It’s all too big for them. Its all too out of control. Whirlwinds. Surf, beating at the little boat. Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?
Now, really. What are they expecting him to do? Yes, they’ve witnessed some miraculous healing. Yes, they’ve seen him exorcise a demon. They’ve heard him teach and they’ve heard the confusing stories he tells. But now—just what are they expecting from him in the middle of a hurricane?
Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?
Is that it, really? They’re not expecting him to do anything, just to care. To be awake with them, maybe to encourage them as they all hang on for dear life and try to manage the boat. And maybe just to be there. Be there with them, alongside them, among them. And then he surprises them. Really surprises them. He wakes up, and using exactly the same word he used when he cast out that demon, he tells the sea and the wind to “shut up!” And it does. It shuts up, and the storm is over.
The storm is over, but they’re still afraid, and maybe more afraid than before. They’ve heard the stories and the poems from the scriptures of their faith. Who wields that kind of power over the forces of nature? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” the Lord asks Job. “Tell me if you have understanding … who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” Only God can shut the sea in with doors. Only God can speak from a whirlwind. Only God can “still the storm to a whisper, and quiet the waves of the sea,” as the psalmist sings. The teacher is wielding a kind of power that is beyond human comprehension. It’s the power of creation itself. Of course they’re scared! “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The picture of Jesus and the disciples in that boat, the boat being tossed around in a hurricane—it fits, this week. The front page of yesterday’s paper says it all: On one side of the page, pictures of a great, happy crowd celebrating the Warriors’ victory. Exuberant people, caught up, you could say, in a whirlwind, a whirlwind of excitement and even joy.
And right next to those pictures is the latest story on the shocking attack inside a church. A church that stood as a leader and even a monument to the faith of the African American community in Charleston, South Carolina. A shooting during Bible study and prayer. A shooting by a young white man who had joined the group who were praying and studying together, all the while planning to kill them.
It’s too much. Overwhelming. That word, “overwhelming”—it’s a word from sailing on a rough sea, isn’t it? The sea, that home of sea monsters and symbol of chaos. Like the disciples in the story, we are overwhelmed. By having our emotions jerked around. By the hatred, the senselessness, the evil carried in the heart and acted out by that young man in the church. By the sheer number of shootings and other forms of violence in our bloody country. By the confusion we feel over too many guns colliding with too much fear for our safety. Too much. The boat is sinking. Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?
We know we need to do something. We can’t stand the feeling of powerlessness if all we do is just hang onto the rocking boat. There must be something we can do. Something somebody can do. How to stop the bloodshed? How to fight the violence and the hate? How to allay the fear? Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing? Teacher, wake up!
And what do we expect him to do? In our frustration and our fear, what are we doing when we call on Jesus, call on God to respond to our pain? Are we asking God to “fix” the situation? Isn’t that what we humans would like to have happen? “God, fix the racists—change their hearts. God, heal our American people of this cancer of racism and violence that threatens to destroy us. God, comfort the people who have been directly hurt by all these horrible events. Fix it. Use your creative power to make everything right again.”
It’s a very big fix we are asking for. We are asking for a national change of heart. Our boat, the boat of those of us who are privileged in our culture—our boat is threatening to swamp right now and we are fearful about what it could mean. But we are aware, perhaps dimly, that for some of the people in our nation, the boat seems to be swamping all the time. If you are stopped by a cop for speeding on the highway, and you are not afraid you’ll be shot or injured, give thanks. If you can walk down the street without fear, give thanks. But it is not like that for many Americans. We all know this. It’s a very big fix we are asking for.
“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asked the disciples. “Have you still no faith?”
Have you still no faith? The family members of the people who were killed in Charleston have shown us something about faith. They have shown us something about their awareness of God’s presence in the pain of their community. In the face of terrorism, they are speaking love. In the face of the violation of the sanctity of their church, they are speaking forgiveness. In the face of this embodiment of our national racism, they are praying for God’s mercy on the one who has embodied it.
This is what we can do. We are not powerless, because we ourselves have the faith to change, from right where we are. We have the faith to allow God to make God’s presence known among us, amidst our confusion and our fear. We have the faith to allow God to speak to us, to open our ears and eyes and hearts to the people and places nearby where we can make a difference. We have the faith to allow God to move us toward taking action that right now we might not even be able to imagine.
In a few minutes, we will be praying together the Prayer of Confession. We begin that prayer after a moment of silence. During that silence, I invite us to take a moment to acknowledge our own responsibility for the violence and the hate in our country and our community. We pray these common prayers as a community, not just as individuals. We are all in this together, all at fault together, and all, together, loved and forgiven by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Right now, I ask you to take out the red Prayer Book and turn to page 833, to the prayer attributed to St. Francis. Bishop Beisner has urged us to pray this prayer together, as we seek to understand and respond to the tragedy in Charleston, and the continuing tragedies of racism and violence in this country. This is a prayer asking God to make us instruments of peace. Notice that we are not asking, at this time, for the strength to fight, or the wisdom to outthink our enemies or opponents. We are not asking for retribution or even justice. We are asking to be made instruments of peace, by responding to hatred and violence with love, faith, pardon, hope. It’s all too big for us. What can we do? We can do this, in the spirit of our Lord calming the waters: “Peace, be still.”
Together, on page 833, let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.