Thursday night the African American Episcopal Church in Lebanon had a vigil to pray for and with their sister congregation, Mother Emmanuel. A colleague and fellow UCC pastor went to the vigil both to find a space and place to share her own grief and to offer support to a community reeling from the surreal reality of the week. This pastor is not new to being in difficult situations. She’s not new to standing up and speaking out in places that might put her in danger. She’s not new to knowing that following Jesus can and does include risk. However, she had a new experience Thursday night. During a time where all gathered were invited to speak, A young white male stood in the back and said these simple words:
I was hoping that I would find a gathering like this tonight.
Chills ran down this pastor’s spine.
FEAR followed by a barrage of what ifs
And back up plans
She shared with me it was her first time she truly tasted lethal fear. Lethal fear in a place where you should never have that feeling. Lethal fear that now seems reasonable after the massacre in the South Carolina AME Church.
It turns out that her fear was not founded. This young white man was looking for a community to grieve and lament with. This young white man was upset about the shootings. It might have been otherwise.
Fear can fuel otherwise.
Fear is a powerful emotion: it quickens the heart; heightens the senses.
Fear transforms the body. In a life or death moment, it gifts us with super human strength. It is a very real and necessary emotion for survival.
Over the course of a lifetime, living in a sea of fear corrodes the body. It chisels away at the immune system, strains the cardiovascular system, and eats away at energy and vitality. Fear, though necessary in some moments, can take the human out of humanity. If unchecked, fear can divide people from themselves, their families, friends, and faith.
Fear is a potent feeling that when worshiped leaves little room for
Love of neighbor
The bigger picture
Hope for a different tomorrow
Fear convinces us that we are in our boat alone.
We need to take care of it ourselves.
Anything different from us or our plans is to be tamed, controlled, condemned—and in some cases even killed.
But fear–life or death, lethal fear is indeed potent.
It is that kind of fear that Mark first writes about in today’s Gospel passage. The disciples in the boat weren’t just afraid. They weren’t just unsure. They feared for their very lives.
They disciples ask Jesus–
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Life or death.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
I imagine in addition to being afraid; they were angry. After all, it was Jesus who told them to get in the boat. It was Jesus who decided to take a siesta below board. With Jesus in the boat, they shouldn’t have had to worry about storms anyway, should they? That’s what having Jesus in your boat means, right? A map to sail a smooth course. A guarantee to glide to the other side without storms. I know I have heard a lot of Christians talking about the power of having Jesus with them.
The power of Jesus to Save. Rescue. Fix. Cure.
Except in this story, Jesus is in the boat—and they sail into a storm.
Except that following Jesus—for the disciples and for us—often means sailing into the hurricane rather than away from it.
Except for some people the storms don’t seem to stop, and their ship really does go down.
Storms happen–with or without Jesus in your boat.
In this case, the disciples don’t even ask Jesus to calm the storm. They ask if he cares what’s happening to them. From his apathy below the deck, it can seem like he doesn’t. I don’t know that I believe Jesus doesn’t care, but I can understand how the fear of the moment would lead the disciples to believe this. I also know that Jesus’ snarky questions to the disciples –Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?–
might make me feel a little mad.
Really? Jesus? Really?
The boat was literally being swamped.
I imagine the disciples thinking
OF COURSE WE WERE AFRAID?!?
It can be easy for us as 21st century people to forget that we know what the disciples are just beginning to figure out.
Jesus is not your ordinary rabbi. Jesus is the incarnation. God with us.
In this story, they witness Jesus’ authority over the wind and the rain. His authority is beyond our wildest imaginings and how he chooses to execute his power confounds and confuses.
With Jesus the disciples may enter storms, but it will be possible to find a peace. In the midst of the turmoil, there is a deeper peace that can be found. What we know, that the disciples don’t, is that this storm is just the beginning. It is a simple foreshadowing of what is to come. For they will follow Jesus to the end. The disciples will witness his death, and their faith will be further tested. The disciples will see what seems to be the storm conquering. But what the disciples discover, and we proclaim as the Good News is that even death does not have the last word.
We know that after crucifixion comes resurrection.
We worship a God that not only knows what it is to sail in the storm but also to go down with it.
Our God also knows what it is to be raised from this drowning.
That is the promise of our faith.
It can be easy to loose sight of this when fear looms large.
Let’s face it
Fear looms large right now.
We live in a culture of fear. A simple glimpse at the news is enough to make anyone paranoid about any other. See a person in a hijab. Sure enough that is a possible terrorist. See a person of color. They are taking over “our” country and a threat to the USA. See a Mexican immigrant—they want to sell drugs or take “your” job. See a police officer—they just want to brutalize people. The gospel of fear will convince you that anyone and everyone that is the least bit different from you is suspect. Go on high alert and be ready to tame, control, contain…and in some cases kill.
As Christians, we are not called to preach or practice the gospel of fear. We are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In a week like this, what could that possibly be?
Friends, this week we need to remember that the nine women and men gunned down in South Carolina are our sisters and brothers in faith. We are part of one body. And when one part hurts–ALL hurt. When one part suffers–ALL suffer. When one part is targeted or terrorized–WE all are.
Friends, the women and men who were murdered at Emmanuel AME are our sisters and brothers
Our mothers and fathers
Our daughters and sons.
They have perished at hands of senseless violence
Like too many of our sisters and brothers of color.
It is just one more story in a long litany of stories of violence, murder, and betrayal.
Do we not care that they are perishing?
I can understand if our sisters and brothers of color would ask us the same question that the disciples asked Jesus.
Do we not care that they are perishing?
I don’t know about you, but I know I care.
My guess and hope is that you care too.
That you care more than you know or realize.
Perhaps you too have been mired in fear
Fear of losing
Fear of risk
Fear of change
Fear of not knowing what to say or what to do
Fear of doing something wrong
For doing nothing is better than doing something wrong.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase or seen the hashtag
I believe that hashtag is a way of asking us that question
Do you not care that we are perishing?
There has been a bit of pushback against this phrase. Most notably a counter statement that proclaims
To that I say, of course all lives matter!
We might do a good job of saying that
But sisters and brothers in Christ,
We had better start practicing it.
We can no longer afford to live in the paralysis of our fear. We are already in the storm. What matters now is how we choose to sail through it knowing that we have Jesus in the boat with us, knowing that we are not the authority over the wind and the rain, but we follow the One who does.
I was reminded of the importance of choosing how we sail shortly after I heard the news reports about the shooting in Charleston.
I heard a song on the radio called “The Eye” and the refrain continues to haunt me. Brandi Carlisle sings, You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you’re standing in the eye.
We may be in a hurricane. But I believe that our faith will lead us to the eye and keep us in the eye. Sisters and brothers from the eye we can accomplish most anything:
We can find the courage to ask for and truly listen to stories of people of color.
We can find voice to speak up, and when we see something, say something. And say it again And again, and again. Until change begins.
We can find the strength to take a stand against hate.
We can find the theological conviction to name the sins of racism and bigotry. We can name terrorism for what it is. Even when—especially when—it happens on our own soil by one of our own against one of our own.
Most importantly, we can find the audacity to dance. When terror strikes at the heart, we might be tempted to turn in, lock our doors, and say a prayer that it is not us or in our house. We might be tempted to turn away the other. This is the time to do just the opposite. It is time to fling our doors wide open. To take to the streets and sing the Good News at the top of our lungs. It is time to dance in the eye of the hurricane.