Mark 4: 35-41
One that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.
Other boats were with him.
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
Today is the day of the Summer Solstice---the longest day of the year. This week I'm noticing how long these days have been, with a bright sun welcoming the day around 5:30 am and the steady stream of activities that summer brings.
But these days also feel long in a different sense—these are days of heavy emotions and anxieties as we as encounter the issues that are occurring here in this community and within our wider context of the United States. I understand that Holy Trinity is moving in transition to saying goodbye to Pastor Christian as he pursues a valuable calling; this community is given the opportunity to examine its mission and goals in order to embark on new leadership.
This week the foundation of my soul is tugging to hold my reaction to the fatal shooting of nine black people at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This act of terror is one that each of us reacts to in our own ways, whether that is to ball our fists up in anger, cry out for justice, sob for the senselessness of these beautiful lives that were shattered, wallow in the intricate ways racism and aggression are acted out in this country, or feel numb to it all. The emotions, or lack of feeling anything, are pieces of how we as humans encounter traumatic situations. Today we come to the Gospel seeking comfort and hoping for answers about what we can do in this aftermath of grief.
Today we are the disciples in this story of Mark—Jesus brings them to the edge of the water and calls out to go across the water to the other side. Here we are a people called to go out of the familiar and comfortable and into the unknown. Now is the day of salvation, now is the time for action.
While on their journey, a raging wind storm beats the waves of the sea and dangerously rocks the boat that holds these people and Jesus. The disciples are filled with fear for their livelihood—they call out to Jesus in desperation to change the situation. Today we as a community of faith are in that shaking boat in a tumultuous wind storm.
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote to the Lutheran church this week, saying:
“It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.
Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Reverend Daniel Simmons, the associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.”
In her letter, Bishop Eaton proclaims of the systemic racist systems that are at play in the acts of aggression towards black people while honing in that this is not just an issue that is far away from who we are as people of faith. A young white man who grew up in a Lutheran ELCA church shot and killed people these week citing that he wanted to spark a civil war in this country. This evil and hatred is part of our story—this brings the grief and the panic of this event right into our hearts.
This week we find ourselves living in this storm just as the disciples in Mark were as they crossed over the water. In the Gospel we hear today, the disciples wake Jesus up to help. Jesus' words for the disciples and for the storm are: PEACE! BE STILL!
As we soak in this overwhelmingly loud call of PEACE! BE STILL! I wonder who Jesus is addressing.
When Jesus speaks to the sea, the Greek word that is used is bathos. This word is used to represent chaos in other places within the Gospel of Mark. So when Jesus calls out, he speaks to the chaos when he says: BE STILL!
When I hear this story I don't see chaos in just the violent waves and the rushing wind; I also see chaos within the panic of the disciples. These people fear for their lives; they call out to Jesus by speculating that he does not care that they are going to die in this storm.
Jesus addresses this panic by calling for peace. Jesus then asks these people why they are afraid and still have no faith? Why are these people anxiously stewing on this storm and blaming Jesus for not caring?
In this Gospel we hear Jesus' cry for PEACE! And to be still. But what does that mean for us as people that are reacting to the gut wrenching news that one of our children has murdered 9 other children of God out of racial hatred?
Among the many reactions that shake our bodies, one of the most common pitfalls is to distract ourselves from the pain. The distraction could look like anger and taking out the helplessness by yelling or punching at walls. Hiding from this grief can look like numbing out by focusing on work or pretending that what happened on Wednesday night at Mother Emanuel doesn't affect us. The distraction can look like guilt or festering only in how we are helpless to do anything good or helpful in this situation. Distraction can look like throwing ourselves into helping others and not paying attention to the emotions going on within our own bodies.
I know that my own heart has been filled with panic about what I can do as a leader of the Lutheran church who is also a white woman who is steeped within my own racial bias. I feel helpless, I feel lost, and I am so terrified that I might say the wrong thing that will anger someone. I am sad that because of my privilege as a white person I am able to remain distracted by my fear and panic instead of dealing with the racism that is embedded in who I am.
Jesus calls us out of the many distractions that create panic or anxiety within us and says BE STILL. This is not a call to remain silent; I am deeply convicted that we are called to be still with the uncomfortable pain that unsettles our souls. It is so difficult to hold on to the raw emotions of heartache and the fear that tightens our stomachs. Jesus calls us into PEACE—that peace is not a call to do nothing but a call to cling to the present. There is a difference between being still in silence, which is passive, or being still in the active call for peace.
9 families have lost their beloveds. A historically black church that is famous for fighting for the right of freedom from slavery and Jim Crow laws was attacked. This week the sacredness of a church was torn apart. That is not peace, that is not love, that is not what we as a people of faith stand for. Jesus cries out to us privileged peoples and says: STAY WITH THAT WOUND.
Be present with the pain and hold it as a call to be transformed. Be still in this moment that tells each of us that the racism that is embedded in our culture is a part of each of our souls. Do not let yourself be distracted and stay long enough in the present to be utterly changed to work for peace. Be still enough to ask yourself: What is my role in this?
Jesus does not abandon the disciples in the storm; we are not abandoned in our panic and fear of what to do next. God holds each of us no matter what our reaction to this is; we are filled with grace even in the distractions we have that cloud our vision of who God is. We are freed by Christ to live into the whole entire purpose of us and the disciples being in the rocking boat in the waves that threaten to crush us. We freed by God's love to live our purpose go across this sea of chaos and unto the other side.
This act of terror that has happened in our broad community of the Lutheran church, all Christians, and the entire United States represents an evil demand that calls for us divide ourselves. The sea of chaos that is both outside and inside of us is telling us to create sides. But we are given a different call by Jesus. Jesus cries out to us and says PEACE!
Within that peace, we are given courage, though even if it is shaky and insecure courage, to use our voices as people of privilege that proclaim love that builds bridges. Jesus calls us out to work for justice in this world; actively creating peace in this world is messy and hard—it involves plenty of mistakes and disagreements and hurt feelings.
We as a people of faith are called out to have the bravery to disagree or say, “No, I will not participate in stereotyping a group of people or laughing at that racist joke.” Jesus call us to be brave enough to say, “I'm sorry that I made that racist comment; I hear you and I see you.” We are given the urge to have these conversations with our children and families.
Being still in the rawness of being real with people means staying in the uncomfortable places. I believe that I NEED to use my voice as a white woman and join in the voices that demand a different life for black bodies. My privilege gives me the ability to be distracted from this violence but my call from God gives me the motivation to build bridges across the chaos.
The love of Christ pierces through the fear and says that we are heading across this to the other side. As we heard in Second Corinthians today, “now is the day of salvation.” Now is the day of crossing over to the place of love. In this pain and hatred there is so much pressure to divide us. And yet the grace of Jesus gives us another way: how can we continue to bind ourselves together?
Christ's overarching love stops me in my tracks as I hear the words of forgiveness that the families of the victims of Dylan Roof's shooting spoke on Friday afternoon.
Speaking of her 26 year old son Tywanza Sanders, Felicia Sanders said to Dylan Roof: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifullest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts. I will never be the same. Tywanza was my hero. But as they say in the Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on your soul.”
The daughter of 70 year old Ethel Lance said, “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you. It hurts me. You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”
Over and over again as these families spoke to Roof, they uttered the words: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. May God forgive you. We forgive you. We forgive you. We forgive you. We forgive you. We forgive you.
Let us be a witness of the abiding love that flows out of these people. How can we be still to open ourselves up to witness God's love in this forgiveness and embrace it?
The chaos of that windstorm and the chaos of our own panic does not disappear for us---
How then are we called into action to proclaim God's love in order to continue connecting the fragmented pieces of the world?