Principle Lessons: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Whenever I hear the passage the sixth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, from chapter 6, with its talk of “acceptable time,” I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s An Acceptable Time. In this final installment of the authors TIme Quintet series and the closing of the adventures of Poly O’Keefe, L’Engle again reaches into her bag of weird and wonderful, deftly blending history, natural science, physics, and Christian metaphysics into a rich and heady brew. Polly O’Keefe (last seen in A House Like a Lotus) visits her grandparents, the inestimable Drs. Murray in order to further her education. In a motif familiar to L’Engle, Polly slips back 3000 years into a different “spiral” of time, in which she meets a variety of characters. Polly travels back and forth between the two worlds, and eventually her purpose becomes clear: with the aid of her new friends she forges peace between two clashing tribes, and helps Zachary (also from A House Like a Lotus) find forgiveness, redemption, and healing purpose. The story is laced together with L’Engle’s forever theme: the transcendent importance of love – manifested here in the acceptable time.
Hear what Paul says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’”2 Corinthians 6:2
…. See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
That is very interesting and hope-filled, right? “Now” is the time! And it’s even more hope-filled because of what comes next, when Paul describes how they have come through “great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Indeed, they have also lived “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.” Yes, all of these have been with them! They have been
“treated as imposters yet are true, as unknown yet are well known; dying, and see– we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”2 Corinthians 6:4-9
Can you hear what Paul is doing in this passage? Paul is lifting up and naming so many difficulties and traumas that he and his fellow kin in the gospel have endured as they have travelled around and lived among the Corinthians. Paul is describing the very real hardships that he and his fellow ministers of the gospel have endured in proclaiming words of possibility, connection, and resurrection, and in building community in times that are messy (as community can often be).
Is it possible that Paul is speaking to us, at this time? Is it possible that the words of Paul to the Corinthians might have meaning for us today – even as we still wait through a pandemic, even as we may have turned the corner with vaccinations and new treatments, but even as cases continue to rise in so many places especially among the poor and marginalized? Is it possible that even as we come through (maybe not yet out, but through) a truly traumatic collective experience, we might hear Paul’s encouraging words that “now is the acceptable time.”
Some have had lives completely upended; some have lost jobs; some have suffered mental health crises; some have had loved ones die! Everyone has experienced disruption this past year! Hearing Paul today, I must ask what it means to live with the paradox of honoring and remembering the pain in ourselves and others, of lifting up and naming as wrong the injustices of the world, and of holding space for the difficulty (as Paul did) and living fully the acceptable time, of life finding us anew, and of locating re resurrection in our midst.
You know, if all we had to deal with this past year was just the pandemic, if nothing elses stressful invaded our lives, that would have been trauma enough. Then, when you add the lost jobs and lost lives to the trauma, and when you add national discord, racism, and an assault on our democracy, the trauma grows. Even the hardship of being stuck in our homes, longing to get outside, only not being able to do so. When you think about any of these things or all of these things, I think that we need some space to name the pain, just like Paul did!
Now, without diminishing any of the hardships or pain, because it is very real and powerful, how can we also live with the paradox and name what has accompanied us: the good, the beautiful, the joyous, the holy, the life-giving possibility? How do we name that too and place the two side by side knowing that God has been with us and is among us even in and through these things. And how might community be formed around these, just as Paul and his fellow kin were doing so many years ago.
We get a little glimpse of that tension lived in the life of Jesus and the disciples in the story proclaimed today from the gospel according to Mark. Today we heard the first of two sea-crossing stories. Perhaps it’s not so obvious to us in the modern world in which water crossing isn’t really that big of a deal. (We take cruises for pleasure!) In the ancient world, however, water crossing was a big deal. In the ancient stories, water itself was often associated with chaos. Remember the creation myth in Genesis that describes the world in the beginning as a formless void, a ball of chaotic water. It was God’s ruach, the divine breath, that swept across the water. The watery chaos could only be controlled by God; it was the providence of God. Therefore, when Jesus calms that water, it’s a big deal, showing Jesus moving from itinerant preacher to one who has control over divine forces.
There are so many other stories of water in the Hebrew tradition, stories that build not on the chaos of water but on a long tradition of creative saving work among the waters:the separation of the water in creation, the separation of the wastes in Exodus, the separation of the waters as the Israelites enter into the promised land, and the separation of the waters for Ezekiel, among others. We should also be reminded of the waters of baptism as we separate the waters descending into and ascending from the waters, the living water of birth and new birth as described in the gospel of John. There are so many beautiful images of water. When Jesus, or anyone in the ancient stories, crossed water, something important was happening. There was a movement from something into something new, a liberation, a new mission, or a new creation.
Now, in the scene we have before us in Mark, Jesus and the disciples are between there leaving and the arriving, between two places. This speaks to me right now because I think we are in between two places. We are between Covid and after-Covid. We are moving into something new and we don’t quite yet know what it’s going to be. What will the Covid world and the post-Covid church be like? I think that’s where we are! And in the midst of that, what do we do? What do we do in the messy, tumultuous middle ground?
We have faith! This is the invitation to faith. The Jesus who was before the disciples on dry ground is the same Jesus who is with them in the boat, in the midst of our uncertainty. How many of us, at some point or another in the last year, felt like we were being swamped by the storm? Have faith! The same Jesus who was with us before is with us now and will be with us on the other side!
The disciples, of course, are in the midst of chaos and fear, protesting, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” First of all, of course Jesus would care if they were perishing! But, let’s be honest with the narrative: they aren’t really perishing and Jesus is with them as they go through the trauma. Maybe a little grace for the disciples, though, and for us because it was, I am sure, a frightening storm and the boat was being swamped. And it’s interesting that Jeuss says “Peace” to the storm, not to the disciples. He just says “Peace” into the chaos and then asks the disciples why they don’t have faith. So a little grace to the disciples for realizing that this is a storm and it’s really scary. I don’t want to diminish the fear because that is a very real fear.
But the point is that Jesus is still there, and you still trust even through the fear. When Jesus calms the storm, the disciples get a new glimpse of who Jesus is! And they are “filled with great awe.” Indeed, when the disciples witnessed Jesus calm the storm they witnessed “the acceptable time” and “the day of salvation.” We might be on the sea! We might have our hardships! We might have our fears! Today we are invited to trust in the way of Jesus.