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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Crossing to the Other Side

Mark 4:35-46
        In the Gospel text today, we see the revelation of Jesus Christ as God’s power and authority in our world. Jesus is God’s abiding presence in the life of the kingdom of God – this life into which God is inviting all people. Jesus is God with us and in our gospel we see God’s power and authority at work as Jesus stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  
        In the wake of the events of this week, in the pain and turmoil, chaos and storm stirred up by the massacre that took place in Charleston, Jesus’ words, “Peace. Be still!” are words we desperately need to hear. We need to know that Jesus can and does still the chaos in our broken, terrified hearts. We need to hear that the power of God is still at work, can and will defeat the powers of evil.  
        We need to hear that in the midst of the maelstrom of our world and our lives, Jesus is the power and presence of God; God with us, withstanding and controlling the crashing of the seas and the deafening roar of the wind and finally, stilling them.
        We need to know that when the storm strikes, God remains faithful, eternally walking with us, and beside us, surrounding us with love and even, with peace.  
        Jesus isn’t just asleep in that boat. Jesus, God with us, is inviting us to a sense of calm. Jesus invites us to believe that he is the source of all peace for us, and that God is powerfully present in the midst of whatever storm may strike. Even the most terrifying.
        The name of the historic church in Charleston where such horror and tragedy unfolded this week is Emanuel.
        Emanuel – which means - “God with us.” Despite the way the events of this week brought yet another reminder of the deep brokenness in our world, there were also signs – so many signs of God’s presence – of the ways that God is with us still – in the outpouring of love and support, for instance; in faith communities across the country praying in solidarity with our AME brothers and sisters; in flowers and notes left at the church; in the outrage poured out against all forms of racism and bigotry.
        We were also reminded of how much work is yet to be done in this kingdom of God.
        The shooting this week brought a searing reminder that racism and hatred are powerful conditions of sin and evil that are fed by an increasingly broken and hostile society.
        This is a society in which you and I are members and, like it or not, we must admit our own complicity in the ills of prejudice and intolerance. Forgive us, Father, for the things we have done and left undone.
        We acknowledge that we benefit from the systemic illness of a world in which the divisions between rich and poor, black and white, Christian and any other group, are widening at an astonishing rate in our polarized culture. If nothing else, we begin by admitting that we don’t stand up fiercely enough, loudly enough or often enough – to speak against the daily hurts and assaults various groups in our world endure.
        My brothers and sisters, we not only live in a society in which these things take place, and are beneficiaries of the injustices, but we also participate in activities that influence the systemic ills infecting our world.
        More than ever before, the media, entertainment outlets, and the very rhetoric that surrounds us daily and in which we often engage, profit by images and language promoting violence and racism.
        Think of the last five movies you’ve seen or the last five television programs you watched, the last five books you read. Think of the images, the way certain groups of people are portrayed. Reflect deeply on the language and rhetoric which occurs on the nightly news program you may watch.
        Consider the inflammatory language and images that cross your computer screen, whether you read them or not. What happened the last time you were in a group and someone used derogatory imagery, language or characterization of African Americans or Muslims for instance? Did any one stand up and say that it was wrong? Did you?
        We live in a culture that is increasingly divided racially, economically and politically, though we would like to ignore that fact, or deny it, or hide it, sweep it under the banner of “look how far we’ve come.”
        Eventually, when the tensions and the truth explode in images and actions we cannot ignore, can no longer hide, and we are overwhelmed, the boat of our complacency becomes swamped, and we cry out in horror and fear as the disciples did that day, “Lord, do you not care…that we are perishing?”     
        This week, another senseless shooting, and this time, in a Christian church, right here in America, with brothers and sisters in faith cut down following a bible study and time of prayer with the shooter himself. Incidentally, they were shot and killed - by another Christian. An ELCA Lutheran, (that’s our denomination) in fact. Let’s let that fact sink in.
        Another act of hatred. Another list of names of those who, whether they were 26 years old or 87 years old, were taken far too soon.  “Truly,” we think, “our boat is going down.”     
        And yet, in the midst of this storm, I wonder if you heard what I heard? God with us.  Did you hear the sound of reason, the voice of peace, from what we might think would be the most unlikely of places? Did you hear God’s message of love and unfathomable calm in the midst of the storm as, one after another the families of the victims spoke up?
        They each testified to the deep pain and bewilderment that has overtaken them since Wednesday night. God with us. They each spoke to the searing sense of loss and grief that is, at times overwhelming. But there was also something else that they spoke to: that though they truly walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they will not let evil win the day. God with us.
        They spoke of forgiveness – for the shooter. They spoke of the light of Christ that is abiding with them, the LORD who is walking beside them. Many of the family members – the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and even grandchildren of the victims testified to their conviction that they would not meet evil with evil, hatred with hatred, but instead would turn to Jesus for their strength both to forgive and to find meaning and healing in their staggering losses.
        There is no going back to the way things were Wednesday morning. The lives of so, so many people are irrevocably altered.  Acknowledging that change, these disciples of Christ extended forgiveness, perhaps as an act of hope – connected to the grace of God they themselves have received at the foot of the cross.
        This kind of forgiveness points to the Word of Jesus from the cross itself. In the cross, this incredible act of evil and hatred is met with love. In the cross of Christ, ironically, we find our peace. God with us.
        Jesus and his disciples are in “the boat” – when Jesus says to his disciples, “Let’s go on, across, to the other side.”
        Crossing to the other side with Jesus is transformational. It means being aware of the conditions in the world around us and committing ourselves to the kingdom work of expanding God’s loving justice, as Jesus himself did.
        Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee that day.
        Filled with awe and wonder, the disciples asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” We know the answer – God with us.
        God will not be shaken by any storm. Jesus is God’s peace in the midst of the storm. The wind and seas recognized God with us and obeyed his command. Now, in the midst of our storm, Jesus issues the invitation to discipleship, calling those who follow him to go where he has called, confident that he is with them, confident that no evil will truly overtake us when he is at our side.  
        With Jesus Christ, God with us, let us commit ourselves to crossing the racial divide in our land, the widening economic divide between rich and poor, and all divisions in our socio-economic landscape. Crossing to the other side can raise up storms and risk danger, even unto death, especially because people will get stirred up, but let us not fear, but hope, because Jesus is God with us.

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