“Tethered by Grace” 06/11/2015 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 and Mark 4:35-41

Earlier this week, when I read Paul’s impassioned words to the church in Corinth, I could not help but hear in them words my daughter spoke when she was no more than three or four years old.

It was after dinner. She was busying herself with her toys on the floor in the living room. I was finishing the clean-up in the kitchen and called to her that it was time to start getting ready for bed.

Next thing I know, she rounds the corner of the kitchen, plants her feet on the floor and with fists balled on each hip and chin jutted out in defiance, she says quite emphatically “I am the boss of my body, then God, then Jesus.” And with that she turns on her heels and marches out of the room.

I was taken aback. Maybe because her list of who had authority over her did not include me, but more so, I think, I was stunned by her clarity of who and whose she was. Her emphatic insistence that she was “the boss of her body, then God, then Jesus” stayed with me long after I put her to bed that night. Even though she was small, I knew then that she was onto something big.

But before we go any further, let us pray: Oh God. In the pushes and pulls of our every day, amidst the terror and traumas of the world, it is so easy to feel unmoored and afraid. Help us we pray to return to that still place of knowing who and whose we are. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, Our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Paul is writing his letter to the church in Corinth, to a people who have begun to lose their sense of who and whose they are. The church was facing internal strife as people within the community struggled to try to understand who Jesus was and how they were to be, because of him.

Paul writes to tether this young church once again to their fundamental identity as Spirit filled, children of God and to remind them that nothing the world throws at them can sever their connection with God. Nothing has the capacity to redefine them as hopeless, hapless, victims of circumstance suffering the vicissitudes of the world. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they are the boss of their own body, so to speak– this Body of Christ that they have been called to be.

But not only that, as the body of Christ, filled with the spirit of the living God, Paul tells them in the verses before the ones read for us today, that they are (that we are) “entrusted with the message of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ” (2Cor.5:19-20). We are not only to be transformed as God’s new creation but through us we are to be agents of transformation in the world.

Paul’s words are very inspiring and lift up a compelling vision, but are his words our lived reality? Do we feel like the boss of our own body, then God and Jesus – full of the spirit, full of conviction, living as ambassadors of Christ, living God’s love out in the world in transformative ways?

Maybe. Sometimes.

But more often than not, we may feel like there is a gap between how we want to be and how we actually are. Instead of feeling that we are deeply rooted in our faith, filled with the spirit, ready for whatever it may be the world has in store for us, we tend to hold that vision out there as how we want to be some day when we figure it all out and manage to get our act together.

And I think we tend to conceive of our spiritual journey as the path that will get us from where we are to where we want to be. We tend to think that our spiritual journeys as a straight line from here to there, marked off by signposts of deepening joy, more expansive peace, greater clarity and wisdom. We tend to think that if we stay on course, and do what we are supposed to do then we will one day arrive at that vision we have, that vision, that clarity and conviction that Paul holds out to the church in Corinth and to which my young daughter gave voice.

But what ends up happening is that life happens and we end up feeling buffeted by the latest storm. We lose heart and gain fear and start to think that we must not be doing this faith journey thing right. We must be getting it wrong. If we were good enough disciples of Jesus, we would be drinking in the rarified air of enlightenment, but instead we find ourselves tossed about by the storms in our lives. So that must be proof positive that we have gotten it wrong, that we are not true disciples of Christ, not worthy to be called children of God.

But what this passage from the gospel today helped me see, a passage that appears in the gospel of Mathew, Mark and Luke is that the storm is very much a part of the journey of faith. The storm it turns out, is not a sign of failure on the spiritual journey, but instead a sign that we are where we need to be. Instead of being smooth sailing, the journey of faith, it turns out is often marked by stormy period of disequilibrium, fear, uncertainty where we may even feel like we are losing our faith instead of getting more of it.

If we doubt that, just look at the disciples in that boat that day. What do they get when they say yes to Jesus’ invitation to go across to the other side? A storm. They think Jesus has left them on their own. They become terrified and are convinced that they are not going to survive this passage.

Now the good news of the passage of course is that we and they see that Jesus has not left them. He is not going to let them perish. The good news is that calm and stillness can be found even amidst the most raging of waters when we call upon God.

But for me the really good news, the real apex of the story is not when Jesus calms the waters, but it is what comes next. The really good news is when the disciples face the raging waters of their own inner fear and turbulence. The really good news is when they realize that really they do not know who Jesus is. They thought they did. They had been following him to the best of their abilities, conforming their lives to his living, but now they find themselves asking “Who is this then, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It is from this place of questioning. From standing in the discomfort of their own uncertainty, that awe opens in them a path to deeper and more expansive knowing of Jesus really is and who they really are as they follow him. The journey of faith is very much about being challenged to let go of what we think we know, what we think we can control, who we think we are, who we think God is before, we can come to some greater understanding and some deeper truth.

So perhaps the lesson in our passage for today is that if we want to be able to stand with the conviction and passion of my young daughter, with the conviction and passion of Paul, sure in ourselves and sure in our relationship with God, we must first be willing to cross over. To enter into the stormy places within ourselves and in our world and risk the turbulence of not knowing.

To enter into the storm of the pain of the violence of the shooting in South Carolina and look within our hearts for the shadows of racism and then enter into hard conversations about how we will ring reconciliation to our hearts and in our land.

To enter into storm of global climate change and examine our own hearts for our collusion with unbridled consumption and our complicity to convenience even when we know that in doing so we are also complicit to the death of creation.

To enter into our own inner storm of shame and pain and see our own inability to forgive ourselves is the breeding ground for the resentment we project on others.

As summer comes and as we begin to move into a slower pace, I invite you to keep this story from the Gospel on your hearts. I invite you to look for ways that you too may be being invited on your spiritual journeying to cross over into new understandings and deeper knowing. And I invite you too to not loose heart when you find yourselves tossed about in the storms, but to see them as important, though challenging to be sure, parts of the journey. For if we can learn to fully embrace what it is that we encounter and not wish for what is not, I am quite convinced, that not only will we begin to see God in new ways that we had not understood before but that we will also begin to see ourselves in new ways and have a deeper understanding of who it is that we really are. So thanks be to God for the journey. Thanks be to God for this church that is the vessel that helps us cross over. Thanks be to God that is a journey we take not alone but with each other. And thanks be to our God who journeys with us. AMEN.