In nomine Jesu!
Jesus trusts the disciples. We usually think of this in the opposite way: that disciples trust Jesus. But in today's Gospel our experience is flipped: Jesus trusts the disciples. Jesus trusts us.
For months, Jesus has been teaching us disciples about the absolute dependability of God, the unwavering consistency of God's love for us and the inevitability of God's justice for all. The last time we heard from Jesus, he was with his disciples teaching from a boat, pushed a bit from the shore so that he could be heard by the crowds along its banks who, oppressed under imperial Rome's thumb, were eager to hear him speak about the kingdom of God. Jesus uses the commonly understood imagery of seeds and weeds, rocks and soil, shrubs and trees and grain and fruit.
Now from the same boat, Jesus acts out that same story. Jesus trusts the disciples. They push away from the crowds and the shore; they -- fishers all -- are controlling the boat. They were not anticipating a windstorm. With his words about God's dependability and consistency still fresh in the ears, Jesus promptly falls asleep.
While Jesus sleeps and trusts, a storm breaks out. True to form, the disciples panic; quickly behaving as if they haven't heard a word Jesus taught or seen a thing Jesus has done. Jesus trusts them. Jesus sleeps. They, however, cannot rest; and that makes this even worse for them. They think that Jesus has abandoned them! They think Jesus is paying no attention to them! They think Jesus is ignorant of the condition they are in! They think Jesus doesn't care whether the boat that they are in with him floats or sinks. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
On Wednesday evening, a handful of disciples got into their boat with their Lord -- in the nave, that is the boat, of their church they gathered attentive to God's word -- Jesus there in the boat with them. They were not expecting a windstorm either. Yet quickly, too quickly, the waves engulfed their boat. Shots of a gun rang out. The shooter reloaded. Their boat was swamped by violence, racism, hate, and evil. Their church, Christ's church, our church, and the country we love were once again swamped with terror, sin, and forces that defy God. "Do you not care that we are perishing?"
"Do you not care that we are perishing?"
Perishing even in the holy sanctuary of our churches. Do you not care that we are dying, swamped in the sin of racism in this boat?
Today, right now, millions of Christians around our nation are getting into boats: pouring into their church's naves and reliving that windstorm. Mourning that windstorm. Raging at the windstorm. Today our black sisters and brothers are arriving with added security, shifting nervously in their seats of church in fear that the storm will come again. To them. Next.
The shooting of nine faithful black last Wednesday at a Wednesday night study much like ours reminds us that we're all in this boat together, try as we might to distance ourselves, we are closer than we might think.
In her letter remarking on this "long season of disquiet" in our country, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton described that closeness this way:
Mother Emanuel AME's pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, their associate pastor. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA
congregation. This is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed our own.
We might say that this was an isolated act... But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. 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.
We have been in the midst of this great windstorm of racism for quite a while. Sanford, Cleveland, Ferguson, Staten Island, Long Island, Baltimore -- to name those most recent -- but the waves of prejudice have been beating against the walls of black churches and against the souls of black people for hundreds of years. In the case of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the storm of white-on-black persecution has been pounding for nearly 200 years.
Amidst this storm, our black sisters and brothers are calling out "Do you not care that we are perishing?" They're calling to Christ. They're calling on us.
Now is the time to wake up. Wake up like Jesus!
Wake up like Christ wakes us up at the resurrection.
Wake up to the cries of our black sisters and brothers! Wake up and rebuke the winds of racism that have blown too hot for too long in the church and the city and the world. Wake up and rebuke to the sea of racial injustice! Wake up and silence the voices of white supremacy and the whispers of white privilege among us. Muzzle -- to precisely translate the verb in Mark's Gospel -- the mouths of those who say that racism among us is dead.
Jesus wakes up amidst the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and our waking up is the proper Christian response to the storm of racism that beats at Christ's boat, desecrates our church, defiles our sanctuaries and profanes the pledge that we are "one nation under God."
"Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?"
"Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?"
"Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?"
At the beginning of this liturgy, standing by
those baptismal waters, we respond "I renounce them" to these very questions. We acknowledged that there is evil in our world; that there are forces in this world too big for us, too big for God to dismiss or ignore. We acknowledged that we are drowning in a sea of racism -- institutional. Systemic. Ours. At those waters we asked God in Christ to wake us up to their raw manifestation. At those waters we proclaimed we trust God in Christ to work in us and through us to bring us calm this angry sea, bringing peace and justice, righteousness and calm to all.
Jesus trusts us disciples. Trusts us to hear and heed the cries of those perishing from racism. Trusts us, in the middle of the storm, to wake up and be honest about the sin of racism within us and around us; to listen to our friends of color when they speak about their experiences. To speak out against racial inequity and stereotypes. To look for and learn about the "many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth." To pray and to act.
Consistent with all he has said and taught and done, Jesus continues to trust us and remains with us in this boat. That's what the mass, the Eucharist, our eating and drinking of the body
and blood of Christ is about. And ever since his resurrection, the Christ who stays in the boat with us always remains awake. So ought we be. So much we be. For that is what it means to be in Christ, with Christ and through Christ together.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York