So the past two weeks we’ve been looking at texts
that inspire us to think about an unbreakable bond we have with God:
that God Loves Us, and there Ain’t Anything we can do about it.
This section of Mark introduces us to an active, serving, loving, healing Jesus.
Jesus has begun his ministry and he’s wasting no time, really.
Immediately, Mark tells us, Jesus sets out and starts
inviting people to talk about God and to think about God
and to do things that might matter to God.
It takes some effort to not get sidetracked at the supernatural language
of demons and exorcism, but if we can avoid that,
we see Jesus engaged in a healing ministry
of deep importance and significance
This Jesus, wandering the Galilean country side
offering words of peace, words of calm
laying on his hands
and mending where things are broken
it caused people to flock to Jesus from all over
so much so that the crowds were getting a bit…unbearable
This Jesus bore them, though, the crowds. All of them.
Because he loved the people.
Because he wanted to see them get well.
And when his opponents challenged him
and his family encouraged him to come inside for safety
he gently said, “no, these too are my family”
they need me here.
And we explored what that meant,
in particular for those experiencing depression
but really for all of us:
God loves them, too,
and there ain’t nothing they can do about it…
And then last week,
we looked at some of Jesus’ gardening parables:
seeds scattered, seeds growing,
the smallest, most insignificant of which
may well grow into something extraordinary
and, you know, extraordinary but maybe not something
particularly meaningful for you, or for me,
but certainly meaningful for God.
By extension, we reminded ourselves that
if we feel small, if we feel insignificant,
if we’re not sure what our purpose is
God our Gardener, tending, weeding, pruning
watering, helping us grow even through those tough spurts.
In an age where it seems that
the superficial matters so much more to people than the heart
it sometimes is helpful to remember the one
who sticks with us, with patience and fortitude
from the day we are planted
until the day we are done
Two weeks where we’ve been reminded of God’s unbreakable bond of love with us.
God’s acting to make all things new, to grow new shoots out of bleak soil.
And then comes today’s texts, after this past week,
which for so many in our country has been tumultuous:
–Not just because of papal encyclicals reminding us
of the delicate balance of life on our planet
and the way the human footprint has
endangered that balance.
We Presbyterians have been considering similar concerns ourselves.
–And not just because of scandals at the Spokane NAACP office
complex questions of race and identity and justice
or another supreme court season where the country is waiting
for major decisions affecting all sorts of things
–Marriage and Health Care being the most dramatized
Those would probably be enough.
–But most significantly, this devastating shooting
at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
in Charleston, South Carolina,
nine dead, three wounded after an hour-long prayer meeting
exposing yet again the realities of racism and terrorism
and gun violence on our own soil.
We could explore together the significance of that church
in the struggle for equality for Black Americans
in the history of our country
–its role in the underground railroad,
–its burning down to the ground in 1822
set afire by white supremacists the year before
Charleston actually outlawed black churches all together,
so they had to meet in secret
until the end of the civil war.
–rebuilt, more than once, it turns out,
after it was flattened by an earthquake in 1886,
and later host to Booker T Washington and
Martin Luther King, Junior.
–We could look at the lives of the nine who died
pastors and parents and public servants
gathered for prayer,
welcomed their assailant.
— We could explore the impact on their families, their kids, their neighbors
or what it means for someone to walk into your church and do that…
Step in those shoes for just a moment.
If you think it would rip deep into OUR spirits, you’d be correct.
Then magnify that by the deep emotional significance THIS particular church has
in the struggle for equal rights for people of color in our country
and you can maybe catch a glimpse of the pain here.
Our country, its people, our neighbors, are particularly fragile this morning.
And perhaps it hasn’t touched each of us particularly closely,
but many of us remember all too well the shootings at the JCC
and many of us have wounds still fresh from Woodbridge
and perhaps we can relate in some way to the senselessness
of gun violence.
We have a lot to do, my brothers and my sisters,
to name the racism and the violence that festers and inspires such evil,
the ways in which we’re all enmeshed in those things
and have responsibilities to confront them.
I was pondering all of this, when I read a sermon from a mentor of mine.
The sermon was titled: “Does Goliath Ever Really Lose?”
In the reflection, Mark explored what is going on in this famous
encounter between young David and the mighty Philistine Giant.
“He is marginal to the scene…and surrounded by cynics.[i]
Forget that you’ve heard this story for years and years and years…
….NOTICE: Nobody cares about David,
or notices him,
or is glad he is there.
David looks around Saul’s camp—and smells fear.
They are all dwarfed by Goliath and the Philistines.
The entire community is terrified—Saul, the King, is immobilized.
Nobody has the wits or the courage to mount an initiative,
because the rulers of this age are loud, fearsome, and compelling—
–and it seems clear that the cannot be stopped.
Sure, this is a NICE Bible story (Mark continues)
but in the REAL world—OUR world—
–Goliath seems to be winning.
…We can look out at OUR WORLD
and see the same thing David did on that hillside,
camped against the Philistines…
“Your lab results are in…”
“Your mother and I have decided to live apart…”
“Your services are no longer required…”
“I’m calling about your daughter…”
“Hey, Mister, Can you spare a quarter…”
Mark was exploring all of these as adding to our cynicism, our deep doubt
that, come on, lets be real, that anything can defeat the Goliaths of our lives.
The Goliaths of our world convince us that we are doomed,
that no matter what we say in favor of peace, our words will get twisted
no matter how we try to change things, the forces of violence and hatred will win
that regardless of the step forward on the march towards equal rights for all,
some blast will knock us back.
Its just so exhausting.
And after weeks like this, no wonder that many of us just check out, turn off,
want to stop looking and dig our nose deeper into their cellphones
or rounds of golf or Royals games
or whatever can turn off that painful news.
What a privilege it is, for many of us, to be able to do that.
It’s a privilege that many many others do not have. They have to live it daily.
So Jesus is asleep in the boat.
I get that. I really do. He’s been working so hard,
healing and preaching and teaching
crowds of people coming to him for a word of solace
crowds of people who get this sort of world of ours
because they too are living in a violent world
a hurting world
crowds of people who aren’t really able to check out
So Jesus is tired. Exhausted.
And so he gets in his boat for some peace and quiet
just him and his buddies, you know
and that blessed, blessed quiet
and he falls asleep.
But the troubles of the world don’t stop while Jesus is asleep.
The winds start picking up, and the waves start lapping the side of the boat
and the clouds look menacing
and Jesus…Jesus is asleep on the boat.
And the disciples don’t have anywhere to go.
No where they can hide.
They’re on a boat, in open water, with GIANT WAVES
tossing them about.
And Jesus…Jesus is asleep on the boat.
And the disciples are somewhat paralyzed by all of this.
They don’t know what to do.
The Waves are threatening to swamp that boat, to bring them all down
to sheol, as they would say.
And they shake the sleeping Jesus:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing…”
And Jesus wakes up…
Did you notice what Jesus does?
What is the first thing that Jesus does? Right then?
That moment the disciples disrupt his REM sleep and
bring him back to the world of now?
What does Jesus do? Jesus stands, and rebukes the waves, the disorder, the chaos
“PEACE! BE STILL!”
Jesus tends to the immediate needs of the people he loves:
The wind….it ceases. There is a dead calm.
And, just like that, there is hope again….
Sometimes we focus too much on the second thing Jesus does,
when he asks them why they are afraid
but when I think about the waves of our own lives,
I get it. And I think Jesus did too.
Sometimes we focus on this passage as a call to personal trust in God
that Jesus, the one whom even the wind and the sea obey,
that Jesus doesn’t want us to be afraid any longer, to trust
but I like to see this more as assurance in the midst of
the most frightening storms.
Those disciples, they were frightened.
When was the last time you were afraid? I mean, really really afraid?
Life too often is just like this: on a boat, away from shore,
the waves crashing down on us.
the philistine Giant, encamped just over there
threatening to bury us
And EVEN then, ESPECIALLY then, Jesus is there beside us
with a word of calm and assurance
that even those GIANT WAVES are no match for God….
Just like that, there is hope again.
I’m ready for that to happen again among us.
Peace be still. Calm those waves, bring real peace,
real love, real shalom among us.
But I believe it, because I believe the words of Jesus Christ,
and I believe that the love that brought people to prayer in a church
is stronger than the hate that tried to tear them down
and I believe that the compassion of friends and family
can heal the hateful hurt that acts of terror might cause.
and I believe that our wounded Lord
can still inspire us to be his wounded hands and his wounded feet
in this world, agents of love and reconciliation and peace for all.
I believe that the world needs that, needs us.
The world needs people who follow the way of Jesus
lest all we think we CAN do is check out, turn off, give up.
Its far too easy to do that. But its not Jesus’ way.
Jesus always stands up to the storm. He walks in the midst of it.
He speaks a word of PEACE to it.
So that’s, in part, our job.
We’re to be agents of PEACE in this world.
Fortunately we don’t do it alone.
Not only does Jesus walk with us, we walk this together,
with all who claim the name of Christ
with our brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME Church
with others everywhere who are standing up to the waves
with the message that Love will Win.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I want to share with you
word of Mother Teresa that have been particularly comforting to me
when pondering the task we have being the church
speaking a word of peace in a chaotic world.
Here’s what she once said:[ii]
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends
and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
I’m glad we’re in the boat together.
That boat, in another sense, can also be seen as a life raft
the vessel carrying us safely from shore to shore
in calm seas or in turbulent waters.
We’re in this boat together. You and I.
May we not lose heart, but be of good courage,
and not shy away from the difficult work of piecing back together a broken world.
We have so much work to do.
But that boat will get us there.
Image: He Qi, Jesus in the Boat with Fisherman, from http://asianchristianart.org/art_he_qi.htm
[i] Excerpts from a sermon of The Rev. Mark Ramsey, “Does Goliath Ever Really Lose?” at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, dated 21 June 2009.
[ii] According to EmergentVillage, accessed December 16, 2012: https://www.facebook.com/EmergentVillage/posts/449586255101874