Hold On! Mark 4: 35-41
Over the last several weeks preparing for this sermon, I’ve ruminated over the story of Jesus calming the storm, and the images invoked by this narrative. I keep coming back to the image of those frightened disciples who, in the midst of a wild windstorm, were driven in a panic to wake their teacher from a much needed sleep and demand that he show concern for their present peril.
And then I heard the news coming out of Charleston SC, that a young white man had gunned down 9 black members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church during their Wednesday evening bible study.
They had welcomed this young gentleman into their sanctuary and trusted that he was there, like them, to add to his faith by pondering on the word of God. They had gathered, to listen to what God might speak to each of them. Instead, he was there for a different purpose. 45 minutes into the bible study, the young man stood up and gunned down 9 of the members.
I don’t know what the theme of their study was last Wednesday night, and I’m not sure of the particular passage of scripture they were focused on...but knowing the gospel message, I am sure it had something to do with love, the love of God that is found so prevalent throughout scripture, like a deep current that pulled the disciples along with Jesus. That same current that has drawn us here this morning.
And if that young man would have been listening, if he would have taken the time to reflect on the gospel message, perhaps things would have been different. If he would have taken the time to really sit with these 9, accepted the fullness of their hospitality, gotten to know them, gotten to know their faith, gotten to know the reason for the love they carried in their hearts, perhaps things would have been different.
Instead, this young man was deaf, isolated by the anger, hatred, and racisim that exists in this country. His narrow experience cut him off from the love that these 9 were willing to share with him last Wednesday night. Instead, he met their love with a horrible act of violence. And so, today we mourn, for those who lost their lives, for their families, for Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, America, and all those who live in the isolated hatred and anger of racism that gave birth to this young man.
Sometimes, in the chaos of such events we forget love and come to rest our attention on the hatred we see accessed through the media, or existing in our own communities. We give in to our worst fears, we become distracted by the chaos...and this is not to say that the chaos is not real, or that it is all the product of media hype. Sometimes, the hatred, anger, violence, blatant racism and discrimination is so overwhelming that we may feel that it outweighs love. I am reminded of a quote by Gandhi...
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.”
From a simple reflection on today’s passage, it is evident that, for a moment, the disciples are consumed by the chaos of a sudden storm. Consumed by fear, they forget. And so they ask, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are about to die!” Jesus questions them, “Have you still NO faith?” It would seem fair to accuse them of lacking faith in themselves, as both seasoned sailors and disciples. I mean, this certainly could not have been their first encounter with a squall on the open Sea. How then could it be that they were completely lost in handling the storm themselves? Surely they knew how Jesus operated, that he was all about empowering leaders. So, why then did they feel it necessary to wake Jesus? Were they not equipped to handle things on their own? Perhaps that’s why Jesus responds to them, “Why are YOU afraid? Have you STILL no faith?” Fundamentally, they misunderstand Jesus’ presence. They mistake his sleeping for a lack of interest in their well being. So Jesus questions their faith. Now there are several points I want to make concerning faith:
First, faith, from the Greek, “pistis,” means “to persuade, ‘to be persuaded’, or ‘to trust’ or ‘come to trust.’ Understood in this way, Jesus seems to be asking the apostles, “Are you still not persuaded?” or “Have you still not come to trust?”
Second, It should be understood that ‘faith,’ as we see it here, does not arise from mere human confidence, nor does it grow merely from human persuasion. Pistis, in the Gospels, is a faith that is divinely given. It is Divine persuasion; received as a gift from God. As Ephesians 2:8 and 9 state, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith (pistis); and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God; not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Third, faith is a journey, like the journey the disciples were taking with Jesus, on that boat across a rough sea. Faith is a dynamic process, made up of ALL the experiences of our life, good and bad.
For those gathered last Wednesday for bible study, their faith had brought them together. There divine confidence and trust in a God who is loving brought them together, their faith taught them to welcome this new visitor into their midst. By faith, they trusted that God had brought them together in love for a sacred purpose.
We may ask then, if this is the case, where was God when this young man stood up with different intentions? Like the disciples, who asked Jesus, asleep in the bow of the boat, “Don’t you care?” We are about to sink and you are sleeping! Why are you not concerned? Where is your protection from the storm?”
Faith contains all of this...the confident moments of joy when we experience the real presence of love, those moments of baptism, accomplishment, certainty, courage, clarity….yet faith also consists of the moments of fear, doubt, questioning, confusion, sadness, pain, and sorrow.
These elements combine in different ways to add to the ‘synergestic narrative’ that is our particular faith journey. In these moments, everything becomes clearer as we rise to new levels of understanding and our faith is perfected.
I’m sure you can identify such moments in your own faith journey, perhaps a moment that brought it all together, a moment of clarity, perhaps a turning point, a slight push, a word, the passing of a loved one, a tragedy or violent act you struggle to make sense of. These are the moments that never leave us, they are the fundamental elements of our narrative, they teach us to trust, they build our confidence, they persuade us to hold on, to keep going, to let go, give up, to forgive. They sometimes cause us to ask the very human question: Why God, do you not care that we are perishing? And in turn, Jesus responds to the chaos “Peace, Be still!”
What happened in Charleston has now become part of our collective narrative, speaking both of the strength of Christian faith, but also of the continued presence of racism in this country. We must remember both, without letting this act of violence distract us from the task of love set before us. Remember the faith of the Emanuel 9 who offered sanctuary to a stranger. Remember the words of forgiveness spoken by their loved ones. Remember the narrative of love that Jesus left us, and continue to trust in it.
With this in mind, I propose that we continue to Hold On to this community, and in holding on, to take further action in building relationships in this community. Continue to eat together, to dialogue together, to seek understanding together. Hold on, as a testimony of our faith in the one who has promised a steadfast love that endures forever.
From the east and the west, from the north and from the south of this great community, may we have the confidence and the trust to continue building bridges of hope in this community. Let us keep our doors open, continue to feed those who are hungry, to love those who have been marginalized, give assistance to the incarcerated who are moving back into society, offer a safe space for families to explore their faith, and for youth to seek their true potential. May we also remain open, affirming, and hospitable to any and all who might seek us out, regardless of gender, race, or religion, young or old, black, brown or white, gay or straight. May we, be the ambassadors of this kind of faith, a faith that is able to meet any kind of storm. And, in the face of chaos, may we carry with us the words of Christ, “Peace, Be still”
Pastor Stephen Patten
From the Mountain is a 'cyber sanctuary' where sermons and other musings are posted for the general consumption of a larger community. Feel free to reflect on them as you wish. You are welcome to leave comments below with thoughts, insights, and/or questions.