The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s124g15  Sunday 12   St Luke’s in the City  21/6/2015

"Let us go across to the other side”  Mark 4:35

Mark is the gospel of movement; one of the most frequently used words in his account is ‘immediately’; εὐθὺς; 42 times in Mark but only 12 times in the rest of the New Testament.  For Mark, Jesus was the rolling stone which gathers no moss.

I draw your attention to the fact that this beloved of stories occurs because of movement.   Jesus initiates the journey ‘to the other side’ and the perils occur while they are on that way.

The ‘other side’ was away from orthodoxy.   It led to the land of the Geresenes where there was that fierce demon-possessed man living amongst the tombs and others who kept swine, no doubt for consumption.   Why did Jesus’ bother going to the unclean, the untouchable, the dead; particularly when he was spectacularly unsuccessful?   He only cured one haunted man and then was immediately hounded off for being the cause of the destruction of the herd?   Only one person helped and he wasn’t even allowed to join Jesus’ retinue, before Jesus and the disciples set sail again, back towards safe and comfortable orthodoxy.   I note that there were no storms on that return journey! 

My mind goes back to last century across the ditch, when a senior member of the clergy commented that the bishop was pleased after the Synod - nothing happened!   I have cause to reflect that since that time and that episcopate, lay people have been allowed to read lessons in worship, the pretence that we all were using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and none other was overturned with the publication of ‘An Australian Prayer Book’.   Divorced persons have been permitted to re-marry in Church.   Women have been ordained to the sacred ministry.   And now the possibility of marriage equality is on the table.   It is salutary to recall these things as sometimes elderly parishioners lament the passing of the ‘good old days’ when Sunday Schools were full.  

Again I point out how often we personalise the gospel - the risen Jesus comes to us personally when we make changes in our lives.   No, the implication of this story here is that the risen Jesus impels the church corporate to move, to move away from the security blanket of orthodoxy and devotion and towards real people and the real world.   The risen Jesus only comes to the church when she is headed in this direction, when things get tough; when she faces opposition and is wondering why she bothers.

We, the church, have to ‘go across to the other side’; to embrace the other, to embrace secular humanism, people of other faiths and none; and it is only when we are on this journey that we can hope to awaken the sleeping Jesus amongst us.   For it is only when we are on this journey that we are a force for acceptance and inclusion rather than a force for continuing condemnation and division.

And I suggest that we will awaken the risen Jesus amongst us when the community and society see what we are doing and the direction we are going - towards a more humane and tolerant society - and want to join in.   No, that’s wrong - secular humanists will rejoice to welcome the church in their own campaign for a more tolerant and equitable society.   Any opposition will cease to be relevant.   As I have already suggested, we have actually been on this journey for quite some time.   We still have a ways to go and the opposition from religious conservatives still sounds deafening and we are not quite certain that this is the right direction.  The storms of opposition mean that the community and society will stay asleep on the cushion until the church makes clear to the world what destination she will take; will she return to that warm security of an exclusive pseudo-orthodoxy or venture forth to be that force for radical acceptance and inclusion?

This is the reason I am suspicious of conservative evangelism that concentrates on numbers in the pew.   The real test of our effectiveness is how we are incarnate in the world.

The storm .. well we are well aware of the storm.   It is the rage of the devout and the pseudo-orthodox, that there is more truth and compassion in secular humanism, rage at gender equality and marriage equality.   Paul says in Romans: ‘When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves.   They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness ..’  (1)    But he is dismissive of pseudo-orthodoxy: ’But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, .. you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself?   While you preach against stealing, do you steal?‘   I often think that the greatest temptation for the church is to steal someone else’s dignity!  ‘For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’  (2)

As I have said before, we can gain our energy in persecuting others or we can gain our energy accepting, welcoming and including others and I suggest that the latter is actually the way of Jesus.  

The storm of rage is the rage against real incarnation, with the implication that the Church’s God-given mission is likewise to be incarnated into society, rather than separate from it.   The journey in the boat is the journey of the church into the real world, and the storm, the nay-sayers and the filibusterers complaining that this is the wrong direction.   

And again, as I say so often, Jesus was killed by the religious conservatives not because he claimed divinity, but that he commanded incarnation - the radical acceptance and inclusion of others - the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners with whom he so regularly associated.

And I want to return to the perception that we personalise the gospel.   We need to see that the institution has a vested interest in personalising the gospel for it relieves her of facing her Lord’s saying that the church who loves her life will ‘lose it’. (3)  Or in that other well known tall-tale of the sea, the church, like Jonah of old has been caught fleeing real incarnation and has been swallowed by the whale of secular humanism. (4)

Let us go to the other side, because the tried and true paradigm of good and evil, clean and unclean, orthodox and heretic has been shown, time and again, to fail completely to bring about a society in which all find it pleasant to live.   Let us go to the other side, because if there is ever to be significant change in society it will come quicker if the church decides to do as Jesus bids.   Let us go to the other side, because we cannot complain about the bad things that happen if we ourselves as a corporate body refuse to hear and obey our Lord’s command to move.   Let us go to the other side, because there is no point even praying about causes if we as a corporate body have already determined that we are going to leave it up to God to fix everything.

1.  Romans 2:14-15
2.  Romans 2:17,18,21,24
3.  John 12:25