Proper 7B Sermon (2024)

Proper 7 (June 19-25)
Texts: Mark 4:35-41;
2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 24:40):


To fully understand today’s Gospel Reading, I think we need to understand a deep connection in the Bible as a whole between two deep-seated human fears. I ask you to have today’s Sermon Notes in front of you as I trace this connection through the Bible. The first deep-seated human fear is drowning in deep water, especially if it is out on the sea at night, like in the Gospel Reading. How does the Bible itself begin? With that deep-seated fear. Read the first two verses of the Bible:

Genesis 1:1-2: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void [chaos!] and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

In creating the universe, God took the scariest of scenarios: a vast dark ocean representing chaos, disorder, and death. And God begins to order it into a safe place yielding forth life.

But that chaos and disorder represented by dark water is very often connected in the Bible with another kind of disorder and chaos: human violence. We have been trying to anticipate our fear of political violence which is so tragically being brewed during this pivotal election year. There are strong indications from groups like the Christian Nationalists that they are prepared to foment political violence if they don’t get their way in November. It’s a scary prospect, right?

Well, the connection between floods of water and human violence can also be seen right from the beginning of the Bible, too. Check out the verses from Genesis 6 in the Sermon Notes. What’s the reason for the great flood? Human violence. Thank god, the significance for me of this ancient mythical story of the Flood is the ending, when God plants the rainbow in the sky as the promise that God will never again resort to solving the problem of human violence with divine violence. Instead, God will choose Abraham and Sarah in covenant with them and their descendants to show us a new way to be human, based on the law of love. It will take a long time in that covenant — to date, more than at least 3700 years. But out of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, two thousand years ago, finally comes Jesus the Messiah, the Son of Man, the New Human Being.

Once again, it has taken a long time to see significant results from God’s long-range plan. But perhaps you and I can be a part of a bigger step forward in the way we provide leadership to our fellow citizens this year, as we face the frightening prospect of political violence.

Let me quickly take you through some of the other biblical passages with connections between the threat of drowning and human violence, especially of the scapegoating variety. Check out Psalm 69 on your Sermon Notes. Scapegoating violence can happen on many levels. It can be an actual political strategy that our opponents might use this fall. It can also happen these days in the sinister algorithms of social media. Let’s read it responsively together, and instead of an ancient Israelite being scapegoated for living his faith in God, let’s imagine one of today’s teenagers just trying to have friends. Read Psalm.

1Save | me, O God,
for the waters have risen up | to my neck.
2I am sinking in deep mire, and there | is no foothold.
I have come into deep waters, and the torrent washes | over me.
3I have grown weary with my crying; my | throat is parched;
my eyes are worn out from looking | for my God.
4Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
my lying foes who would destroy | me are mighty.
7Surely, for your sake I have suf- | fered reproach,
and shame has cov- | ered my face.
8I have become a stranger to | my own kindred,
an alien to my | mother’s children.
9Zeal for your house has eat- | en me up;
the scorn of those who scorn you has fall- | en upon me.
12Those who sit at the gate mur- | mur against me,
and the drunkards make | songs about me.
14Save me from the mire; do not | let me sink;
let me be rescued from those who hate me
and out of | the deep waters.
15Let not the torrent of waters wash over me. . . .

Dou you feel that? The experience of being scapegoated feels like drowning. It was in the news this week that the Surgeon General would like to mandate health warnings for young people on all social media site. I think that might be a good idea.

Next look at the connection between today’s Gospel Reading and the story of Jonah (see comparison in Sermon Notes). Does Mark connect Jesus to the story of Jonah by using some of the same details and the same language, both in the Greek and English? You might remember that Jonah is given the mission of going to speak a message to Nineveh, the capitol city of the Assyrian Empire, who has been crushing God’s people under their military violence. And what doe Jonah do? Does he go? The first thing he does is to try to run away. He gets in a boat on the Mediterranean Sea traveling in the opposite direction. And what happens? A storm rises up as in today’s Gospel. Where is Jonah? He’s asleep in the hold, so the captain and the crew come to Jonah to ask, “You’re a man of God. Where’s your God. Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Now, they have a little bit different solution. They cast lots to make Jonah the scapegoat. His number comes up, so they throw him overboard, where he is swallowed by the big fish. And lo and behold, the sea is calm.

In today’s Gospel reading, things are a little bit different. Jesus has been sent by God to his own people, who are suffering under the Roman Empire. He has come to give them a new way to deal with such suffering. He will be faithful to his mission. But there he is sleeping in the boat when a big storm comes up, and the disciples come to him with the same question, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” He, as the true Messiah, is able to still and calm the sea himself. Why are the disciples afraid when Jesus will be the one thrown overboard on the cross and be swallowed by death for three days in the tomb? When he rises, he will come with a message of forgiveness and grace that can help us in faith to move forward.

Finally, consider the deep connection between Jesus and Daniel 7. The scapegoating tendency we have, that we see even in things like social media, or the playground behavior of children, has become the primary political strategy for all human empires. And it’s a beastly thing! Empires operate by clearly identifying the enemy so that the authoritarian leader can fight the battle for us and with us. Daniel has a vision of the last four violent empires rising up out of the sea as great and terrible monsters. Who will ultimately reign in this vision of Daniel 7? The Son of Man, the New Human Being. Daniel 7 is where Jesus gets this title by which he calls himself the “Son of Man,” because he has come to lead us into a new way of being human based on love and forgiveness rather than on scapegoating, on accusing others and casting them out.

Let me finish with some of St. Paul’s theology this morning, including today’s Second Reading. First, let me ask: You and I are baptized into that new way of being human in what? Water! St. Paul compares it to drowning in Romans 6. In the waters of baptism we die to the old way of being human and rise to the new way of being human along with Christ.

This may seem a bit of a strange illustration of baptism, but do you remember the Bourne movies? Anybody see those movies? They’re some of my favorites. Where does the first movie begin? With a camera shot of Bourne’s body floating in water, after he has just been shot. He wakes up and begins his journey to recovery. Not just from being shot, but from being a trained killing machine, an assassin, for a special CIA program. How did he get that way? In the third movie, he begins to remember being water boarded, tortured, in order to erase his old identity and build from scratch with this new identity of being a killing machine. Through these movies he’s trying to reverse that programming. The first movie begins with him silhouetted against the water, and the last movie ends with what? He finally goes to visit the place where they created Jason Bourne the killing machine, and he escapes by jumping off a roof into the Hudson River below, in Manhattan. Once again, the camera looks up from below, showing him silhouetted against the water.

I’ve kind of taken this as a story about our baptismal identities. We’re not trained as assassins, but, unfortunately, I feel like we’re trained in the way of thinking that only violence can stop violence. And Jesus has come to baptize us — to drown us — so that we arise into a new way of responding to violence.

The Good News of Paul’s theology is that in our baptism we not only participate in his being scapegoated by empire on the cross, but we also participate in rising with him to the new way of being human which God has planned for us. We’ve seen that message in our Second readings for several weeks now, where Paul is emphasizing the Resurrection in the face of hardships. We have this Resurrection faith! Times may be scary, frightening, and yet Christ is with us with the promise of Resurrection strength and courage.

So again this morning: we have this looming prospect of political violence this Fall, so, “Now is the time of salvation!” Right? Now is the time to claim this courage in the face of frightening prospects. Paul went through those kinds of times with the Roman Empire. He talks about going through “afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Scary things. And how did he endure that? With fruits of the Spirit: “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech — truthful speech! — and the power of God, God’s weapons of justice.”

And I think we have more Good News to end with. That we have made some progress in being human — since St. Paul under the violent Roman Empire — progress with this thing called Democracy. This experiment for trying to move away from kings, from authoritarian leadership. This nonviolent right we have to vote, to re-choose our leaders every couple years. We need to speak up about how important that is. We can learn that even if the heat is turned up, if things become more stormy, come November, that Jesus is in the boat with us, guiding us to be part of a movement toward peace in our time. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Bethania Lutheran Church,
Racine, WI, June 23, 2024

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 24:40):


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