Sermon June 21, 2015
Mark 4:35-41, II Corinthians 6:1-13
The stories we encounter in Mark this summer give us some insight into who Jesus is. As we read these stories, we then have the opportunity to look in the mirror and reflect on who we are.
After a long day, Jesus and his disciples get in the boat to head across the lake. Jesus falls asleep and a terrifying storm takes over. The disciples are sure they will die and they can’t figure out why Jesus seems oblivious (which they interpret as uncaring) to their plight. They wake him to ask him why he doesn’t seem to care that they are about to die. Rather than answer them, Jesus tells the wind and rain to cease and then he asks them why they are afraid.
If you read the Bible, you may notice that the words “do not be afraid” are repeated over and over. Someone called them the first and last words of the gospel. They don’t mean that nothing is scary, but that we are never alone in our fear. Fear is inevitable.
The question is not if we will ever be afraid, but what we do when we are afraid. I wonder if Jesus is trying to tell the disciples that they are not alone. You may remember that Jesus was in the boat with them. Perhaps we are most vulnerable to our fear when we believe that we are alone. This story of Jesus stilling the storm calls us to lean back and discover that we can trust in God.
John Wesley and his brother Charles were crossing the Atlantic from England to Savannah, Georgia in 1735 when they encountered a life-threatening storm that broke the mast off the ship. While John panicked, he noticed the Moravians on the ship were calmly singing and praying. He later observed, “It was then that I realized that mine was a dry land, fair weather faith.”
It is easy to claim faith when all is going smoothly. We discover how much faith we have when we are in the boat and the water is turbulent and we cannot imagine how we will make it to the other side alive.
My thinking about this passage took a sharp turn after the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina this week. The following morning, I was at an interfaith clergy meeting. Rev. Charles Becknell who is President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and pastor of Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Rio Rancho was at the meeting. Charles, an African American, said that the African American Community is terrified. I looked around the room at the people representing different faith communities in the area and I realized that we are all in the boat.
Sometimes we talk about our situation as if we were in the boat alone, but we aren’t. It is time that we begin to look around and really see the people who are in the boat with us. We don’t share the same skin color. We don’t all have legal status in the United States. We aren’t the same gender. We don’t share the same economic status. We don’t share the same sexual identity. Every Sunday in our church, we tell everyone that you are welcome here. And we mean that. But I think it’s time we go beyond welcoming and start figuring out how we are going to share this boat we are in together. We share this boat with people in this building. We share it with people on the streets outside. We share it with people who claim other faith traditions. We share it with people who think religion is for those who are weak. We are all in this boat.
Jesus asks us to get in the boat and follow it out to the other side. He doesn’t promise smooth water. In fact, he knows that there are storms ahead. But he is in the boat with us. I keep thinking about love and fear. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t easier to choose fear over love. Love takes some work. Love demands that we trust in something larger than ourselves. Love is vulnerable and it requires that we let go of the outcome. Love is risky.
I started by saying that these texts show us who Jesus is and ask us to reflect on who we are. Jesus is in the boat as the storm peaks. This storm of racism and violence is like a tsunami and I think our brothers and sisters must be asking, “do you not care that we are perishing?” How will we show them that we care? How will we show them that we are in this boat together? I think it is time to act. We don’t have to do it all and we don’t have to do it perfectly, but we must do something. We can and we must be part of the healing of this racial divide.
Getting involved can be scary. It may require more than we think we can give. It may involve some risk on our part. Eleanor Roosevelt is reported to have said, “Do something every day that scares you.” I think this is where we attend to our fear with love. We acknowledge our fear and decide that we will respond with love. Out of love for God and love for the ones who need us most, we say yes. It is important to continue to pray for peace and racial reconciliation and we must remember that love calls us to act.
Rev. Waltrina Middleton, is the National UCC Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership. Her cousin was killed in the Emanuel Church in Charleston. Waltrina said,
“C.S. Lewis wrote that "it is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box." But suppose your life depended on that invisible rope that is your faith? Today, the weight of that invisible rope tugs at my trembling heart and such invisible faith is tested as we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death all around us. We are reassured to fear not evil, but to trust in the rod and the staff for comfort, protection, guidance and perhaps understanding when the morning comes…
Let us come together for such a time as this to the sacred clearing--no matter our faith or practice, and be on one accord in the spirit of love, hope, and healing to seek justice and peace for these and other victims of hatred and violence…
Let us put our faith to action and be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies or arrangements. Let us remove our instruments from the poplar trees and call the people, the public officials, and yes, the church to action to address the festering sores of racism, classism and militarism--as they intersect this culture of violence. How can we begin to eradicate this evil without acknowledging the realities of racialized policing, hate crimes, and the disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown bodies? ...Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in the reconciling power of God for the brokenhearted and the oppressed.”
This day, we pray for Waltrina, for the families of all the victims of the Emanuel shooting, for our society and all who live in fear every day. This day, we look around the boat and we look out at the tsunami that is tossing our boat. We acknowledge our fear and we call upon God who comes to us in love. We commit ourselves to not be bound by fear, but to take action so that racism and violence will not have the last word.