The following sermon was preached at Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Dover, Massachusetts on June 21, 2015. The readings for the week can be found here; the primary text referenced was the Gospel lesson of the day.
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.” – Isaiah 62:1
I have a confession to make: my heart is broken and I’ve got nothing for you this morning but raw emotion and unfinished reflections.
I wrote my sermon early this week – it was about David and Goliath – I figured I couldn’t make someone read that incredibly long text and then not talk about it. It was about the David and Goliath story and I had this great theme: you see, the dean of my seminary liked to say that we like to claim to be the persecuted ones because it’s easier to feel small than to accept that we are big and need to work towards humbling ourselves to a point that enables us to use our power for good. We’d rather claim weakness and complain than to steel ourselves, claim our authority, and work for change. I had this week in the bag.
When I led the vestry in bible study on Wednesday night about the Gospel passage I joked with them that they could rest assured I wasn’t using their reflections to write my sermon because that was already finished. I wasn’t writing on the Gospel passage.
I felt confident about my sermon. I felt inspired. And then, on Thursday morning, I woke up to learn that the night before – while our vestry was studying the Gospel together – something horrible happened to another group studying scripture in a church several hundred miles away. That group invited a stranger who walked in to join their intimate circle. After he participated in the bible study with them, he stood up and killed 9 peaceful people because of hate – pure and simple – except it’s not simple… not at all.
We live in a nation that claims to have liberty and justice for all, yet my children will not have to grow up being taught how to avoid racial profiling by our police forces. We live in a nation that claims to be the birthplace of freedom; yet we built our economy on the backs of enslaved black citizens whom we kidnapped from their homelands. We claim to be a post-racial society, but in just the last year we have learned the names Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner who join others like Tanisha Anderson, Trayvon Martin, Miriam Carey, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and countless others who have been killed for the crime of existing as black people in this free nation we call home.
I say we, because as a white woman in America today I must claim the privilege that my skin color affords me and I must chose how I will use that privilege.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning Jesus, exhausted from teaching, healing, and preaching, asks his disciples to journey to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Four of Jesus’ disciples are experienced fishermen, so when they leave the docks, with other boats nearby on the same journey, he retires to rest on a cushion in the back of the boat. Jesus has faith in his disciples to get them safely to shore, and he trusts his Father in heaven to protect them from peril.
Jesus trusts that the disciples will use their knowledge and skill to get them safely across, but when the storm comes even the experienced fishermen panic and everyone gets upset with Jesus for “falling asleep on the job.” Jesus stands, rebukes the wind and the waves, and then he challenges the disciples asking them why they are afraid – where is their faith? Jesus gives us the choice right there: will we live in fear, or will we have faith?
Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them and do nothing.”
Which do we choose?
We are called to be Christ’s body here on earth. His hands, feet, heart, and mind are in each of us and we are called to act as Christ’s instruments bringing the kingdom of God closer each day.
The families of the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson preached that Gospel for the world on Friday as one by one they stood in the bond hearing and told the young man who confessed to this brutal attack that they forgave him. They named their anger – but showed the true Gospel of Love as they professed their faith, not in the words of a creed, but in the words that echo the radical love and forgiveness enacted for us by our savior.
Jesus slept on the boat not because he didn’t care, but because he was exhausted and he trusted in the skills of his friends and the care of our God. Now it is our turn to stand up in the boat and battle the winds. We are in the midst of a storm of racism – one that our brothers and sisters of color cannot simply stand up and walk away from – they live it every day. Some days might be calmer than others – but the storm is always there. As white allies we have to choose to walk into the storm. We have to choose to batten down the hatches, patch the holes, and bail the water. We all like to claim we are the ones being persecuted for this little thing or that little thing, but when we stand in the face of real racism and persecution the temptation will come to ignore it and pretend it isn’t there.
Resist the temptation. Resist the urge to walk away. Resist the urge to go back to a life that ignores the storm we are living through.
Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
They are the ones living the hard work. They are the ones living lives that some judge to be less worthy than those of white people. They are the ones who live in fear of being stopped by police based only on the color of their skin. They are the ones who have to work twice as hard to get half as much. They are the ones who are expected to explain time and time again to their white brothers and sisters that racism is real and still a problem today. They are living the hard work and now we chose: Faith or Fear? Will we join our brothers and sisters in the boat or will we leave them to fend for themselves?
The name of the church where these murders took place, ‘Mother’ Emanuel AME Church, is a reminder to us all to hold fast to the faith. Emanuel, after all, means “God with us” and “Mother” reminds us that God want to be as a mother hen protecting her chicks under her wing. So, on this Father’s Day, let’s trust that God, who is our Mother and Father, is, indeed, with us.* (Thanks to the Rev. Thomas Mousin for this reminder and image)
If we are Christians who truly believe that God is with us and we honestly believe it is our calling to follow Christ than it is time to get in that boat. Jesus is in the boat. Jesus never left the boat – and we can’t either – not until we all get to the other side – together.