Finding calm in chaos

 

READ: Mark 4:35-41

As many as you know, I like to sail. 

I have an 80-year-old, small wooden boat named Haiku, 

and I generally sail her on my sabbath, Fridays, out on Sayers Lake. 

If you remember, last Thursday, the winds here were up around 35-miles per hour,

but come Friday morning, there was no wind at all, and forecast called for light winds all day. 

And so I set up the boat, and set out onto the lake early — about 8 am. 

There was hardly a breeze, as I ghosted along. 

But right at about 10 o’clock, without any notice, the wind picked up suddenly. 

Within five minutes, whitecaps had formed on the lake, the wind was pushing close to 20 miles an hour, and all the small motor boats made a beeline to the Howard dock. 

It happened so fast, that I quickly pointed back to the dock, but the wind was pushing me straight to the rocks on the shore. 

When it became apparent that I couldn’t dump enough wind out of my sails — about 50 feet from the rocks — I dropped the sail. 

With no motor and just a paddle, I figured I’d just guide the boat back to shore. 

But the wind was so strong off the stern, that it pushed me along as if I was under power. 

Headed straight for the dock. The waves now breaking over the stern and pushing me dangerously close to the rocks. 

I reached the dock and landed without so much as a scratch on the new paint. 

And you had better believe that with every breath I took in that white-knuckle event, I was praying for God’s help. 

And when I got ashore, and the boat was secure, I thanked God. 

Over and over again. 

 

Troubled waters

We find ourselves today in the same boat, pun intended. 

The storm, however, has been the debate over how the United Methodist Church addresses the issue of human sexuality. 

Specifically, the questions are should the United Methodist Church ordain homosexual pastors and should we perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples? 

This is nothing new in the church. 

The debate has been going on for more than 20 years at General Conference — our once-every-four-year legislative gatherings for the global United Methodist Church which represents nearly 13 million members worldwide.

But during the last general session in 2016, the issue finally came to a head. 

The delegates — pastors and laity who vote on all the issues — were deadlocked on how to proceed. 

And we asked the bishops to help. 

The bishops then formed the Commission on a Way Forward, and in the last two years have met regularly to pray and talk and find a way to keep the global church unified. 

Currently, our Book of Discipline — our guiding doctrine — does not allow homosexuals to be ordained or married in the church. 

What the bishops have found — and we have found as well — is that there is a split on what we believe the Bible tells us about homosexuality. 

There is no true minority of opinion here; there are strong arguments on both sides to support each side. 

This isn’t only with the United Methodist Church, but has occurred in so many other mainline Protestant denominations as well. 

 There have been splits in some denominations. 

What the bishops have concluded — rightly — is that a split among the United Methodists would weaken the church and truly move away from — instead of toward — what Jesus commanded about his church. 

That we are to live as one, and accept and love one another — ALL people — as Jesus loves us. 

So the Bishops have come up with a recommendation. 

And we talked long and hard, and prayed long and hard, and even met in small groups to talk with our fellow clergy and laity about the issue during the Susquehanna Conference’s Annual Conference earlier this month. 

The bishops’ recommendation is called the “One Church Plan.”

The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book Discipline.

The plan also adds assurances to pastors and churches, who, in good conscience, cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy, that they don’t have to do so. 

Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — could maintain current traditional restrictions.

What does that mean? 

It means that if the plan is approved in a special conference session this coming February and then at General Conference in 2020, the scenarios look like this:

A pastor in her or his church could decide whether or not to marry same-sex couples without any disciplinary repercussions;

However, if the church body — us — decides against gay marriage in the church, the pastor cannot supersede them within the pastor’s church. The pastor can marry couples outside of the church (like at a resort or on the beach or in a backyard…).

If the church votes in favor of same-sex marriage, it would be up to the pastor to perform the ceremonies. 

Finally, if the Board of Ordained Ministry — the body that is in charge of recommending pastors into ordained ministry — decides against allowing LGBTQ pastors to be ordained, then that pastor cannot be ordained in that board’s conference. 

That’s what the One Church Plan recommends. 

Obviously, there are a whole lot of variables here, and the plan was constructed intentionally like this in order to give the maximum amount of freedom at the conference and local church level. 

What it doesn’t mean is simply this: 

The bishops have not, will not, and probably cannot clarify whether homosexuality is congruent with our beliefs or not.  

This is not a debate, and the issue is not being debated. 

The Commission on the Way Forward would not debate this either. 

Again, the reason for this is that there are different interpretations as to what the Bible says. 

Today, we’re not going to debate that either. 

Now, people have some very strong opinions over this matter. 

Our tradition has held that homosexuality is not congruent with our doctrine. 

Unfortunately, that has led to hatred toward and abuse of God’s children in a way that any other difference in belief hasn’t. 

Good, Christ-loving people have left the church — and may leave the church (although that is not my wish) over this issue. 

Entire denominations have split over this issue. 

 

Character of God

But before we get caught up in the traditional and cultural baggage that surrounds this issue, we must prayerfully discern?

What does God want for us?

What does Jesus call us to do?

If you believe homosexuality is a sin, is that sin worse than any of the other sins we — including me — commit?

And if that’s the case, why do we ordain anyone, since we all sin, and we all need a savior?

What does it mean to love one another as Jesus first loved us?

What does it mean to treat each other as equals?

What does it mean that some of Jesus’s best friends were those whom the culture didn’t accept, and, in fact, shunned and persecuted?

What does it mean that we once used the Bible to allow slavery? 

What does it mean that we once — and not that long ago, and in some denominations even today — used the Bible to condone treating women as property and as lesser than men? 

What does it mean that just a few decades ago, someone who has been divorced — like me — wasn’t allowed to be a pastor even if he or she was called by God to do so? 

What does it mean that we used the Bible to allow unfair treatment to other people based on their race or skin color? 

And what does it mean that we used the Bible to justify capital punishment and even beating children?

All of these traditional practices have been overturned, and for a good reason. 

Because none of them agree with what Jesus teaches. 

Specifically, that we are to LOVE one another as Jesus loves us: 

Without discrimination. 

Without hesitation. 

Without conditions. 

Without fear. 

Because if we put conditions on our love, my friends, that is not love. 

And it is certainly not love the way Jesus teaches us. 

 

The storm 

In our reading today, we get a glimpse of the storm that the disciples found themselves in. 

The winds picked up, the waves began crashing over the gunwales, the skies flashed lightning and echoed thunder, and the rain stung their eyes. 

The fear and the panic and the lack of cool heads and strong faith was the very thing that would sink the boat. 

And all the while, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. 

He was comfortable, resting peacefully. 

When the disciples awaken Jesus in this fear and panic, Jesus’s response?

He is disheartened. 

Because the response that he taught his people — his church, this church — was faith and unity, not cowardice and disunity. 

In Wednesday’s new service, we talked about the ways in which God still speaks to us. 

The problem is that we’ve let the fear and doubt and lack of faith drown out the sound of that still, small voice of God. 

We no longer hear the prophets; we don’t even recognize them. 

The disciples threw out all that Jesus had taught them and showed them about faith. 

How Jesus embodied the very way that we should live our lives. 

Faith and Love are those denominators. 

They are all that matter:

Trust God, love your brother and sister. 

Trust God, love your brother and sister. 

Trust God, love your brother and sister. 

This is the difference. 

We want a church that grows, that focuses outward, that accepts one another as Jesus accepts each of us? 

Trust God, love your brother and sister. 

Trust God, love your brother and sister. 

Trust God, love your brother and sister. 

This is the difference between fertile ground and infertile ground that Jesus so often calls the church.

This is the difference between the infertile church and the fertile church. 

And this is the difference between the infertile Christian and the fertile Christian.

 

A new shore

Jesus gets into the boat to call the disciples to a new shore. 

They are venturing into unchartered territory: Gentile lands. 

Places across the sea where they don’t know Jesus. 

Places across the sea where they worship other false gods. 

We don’t have to stretch our imaginations to understand that Jesus is showing us countless ways to stop putting our faith in ourselves, and what humans have deemed is the right way to live. 

Look at all the beliefs, all the denominations, all the hurtful, abusive and murderous doctrines these churches have produced over the years.

Catholics thought it was a good idea to force others into believing in God at the point of a sword;

Protestants thought it was a good idea to send women to the fiery stake because they thought they were witches. 

The church allowed ripping people away from their homelands in Africa, shackling them and forcing them into a strange land called America to work as slaves in the plantations.

Denominations thought it was best to not allow women an equal place in the church or the world. 

Nazis used the church to promote ethnic cleansing.

And just a week or so ago, our own U.S. Attorney General blatantly misused a Bible verse to defend the president’s immigration policy that tears immigrant children from their own parents’ arms…

In every single one of these instances the common denominators were not faith and love: 

They were fear and hate. 

 

The decision

We don’t have to decide anything today on this issue. 

And who knows, depending on what happens at the next General Conference, we may not have to. 

But all that I ask of you here today is the same thing I’ve been asking you for the past nearly four years on every Sunday:

What does it look like to love your brother and sister,

and what does it look like to trust your God?

Jesus was leading the disciples to a new shore. 

To show them how to love those who are different them.

To have faith in what Jesus taught and in God’s will that we trust God, and not trust our own fear. 

Have faith. 

Stay together. 

Stay in love with Jesus. 

 

Conclusion

On the lake last week, in that sudden storm, all I could think about is getting to the dock. 

I could have let fear sink me. 

I could have smashed the boat I just fully restored against the sharp rocks. 

If I let the fear possess me. 

I trusted in the wisdom that God gave me. 

And I trusted that it would be OK. 

Today, Jesus is calling us yet to another new shore. 

Unfortunately, we have to weather troubled waters and stormy skies to get there. 

The question is what are we going to follow? 

Our fears, or our Faith?

I pray we always hear God’s voice, follow God’s will, understand Jesus’s teaching and follow Jesus’s examples. 

Jesus is the calm in our storms.

Always has been.

Always is.

Always will be.

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