Endings & Beginnings: Faith in the Face of Storms
On Sunday June 20th Upper Sackville and Sackville United Church witnessed a change in the structure of the Sackville Pastoral, liturgically marking the enactment of the change in pastoral boundaries requested by Upper Sackville United Church of the Region and the end of the ministry of the Rev. Lloyd Bruce to the Upper Sackville congregation.
Below is a recording of the 9am Sunday Gathering at Upper Sackville United Church which includes the return of the historic roll and the symbols of ministry. At the end of the service there is an image of the card that was given to Rev. Bruce.
A recording of the 11am Sunday Gathering at Sackville United Church can be found by following the link to our Facebook page. During this gathering the end of the relationship with Upper Sackville United Church was acknowledge with gratitude for the ministry that was made possible as a result of that relationship and with hope for the future.
The scripture passage and text of the sermon delivered by Rev. Lloyd at both the 9am gathering at Upper Sackville United Church and the 11am gathering at Sackville United Church is printed below.
With gratitude for almost 50 years of shared ministry between the Upper Sackville and Sackville United Churches, and for four years of ministry with you, we set forth in new directions.
(the Rev.) Lloyd A. Bruce
MARK 4:35-4:41 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 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?” 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. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 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?”
When we come to stories like the calming of the storm, I’m inclined to think John Dominic Crossan is close to the mark in his famous quotation:
My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally. They knew what they were doing; we don’t. (Who is Jesus?: Answers to Your Questions about the Historical Jesus pp 79)
Today’s reading is a familiar one. I recall it from very early childhood: seeing pictures from my Sunday school lessons of a powerful Jesus standing in the bow of a small boat, his long hair and his perfectly white robe blowing in the wind, stretching out his hand and you could just tell that the storm would be over any second. If you had illustrated children’s Bibles, maybe you have similar memories of these stories?
In Mark’s gospel this is one of those stories that is told as a way of showing both the identity and the power of Jesus. It is a way of showing that in some way Jesus has, or has access to, the same power that brought order out of chaos in the first place. “Who is this man?”
On one level this story is presented as an “event” from the life of Jesus. They were in a boat and only the power of Jesus saved them from capsizing and presumably drowning. We might see it as an impossible tale and doubt that it ever happened. We might very well see it as irrelevant for our lives today. Where was this power when small boats, or large ships or oil rigs were swamped and sunk in storms at sea and many lives were lost?
When we remove this story from the realm of history and allow it to be seen as a faith proclamation, recorded as a metaphor, it speaks of a power that can transform our very lives.
What does it have to say to those who struggle to stay afloat on a stormy sea and never seem to experience the calm? There are a lot of things we could suggest that this passage is saying – but – there is one thing I can say it is NOT saying. It is not being told to beat up on those who have not been able to experience the calming presence proclaimed in this story.
Some people and communities may use this and other stories as “weapons” but that is not what the biblical stories are meant to be. These stories are told to show us how we can be in the midst of trouble. By providing us with story, parable, or obvious metaphor great truths are proclaimed.
Martin Buber once commented that stories like this one are more than a report of a “once upon a time event.” Stories like these are themselves an event, Buber insisted. Because they have the quality of sacred action. The sacred essence to which the story bears witness continues to live in them. Stories like these testify to our experience….
On the surface, this is a story about an unexpected storm on the sea which threatened the disciples and Jesus. But at a second and third listen, we hear a story about what is expected from faithful people when catastrophe strikes, and even more than that, we hear a story about what we can expect from God when chaos and suffering are rampant.
I heard the echoes of this story as I sat with one still grieving the death of his beloved wife of almost 60 years…
I heard the echoes of this story as I sat with another who finds themselves in the midst of a crumbling marriage…
I heard the echoes of this story as I listened to one tell me of their recent diagnosis, that the prognosis is not good…
I heard the echoes of this story as I sat with Nelson and Jasmine and Finnian as together we struggled with the loss a wife, mother, sister, friend and neighbour – a many faceted diamond who reflected the light of love in so many ways…
Teacher do you not care that we are perishing.
Teacher do you not care that our hearts are broken.
Broken for many reasons including the on-going discovery of unmarked gravesites on the grounds of former residential schools…
Tomorrow is National Indigenous Peoples Day and finally after seven years we can celebrate the adoption of legislation aimed at harmonizing Canada’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Finally after seven years it passed third reading, paving the way for the bill to be enshrined into law before a possible federal election.
Seven years! Seven generations!
A similar bill was defeated at 2nd reading in 2014 and then died again on the order paper in 2019 when an election was called… and still there are some raising alarms about the bill, that it does not contain a definition of consent… truth be told we may simply be paralyzed by the fear that comes with accountability … after all we got ourselves into this boat.
Why are we so afraid to really get to the bottom of the far too many “missing and murdered Indigenous women”. It seems to me that it about far more than family violence, or even violence against women… it is systemic racism.
What are we afraid of? What keeps us from asking the questions?
Why are we so afraid the settle the many outstanding land claims?
Why is it that so many Conservative senators have objection to the principle of ‘free and informed consent’ in respect to processes for approving activity on Indigenous land, including natural resources extraction. Ah right, we’re used to just taking what we want… including the children of Indigenous families and carting them off to residential schools…
Perhaps this story from the life of Jesus of Nazareth has something to say about the fear that paralyzes us.
Many scholars suggest that whenever the gospels tell us that Jesus is crossing a lake, that he is metaphorically crossing a boundary from the known into the unknown, or from land seen as friendly to a place seen as hostile.
From the known to the unknown…
Not that I needed any reminding – but this week I came across the sermon I preached on this text six years ago… on that Sunday I shared with those gathered to hear this same gospel passage of one of the most difficult decisions of my life – choosing to end my 26-year marriage to Anna.
It was a tumultuous time. For me, for Anna, for the boys and for our extended family.
It was an incredibly scary time.
There were days back then when I wondered about the wisdom of even trying to cross the lake – thinking perhaps it would have been better had I just left things as they were and be content with life as it was…
At that time, I had no idea what the future would hold… but I knew, even as the winds battered my spirit and the waves threatened to capsize my fragile craft, even as I felt incredibly alone in those moments, that I was doing the right thing for me.
Yes, it sound’s selfish I know, and maybe it was – but I knew I needed out of the relationship for I felt as if I was drowning within it…
And yes, I know my leaving caused significant hurt, but I needed to swim on my own.
I didn’t know in that moment that a year later I’d be dating Jen or that 2 years later I would be married to her and be dad to now six amazing kids.
It is not lost on me that this moment in the history of the Sackville Pastoral Charge is not unlike a separation, a divorce, a leave taking where one party has called the end, and the other is left vacillating between feelings of relief, grief, sorrow, anger, regret, sadness and so on…
I remember one pop psychology article I read in the months following my separation – a headline designed to grab attention: “The Leavers and the Left… A How to Thrive Guide After Divorce”.
The best bit of wisdom of that article is found in the last paragraph:
Divorce isn’t easy for anyone, whether you were the one who decided the marriage was over or were the one who received the news. Regardless of your situation, you are responsible for your actions after the decision has been made. Strive to act with compassion and kindness towards yourself and others.
Surely that is wisdom that all of us can take to heart, “Strive to act with compassion and kindness towards yourself and others.”
We do not know what the future holds – just as I didn’t have a clue about what tomorrow would bring six years ago, neither congregation knows what next week, let alone next year will bring.
But we do know what is past – and while there may be some difficult memories there is also much for which we can give thanks.
Let us focus on that.
Someone shared with me earlier this week a quote from Haruki Murakami, words, that had I heard them six years ago, I would have brushed them off, as I was so caught up in all the challenges of the time… words that I know today to be so true:
Haruki writes in Kafka on the Shore, “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
You won’t be the same person. We won’t be the same congregations. We will be changed.
Debie Thomas reminded me in her reflection on this passage, of an often-overlooked fact… Jesus is just as present in the raging water as he is in the soothing calm that follows.
Despite the disciples’ inability to perceive it, there is no point in the night when God is absent or even distant. In that vulnerable boat, surrounded by that swelling, terrifying water, the disciples are in the intimate company of Jesus. He rests in their midst, tossed as they are tossed, soaked as they are soaked.
Perhaps you will join me, as I join Debie, in spending the rest of our lives seeking this one grace — the grace to experience God’s presence in the storm:
the grace to know that we are embraced by the divine even in the bleakest and most treacherous of places… the grace to trust that God is with us even as our relationships break down and break apart… the grace to trust that God is with us when our hearts break in grief… The grace to trust that God cares even when we’re drowning in debt and have no idea how the bills will be paid… The grace to believe in both the existence and the power of Love even when Jesus “sleeps.” Even when the miraculous calm doesn’t come.