the lake doesn’t care; and Jesus brings peace to the lake

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Reflection for Wesley Uniting Church, Refugee Sunday

 Mark 4:31-35

Richard was friends with a sailor, who spent his lifetime sailing the Great Lakes of North America. Richard asked his sailor friend, ‘Have you ever been in a really BIG storm?’ In the sailor’s eyes, there was a distance, a look not easily understood. Richard asked the sailor, ‘Have you ever been REALLY afraid?’ As the look in the sailor’s eyes changed, Richard saw how little he knew, how little he would ever really understand. The sailor’s eyes changed one more time, as the sailor decided to give Richard an answer. ‘Always remember … that no matter how big you are, the lake is bigger. And the lake doesn’t care.’

(adapted, from Richard Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Mark, p. 178)

Jesus’ question to the disciples is, why have you so little faith? And it is easy to allow that question to make us dismissive of the disciples. Easy to overlook the experienced fishermen among the twelve, who keep the boat afloat while Jesus sleeps. Easy to overlook the trust the inexperienced boaters may well have shown in their companions, following instructions perhaps to help keep the boat together, and each other alive.

ocean

How unfair it is, to so dismiss these men. How unfair, and how unjust. All who stepped into that boat had their skills, abilities, and experience. The disciples – in the referencing them together we make no error, but consistently calling them by the collective noun not their names, does help in dehumanising those people in that boat.

Listening to this story, and reflecting on our own, we might be tempted to consider ourselves in a boat, on somewhat stormy waters. We may feel as though systems of organisation for our life together here have faded into irrelevance as the world skidded into the chaos of a pandemic; the reliability necessary for life revealed to have been no more than a shallow assumption born of a sheltered life. (ref: Swanson)

But as we look around, take stock after the year we’ve had, we might notice that we, in our church, in Australia generally, are on the edge of that storm, our boat sturdy and reasonably well steered, and the situation we endured was not the chaos we feared it might become.

Our experienced fishers have adapted their skills and experience to the times – recall how our elders with Bruce Stevens not only connected with members through expressions of care, but learned as they did of the myriad ways you, all experienced fishers, experienced Christian disciples, were holding each other safe through the storm? Not connected? Not cared for? Not going to return? Have we so little faithfulness that we could not see?

Consider our A/V team, adapting and expanding their skills as they went, so as to connect us all in gathered worship in new ways? Or our musicians, liturgists, preachers, Children’s Pastor?

So well have we come through the storm as a congregation, it might almost seem, looking back, that the storm could have been contained in a tea cup.

But of course, Covid-19 is a big, big lake. And the lake doesn’t care.

So it matters that the experienced among us used their skills to keep us together, and safe. That the vulnerable trusted those with experience. That the crew held together through a storm like nothing we’d known before, we can acknowledge, and our congregation, overall, is well, and even growing, if we are a little worn out from the effort of hanging on.

We have shown, and if you won’t take my word for it, ask any of our elders who have consistently shared this observation themselves, we have shown through the pandemic suspension of gathering and return to adapted practices, that we do care for one another well. Was this our turning to Jesus and receiving from him an unexpected inner calm, a peace in the midst of chaos??

We heard so many of you last year say you’d felt connected with each other, perhaps even more than usual; your conversations were going deeper; you grew to appreciate being together in worship, with children, with kin in Christ you hadn’t got to know before.

We have been doing Christian welcome well, as we hold people of diverse cultural backgrounds, faith convictions, sexualities and gender identities, disabilities, and ages in safety, nurturing wellbeing for each, especially those who have been unable to connect and find home elsewhere. I’m thinking not only of Sunday worship, but Thursday Friendship Group, Coffee Craft and Chat, Children’s Chapel, Tennis Club, Men’s Shed, Sunday Youth, Family afternoon teas.

And Church looks different to what we’ve known before. I’ve got news for you. Church has needed to look different for a very long time. And it will continue to change, as it must, responding to the changing shape of life in our community, changing needs of our members. How we have done and been church in the past isn’t wrong, it just isn’t meeting the needs of many of the people who might like to participate in Christian community today. What will the experienced Christian disciples do, then? Panic? Or use our experience to adapt to changing circumstances, and hope.

What did those experienced fishermen with Jesus do?

They kept the boat afloat through a storm like none they’d known before, using all their skill and experience.

And when they called out to Jesus, woke him from his sleep, what were they expecting him to do?

When we call out to Jesus, what do we expect him to do? Take away the inconveniences of change? Make us comfortable again?

Get us through the storm alive?

Or calm the storm altogether?

We tell this story without any wonder, any more. Two thousand years of hearing that Jesus calmed the storm and we forget, that it is impossible to calm a storm. We forget how awesome it is for Jesus to speak order out of chaos the way Creator spoke order out of chaos in the beginning. We forget to be amazed that the lake is always bigger, and the lake doesn’t care, and Jesus calms the lake.

Now our own storm is all but over, are we content to put Jesus back in the stern with a cushion, out of our way? Are we content to pretend the storms are all over, storms causing chaos for humanity, and the earth? Those storms can’t be calmed, surely. Those lakes are huge. And they don’t care.

Bodies of water like oceans and borders that don’t care, that threaten life, and yet that people still seek to cross because what they leave behind is the real storm, the real chaos, the real threat to life.

We have watched in horror and dismay as the Muragappan family have been exiled to Christmas Island, exiled from the new home into which they found welcome, exiled from our country’s compassion and help. And we watch with concern for where they will be allowed to go from here.

Refugees. Asylum seekers. Reduce people to a collective noun and we strip them of their personhood, capacity, experience, worth. Put these families in boats approaching our shores, boats we have to Stop!! and we fail to show our own humanity as we remove theirs altogether.

Priya. Nades. Tharnicaa. Kopika.

These humans found home in Biloela.

And we rejected them. Our leaders. The people this country elected to govern. Sent them to prison, effectively. Traumatised children who were born in Australia. Any other child born in Australia would not be so rejected, treated as not, actually, one of us.

Here is a storm raging. Here is a big lake that does not care. That whips up waves to toss small boats about, boats venturing forth seeking life.

How desperate do you have to be, to cross that lake, or ocean, or border, with all the threats to life they hold, because what’s behind you is a storm like no other?

Our faith looks like the care at which we have shown we are proficient, as we have traversed our retrospectively teacup sized storm this year.

How little is our faith?

Or, how brave might it be?

Do we have enough faith to see that our care reaches out and is that peaceful presence in the midst of chaos? Do we trust each other, and ourselves, and the experience we bring to the boat, the storm, the chaos?

Will we wake Jesus up, not simply to help steady our rudder, but trusting he can, and he will, calm the entire storm, bring peace to the lake that does not care?

Do we have enough faith to pray for release of the refugees and asylum seekers from makeshift homes and prison – detention centres, and believe God can bring peace to our world?

You will have seen an invitation in the newsletter to write to the new minister for Home Affairs in support of returning the Mugurappan family to Biloela, where they have been welcomed into the community, and found home. I commend this enactment of our prayers to you. If you cannot send an email yourself, please consider leaving your message on the paper in the foyer, and I will collate a collective email to send from Wesley members.