Sermon–June 21, 2015


4 Pentecost—Year B

June 21, 2015

William Bradbury

1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16

Psalm 133

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

The trip starts calmly enough: after all Peter, Andrew, James, and John are fishermen—I’m sure they say as they shove off, “We’ve got this, Jesus, go ahead and take a nap. We’ll take it from here.” And as proof of his humanity, Jesus lies down on a cushion in the stern and goes to sleep. Across the centuries this has been understood as a story about the Church: the boat is an ancient symbol of the people of God and the apostles, who are the first priests and bishops, are in control of the church so all will be well. Until it isn’t! Until a gale blows up and all of a sudden they are scared into humility and admit that they are in over their heads. The Church is always facing such moments: we are in one now as we wonder how it is that someone could be filled with such racist hate for Blacks and such fear for the future of Whites, that he decides to attend a Wednesday evening Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shoot and kill 9 total strangers, all African Americans, ranging in age from 26 to 87.

We think we are in control. We take care of our families, we work hard, and we go to church to pray and to study the Scriptures. Everything is as it should be.

Until someone possessed by an evil story shows up and starts shooting.

When that happens, it is time to wake Jesus and let him save us from being overwhelmed by the chaos that is swamping our boat.

In the gospel the awakened Jesus does two things:

First he rebukes the wind and the sea and says, “Peace! Be still”.

In the Bible the sea is a central symbol for the chaos that exists in our world. In the Gordon Lightfoot classic song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, about the sinking of the freighter on Lake Superior in a violent storm November 10, 1975, one line says, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes/When the waves turn the minutes to hours.”
As Christians we know the answer to that question: Jesus, who is the love of God, is in the boat with us.

Clearly the members of Emmanuel Church know Jesus is with them and for them and that Jesus knows personally the horror of being swamped by evil stories that nurture reasons for hatred and violence.

But through Jesus we see that chaos is no match for the Creator God. Father, Son, and Spirit, raises Jesus victorious from the grave three days later. The African American Church knows resurrection always follows crucifixion because they’ve experience death and resurrection so many times in the terrible racist history of our country.

I know some wish I would say instead, “the terrible racist history of the South”, but the truth is that one of the biggest slave traders in the U. S. was the James DeWolf family that attended Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, Rhode Island. [The modern day descendants of this family have done a wonderful service by making public their journey of coming to grips with their family history. I highly recommend the film “Traces of the Trade”, found at]

Much wealth came into the North from the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves in the South.

And behind all this horror was a simple story that went like this: God made the races separate and unequal, and it is the right and duty of the white race to subjugate and work the Black race, using violence to inflict the justice of God if necessary.

The young man who shot those worshipers, may be mentally ill, or poor, or abused, or a hundred other things, but most of all he is being run by this story. His life finds its meaning in believing that a great tragedy befell him when the Confederacy lost the war.

I heard this same story growing up, though I never heard it from my family or my church. But I did hear it at school, and on athletic fields, and at work.

This is not some random act of violence—this is a long story working itself out through a weak link.

Christ rebukes the wind and speaks peace to the raging sea and it calms down.

But Christ is not through: he then turns to the 12 and asks them: Why are you afraid, have you still no faith?

Jesus is asking which story do they have faith in?

The story of fear, loss, and victimhood? The story of being all alone with only hatred and violence as your friends?

Or do they have faith in the story of the Creator God who so loves the world that God comes as the Incarnate Son, the Word made flesh, to save the world.

Jesus asks us to examine which story is running us.

We are surrounded by numerous stories vying for our belief: three big ones are: the Tribal story that wants us to believe that our Tribe/family/race/nation never makes mistakes and that our might makes right.

There is the money story that wants us to believe that wealth can make us happy and that we are indebted to no one for our success.

There is the comfort story that wants us to believe that being comfortable is more important than being compassionate, being entertained more important than being involved.

Some may be protesting that they stand on their own two feet and that they are run by no story, which is to say they are being run by the story that there is no story so they are free to make up their own.

Without the story of the Triune God entering our world in Jesus Christ to save us from ourselves, and to save us for the service of every other human being on the planet and the planet itself, we will be run by one of the smaller stories.

It seems to me that we lose touch with God’s Story when our view of Jesus is neither big enough nor small enough. When we don’t believe that Jesus and the Father are One and that he is the perfect image of the living God, then people can be seduced into believing that, say, the white race or the American Flag is the perfect image of God. Our tribal ego rushes in to play the lead role which should only be played by Christ.

When we don’t believe that God in Christ has entered into the smallest corners of our existence, so he could be growing cells in the womb of his mother, a person who touches lepers, washes feet, and then is crucified, then our tribal ego rushes in to manipulate everything for our sake, instead of serving everything for God’s sake.

One other effect of this shooting is that it drowned out the coverage of Pope Francis’ encyclical which seeks to lead the human community to take its proper role as co-workers with Triune God for the healing of the planet.

Near the end he frames a vision of the Cosmic and incarnate Christ. He writes,

“This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that “God may be everything to every one” (1 Cor 15:28). Thus, the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.”

The shooter in Charleston didn’t see Black people “imbued with God’s radiant presence.”

Rather he saw enemies imbued with the presence of evil.

As we often say, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Richard Rohr

When the storm had been stilled, the disciples “were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Christ is calling us to stillness and peace so that we too may know the true story of creation and salvation.

Let us now take a minute of silence to pray for those affected by this tragedy and let us pray for the on-going conversion of our lives to the Story of Jesus Christ.