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Sinking Ship - Sermon for 4th Sunday after Pentecost

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A sermon reflecting on the Charleston attack and how the dominant paradigm has to change before this boat sinks with us all on it.  

Please, I suggest you listen to the sermon in the link below, but feel free to browse the text notes that are added for your convenience. 

Sermon delivered at The Heritage of San Francisco. 

June 21, 2015  - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost


"Deep Doctrine" - Lectionary text from Mark 4:35-41

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Click here for sermon audio





Greetings to you, my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.  Happy Father's Day, for the father's among us here today, may your sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters and great-grandchildren bring you pride and joy in your life.  

V0049618 A ship caught in a storm
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A ship caught in a storm; three people in a lifeboat in the foreground. 1850 Published: ca. 1850.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The gospel of Mark, is the earliest and most original account of the deeds and sayings of Jesus Christ and in it we find events transpire rather quickly. Mark is short and to the point. By the time we're on verse 15 of chapter 1, Jesus is baptized and has gone and returned from the the wilderness after being tempted by Satan.  Early on he performs healings, encounters and opposes the Pharisees, and calls the twelve disciples.  By the time Chapter 4 has rolled around, Jesus is in front of a crowd and is telling his first series of parables.  It is from there, the reader of Mark are led in the account of the calming of the sea, in which Jesus invites the disciples to travel across the Sea of Galilee with him. 

There is certainly a lot to take from this account as well. For instance.  For instance, how do you think Jesus would have been sleeping as the storm was raging on around him. 

But another question that I find I want to raise is that how are the disciples expected to have faith if the storm is raging on around them while Jesus is sleeping. Even if I were there and knew that he could perform the miracle that he did, I would still be a bit concerned if he were sleeping while we were all on the verge of dying. So I have to ask myself what Jesus was trying to convey with the question as to why the disciples were afraid. Of course they were afraid! The evidence in front of their eyes told them that despite the fact that their savior was with them, the power of the raging storm was the dominating force and it became hard for them to see anything but the destruction of the boats and the drowning and death of all aboard  If the ones he called as his apostles were in fear, how well would we ourselves fare in such a condition. 

What is it that we find storming our lives? How is it that we let the winds and rain rage around us and find ourselves in the deepest despair? I know that in my life, one thing has been haunting my days. 

When I heard the news about the shootings in Charleston last week, my heart broke. The racist nature of the crime made it all worse, and then details began to emerge about the killer that had personalized the story way too much for me. 

The young man who walked in to a bible study, sat down for about an hour and then decided to stand up and shoot nine people at the Emmanuel AME congregation in Charleston was someone who grew up in the same part of the country my family is from. In fact, he lived for much of his childhood in my home county. The High School he first went to is only a few miles from my mother's house, down the road from where my grandparents lived in much of my childhood. In fact, if it had been around thirty years ago, my younger brother would have graduated from that very same high school.  

And he was raised as a Christian, in fact a Lutheran. His family's congregation is an ELCA congregation in Columbia South Carolina, the very city in which two of his victims went to the ELCA Lutheran Seminary. 

I don't want to claim any ownership over this horror, but the simple fact is this young man... many would call monster, is a product of a culture and environment I am deeply familiar with. My own parents may have raised me to be dubious about racial essentialism, this perception in so many places that one group of humans are somehow superior to the rest, and to reject the racist narrative that surrounded me in my high school years in Lexington County, South Carolina, but I was yet always unlikely to do more than sit quietly when I heard the worst of comments being made. I had enough to worry about without having that kind of vitriol being directed toward me. 

The same kind of statements that we hear being made by the assailants' friends and acquaintances. Sure he said and did horribly racist things. But it happens all the time around here. People are used to it and don't think much of it. We just look away. It's not like it ever amounts to anything. 

Until it does. 

I am lamenting for my homeland, which I have loved for the very same people I have hated it for. I am lamenting my reticence for speaking up, to call to action to say, this is not acceptable in any way.  I am lamenting how a culture can produce a killer like that. And that while there are many good people that come from that culture, people who are disgusted by these events, those good people nevertheless did not do enough to see that something like this would not happen. Good people who would rather bail out the boat than ask for help in quelling the storm. 

The storm is raging all around and the good people of God are in the boat, bailing the water out while letting Jesus sleep. We are letting our own solutions fail over and over again while not calling on the source of all love and goodness to help us. We are not ready to admit our sin, that we are a racist society and we, as white people have an obligation to wake Jesus up, cry to him and ask him if he cares that we are perishing. 

I cannot say what it is that will end the violence and the racism. I don't know how to convince the worst offenders that there is no race war pending, because race is only real because we made it real.  

But Jesus lays in the boat sleeping and we only need call his name out to make the difference between life and death. Jesus walks with us and is there for us to give us the means to act and call out the storm. Jesus Christ is there to rebuke the storm that rages around each and every one of us.  

Here is a quote I read recently: "Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don't belong." We are not meant to be hateful to one another. Our Lord God loves us and commands us to love one another as we love him. Unconditionally. And in order to be the love in the world, he commands us to look after the oppressed, and particularly when we have been idle members of the oppressor class. It means listening to their struggles and trying not to explain away their experiences vis-a-vis our own privilege blindness.   

Jesus stills the storm, and Jesus brings us to the other side.  What we do with that is when we encounter the storm, we not simply idle in the boat or futilely try to bail the water out but speak Jesus' name out loud and call on him to rescue us from certain annihilation. We have come to a moment where we must act, my sisters and brothers.  To bring Jesus alongside us into the world, because his kingdom is for one people, his children, forever, and it's way past time we started living that kingdom here on earth.  

And that, my sisters and brothers, is some very good news.  Amen.   


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