SERMON Mark 4: 35-41 Pentecost 4b
It’s been a grim week. Nine of our brothers and sisters in Christ were shot dead in church last Wednesday because their killer hated the perfect way God made them, hated their black skin, hated their black culture and the proud history of Emmanuel AME church in Charleston. I think we’re all in need of comfort, healing, love, and forgiveness this week.
I’m not going to stand up here this morning and tell you why bad things happen to good people. I don’t believe there is a faithful way to answer that age old question this side of heaven. But I do believe in the goodness of God. I believe in the love of God. And I believe this morning that God’s heart is broken on so many levels by this tragedy. God’s heart is broken for the victims and their families. And God’s heart is broken by all of the ways we hurt each other, by our sin, and as a church and as a country there is a sin that threatens to drown us in our own denial…
The shooter was a white supremacist. He was also a member of an ELCA congregation. One of us. He shared our font and our communion table…. Racism is not just a systemic disease within our country, but it’s in our churches, sitting next to us in our pews. It’s in our families, in our jobs. It’s certainly here in Gettysburg in both implicit and explicit ways. How many times have the KKK tried to rally here in recent years?
Bishop Eaton released a statement earlier this week in which she said: “We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly.”
The storm of racial discrimination, inequality, and suffering rages on in America, and yet we continue to pretend like we’re floating on calm seas or tell ourselves that –if the storm does exist- our boat is unsinkable. Our brothers and sisters of color are drowning in the waves of our denial.
Perhaps the disciples in our text felt unsinkable. They were, after all, fishermen. I’m sure they were familiar with the random and sometimes violent squalls that would erupt on the Sea of Galilee. What made this storm different? Something about it got their attention, it made them take notice of their surroundings and the danger they faced… Can’t you see them scrambling around? In exasperation, they finally cry out to Jesus who’s asleep in the boat, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we are perishing?!” I always wonder at this point, what exactly did the disciples expect Jesus to do? Did they wake him up so that he could help them bail out? Did they wake him up so that he could send out an SOS? Call for a rescue boat? Put on a life preserver? “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” “Do you not care?” What else could explain him failing to help in the way they expected him to help at a time like this?
Though they’d seen him perform one miracle healing after another, stand up to the authorities, and exorcize demons, they still seemed surprised by Jesus’ display of divine power.
With just 3 little words, their life-threatening crisis was over.
“Peace, be still.”
The sound of rushing wind and pummeling waves transformed immediately to a dead calm, sheer silence.
He said to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The disciples looked at one another, then at Jesus. “Who IS this guy? Miracle healings are a dime a dozen, but Jesus has a power only God Almighty should have, even the most chaotic forces of nature obey him! Who IS this guy?” They looked upon him awestruck.
Who is this guy? This is Jesus, the one with both power and compassion beyond our human ability to imagine! This is Jesus, the one powerful enough to become utterly weak for our sake, utterly humiliated on the cross, utterly understanding of the pain, suffering, hatred, and chaos we endure as human beings, and utterly victorious over it all! This is the Jesus who rose as Christ, the same Christ who carries us through death and into new life time and time again as the storms we create and endure threaten to overtake us. Through every storm and in every season, this is the Jesus Christ whose love for the world conquered Sin and death and who loves us and carries us still today!
As Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee, we acknowledge that God’s power is beyond our human capacity to fully understand. And that all powerful God is the same God who loves us tenderly and unconditionally and brings us each to new birth through the life-giving waters of the font.
Here at St. James, we celebrate 4 Baptisms this weekend as God washes Emeline, Jason, Maddison, and Mason in the storied waters and calls them as co-workers in God’s kingdom.
As Lutherans, we do not regard Baptism as a ticket to heaven, but rather as an outward sign of God’s permanent promise to forgive even our most grievous sins and to love us forever as sons and daughters. In times of doubt and despair, in times of shame at his own sin, Luther would cling to that promise, shouting out at the devil, “I am Baptized!”
I am Baptized, and so I know that God loves me forever and will carry me through every stormy season of my life. Baptism is a free gift of God’s grace and carries with it the holy responsibility to live as God’s people in the world. Through Baptism, we become the body of Christ and we are carried out to bear Christ’s love and reconciliation into a suffering world. Trusting in God’s promises, Baptism makes us bold to live out the gospel, even when that’s really hard to do, even when that appears to conflict with the culture around us. Baptism makes us bold to take a stand against prejudice and to speak out on behalf of the oppressed because through scripture and the cross, we know our God fights for the oppressed and calls us to the same.
Bishop Eaton concluded her statement earlier this week with a call to action. She wrote: “I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act.”
Christ is the only one who can bring calm to this storm and love to this world of hate. He whispers to each of us and to the world in which we live, “Peace.”
But please, do not be still at a time like this. Amen.
SERMON Mark 4: 35-41 Pentecost 4b