Sermon 11-1-2015; ‘Equality, Equanimity’

Mark 4:35-41 (Matthew 8:23-27)

Dr. William Osler;

Tom Scott quote:

Would you all please stand as you are able.  Please put on your life jackets.  Pull them tight around your waist.  Adjust them so they feel secure - tight enough, but not too tight.  If you have young children with you, be sure to put theirs on first. 

The Roman Emperor Antonius Pius summed up his philosophy of life in one word – the last word he ever spoke – “aequanimitas”; ‘to keep an equal mind in all adverse circumstances of life’.  This is no easy thing to do.  But it has always been needed – whether in early history, or in our current life today.  To keep a sense of equanimity, regardless of the circumstances we are in, is not only a helpful suggestion – sometimes it is a necessity.

Two people were recovered from the waters of Chesapeake Bay on December 17, 2011. A 25 year old woman survived.  A 40 year old man did not.  The body of a third person, a 25 year old man, was recovered a month later.  The boat, an 18 foot Precision sailboat, was discovered under 40 feet of water.  An 18-foot Precision sailboat.  A “P-18”.  That’s the same boat my husband sails each summer at Eagle Creek Reservoir.  Two people died.  How did this happen? Boaters have a lot to say about it.

Two experienced sailors were on board.  One less so – the owner of the boat.  The least experienced was ‘driving the boat’ - in charge of the sails.  No one had put on life jackets before they left – even with small craft advisory warnings.  The survivor said they scrambled to put them on in the water. And, sailing in December in northern waters, no one was dressed out in dry or wet suits.  They weren’t prepared.  And… they panicked.  They lost any sense of equanimity. 

A boat is built to float, and a P-18 is designed to right itself, if and when it’s knocked down.  If the sailors had let go – if they had literally let go – the boat would have righted itself. Instead, it was found, capsized, at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay.

Tom Scott is an experienced P-18 sailor, and has a very popular blog for this type of sailboat called “The Trailer Sailor.”  Here’s what he had to say… “if you get a P-18 close to - or into - a knockdown situation (where the mast is in contact with the water), three "average-sized" crew members clinging to the deck WILL prevent the boat from righting itself. :(  I knocked down my P-18 twice (while single-handing), and it was very slow to right with me hanging on. Had it been any slower, the proper course of action would have been to get off the boat, and let her right herself. Yup, simply step off to leward, [away from the wind], and float.  Unfortunately, that would be a rather counter-intuitive idea (and action) on a winter sailing day, with water temps in the 40's.”

Let go?  That makes no sense.  No sense at all.  With a gust of wind lifting the front of the boat, the sailor should have let go of the sail.  Instead, he pulled it tight.  With the boat knocked down, the crew should have let go, jumped overboard, allowed the boat to right itself, and moved to the ladder at the stern of the boat, climbing back in.  They would have been wet, cold, and miserable, but there is a chance they would have lived.  Instead, they panicked, and held on for dear life, weighing down the boat, so it could not come back up to center, and right itself.  How do we know this?  Because the boat drowned. It didn’t right itself.  It capsized, belly up, and sank.

Jesus had been in a boat all day long.  He had been teaching from the boat by the seashore, with crowds of people gathered sitting close to the water, listening.  When it was evening, he said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side.”   

 Jesus and the disciples headed across the lake. Other boats were nearby.  They weren’t alone on the lake that night.  Jesus, probably exhausted, fell asleep in the stern, the back of the boat. We know that at least four of the disciples were used to being on water… Andrew, Peter, James and John had all been fishermen by trade, before leaving their work to follow Jesus.  Matthew the tax collector… maybe not so much. It’s hard to say which of the disciples were comfortable crossing the lake that night.

A squall came up.  They can come out of nowhere, these squalls… they’re “a sudden violent gust of wind or a localized storm, especially one bringing rain, snow, or sleet.”  Jesus woke to men surrounding him, shouting, ‘Save us! We’re drowning!  Don’t you care? We’re going to drown!”  Their fear was palpable.  They were panicking.  Christ could feel it, as they shook him from his sleep.  He could sense it in the pitch and level of their voices.  Regardless of their experience with storms, even those who had been in rough water and squalls before, with nets hanging from their boats, freaked out. 

 Jesus stood up, and spoke to the seas and to the wind and said, “Be quiet!  Be quiet!  Be still!” The winds stopped and there was a dead calm.  Then Jesus spoke to his disciples.  He did not ask them why they were afraid.  He knew that.  What he asked them was “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?

When Jesus was speaking – shouting – over the wind and the crash of the waves – to the storm, everyone could hear him.  The disciples could hear him.  And what was he saying to them, as he spoke to the storm? “Quiet yourselves.  Be calm.  Be still.” 


“Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  “Have you no faith, even now?  With all you know of me, with all the time we’ve spent together, after all the work we’ve done together, and the amazing things you’ve seen me do – the amazing things you’ve done yourselves - you still have no faith?”  Even with Jesus in the boat, they were sure they would die.    

Fear does strange things to us.  It takes all logic away.  It takes away our capacity to think, to reason, ‘to keep an equal mind in all adverse circumstances of life’.  We, like the three persons on the boat in Chesapeake Bay, or the twelve disciples in that squall, panic.  We forget what we know.  We sometimes forget what we’ve always known.  When we face scary circumstances, it’s not easy to quiet ourselves, to stay calm, to think rationally, reasonably, or… to think, at all.  It’s much easier to react, than to act purposefully.

A few weeks ago, Ministry and Counsel set the course for our Meeting to consider a proposal for marriage equality. This journey is one that First Friends chose to take ourselves, based on a query that was raised by our own Western Yearly Meeting of Friends in the summer of 2014.  Every Monthly Meeting in our Yearly Meeting has been asked to do so.  Some people want nothing to do with this journey.  Some people have been eager to set sail.  Much of that difference, in my view, has to do with fear.

First – fear of the past… some of you have had experience with discussion and decision making at the Yearly Meeting level regarding marriage equality, and have seen how divisive it was.  That was more than ten years ago.  The Yearly Meeting leadership has changed… they are now asking each Monthly Meeting what they think, rather than telling each Monthly Meeting what they will do in regard to marriage equality.  There is no reason to fear the Yearly Meeting.  Respect? Yes. Fear? No.

The Yearly Meeting has changed, and so has First Friends.  I want to show you something… How long have you been coming to First Friends Meeting?  I have been here for just a little over three years.  I’d like to ask all those who have come to First Friends,, or have returned to First Friends in the last three years, to stand up.  We are not the same Meeting we were four years, five years, ten years ago. 

Second – fear of each other… marriage equality is a much more controversial topic than what color to paint Fellowship Hall.  Heart rates go up for some, even when it’s mentioned as something to discuss publicly.  Many people want to panic.  We struggle to find something to hang on to.  “Letting go” is the most counter-intuitive thing we could possible think to do.  This is where leadership comes in.  Out of the chaos of fear, someone needs to come forward with a sense of purpose and direction.  Who is that for Friends?  The answer has been, and always will be, the Holy Spirit.


Our leadership comes from the power of the Holy Spirit moving, speaking, and working through us.  You and me.  My authority comes in the challenge of asking you to consider for yourselves the authority of Christ’s leadership through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I could tell you, but that’s not my work to do. There are pastors in Indianapolis this morning who are telling their congregations how to vote on Tuesday.  You won’t get that from me. 

Some of you have been angry, because it’s taken so long for a proposal to come forward in Monthly Meeting.  Remember the folks, drowning in Chesapeake Bay, fumbling to put on their life jackets?  Ministry and Counsel has worked diligently to be sure that the proposal that came forward considered not only the question of whether marriage equality was something that should be pursued, but HOW it should be pursued at First Friends.  Not at Second or Third or Fourth Friends.  At First Friends.

Relying on the Holy Spirit means listening – waiting on the Holy Spirit.  Not panicking, not determining our own ending, or using conjecture to determine what we think God would do.  It’s means waiting for a sense of clarity and release.  Some of you are already clear – you already have your answer.  I would ask you to listen carefully to be certain that your answer allows enough flexibility to respond to what God’s Spirit requires of you, no matter what comes. It may not be what you expect. 

Who are we sailing with?  With people we’ve trusted, some of us, for years.  We’ve trusted them with our kids.  We’ve trusted them with our money.  We’ve trusted them with our energy and time.  We’ve trusted them with our intellect, our thoughts, our plans, our stories.  We’ve trusted them with our guts.  We’ve trusted them with our secrets.  We’re sailing with people we know, trust, and love.  Who else would you want to take this journey with?

And finally, trusting one another as Friends.  I mean, as Quakers.  People who understand that God is not kept in a box, or a book.  God is alive in you.  In me.  In our children.  In each other.  That day on the lake in the squall, those Jewish men believed that God was in the Torah and the Temple.  They forgot that Jesus, God Incarnate, was in the boat! “Have you still no faith?” he asked them.  “Aren’t I God to you yet?” 

We must not fear God, as some scary monster… that is not what scripture teaches us.  We are to fear God – to hold God in high honor, with awe and wonder, but also with thanksgiving and joy, knowing that God gave himself to us, for us, loves us dearly, and lives in us, showing us Godself every day, and in every circumstance.  George Fox looked and looked and looked for God, and finally heard God say, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to your condition.” God is in this with us.  God is speaking to our condition.  God is showing us the way forward. 


We have nothing to fear.  We must not panic.  We’ve done many practice drills with other questions and concerns that have come before this meeting in the past, and we’re still here.  The Meeting has not split apart or died.  If anything, we’re stronger than ever.

Keep your equanimity, regardless of the circumstances.  Stay calm.  Be still.  Still enough that you can hear God speak.  Listen to the teachings of God’s Spirit.  Love God with all you have – heart, soul, mind and spirit.  And love each other fiercely– like you love yourselves.  Show each other what love looks like, feels like, acts like.  BE God to each other.  Be good to each other.  

George Fox once said: “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.I’m setting sail for the ocean of light and love with you – every single one of you.