Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

The Other Side

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Sometimes it’s just a boat.

You know what I mean. There is no end to sermons on this story that allegorize the boat, and, for that matter, everything else in this sea passage tale.

You know how these sermons tend to go -- “Jesus is in the boat with you.” “How many times does it feel like you are in a storm and Jesus is asleep?” “What boats are you in at this point in your life?” “What are the storms that are tossing your life around?” None of this is necessarily bad. It’s just that the boat becomes a metaphor for all kinds of things rather than simply what it is -- a traveling vessel. A means by which to get from one place to another. Maybe the boat is simply a boat. Maybe the point is that Jesus is just trying to get us to the other side.

Because left to our own devices, we’d rather stay where we are. That’s human nature. But it also seems to be the nature of faith. We can’t seem to hear Jesus’ invitation -- “Let us go across to the other side.” How easy it is to stay in our comfort zones; to default to our pet theologies; to remain in what is known, even though that which is known has become unbearable. We would rather ignore the desperate need for change than make the change happen. So we sit. And we wait. For what? The right time? For someone else to make the first move? Maybe this is why Jesus doesn’t give the disciples any time to think about the trip -- “On that day … ” We would think about it forever. “Thinking about it” is always one of our best excuses.

Here’s the problem, as if there is only one, with Jesus. He seems rather dissatisfied with letting us live on one side of the lake for too long. So he takes the disciples to the other side. And getting to the other side is no easy trip. Nor should we expect that to be the case. When we over-sentimentalize or spiritualize this story we end up overlooking the obvious -- that this boat trip was a means by which to get from one place to another. And, something equally as obvious -- that change, trading spaces, is rarely without its challenges. Getting to the other side means a boat ride for sure, a torrential downpour, and dead calm. That’s what happens when Jesus tries to move us from one place to another. But that’s also the nature of change.

If the disciples had said to Jesus, “Well, what if there is a storm?” they would have never gotten into the boat because there are always storms on the Sea of Galilee and when you least expect it. If the disciples had said to Jesus, “Well, first tell us what’s on the other side?” they would have never gotten into the boat because what ended up happening in the country of the Gerasenes? You just can’t make this stuff up. “Wait, what? We are going to encounter a demon-possessed guy who lives in the cemetery. And you are going to send his demons into a herd of two thousand pigs. And then the pigs are going to go jump in the lake?” Who would believe that?

The hardest thing is getting into the boat. You just have to get into the darn boat.

Because the necessity of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac necessitates a relocation. Not only a change of place but a change of space that puts us in the rather uncomfortable presence of the possessed.

You know this well, I imagine. I know some of you are changing calls. Or maybe you are asking your congregation to cross to the other side of the lake, to make a change that definitely resembles a lake-crossing adventure, of sorts, perhaps of squall-like proportions. Maybe you are in the process of considering a personal change. Last week I taught the Core One course in Luther Seminary’s DMin in biblical preaching. Here is a group of preachers that wants to get from one place to another, to make a change in who they are as preachers. We spent a good portion of the week wrestling with this very truth: yes, change is hard. But the harder truth is staying where you are.

The promise of this text is not just that Jesus is with you. Notice that Jesus does not say “You go over to the other side,” but “Let us go over to the other side.” Jesus was there all along, no matter what Jesus was doing, whether that be preaching about parables or sleeping on a pillow. The promise of this text is also that there is something on the other side that Jesus knows about -- and needs to get us to. Of course, the reality for the disciples, and for us, is that the other side is not all that rosy. It has its own set of challenges -- the disciples have to see Jesus differently, themselves differently. It means living into a new reality. And that takes some getting used to. Because when your location changes so does your perspective and others’ perspective of you. When your location changes, so do you. That’s pretty much how change works.

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” (Mandy Hale)

Perhaps the act of faith is not just the trust that Jesus will still the storm. The act of faith is taking Jesus’ invitation to heart. The act of faith is getting into the boat. The act of faith is believing that another side is not only possible, it is essential.

Karoline

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