?
This morning, I would like you to imagine some women in this boat with Jesus. That is the frame of mind that it will take for us to begin to recognize that the people who followed Jesus included women, and presumably even some children. Here is where Jesus was so awesome in his own right because he did so much to break down the patriarchal system that was so dominant in his day as it continues to be to this very day. I know that I am reading a lot into this gospel lesson for today by placing a few women in this boat with Jesus, but if we don’t change our image of those who were faithful followers of Jesus, then we will miss out on all of the ways that Jesus also was an awesome challenge to the patriarchal system of his day.
Twenty eight years ago, when I was asked by the staff of N Street Village in Washington DC to facilitate a spirituality group for 8 previously-homeless women in recovery who were living in Sarah House, I accepted the challenge and ventured into a world for which I was ill-prepared. As a way of opening up the conversation, I would read a story about Jesus’ encounter with women in the Bible and then invite these women to share their own stories as they could relate with the conditions of these women in Jesus’ day. As I listened to their stories about how they had been abused, mistreated, beaten up, prostituted, and raped by the men in their lives, including their male pastors, I couldn’t help but wonder how much I was a part of the system that enabled this kind of male domination and behavior to continue in our society.
About this same time, one of our volunteer art therapists discovered through her work with these women that one of them showed signs of having a multiple personality. As this therapist began to explore this means of using art to invite the women to express their various personalities, at one point, 5 of the 8 women in Sarah House were diagnosed with multiple personalities. A woman who has this condition generally has experienced a severe trauma or traumas caused by other people in her life, and has created a new personality for herself in order to escape from and cope with this trauma. The skilled staff of Sarah House had not been trained to deal with this newly-discovered behavior, but their motherly intuition kicked in and they would end up reading bedtime stories to these women at night when their child personas would come out.
As the population of Sarah House was always in transition, I could usually count on at least two of the women in the household at any one time self-identifying as being lesbian. They were completely accepted in this milieu, but they had their own stories to tell about how they had been shamed and rejected by the fundamentalist churches in which they had been raised. That they had any faith left to speak of was a miracle in-and-of itself. The stories about Jesus’ encounter with women in the Bible and his acceptance of the women who were considered to be outcasts or heathen in his day spoke volumes to them about the love with which Jesus walked this earth.
Probably the most painful part of these women’s journey was the separation from their children that they had to endure due to their own choices around their drug addiction, their prostitution, and their criminal activity that sometimes resulted in their incarceration and eventual homelessness. They longed for the day when they could be somewhat whole again so that they could be reunited with their children. Until that day, they knew that they had to work on themselves and become stable enough to be able to live on their own without entering the revolving door of becoming homeless once again.
For many of these women, one of the things that had sustained them through all of these trials and tribulations was their faith in God, and especially their trust in Jesus as the one who had been with them in the depths of their suffering and pain, and who had brought them to where they were today—on the road to recovery and a place to call “home.” If anyone could attest to having survived the stormy seas of life, many of these women could make this claim. As far as I am concerned, these women are the heroines of faith who could stand up with Jesus in that boat and say, “Peace! Be still.” They understood the meaning of resurrection. They knew all about the implications of being given a new lease in life.
Jesus is all about giving everyone a new lease in life. The Apostle Paul received this new lease in life when he was called by the voice of Jesus to leave his violent ways of persecuting Jesus’ followers, to put away his sword, and to proclaim the good news about the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and the reconciling power of Jesus’ forgiveness as one of the primary ways that God’s reign would take place in this world. For this reason, Paul is able to declare in our lesson for today that now is the acceptable time and now is the day of salvation—not some time off in the distant future after we die. This gift of forgiveness that Paul experienced in his own life was evidence of God’s grace as revealed by Jesus and was the inspiration and motivation for Paul to go out and tell the world about God’s amazing love and the awesome deeds that Jesus had done to reveal God’s love to this world.
As the result of Paul’s faithful endeavors, we learn today that he had to endure all kinds of afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger. In this regard, Paul experienced his own stormy seas in this life time and time again. His message often was not well received by men who were threatened by this message of God’s love that called for a new beloved community in which the patriarchal hierarchy that was the dominant norm in his day would be replaced by a much more egalitarian way of being together in community. Granted, Paul did have his own issues about women speaking out in the solemn assemblies of the church, but he admittedly was as much in recovery as anyone else in terms of being liberated from these systemic divisions between men and women in order that he might realize Jesus’ vision of a new community and a new way of life in which everyone had a voice at the table and no one would lord himself over others as men are prone to do.
Today, as we celebrate the pride of people of all genders and sexual orientations, we remember and lament the way that straight men, many of whom have professed to be followers of Jesus, have been the primary source of suffering and pain for those who were too afraid to reveal their true identity. Needless to say, the seas have been very stormy for those who were rejected by their parents, cast out of their faith communities, incarcerated for their supposedly illegal activities, and persecuted and sometimes killed by homophobic men whose own identities were threatened by those who simply wanted to exercise their right to celebrate the way that God has created you and accepts you to be yourselves in this world.
Given all of the different people whom Jesus welcomed into his company and accepted for who they were, we can confidently say today that people of all genders and sexual orientations certainly would be included within Jesus’ beloved community. There isn’t a word that Jesus spoke or an act that he performed that would give us reason to think otherwise. In this regard, Jesus is still very much present with us here today, especially in this meal, saying to all of you who have experienced these stormy seas in your lives, “Peace, be still, and know that I am the revelation of God’s love for you and for all people in order to assure you that God’s grace is not in vain, but that God’s grace is meant to be your liberation and salvation today and every day.” Amen.