"Help!" "Tell Me What You See"

Scripture can be found here...

Do you remember where you were in August 1964, the first summer of real Beatlemania in the United States? I know, young people. I know how I felt when people my parents’ age reminisced about people like Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, and the Benny Goodman Band. I felt like they were talking about the days when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Nevertheless. For those of you for whom it isn’t pre-history… Do you remember? The Fab Four had first come to the US in February of that year, performed in Washington. D. C. and New York City in quick succession, and then landed a gig on the Ed Sullivan Show. I have to be honest. I have no memory of any of this. I was still getting the hang of getting around in those great big white shoes they made little kids wear. But I do have something that might even be better: family lore.

In August… on August 30, to be specific… a rumor started circulating around Atlantic City. It was right after the Democratic National Convention, and the city was still emptying out from all the delegates and journalists who had come to cover it, when suddenly, improbably, news began to spread: the Beatles were in town. Not only that, they were going to play a concert there. This was the smallest American city the Beatles would ever play, and I have no idea why they decided to come. On August 30, words started to spread: There would be a show that very night in the Boardwalk Convention Hall!

Like I said, I was three and a half and only interested, as far as I have been told, in going to the beach, collecting shells and sand crabs in my sand pail, and dumping them back into the waves. But my big brother Perry was a few weeks short of a whopping six years old, and, as I learned when my own children were in kindergarten and first grade, kids that age can be very tuned into pop culture. Think Britney Spears and the Spice Girls. Think “Happy” and “Uptown Funk.” Little kids, especially where music is concerned, pretty much know what’s going on. And my brother absolutely adored the Beatles. So my parents stood in line and got tickets.

[For the record: tickets were priced—hold onto your hats—from $2.75 to $5.50. The Beatles were paid $25,000 for performing. Wow.]

Now… even if you don’t remember Beatlemania first hand, if the moptops are only a kind of misty legend that your parents (or maybe grandparents) told you about, chances are good you have still seen footage from their concerts. Beatles concerts in the US were attended primarily by teenage girls, and, for some reason defying logic, they spent the entire time the Beatles were onstage screaming. Screaming loudly. They screamed before the songs. They screamed during the songs. And they screamed after the songs. Teenage girls, I’m so glad you have gotten past that screaming thing.

But my poor brother. He was terrified. He was traumatized. 

And in his terror at being overwhelmed by a very loud crowd of 18,000 screaming Beatles fans, he looked up at my father, and, even though my dad couldn’t hear him, he knew perfectly well what he was saying: “Help!”

This is our first Sunday pondering what one author, Steve Turner, has called The Gospel According to the Beatles. And, I want to clear up a possible misconception right now. I will not be making the claim that the Beatles were secretly Christians (though, all four of them were raised in the Church of England, and John Lennon stayed active in the church the longest of any of them). But I will be saying this: when you look at the whole body of the Beatles’ work, you see that these artists moved from writing pop songs almost exclusively about young crushes and love, and moved from there into the realms of fear, and loss, and philosophical musings about the whole of the human condition, as they experienced it in the crucible of the 1960’s. 

I’m not trying to say the Beatles were talking specifically about God, and God knows, when they did explicitly talk about Jesus Christ they got themselves into hot water not a lot of people have forgotten. But if we hold up their music side by side with scripture, I believe they do make for a fascinating conversation. Not only that: when we explore the themes the Beatles worked with, we do, in fact, find that they share a kind of good news—which is what the word “gospel” means. Good news. That’s what we’ll be doing in the weeks to come: letting the good news proclaimed by Jesus and the good news sung by the Beatles have a conversation.

In this morning’s passage from the gospel of Mark, we have a tale of fear… the disciples and Jesus, together, are on a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee, and while they are there, a violent storm arises on that body of water, which is known for the fierceness of its storms. And the disciples, who have been with Jesus for a while now, are terrified.

But first, the story begins. “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Jesus is referring to the far coast of the Sea of Galilee, which, after a time of preaching, healing, and provoking, will take him out of Judean territory, and away from the people—including his family—who are getting angrier with him by the minute.

Jesus goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. And then the storm.

The great windstorm. The storm with waves beating into the boat. With the boat being swamped, ready to go down. 

And the disciples cry out: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)

Help! I need somebody…

Help! Not just anybody…

Help! You know I need someone…  Help!

For many people, the rubber only really hits the road in the life of faith when they arrive at a moment like this. A moment when you realize, this stuff is getting real. A moment when, for the first time in your life, you understand what fear is, real fear of real danger, or loss, or what one theologian calls “disorientation…” that things have gone badly wrong, and you have no way to fix them. And at that moment, you utter one of the three essential prayers outlined by Anne Lamott: Help. (The other two are “Thanks” and “Wow.”) Lamott writes,

My belief is that when you're telling the truth, you're close to God. If you say to God, "I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don't like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You," that might be the most honest thing you've ever said. If you told me you had said to God, "It is all hopeless, and I don't have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand," it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table. So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light[I]

The disciples have gotten real. To say (or cry out), “Help!” is to be real. 

Jesus hears the cries for help—which really rise to an accusation. And then he rebukes the wind and gives the sea the command “Peace! Silence! Be still.”

Have you ever been out in the elements, the moment a storm blows over? I imagine that eerie stillness… the wind is gone, and the sea is calm. All you can hear is the last sound of the sails flapping as they come to rest, the water lapping on the hull of the boat as if there had never been a storm to begin with.

And then I imagine the disciples looking at Jesus. Really looking at him, as if for the very first time. And as Jesus returns their gaze, he does so with a challenge, and that challenge amounts to: Tell me what you see.

Big and black the clouds may be, time will pass away

If you put your trust in me I'll make bright your day

Look into these eyes now, tell me what you see

Don't you realise now, what you see is me…

I imagine the disciples saw someone who was not afraid of that storm… who literally (as well as figuratively) rested in the peace and power of God so profoundly, that even that storm could not awaken him. And someone who could bring that very peace and power of God with him, even into a terrifying situation like being in a boat that was about to go down, or being little in the midst of a crowd of people you found terrifying.

I’m so grateful my brother had my dad with him, his dad, who took him into his arms and whisked him away to safety. And today my heart is still breaking for thousands of children who have been taken from their dads and their moms, ironically, because their parents were refugees, trying to rescue them from danger by bringing them to a new, safe home in the United States. These children, even if they are receiving the best possible care, are being traumatized with a fear most of us cannot begin to imagine. And I am praying for them, praying that God will somehow protect their tender hearts and minds until such a time as they can be reunited with their parents. My brother had his dad to take him out of a terrifying situation. He grew up to be a good husband and father, a person who was able to have in the faith goodness of the world. He even grew up to, once again, eventually, love the music of the Beatles. Not everyone who has a childhood experience of terror is so fortunate.

This week writer Diana Bass shared a story, a very personal story, on her Facebook page. She wrote:

This morning, I'm thinking of my father, his story and the children at the border.

When my dad was 6, his mother died. My grandfather, left a widower with three small boys, didn't know what to do. So, he put the two younger boys—one was my dad—in an orphanage.

To lose his mother and then to be sent away was the single most traumatizing event of my dad's life... He never really felt safe or loved.

He was a really good person and he was loved and he did love others. But it was a painful, confusing journey for him to become a healed person.... 

When Jesus’ disciples had an experience of terror, he opened a space for them to find safety and relief, and, in so doing, he showed them who he was, the essence of himself: a bringer of the peace and power of God to even the most terrifying situation. The present crisis of refugee children offers us all an opportunity to bring the power and peace of God into that situation—by our prayers, by our witness, by our joining with others who seek to reunite these families as swiftly as possible.  Jesus, who is with us in calm and in storm, will be with us now. 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[i] Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (New York, NY: Random House, 2012), 6-7.