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The Other Side

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 24, 2012

The Reverend Paul Roberts Abernathy, Rector

      “Let us go across to the other side.”[1] The day was done. The great crowds, gathering to hear Jesus’ teaching had dispersed. Evening had come. Time to move on, to continue the ministry on the other side of the sea. Jesus, weary from the day’s labors, falls asleep. A fierce storm arises. The terrified disciples wake Jesus, demanding, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Jesus commanding, “Peace! Be still!”, quiets the tempest.


      This story, following Jesus’ inauguration of his ministry, proclaiming, “God’s kingdom is near!”,[2] signifies the nature of that kingdom, verily, of God: peace.


      This is the same God who, the psalmist sings, “stilled the storm to a whisper, quieting the waves of the sea,”[3] and who answers Job with a self-referential, self-evidentiary question, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out of the womb?”[4] Divine power over the sea, a biblical symbol of chaos, demonstrates that this God, by whose power Jesus miraculously stills the storm, is a God of order and stability, of peace.


      To this God the fervent prayers of many ascend when calamities (separation, divorce, job loss, financial crises, illness, death, depression, despair) overwhelm our well-constructed dams (our relationships, our work, our leisure and pleasure, our planning for the future) by which we, in making meaning for our lives, had hoped to hold chaos at bay. When the waters of disorder and instability flood our world, we cry out for relief.


      Would that it was as simple as the psalmist sings that when we, in trouble, cry to God, we are delivered from distress.[5] Would that our prayers always be answered with a divine, efficacious word, “Peace! Be still!”, to quiet whate’er storm had arisen, whate’er sea had raged.


      But it doesn’t happen this way. At least, not much of the time, whether in your life or mine or in the life of the world. Storms billow. Seas foam. Troubles befall, woes betide, whether human-induced or nature-made, which no amount of praying makes cease.


      Perhaps for this reason mystics and martyrs, saints and all great strugglers, from time immemorial, have found consolation in Jesus’ word to his disciples on the night before he died, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives; so let not your hearts be troubled or afraid”[6] and in Paul’s word, uttered whilst imprisoned for his faith, about God’s peace that surpasses understanding.[7] The poet, reflecting on these truths, wrote: “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing: the marvelous peace of God.”[8]


      Worldly peace entails deliverance from affliction, absence of tribulation. God’s peace, the peace of Jesus that abides amidst calamity is the fruit of an inner freedom from self, an interior liberty from an all-consuming self-consciousness that focuses on external, thus always unpredictable, uncontrollable circumstance.


      How do we claim this peace? There is no one answer. One way, however, is to continue to go with Jesus across to the other side. In that journey we encounter afresh the fullness of our selves so that, in embracing anew all that we are, we can let go so to be free.


      The other side. At times, a refuge, a retreat. I walk down the street and ahead behold someone unknown or something peculiar that stirs my anxiety or my prejudices or it is someone I know with whom, for whatever reason (perhaps desiring solitude), I would rather not engage, so I cross the street to the other side. I think, too, of the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, on their way to Jerusalem to take part in religious duties, who, when coming upon the man robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the road, “passed by on the other side.”[9]


      The other side. At other times, a mystery, as in the other side of life, beyond death. Despite our creedal affirmation that Jesus will come again or the testimonies of those who, during out-of-body experiences, beheld a comforting, other-worldly light, I know not what is out there or if there is a “there” there. I think, too, of my mother, a long-lived Alzheimer’s disease patient, who long ago crossed over to another side of consciousness, the nature of which I know not.


      The other side. At still other times (and here I focus), a wilderness, a desolate place, over there, apart from the irenic oasis, the false peace of the persona I present to the world. I think of memories when I did what I ought not and did not do what I ought, which still plague me, for, in the recollection, I have an instant awareness that the tendencies to do what I ought not and not do what I ought abide. I think too, of moments when I am conscious of changes I need to make in my life, in my way of seeing things, in my way of being; changes that I have put off attempting because I fear failure or perhaps I fear success, which means I no longer will be who I am, with whom, even at my worst, I have grown comfortable, complacent.


      Ironically, only in my encounter with my memories and my renewed awareness of that which I would hide, even from myself, and in my engagement in the hard work of change can I, having embraced my fullest self, let go of me so to be free and at peace. At least, this is how I believe it can happen.


       “Let us go across to the other side.” OK, Jesus, as I’ve come with you this far, I’ll go with you the rest of the way.

Mark 4.35b. The gospel passage appointed for the day is Mark 4.35-41.

[2]Mark 1.15

[3]Psalm 107.29. The psalm appointed for the day is Psalm 107.1-3, 23-32.

[4]Job 38.8. The Hebrew scripture appointed for the day is Job 38.1-11.

[5]Psalm 107.8

[6]John 14.27, revised (my emphasis)

[7]Philippians 4.7

[8]From the hymn, They cast their nets in Galilee (The Hymnal 1982, #661).

[9]Luke 10.31, 32

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