Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Seeing the divine in others

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493

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Things were going just great for Jesus and the disciples in Capernaum or at least relatively well. There were throngs of people coming to hear Jesus teach and to be healed. The authorities were starting to get upset but he had huge crowds following his every word and deed. Out of the blue when evening had come he says, “Let us go to the other side.”

Now many will preach about the stilling of the storm and the dramatic scene of the boat filling with water and Jesus in the stern asleep on a cushion. As I prayed over this passage the words “Let us go to other side” just kept coming up to me and begging to be examined. The reason is Jesus has something to teach us about the other.

Pastor Steve has just published a book of his poems. He wrote this about today’s gospel.

You know, don’t you, that he never simply means
the far side of the lake?

The other side.
The other side of the tracks.
The other side of the border.
The other side of life.
Beyond the familiar, the safe, the manageable.
The other side of the argument. Another viewpoint.
The other side of the conflict.
The other side of yourself.
The other side of the veil. The unseen.
Let us go there.
Let us explore the dark side of our hearts.
Let us stand in solidarity with those who are “other.”
See the world in an “other” way.

Don’t worry.
The Beloved will go with us.

What is the other side? Jesus and the disciples are in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. The other side is no longer Israel it is the land of the Gerasenes. The other side is not Jewish it is Gentile, the land of the other, the non-believer the ones who are unclean, people not among the chosen they are “other”. Walking among them makes Jesus and the disciples ritually unclean. Yet Jesus says, “let us go to the other side.” He calls the disciples to take him in a boat out of the comfortable and well known surroundings of Capernaum to go into a place none of them had probably ever traveled.

The other side, the wrong side of the tracks. Fear is often of the other, especially in today’s world. We see that playing out on a daily basis in our world. However, we don’t have to view the other with fear, we may choose to do that but we do not have to. The media or politicians may portray the other as something or someone to be feared. Fear sells a lot of media coverage and generates high ratings. Fear is a source of power for those in power.

In a book I read on being faithful in a world of fear the author acknowledges the reality of fear as well as the consequences. Fear of the other holds us back, often makes us retreat and circle the wagons. Fear bids us to care for our own and not worry about the other. I am very conscious of this as I watch events unfold across the world and not just in one country or about one event.

Maybe this thought about the other may have been on my mind because Juneteenth is now a federally recognized holiday. There has been a lot of coverage and thought about the African American experience in our country. I found myself thinking about how groups are often looked at as other even today is still a major problem for our society. I believe there is a remedy to this challenge.

Let me tell you a story from my own life. One thing that Wendy and I often do when on a cruise is schedule on of those overpriced massages.  Now for any who have been on a cruise you know that is a total splurge and they charge way too much, but sometimes we want the splurge and it is a totally different experience then my regular visit to the masseuse at my chiropractor where I’m often sore the next day.  When I finished the masseuse put her hands together gave a slight bow and said, “Namaste.” I asked her if she knew what that meant. She was a little astonished but admitted she thought it was just a nice way to say goodbye. Namaste is more than that. What it says in a very deep way is the divine in me salutes the divine in you. Listen to that again. The divine in me salutes or sees the divine in you.

Stop for just a moment and think what that really means. First of all it recognizes that there is divine in me, in all of us. Let us start there. So many people just will not recognize the divineness that is within themselves. If you cannot recognize the divine that is within you, you cannot recognize the divine that is in the other.  So first of all you need to accept that the God has put the divine in you. You must first love yourself before you can love your neighbor. Now if you don’t remember anything else, please take that home with you.

Secondly it recognizes that there is the divine in the other as well. This is the antidote to one of the great sins of the world. Josh Radno wrote, “Namaste asks something huge of us: If the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you, how could I abuse, debase, violate, or harass? I would, after all, only be punishing myself.”

That sin is when we treat others as objects rather than beings filled with the divine. It is what Martin Buber refers to is an I thou relationship rather than an I it relationship. The other can only be hated if they are objectified if they become an “it” a thing rather than another person. If you deny the divine, the humanity of the other make them an object, then you can reject them. Accept and recognize the divine and while you may dislike and disagree, you cannot hate. Notice what I said there. When we see the divine in another you can disagree, even dislike a person but you cannot hate them. I disagree with many people, but that does not mean I don’t see each of them as a beloved child of God.

How do we put this in practice especially with those whose views are radically different. I think back to a speaker we had at clergy conference. He was an African American who is known as the clan whisperer. He spoke to us of how he bridged the gap between several leaders of the KKK and himself. Over a period of years he has changed the minds of quite a few grand dragons of the KKK and he has a collection of their robes that he has given them. How did he do this? How was he able to attend a clan rally and come out alive?

He said he sat down with them and asked them why they considered him less than them. What he did was acknowledge their divine spark and in the course of conversation get them to see and acknowledge the divine in them. To see them not as other but as a beloved child of God. But he did not by arguing with them but listening and asking questions. Eventually they began to see him as a beloved child of God and the hate could not stand up to that love.

What I read at the start of this sermon ends with, “The Beloved will go with us.” Jesus says, “Let us go to the other side.” Leaving the crowds behind they took him in the boat just as he was.” If we are to make this journey to the other side, we need Jesus in our boat. For the way to the other side is not easy and in fact may be very stormy.

When a great windstorm arises, the waves are beating water into the boat and they were already swamped. In a meditation by James Martin on this passage one question he asks is, “What is the windstorm that is beating water into your boat on this journey? What is it that makes it hard to go to the other side, whatever that other side is for you?”

They were perishing they knew that. As seasoned sailors and fishermen they knew the danger of a storm on this shallow lake.  It was only Jesus’ intervention in the storm that saved them. Without Jesus to calm the storm the disciples would not have made it across. Without Jesus to calm our storm we will not make it to the other side. The divine in us needs Jesus to help us across to a place we cannot travel without his help. That place starts with accepting the divine that God has created as the core of our being.

We all have our storms; we all have others to deal with. Whatever that storm, whomever that other, just make sure that Jesus is in your boat before you set sail to the other side.