Tuesday, June 23, 2015

June 21st Sermon

Rev. Kirsten Sermon June 21, 2015

Proper 7, Year B, RCL

I found this week’s sermon a hard one to write.  I had good ideas on Monday when I began thinking about the readings. 

But then on Tuesday, the balcony broke in Berkeley and the Irish students were killed.  Suddenly, what I had planned on saying about scripture didn’t make sense any more.  Then on Wednesday, we learned in the news about the racist attack on the AME church in South Carolina and the horrific murders there.  I knew that we would have to talk about this incident here today, pray for the victims and their families and strive to understand the societal cause of such brutality.  And then on Thursday, Pope Francis issued his encyclical Laudate Si, opening up a renewed dialogue with all Christians about our care for creation, and the poor.  And today it is Father’s Day here in the United States, a day for honoring our fathers and it is Summer Solstice today, the changing of the season.

Where are we in the midst of these events and the other important, hard, beautiful, wonderful, difficult things that are happening in our lives?  How do we turn to our God,  this week in the midst of this storm?

There is a sermon in every one of these events.  Some of you will be more touched, more impacted by one than another.    And God is present, holding us with care in the midst of these tragic events, and encouraging us to respond as disciples, living out our baptismal promises as we face them. 

As I read and reread and prayed these passages over the course of the week, I heard a new message in the Gospel. 

First I noticed that Jesus and his disciples were crossing the sea to escape the crowd.  They were going together, tired from their healing and teaching work.  They were seeking peace on the other side of the sea.    But instead of reaching a peaceful place, they encountered a storm.

And maybe this is what happened to us this week.  On Tuesday, I wrote my note to you, praying for comfort in the aftermath of the Irish students’ deaths.  But instead of getting peace and comfort, we find ourselves confronted by a horrible, violent, racist attack—an evil that we cannot accept.  

Pope Francis’ encyclical challenges us, confronts us—requires us to question our beliefs and speak out against poverty, against the destruction of the planet.  Many people do not agree with the Pope’s analysis of the cause of our environmental problems, but his call for change cannot be denied—poor people around the world are suffering as a result of environmental crises—droughts, floods, earthquakes.  The least among us must be protected and cared for.

We seek peace and instead of peace, this week we find ourselves in violent conflict, suffering deaths, poverty, racism.    We, like Jesus’ fishermen disciples, are being tossed by the waves, caught in a windstorm, maybe we are in danger of being swamped. 

The easy answer that some who read this Gospel passage might give is that when we call on Jesus, he will calm the storm.  He will calm our fears.  (I saw a church billboard yesterday that said just that:  “He calms our fears, have faith in him.”)   I know that many preachers will give that message today.  But I don’t think that this passage is just about another miracle.  Jesus does calm the seas—at least momentarily.  But we know the seas are going to continue to rage.  There will be more windstorms, and more fishermen will be at risk.  All of us who live here on the West Coast, know that some fishermen will die in storms at sea. 

So instead of suggesting that if we have faith, Jesus will fix it, we must listen carefully to the rest of the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples.  Jesus turns to them and says,  Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"  And they turn to one another and say,  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Jesus asks them about their faith and they turn to one another and ask “who then is this?”

I read Jesus’ question to the disciples as a call to us this week, to overcome our fears and live into our faith.  When we are confronted with violence, storms, wind—it is time not to trust blindly in a magical hope that God will intervene, but instead to follow our God, Jesus Christ, working with him on the path towards peace.

Maybe when the disciples ask one another “who then is this?” they are beginning their most important work.  They need to figure out who it is that they are following.  Living into faith is not a passive waiting for God, it is a process of questioning, discerning and acting, in response to God’s call.

When we are confronted by tragedies as we were this week, we must ask—who then is this that we’re following.  We can ask what Jesus taught, what Jesus did,  and in asking those questions, hear some answers about what we are called to do, where we are called to follow.  We can listen to Scripture.  We can look to our baptismal covenant.  We have our experience of God’s sacrament—our Eucharist.  We have our tradition, our prayers, our creed and our worship.  And we have our minds, our intellect.  We can engage our faith and asking “Who then is this?” we can find the way towards peace and justice for all God’s people and our planet.

Listening to Scripture, we know that when Martha and Mary called Jesus after their brother Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept at the tomb.  He commanded Martha and Mary to help him raise Lazarus by unbinding him.  As followers of Jesus this week, maybe our first direction is to weep at the tomb.  Our lament is necessary—as uncomfortable as it is, we must cry with the victims of these tragedies. 

But if there is to be an unbinding, a new life after these tragedies, then we must also follow Jesus’ call for justice.  The deaths of faithful people in South Carolina need to be understood not only as one disturbed man’s sin;  they are a societal sin.  These deaths were an act that is rooted in a deep racist hatred that is the shame of our country.   As we look for Jesus in these terrible murders, we know that Jesus always stood against oppression. 

All of his ministry sought to free the captives:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
   (Luke 4:16-20)

And we know that Jesus forgives, always forgiving us our failures, always renewing our lives.  We know that we are called to do Jesus’ work in the world, to preserve in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?  We have promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to strive for justice and peace among all  people, respecting the dignity of every human being?

There is so much more that we could explore, listening and look for God’s way in the midst of these events.   But if we hear Jesus’ question:  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" We can be filled with great awe and we can begin our most important work with one another--asking, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"  And when we see him, when we know him, we must follow him.

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