Homily for Ordinary Sunday 12B

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2009 at 10:00 am

He was a disappointment.
A deserter.
A young man whose courage failed him when it really counted.

At least that was what St Paul seemed to think.

His name was John Mark, often known simply as Mark,
and Tradition identifies him with the Gospel that shares his name.

A missionary companion to Paul and Barnabas,
John Mark deserted them in Pamphylia.
He ran away.

As the earliest of the canonical gospels,
I wonder how much, without realising it,
we get to view things through Mark’s eyes.

The story of the young man at Jesus’ arrest
who runs away naked when the crowd grabs him by the cloak:
I wonder if there’s a little of the author’s self-confession there.

This morning we have fear and a journey:
fishermen, Jesus’ disciples, reduced to terror in the face of turbulent waters.

Do we see this also through Mark’s eyes,
the enormity of Christ’s call
on a disciple only too conscious of his failings and his fear?

There are strong parallels this morning
with another text the compilers of the Lectionary haven’t given us.
The story about someone asleep in a boat.
Storm and fear and desperation.

Jonah, world’s most reluctant prophet,
tries to flee from the presence of the Lord,
to sail in the opposite direction from where God directs him.
Asleep in the hold, he is woken by a ship’s crew desperate for every prayer,
every miracle-giving divinity they can muster.

And of course Jonah ends up in the ocean,
swallowed – as if this was a fisherman’s yarn –
by an improbably “big fish”.

The disciples of course, at least some of them,
are supposed to be fishermen.
That’s their trade, and will be reframed as their vocation as Apostles.
What sort of gale is it that makes seasoned professionals so desperate?

There’s a traditional Celtic fisherman’s prayer that goes something like
“Dear God, be good to me; The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.”

Not the understandable panic of our gospel story,
but the sense of it all being so beyond us, so overwhelming.
And I think this is where we meet Mark in the telling of this story.

Because it is a parable.  Told for our benefit.

I’ll ask you to raise your eyes to the rafters.
Note the shape of the roofline, its ribs and timbers.

Now, if I remind you that you sit in a part of the building called the nave,
you might see where I’m going.

Navis, nave, means “boat”.
And, drawing on the imagery of Noah and the Ark,
the Church has long understood that as a metaphor for herself.

We are afloat on mighty waters, preserving, saving,
journeying in a missional and in a metaphorical sense
from here, “across to the other side”.

The sea is wide,
our boat, while roomy, can feel very small indeed.

Like the disciples in their panic,
do we, I wonder, forget the power and the peace
of the one who travels with us, by whose name we are called?

Our gospel last week had Jesus preaching from the boat.
Now he is, incongruously, asleep while all about is chaos, wind and noise.

Mark puts these words to paper – or at least papyrus –
in the first throes of the Church’s persecution.
Pictures painted with language evoking tumult, fear and death-come-near
would have a very real resonance for First Century Christians.

The plea of those called to follow Christ is all the more desperate:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus’ response, his Lordship over chaos and danger,
is emphatically heard in his “Peace! Be still!”
Words that may have reverberated like claps of thunder,
or been whispered in the silence of Creation’s youth.

We, who do not live in that kind of fear,
who are not confronted with that kind of cost to our faith,
are still being addressed and challenged.

There is no-one drawing breath who literally “knows no fear”.
It is part of being human.

It may be death, it may be pain, it may be darkness, we fear.
Loss of control, loss of face, loss of loved ones…
The Word that called the cosmos into being,
whether heard as big bang or still small voice
speaks peace to us this day.

With words of comfort and challenge.
“Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

God in Christ Jesus has overcome death,
has bourne every terror and trouble that causes us to tremble.
The Resurrection proclaims that
“nothing in death or life, the world as it is or the world as it shall be
can separate us from the love of God.”

Let us allow that to resonate within us.

The Church is not called to live in fear, but to speak with boldness.
To not be apologetic for our faith,
but to give gladly of ourselves in God and others’ service.
To proclaim justice and hope and compassion
with our tongues and with our touch,
in liturgy and loving service.

Each of us a coracle of Christ.
A little boat on the great journey.
Each of us with Christ himself present and proclaiming peace.

Dear God, be good to me;
The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.

The Church may feel small and swamped by waves of change and challenge,
but we carry in each collective and individual vessel
the presence of the Lord, the Prince of Peace.
By our Baptism, we are Christ’s, and Christ is ours.
“Of whom then should we be afraid”?

The response of the disciples to the stilling of the storm
is one of awe:
The “fear of the Lord” that is not actually fear at all,
but reverence, amazement, beauty, humility,
and words for which there are none.

In prayer, in adoration, in this Sacrament,
the Church of God is built up, and brought to peace,
despite our fears, our anxieties about the present and the future.
Christ’s Church – and Christchurch – needs us
to be more anxious for the Gospel than for ourselves.

John Mark met his fear, found his peace,
and grew to become a faithful witness and Evangelist.
He was reconciled to Paul and preached the good news.
His witness endures after twenty centuries.

Jonah, despite himself, brought the people of Nineveh back to God.

What remarkable and everyday-extraordinary things,
things ultimate and intimate,
will we be party to,
trusting in Christ’s peace and the faith that is in us?


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