Tune In to the Awe Channel

Proper 7B-24

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

June 23, 2024

The disciples feared they were perishing. The dramatic scene in our gospel today is famously depicted Rembrandt— Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Twelve men in a boat nearly capsizing. Five struggle to keep the rigging from flying apart. One leans into the rudder with both hands while another hangs over the edge to throw up. Three appear to be praying while two try to rouse Jesus asleep on the cushion. Thirty years ago, the painting was stolen from a museum in Boston and remains missing, but you can search the image on your phone. Jesus awoke. Rebuked the wind and the sea “…and there was a dead calm… And they were filled with great awe” (Mark 4: 40-41).

There are sixty-six books in the bible united in saying two things about the being in the presence of God. First, they reassure us, ‘Do not be afraid.’  And second, they point to the experience of awe.  “Awe threads throughout the scriptures. It whispers with creation and thunders in God’s mighty works. It sings its psalms in the Hebrew Bible. It is vocalized by Lady Wisdom. In the New Testament, it is often the emotional response of the disciples or the crowds who follow Jesus. There are entire experiences of awe reported — like the Transfiguration, the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the events attending the emergence of the new community of the Spirit in Acts. The Bible is many things — poetry, wisdom, history, teachings, and law. And it is also an extended record of awe in relation to the long story of shalom and salvation and justice and generosity experienced by those who followed the God of Abraham and Jesus” (Diana Butler Bass, Sunday Musings, 6/23/24).

The famous 20th century Rabbi and theologian, Abraham Heschel, once said, “Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, 1955)

Tune in to awe. Our prayer, our worship, our song, our devotion turns us slowly and sometimes if we are lucky, all at once, from the anxiety and fears that loudly play in our mind and body to the frequency of awe and wonder. One of the things I used to do in the 1980’s while driving through empty stretches of Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota, was to slowly turn the AM dial on my car radio. There were powerful stations from very far away from Denver, Dallas, Chicago, and Cincinnati—and little stations very close by reading the want-adds to local farmers.  The search for God is like that. The God frequency is awe.

The disciples were filled with great awe….  “Awe is the emotion of “vastness” that arises from the sense of wonder, an experience of mystery, or when we encounter something that transcends our understanding” (Butler-Bass).   Scholar Marcus Borg wrote, [that] “Given all of life’s ambiguities and the reality of impermanence and suffering, our existence is remarkable, wondrous. It evokes awe and amazement. We need to pay attention. Really pay attention. Lest we become blind to the awe and wonder that fills our days.” (Days of Awe and Wonder: How to be a Christian in the 21st Century, 2017)

Yes, awe is an aspect of the miraculous. It is mysterious. We understand that it somehow belongs in the realm of faith. But, in the last decade, science has discovered that it also has things to say about the remarkable emotion of vastness as a powerful force to create community and do good. (Butler-Bass)

“Faith and science have turned toward each other in a surprising new quest to explore awe. Turns out that awe experiences are cultivated by silence, mindfulness, and meditation — and staring at the stars, walking in the woods, or listening to a great symphony — all these things enhance “prosocial tendencies.” In other words, people who are attuned to awe want to help others, assist those in danger, care for the suffering, share their resources, and collaborate and cooperate with others for the greater good. (Butler-Bass)

People attuned to awe are also better able to navigate through life’s many storms. Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Four times in Mark’s gospel Jesus ordered the disciples into a boat. This time, they set out at night under a threatening sky. They sail into deep water and soon they’re in over their heads. “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” (Mark 4:37)

Have you noticed? Mark’s gospel repeats itself between the 4th and 8th chapters. We have two exorcisms (Mark 1:21-28 and Mark 5:1-20); two healing stories (Mark 5:22-43 and Mark 7:24-37); and two miraculous feedings of the multitudes (Mark 6:32-44 and Mark 8:1-10).  The answer to this apparent riddle of redundancy is the sea, the Sea of Galilee. Each instance of these remarkably similar stories happens on opposite sides of the sea as Jesus and the disciples traverse back and forth four times by boat. One side of the sea is inhabited by people whose religious life was traditional and familiar to the disciples. The other side held people who were alien and threatening.

In other words, it’s a safe bet there’s always going to be a storm when you cross the emotional boundaries between the good guys and bad guys, the insiders and outsiders, friends and enemies. Jesus calls us into the boat. As Paul wrote, we have become ambassadors of reconciliation by our baptism into Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  We are called to traverse the dangerous boundaries between hostile peoples. We are called to journey into life’s storms. Do not be afraid. Tune into awe to engage the spirit of creativity and collaboration rather than the primitive mind of fight or flight.

People of God, we are called and equipped to set out upon turbulent waters with Jesus at the helm. Our faith calls us to ever deeper levels of transformation and love, not by “staying positive” and happy all the time, but rather, by focusing on “staying true.” Stay true by being tuned in to awe. The peace that passes all understanding does not paper over differences or avert its gaze from what is wrong or what is hurting. No. Together, we steer this ship of mercy with truth as our compass, knowing that the truth sometimes hurts, but that truth also heals. Speaking the truth in love, as best we know it, by giving voice to our anger and hurts, and by prayerfully listening to one another give witness to conscience, the Holy Spirit will lead us through the storm to that new and promised land of true safety and peace that we call shalom. May God our mother and our father, the Son, and Holy Spirit be praised.