In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Why are you disciples all so afraid?” Well, for starters, God seems not to be doing much of anything to keep our boat afloat – in the stern, at the tiller, but instead of using every ounce of energy to steer the boat into the wind to keep the craft from being broadsided by the waves and swamped, not only is God’s hand not on the rudder, but God seems literally to be lying down on the job, the divine head fast asleep on a life-preserver.
Why are we all so afraid?!?! You’ve got to be kidding! Why aren’t you concerned, God? The powers of chaos are on every side of us day and night. Nine are dead in Charleston, and they, your disciples. Do I need to tell you God, their names? Tywanza Sanders; the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the Reverend Sharonda Singleton, DePayne Middleton; Cynthia Hurd; Myra Thompson; Ethel Lee Lance; Daniel Simmons; and Suzie Jackson. And they were in a Bible Study, no less!! Did they mean nothing to you, God?? And the chaos not only in Charleston. We’re being blown about by all sorts of hurricane-like forces – political, social, economic, environmental – not to mention floods and fires and drought – and all of them seemingly so outside of our control. Don’t you care, God, that we’re perishing? Is it of no concern to you, God?
Look Lord, we’ve been doing our part. We’re concerned about the neighbor, we’re a force for the good in our neighborhood. We’re faithful in giving, we provide a free place for all kinds of groups to meet. We feed the poor, and we advocate for the oppressed both here and throughout the world. We mourn the Charleston Nine. And we know that we do these things not because we have to but solely for the good of the neighbor, the good of the earth, and because they are indeed right and salutary so to do. We know that obedience to your commandments throughout all of scripture doesn’t earn us brownie points; we know rather that your law is given to us so as to protect the neighbor from us and our rapacious ways and to promote the common good – and that’s why we always attempt to obey you – though we know we will never be perfect. So why won’t the chaos go away? Why are we all so buffeted by the changes and chances of life?
Ah, perhaps we’ve done something wrong. Been too complacent, perhaps? Been too much about charity and not enough about justice? We talk about institutionalized racism, but maybe we don’t do enough to try to end it in ourselves and in our daily lives? We’ve maybe not paid enough attention to global mission? Maybe we’ve been too arrogant – thinking a whole lot more of ourselves than we ought, spent too much time congratulating ourselves on our radical, back-to-the-roots theology – not to mention our oh-so-progressive politics. Is that why we’re being buffeted by storms? Is that why our boat is taking on water? Don’t you care that we’re perishing here, God?
And out of the whirlwind, out of the tempest, fire, and flood God answers: “Why the fear? Have you no trust? Have you no faith?”
“Um, well, actually,” we reply, “ummm . . . no. Guess not. Leastways not that we seem to be able to dredge up from inside of our selves. We are afraid that the winds and the waves will overtake us – and we cannot free ourselves from bondage to that fear.”
“Precisely,” says God. “Precisely. So get yourselves dressed and get to where you can hear what I have to say.”
And so we do – we come to the place where we are guaranteed to hear what must be heard; it is as St. Paul has kept on reminding the people of God, century after century, “Faith, trust, comes through hearing.” But not hearing just anything. Hearing, rather, that God is sovereign over the universe, as God reassures Job with a set of rather pointed questions: “Listen buster, where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Do you know who determined its measurements? Do you know on what its bases were sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or do you know who shut in the sea with doors when its burst out from my womb? –When I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?” And we hear Job reply with words meant to give us hope, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” We hear the testimony of Job, that God is indeed sovereign over all things and in ways we cannot imagine – we hear the testimony coming to us from outside of ourselves, so that we can be buoyed up above the waves.
And I tell you, the winds and the waves, they do indeed grow weary and there does come a great calm, there does come a peace that nothing else is able to give. And at least today, this I believe with all my heart, for with my own ears I have heard of it.
And because we cannot summon up faith from inside ourselves, we are given to hear the testimony of the Apostle Paul – that though he was once a murderer, in the Cross of Christ Jesus all his sin was canceled – we hear Paul rejoice, we hear Paul give testimony that “in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, see everything has become new!” We hear Paul bear witness that in the midst of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonment, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger,” he endures, for he knows – he knows with every fiber of his being – that he has been given Christ’s righteousness – that indeed God sees Paul – though Paul himself, chief among sinners – that God sees Paul to be as righteous as Christ (and this a sheer gift) – we hear that God regards Paul as one with Christ, with Christ who though cursed in death, despised, deserted, and denied – rose, speaking peace, God’s peace to the whole storm-tossed world.
Indeed, because we fear that God is asleep and because we can’t ever quiet that fear on our own, we do come together to hear one another sing boldly, defiantly, the testimony of the ages. “Though they may take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the Kingdom’s ours – forever.” In order that faith, trust, be created in and for us, we come to this place to sing and to hear a witness, a testimony: “What though my joys and comfort die? The Lord, my Savior, liveth. What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night God giveth!” We come here to sing and to pray with one another – so that we may hear one another’s song and be sustained: “When the darkness appears and the night draws near, and the day is past and gone, at the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand. Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”
And we come to this place to hear that Christ gives to us who are unworthy, gives to us free of charge, Christ’s own true body, and places on our lips His own very life’s blood – that hearing and coming forth with empty hands we be given that which we most certainly do not possess – faith – trust – that God does still the storm, faith and trust that God has tamed the forces of death and chaos. We come to this place to be given faith in the Promise, the Promise that we shall indeed all come at last to safe harbor even as the Charleston Nine have come too soon to their safe harbor – to live in the peace of God, forever. And we come to this place seeking the strength to forgive those who sin against us – just as the families of the Charleston Nine have so Christ-like spoken forgiveness to the murderer of their beloved ones. (Were I in their place, I wonder if I could do what they have done.)
I have discovered, however, that even a little time away from the Word of Life in all its forms, and the sounds of the winds and the waves once again become loud and persistent – telling me that I must fear, telling me that God doesn’t care, or that there is no God to care. The sounds and sights of mass murder, of vicious racism, of floods and fires and drought are so overwhelming that I forget what I’ve heard, and faith fades. And so, as Martin Luther said of himself, I too must run, must run back to where I will again hear the promises of God – so that hearing, my faith, my trust be restored and renewed. And whether you all know it, or acknowledge it, or not – that’s why you are all in this place too – brought back, compelled back, inexorably drawn back – so that hearing, you too be given . . . faith.
So now with all creation, hear it – Christ’s command to all the winds and waves that batter your hearts and minds – Christ’s word to all the forces that threaten: “Σιώπα, πεφίμωσο. Be still! Shut up!” And I tell you, the winds and the waves, they do indeed grow weary and there does come a great calm, there does come a peace that nothing else is able to give. And at least today, this I believe with all my heart, for with my own ears I have heard of it.
And so please, do come back here next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, and all the weeks of your life. For not a one of us can do this faith thing on our own. Not a one of us. And that I do know with every fiber of my being.
In the Sweet Name of Jesus. Amen.