I heard recently that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was kicked out of a restaurant because she works for the President of the United States. The owner said that they cannot be served due to moral differences. And apparently the restaurant’s Yelp page went nuts.
I know, this wasn’t just a publicity stunt, probably not anyway. But this owner was following their convictions and wanted to make a stand for what they believe in. And apparently not serving someone who is somehow related to something that believes different would accomplish that? I get it though, the owners of this restaurant just wants to do what is right. Just like that cake maker who refused to make cakes and that legal clerk or whatever didn’t want to issue marriage licenses. All these examples feel like they are so in the right that they put their job, their reputation, their future ability to walk down the street unnoticed, in jeopardy.
And yes, we all have our feelings about these issues. We all think that maybe this or that should or shouldn’t be done. We all sit on whatever side of the fence we sit on, and that line between us and those who think differently from us seems to be more apparent and thicker than ever.
I admit that I was never into politics, at least not as much as you’d think a preacher should be. But this past year and a bit…. Oh man has it ever been a storm of politics around my news feeds, and it seems like it is all my social media contacts can talk about. All this seems to draw that line stronger, build that fence higher, makes people much more polarized between us and them, the left against the right, the conservatives against the liberals, the republicans against the democrats. It has become such a black or white issue with people that any hope of anything in between is lost.
But I guess this isn’t new. People have been polarized from this and that since people had opinions. It’s like we can’t think of personalities in any other way, but you can only belong to one of two camps and that is who you are for life. There isn’t any room for a mix of the two options or even a third option. Just all or nothing. Like, are you a cat person or a dog person? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Are you an introvert or extrovert? The answers to these questions somehow informs us of how we understand each other and colours how we then relate. Like, are we similar, or are we different? Can we get along or are we arch enemies? Are we able to see eye-to-eye or are we destined to be in a constant state of disagreement and debate? And if whoever it is in question happens to be on the other side of this imaginary line, could they ever make it back to our side? I mean, for sure we’ll never change our minds, of course not, we’re always right. But can they ever have their eyes opened and see the light? What will it take for them to shed their erroneous ways and join the land of the correct and righteous? As it stands now, as deep as we have drawn that line, it seems like nothing would be able to do any of that. They are them and we are us. There is no hopping that line, climbing over the fence, crossing that chasm between the this and the that.
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus’ almost irritated question to the disciples inadvertently points us to the “this or that” kind of mentality. We think that you are either fearful or you are faithful, and it is clear that the disciples here are fearful so we can ascertain what camp they belong to. And really, we look down on them because of it. We make fun of them, even. Sometimes we wonder how someone who spent so much time in the literal presence of Jesus could have such a hard time believing. I mean, if you’ve seen with your own eyes that people are healed, that the hungry are fed, and the religious elites are shushed in their tracks, wouldn’t you have a bit more faith and trust?
It’s a no wonder that God goes on this rant to Job who seems to be questioning God’s power and authority and wisdom. God is like, have you forgotten everything that has happened thus far? Everything that has been done? Everything that has been created? For crying out loud! How much more needs to be done before you believe? How much more before you trust? How much more before you have faith?
Well, I wonder if that is the thing. I wonder if it isn’t really a this or that thing. I wonder if it isn’t a something that can bring us from here to there, that can change our minds about polarising issues, that can inform us of what is right and what isn’t so much, but it is a someone.
I mean think about it, the disciples were really afraid, no doubt. Any one of us would be afraid. I don’t know how many of you have been on a boat on a large body of water before, but it isn’t like being at a pool. Well, it is because it is water, but the pool is much safer because you have the sides of the pool to lean on, you have lifeguards at each corner, and you have a floor that is no deeper than like 6 feet down. It isn’t so bad and actually is a lot of fun. But in a large body of water? There are no walls to lean on. There might be lifeguards but they’re probably really really far away. And there is no floor. It just goes down and down and down and man it is scary.
So yeah, the disciples were scared, they were in this rickety hand-made boat probably without any life jackets, and a storm was brewing. They had nothing to help them, no lifeline, nothing to trust but this guy who was fast asleep on a non-buoyant cushion. They probably know he can do something… like if he were awake. But he wasn’t, so of course they question his care about the situation. I mean, how could he even be asleep? If the wind doesn’t wake him, at very least the screams of terror should have done something.
And when Jesus finally wakes up, he does his thing. It almost seems like he takes out all his frustration he had for the disciples’ faithlessness on the storm and the wind gets real quiet, real fast. And the disciples? Well, they’re just as afraid as ever.
“Who is this? That even the wind and sea obey him?” Seriously, who is this? Aquaman? That is a great display of power, enough to make anyone rest easy that they are on their side, but yet… they still fear. And at the same time… they have faith.
See, faith and fear are not polar opposites. They aren’t independent of each other. They don’t cancel each other out like some math equation. But there is a way they very much relate to each other. There is a way of looking at them and understanding how they work together. There is a way that you can move between the two, not in a jumping over the fence kind of way, but more of a fluid dance that again depends more not on a something but a someone. It isn’t an event or an experience that changes you from this to that. It isn’t a convincing argument, it isn’t a compelling realisation, it isn’t witnessing undeniable proof. It is… a relationship. It is relationship that moves us, that informs us, that helps us discern what is right and what is wrong.
Think about it, when someone asks you if you are a cat person or a dog person, doesn’t it depend on the dog or cat’s personality? I’ve met both that I like, also both that I don’t like. And honestly, I just prefer not having my furniture and shoes all chewed up by any animal.
Is the glass half empty or half full? Well, it depends. I don’t have a personal relationship with my drink but my answer changes if I am pouring something into the cup or if I am drinking out of it. Am I an introvert or extrovert? Really it depends if I want to talk to the people I’m with or not. Are you fearful or faithful? I really don’t think you can have one without the other. You can’t have faith if you aren’t afraid, and you can’t be afraid if you don’t have faith in what should be and shouldn’t be.
See our actions aren’t determined so much by what is right and what is wrong, not strictly. But they are results of what our relationships look like. What do we feel for the other? How do we see our relationship and community? What, to us, determines someone as worthy?
So should we serve people that we don’t agree with in our jobs? What does your relationship with people other than yourself tell you to do? What about illegal immigrants, what should we do about them? What does your relationship with people in need tell you to do? What should we do about environmental issues and concerns? What does your relationship with the earth tell you to do? What should we do about those who are different from us or who disagree with us? What does your relationship with a forgiving God, gracious and merciful, wanting nothing more than having a relationship with all of us, calling us to the other side of our comfort zones, our safety nets, our sleep-inducing cushions, tell you to do?
Life isn’t a this or that. We aren’t classified as an either/or. We aren’t identified as fearful or faithful. Rather, we are called into relationship, no, we are purused by the God of creation, wisdom, and might, not just for the sake of relationship but that we can know true love and community with God and each other, relating to each other with grace and peace, that we might stand for all that is right and just for the sake of the world.
As we head into the summer months and this season after Pentecost, may we embrace our relationship with God and each other, that we might minister and be ministered to, learning to lean on and love the community that we are called to, working harmoniously together in proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.