A response to the Charleston, SC massacre preached at St David’s Episcopal Church in Southfield, MI on June 21, 2015. The gospel was Mark 4:35-41, Proper 7.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus was in the stern of the boat, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Mark gives us this story from the life of Jesus, our teacher, our messiah: Jesus has been teaching all day by the lake, telling story after story, parable after parable – trying to get people to understand what the Kingdom of God is about:
- He told the Parable of the Sower where he explains that the soil must be ready to receive the good news for the Reign of God to come into being;
- the Parable of the Mustard Seed where he explains that the Reign of God will be wild and untamable like a mustard plant;
- And he tells his people, he tells his disciples, that a lamp’s purpose is to be giving off light, not hidden under a basket or a bed
Inasmuch as he’s preaching to the crowd Jesus, our teacher, is mostly concerned with his disciples – that all of his disciples get what he’s trying to say. He wants his disciples to hear him. He wants us to listen. He wants us to understand. He wants us to know the truth about the Kingdom of God and what that means – what it really means.
And after a full day of teaching, he says to us, “Let us cross to the other side.” And we leave the crowd behind, Jesus and us, and we get into the boat and begin to cross the water. And the water gets stormy.
Since Thursday morning when I woke up and read the story, when I read about the racially motivated slaughter that took place in an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC, taking the lives of 9 people during their Bible study… I have been in varying states of rage.
- Rage over the undeniable sin of racism in this country.
- Rage over the significant lack of gun laws that make it easy for angry people to get a gun.
- Rage over the complacency of middle-America who wants to reframe heinous acts like this rather than take responsibility for them,
- who refuse to see that the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice are all linked to racism.
- Rage over the ongoing denial of white people like me in this country who want to suggest that because we have a black president, that somehow this makes us a “post-racial” society.
- Rage over the fact that that very president bears the brunt of an unprecedented level of opposition and hatred because he is black.
- Rage over the fact that we shrug our collective shoulders that organizations like the KKK still exists and we claim that the first amendment gives everyone the right to hate.
- Rage over my own complicity in the system that gives me privilege simply because I am white that my African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American, Arab-American, and Native-American sisters and brothers don’t have those same privileges.
- Rage over the knowledge that people of color don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods, in their own churches, in their own schools, in their own homes.
- Rage over the knowledge that racism is a Goliath-sized giant… and the grief that comes when I grow hopeless that David’s stone will never sink into that forehead and that racism will never, ever come to an end.
And so when I scream at Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that your people are perishing?”
I’m angry that God allows this storm to persist. I’m furious that the news reports have become nothing more than a litany of the names of dead African-Americans. And in my anger and my fury, I wonder, where is the Kingdom of God? Where is God’s justice?
And in the midst of that storm my messiah stands up and commands, “Peace! Be still!”
And I realize in that moment that God is not trying to take away my pain and the pain of my sisters and brothers. This is not about comfort so that we can go on with our lives untroubled by the sin of the world.
God sent Jesus to help us to transform pain. To teach his disciples – to teach us – how to transform the pain of the world. To teach us how to transform the pain in our hearts so that we can do the work here in this place to help one another live into the Kingdom of God. That is God’s justice.
The calm Jesus brings to us is not so that we will shrug our shoulders and soldier on, hoping that someday, someone will come to lead us, someone will come to change the system and, if that doesn’t happen, at least I’m okay and I will have my reward in heaven because I believe. No.
The calm that Jesus brings to us is one that allows us to clearly see the waters in which we sail so that we can bring the boat to the other side and know what to do. Jesus doesn’t sail the boat for us. But he is most definitely in the boat with us because he wants his disciples to understand.
This crossing of the Sea of Galilee in Mark’s Gospel is the beginning of a series of 3 crossings. Each time, Jesus is the one teaching us, the disciples, how to access the Kingdom of God, and then sending us back into a world across the sea, into a world in need of healing, showing up in the midst of our fear and our rage so we don’t get lost in the storm so we can finish the journey we are called to make. So that we can bring the Love of God to a world in desperate need. So that we can act on our faith to help transform the world’s pain.
Jesus shows us the Kingdom and then gives us the strength and guidance we need to cross back into a world in deep need of healing, in deep need of reconciliation.
As Christians, this Table is where we come – this Table of reconciliation. Listen closely to the words of the Eucharistic prayer. I hope you will hear words that give you strength and guidance. I hope you will have an experience in the Eucharist where you can taste and see the goodness of the Kingdom of God. Because that is where we find the courage so that we can go into the world carrying that Kingdom with us, bearing the Light of Christ in our hearts, sharing that light with a broken world so that the world’s pain might be transformed.
Our messiah has come. Our messiah has come.
Our messiah walked this earth, died, and rose again. We are Christians and we believe our messiah has already come. And we believe our messiah told us what we are to do.
We cannot wait for someone to fix this for us because it is us, it is you and me, we are the Body of Christ now. We are called to act on our faith. Jesus wants us to hear him, wants us to be his disciples, wants us to understand. We are called to take God’s reconciling Love into the world, into a world in desperate need of healing.
When we cross the raging waters of the sea in our fear and our fury, and when our prayers help our minds to calm after a few days, we must realize this is not an opportunity to surrender to complacency and wait for another messiah. This is not where we give up our power and our responsibility. This is not where we hide in the bottom of the boat, hiding our light under a basket or a bed, wishing that the world were different, refusing to take responsibility for what happens in it.
This is the time – right now – when our actions mean the most because we can see more clearly the waters around us. We can observe more readily the lay of the land on the other side. And we can decide with more compassion and with more clarity and with more passion what God is asking of us right now.
So when we ask our messiah, “Teacher, do you not care that your people are perishing?”
Be prepared for Jesus to turn to you and say, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
This is the time when it matters the most that we sit up in the boat and keep our eyes open. When it matters the most that we act on our faith that we learn with one another and from one another, that we work together on how to move forward because it’s hard to know what to do sometimes when it’s the big giant-like Goliath.
And this is the time when it matters the most that we have hard conversations about white privilege and complacency. And that I as a white person in our society own what that means and that I listen to my brothers and sisters about how I can become an ally in this world racism is real and it’s killing our brothers and sisters even as they sit in our churches.
This is where our hope is.
We are called. You and I are called because we have chosen to be here each week and pray with on another every Sunday and come to this Table every single time we are here. We have chosen to be disciples so, it’s time to get in the boat and cross over to the other side.
What is your response? How will you act on your faith?
If you are a white person, like me, how will you act on your faith?
If you are African-American, how will you act on your faith?
Latino- American, Asian-American, Arab-American, Indian-American, how will you act on your faith?
If you are a gay person or a straight person, how will you act on your faith?
If you label yourself a liberal or you label yourself a conservative, how will you act on your faith?
If you are a woman, or a man, or a child, how will you act on your faith?
If you are an older person, how will you act on your faith?
If you are a parent, how will you act on your faith?
If you are confused as to exactly what to do, how will you act on your faith?
Racism is real. It is killing our brothers and sisters.
How will you act on your faith?
Start by coming to this Table. Start here. This is the place where we come together to pray with other Christians across time and space. Gather your strength here. Ask for guidance here. And then go out into the world, a world in deep need of healing and reconciliation and act on your faith.
And, in all of this, know that you are not alone, my friends. We are not alone in this. But we are called. Because we are disciples. And our God needs us to respond. This is our hope.