21 June 2015 Reflected Glory
IMAGE: REMBRANDT’S HANNAH AND SIMEON IN THE TEMPLE
You’re looking at Rembrandt’s Hannah and Simeon in the Temple, when the baby Jesus, 8 days old, was taken there.
Let’s look at the painting.
The baby Jesus is in the picture, all right. And the light in Rembrandt’s dark-and-light method of painting is on Jesus. But the “center stage” figure in the painting is the prophetess Hannah. We are to understand something about Jesus, about his importance, by the posture of Hannah, and the look on her face.
Just park that idea, if you will, in your mind. We’ll come back to it.
Today’s lectionary Gospel passage is Mark 4:35-41,
Jesus stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
IMAGE: REMBRANDT’S THE STORM ON THE SEA OF GALILEE
The passage is very familiar to many of us. Virtually all of us have seen Rembrandt’s portrayal of this scene. So much so, it may be tempting to just “tune out” as the story is read, and the image is shown. Let me suggest, instead, a different approach.
Actually, there are four “scenes” in the story.
Scene one is when the 12, and Jesus, are out in the boat, before the storm.
Scene two is during the storm, the scene Rembrandt has given us.
Scene three is at the instant Jesus stills the storm.
And Scene four is after the storm is over.
As we read and hear the story today, let’s try to imagine What Rembrandt might have done – or what you would do – to capture the truth of all the scenes, to make a series of paintings, to be shown together.
And let’s add one more element. In Godly Play, we ask our children, “Where are you in the story?” As you’re creating your tableau of mental paintings of the four scenes,
please also put yourself somewhere in each of them.
With that assignment, let’s read and hear the story. Listen for the Word of God.
IMAGES; MARK 4:35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
[Got your picture? (Pause 5 seconds, to let them visualize.)]
37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion;
and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
[Where are you? (5 seconds)]
39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!"
Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
[What are you doing? (5 seconds)]
40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
[What questions do you have? (5 seconds)] Mark 4:35- 41 NRSV
The Word of the Lord.
IMAGE: REMBRANDT’S “STORM ON THE SEA” (AGAIN)
Let’s start with the sea journey Before the Storm. As we sailed out, before any storm – in Scene 1 - where were you? What did you see, and feel?
In my case, I felt like one of the sailors, pretty much doing what I knew how to do,
enjoying the weather, and the rhythm of the ship, being obedient in making the trip, and expecting to learn something from Jesus during the trip.
That’s sort of like sitting here in this sanctuary, worshipping as we are accustomed to doing, and hoping to learn something during the service.
There are some things we can learn - or reminisce upon - today. The sea, for the Hebrew mind, was the abode – the location - of chaos. God created the earth, according to Genesis 1, not just out of emptiness, but also by the Spirit of God hovering over the dark waters of the deep, and bringing order out of that primordial chaos.
Worse yet, the sea, for ancient Jews, was the abode of evil. Not just sea monsters. but the very power of evil itself, lurked in the sea.
It is no accident then, that in the book of John’s Revelation, when the time comes when lions will lie down with lambs, when there is no more weeping, no more wailing, no more dying, John says, at chapter 21, verse 1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
A deadly storm at sea is one of those thoughts which evoke dread, not just in sailors, but in all of us. And that’s true, at both conscious and unconscious levels. One of our most frightening dreams is of falling, especially falling into dark water, and drowning. We wake ourselves up, before we let those dreams reach the end.
The continuing power of The Navy Hymn has much to do with the fact that it recognizes and evokes this deep-seated fear of the sea.
So when Jesus invited his disciples to get in a ship and venture out on the Sea of Galilee, this was not a pleasure cruise. There was a purpose – something “on the other side” which he didn’t explain – but he never suggested that this was a holiday, or that everything would be an uninterrupted good time.
During the Storm
Where were you, and what were you doing, in Scene 2, during the storm?
Were you one of the professional fishermen, accustomed to storms at sea, but not to this kind of storm?
The symbol of the Church as a ship on a stormy sea is as old as the story of Jesus walking on the water in Matthew 14. The disciples had gone out on the sea without Jesus. Their boat was being buffeted by the waves, and Jesus appeared, walking out on the water, to rescue them.
That symbol also carries with it the Church’s strong belief that spiritual safety has to do with being on – and in - the ship.
In the Matthew 14 story, Peter tries to walk on the sea as he sees Jesus doing. Peter succeeds briefly, but then begins to sink. The Church, through the centuries, has taken for granted that Peter’s walking on the sea by himself might have been theoretically possible, but was short-lived in the real world of faltering faith, and of constant threats of chaos and evil.
The Church has taken for granted that individual faith grows out of, and needs the sustaining power of, the faith of the gathered community – the other disciples in the ship. Genuine trust in God is not transferable. We can’t just will another to have it, or hammer it into them. But the faith of individuals, of a family, and of the community, has a kind of sacramental power. God uses it to quicken faith in others, to keep it alive and fresh, and to restore it when that is needed.
Richard Deibert in his commentary on Mark, reminds us that Rembrandt’s painting perfectly captures this symbolism, right down to the fact that Rembrandt’s ship has a cross as its mast.
Rembrandt portrays two of the disciples in the act of questioning a sleepy-looking Jesus
while the storm rages.
As with Hannah in the first Rembrandt painting we saw, we see the significance of Jesus, again, reflected in what others are doing. He is the one they are looking to for help, when things go wrong.
Sometimes we raise questions about peripheral things, like, “What happened to the other boats who went out with them, and the sailors in those boats?”
But when bad things happen, don’t we find ourselves asking the deep questions, wondering: Has God gone to sleep? Doesn’t God care? That’s exactly the questions the disciples were asking in the story.
Where were you in Scene 3, The Instant Jesus Stilled the Storm? Were you jumping up and down with joy and relief? Were you just stunned, to be alive, silent and unable even to move? Were you looking at Jesus, with gratitude showing all over your face?
And where were you, in Scene 4, After the Storm?
Notice that in the story - and in our lives - the questioning doesn’t stop when the storm is over, when Jesus has stilled the storm. The questions just change, to different types of questions.
Did Jesus invite us to sail across the Sea of Galilee, knowing all of this was going to happen, or even causing it to happen, and using it as a test of our belief in his miraculous powers?
Or did Jesus not know what was going to happen? When God chose to come among humans as one of us, did that include taking on the human limitation of not knowing everything? That is suggested in Jesus’ remark in Matthew 24, that no one knows when the end will come, not the angels, not even the Son, but only the Father.
And if Jesus limited himself in this way, as a way of being fully human, how does that change the story, and our story?
Richard, again in his commentary, reminds us that Jesus, while he certainly was more than a human being, nevertheless was a real man, a real human being. And as a human being, Jesus trusted God enough to be able to lie down and sleep, with no fear, even if he as a human being should drown in the storm.
Whatever comes, God can be trusted! God can be trusted to be true to his love for us,
to give meaning to our life and to our death, to use it for good, to turn it to good,
whatever happens, including death itself, our death, or the death of those we love.
This is the kind of trust in God which Jesus the human being had. And this is the kind of faith – the kind of trust in God – we are intended and expected to have.
Then there’s another question, in Scene Four.
When our personal storms have been stilled by God’s love, and grace, and power,
and we’ve had time to reflect on what has happened, then we – along with the disciples in the story - still ask the question, “What kind of man – what kind of being - is this, who can do this?”
The questioner, in all of us, can’t help but raise questions, about Jesus. About his nature. About how he can be both human and divine. About his miracles. About why, when he fixed the storm, he didn’t go ahead and fix the sea, eliminate evil, once and for all.
Jesus didn’t tell us sailors that we should have no questions. But underlying all our questions, Jesus tells us we are expected to have faith, a powerful trust in God, who never stops loving us, and never stops creating his kingdom of peace and blessed community, whatever we see happening in our world!
This sermon, already prepared, had to undergo some changes three or four days ago
when a 21-year-old white American male went into an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot and killed nine church members, including four pastors.
The evil which ancient Jews located in the sea, seems for us to be located in the human heart, and in cultures. We recognized it in Nazi Germany in their hatred of Jews. We see it in the Middle East hatred between Shiites and Sunnis, and in the enduring Far Eastern hatred between China and Japan.
And it keeps rearing its hateful head here in the United States, especially in the context of race.
We have come a long way from slavery and segregation. But we keep being reminded that some of the evil is still there. The storm has not yet been fully stilled between blacks and whites – and others - in our culture.
We must do all we can to keep the Blessed Community ship afloat, working together politically, economically, socially, however we can.
But we as Christian believers also must be aware that our national storm will not really be stilled, until hatred in human hearts is healed, until souls are transformed. Each of those is an individual event. And each one is a miracle.
Stilling the storm - that is what Jesus does, and that is the miracle we need to pray for,
even as we do all we can to fight against this particular storm.
As we try to control the sails and the rudder in the storm, and as we keep bailing out the seawater that has washed into the ship, a trustworthy God is at work, on his timetable and in his way, to still this storm, and every storm.
The day will come, when the sea will be no more, when human hearts and human cultures will be healed, and transformed. God’s kingdom will come, “on earth as in heaven”. That is the good news which is our durable hope.
One final thing. I teased my friend Bill Burrows by telling him he’d have to come here today to learn what happened to the other boats in the story.
When today’s story becomes our story, we know in our hearts the answer to the question about the other boats. The God whom the human Jesus could trust, even if the storm should kill him as he slept, is the same God we can trust, in waking and in sleeping, in life and in death.
The same living Jesus who stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee, can still every storm that evil from any source – the sea, human hearts, culture - can throw at us.
And the God who showed us who he, God, is, in Jesus, also loves all of His other children, the sailors in the other boats. They are in God’s loving hands, whether they know it or not, and whatever the outcome of the most horrendous storms that this life may have to offer.
But they might not know that wonderful good news! So Jesus invites us to tell them.
Isn’t that what “Go into all the world” really is all about? Today, evangelism has gotten so mixed up with imperialism that many don’t want to listen, and many of us are reluctant even to use the word.
Maybe today Rembrandt can help us be aware that our lives are living stories, and images, which others do hear and see, and that our lives are intended to reflect the fact
that we have been, and are, in the boat with Jesus, and that he is stilling all our storms.
Maybe the best way we can tell the sailors in the other boats this incredible good news of a loving and trustworthy God, is by the look on our faces, the tone of our voices, the character of our lives, when things are going right, and when they go wrong – by our trust, and our actions, in which they might see the reflection of Jesus, of his trust, and his power, and his love, and his glory.
In the Name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.