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The Gift of the Word

Catherine Allard
Jun 24 2012


I had been attending the Thursday night Jazz Worship at Old South Church for several months as a worshiper before I began my role as Ministerial Intern for that service.

The first time I was scheduled to serve as liturgist, I was unsure of myself and my role. I had seen Quinn do it. He made it look so easy!

I had seen Jack do it much like Quinn; only Jack played the drums while leading sometimes too!

I didn’t know how to do it like they did and at the same time be in touch with who Christ was calling me to be as a worship leader.

And then … There was so much change. Quinn, my ministerial supervisor, left. New colleagues came on. The church was growing and that meant change for where the Youth Group would meet. In addition, in my life there was loss, relocation, dislocation … Everything was moving, in flux, unsettled.

And yet amidst all the chaos and the change, I came to understand that Jesus was at work in me and in this place. Jesus was there with me in the storm and in the chaos, a touchstone of peace ... sometimes in the form of this great stone building, sometimes in the bread and cup of communion, in the sweetness and laughter of the youth, sometimes in a word of encouragement from one of you.

When I was presented with the biblical story of “Jesus Stilling the Storm” as the scripture for my last service as a field education student and staff member at Old South Church, it was like God had placed a gift box in the palm of my hand.

She smiled and said, “Open it.”

I looked at the box, and thought: this gift is worth preaching even before I open it. Because here’s what it represents:

The scriptures help us make meaning of our experiences. There are many things that will never make sense to us. But with God, we can always make meaning.

The Bible teaches us how to make meaning of our experiences and how to live and love more faithfully in the world. Faithfully often means peacefully … and who doesn’t want more peace?

“On that day,” the scripture says, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus had been preaching from a boat, to a crowd of people from the predominantly Jewish section of Galilee. Going to the other side of the lake, called the Sea of Galilee, meant going to the predominantly Gentile coast.

Jesus was never the type to stay in one place for long. He was on a mission to spread the Good News. And so are we, as the church.

The vision for the 21st century to which God is calling Old South Church puts us on the same mission as Jesus, whose ministry was always reaching, always expanding, always including the other.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”

What might Jesus mean when he says to you, to me, to Old South Church: Let’s go across to the other side?

Are you being called to get to the other side of a habit, an addiction, a breakup, a self-defeating attitude … an old belief system or way of being in the world that is more harmful than helpful, more destructive than creative? What can you see on the horizon that God might be leading you to?

If God is telling you, “You’re ready, you can do it, I’m right here with you” – why are you afraid?

You’re afraid because you are human. We fear because we don’t know what it looks like on the other side. We fear because there is some part of us that desperately wants to be in control of life, of what we lose, of where we are going.

Everyone in the community to whom Mark was writing knew that a windstorm on the Lake of Galilee—notorious for its storms—meant near certain death. So what does it mean in this circumstance, where a storm so severe occurs that the boat is swamped within seconds, and as the disciples see their lives flash before their eyes, they also see Jesus is sleeping?!

It’s no wonder they woke him up and said, “Do you not care that we are perishing?!”

This is known as the panic prayer.

When the winds of change and waters of chaos are storming around us, it doesn’t matter if the changes are literally life-threatening or not … they don’t have to be to trigger panic. Whether danger or loss is actual or perceived – our systems react the same way.

Whether danger or loss is actual or perceived – our systems react the same way.

What the scriptures tell us, and what we know from our past experiences is that God is in the storm ... like the eye of the storm ... a center and touchstone of peace. God. Is.

The disciples had plenty of previous experience with Jesus performing miracles. And yet, when Jesus rebuked the winds and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” – and the storm ceased; their fear was even greater then. “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?”

He is God.

Sometimes we want God to be with us in our panic, while we are actively frantic and panicking.

Church, God doesn’t do panic.

So if we insist on cursing the storm or engaging with the chaos, we are choosing to separate ourselves from the peace of God.

Jesus is with us in the storms we face personally and in the storms we face as a church, as the body of Christ, with a mission of justice and inclusion, in the world today.

By being the church we give people access to the God who cares so deeply about us. She sits inside the chaos as a touchstone of peace, and calm.

Like that one Sunday morning when I was standing alone in the narthex during the 9 am worship service, ready to greet late-comers.

A woman came in from the street … She entered with a spring in her step. Not the “I’ve just started dating the love of my life” kind of spring in your step; more like, the kind of spring you might have if it hurt to press back on your heel. I didn’t notice the details of her attire right away, I was concerned by what I saw on her face.

On top of a light layer of dust and soot she appeared to have dried blood under and to the sides of her nose. There were streaks where fallen tears had washed some of the dust away. A winter hat helped push the thick, matted blonde curls of her hair over the edges of her face and top of her brow.

“Am I welcome?” She asked me.

I felt like I was at sea. But I remembered the gospel. I remembered the words carved in stone above the portico: Behold I Have Set Before Thee an Open Door. I remembered the intention of the words of welcome we speak every Sunday and Thursday in worship … and without hesitation I said, “Yes.”

She walked, with that same gingerly bounce in her step into the chapel and sat among the congregation, in a row toward the front, next to Bethany and Bev. As Shawn preached about forgiveness, she shouted “Amen!” and raised her hand in the air. At one point she yelled out, “For they know not what they do!”

She wept. She received communion. She lit a candle. When the service was over, she asked permission to have coffee and something to eat.

The scriptures help us make meaning of our experiences. There are many things that will never make sense to us. But with God, we can always make meaning.

I can’t say I’ve seen with my own eyes God in the form of a man who was so faithful he could sleep in a boat while it was being tossed and beaten by stormy waves. But I can say I’ve seen with my own eyes God in the form of a woman who was so trusting of you, Old South, and of God that she dared walk into a church with blood on her face, wearing only a long coat and socks, to get affirmation of just what today’s scripture tells us – God does care for us, in all circumstances and will be our peace in the midst of chaos.

By being the church we give people the chance—the choice—to begin, to renew, to deepen, to nurture … a relationship with the living God.

Old South Church: Every single Sunday that you show up to worship, you become a portal to the Kingdom of God. God’s Truth!

Every single Sunday that you enter this holy house, you become a touchstone of peace and calm for all who enter. You do!

Individually and collectively you are a sanctuary in this city. You are a sanctuary in this city!

As you live into the Vision for the 21st century, I pray that God will grant you calm, amidst the storms that rage around you. May your faith in the storm-stilling power of God give you peace. In your wild and precious lives: Peace! Deep peace! Christ’s peace! Amen.