Monday, 22 June 2015

Jesus Calms the Storm, David takes on Goliath and I try to figure out what to do after the murders at Emmanuel AME Church.

I don't often blog sermons.  (it makes it impossible to repeat them!)  But this is an exception.  On Sunday with Baptisms, Father's Day, Summer Solstice,  Pride Week and Aboriginal Sunday all deserving liturgical attention, it was the murder of nine men and women at Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina that could not be ignored...   So, I spoke about racism and my part and complicity in it at the beginning of the service and I preached.   I publish because on Monday morning, I found 11 requests for the text of my sermon.  I don't know if it's any good... I can see many "preaching" flaws, but it is sincere and it's the best that I had to offer yesterday. 

To put this in context -  I began the sermon by putting on a kettle… in the early part of the sermon, as I spoke the water heated… and then came to a boil, even as I was coming to a boil.  I then stopped and  made a cup of tea.   I was inspired by some words that Brian Nicholson shared from Joyce Rupp about cups, warmth and tea, at a meeting earlier in the week.
The Gospel and the Hebrew Scriptures that were read will be obvious as my words unfold – but for reference they were Mark 4:35-41; 1Samuel 17:32-49

Here is close to what was preached

It’s been a tough week… and a busy day.  If you don’t mind, I’m going to put the kettle on – I feel like tea.
So Jesus was on the boat.  And there was a storm… a big storm… wind blowing, waves crashing against the side of the boat… the Apostles were hanging one for dear life… sure that at any moment they would capsize;  like any of us would be, they were terrified.
Jesus was napping.
As if he wasn’t worried at all.
Finally, they wake him… and they plead with him… Help us!
Although he will chide them for their lack of faith,  he still calms the storm.   Whoosh!  It’s over.   The wind is gone, the waves have disappeared;  the sea is calm and still.
And if you went to Sunday School or Seminary with me, you know that this moment in scripture shows that Jesus and God are one with all of Creation.  God is not separate or divorced from the elements; from creation… it’s not just we who are in communion or relationship with God:  All of creation is in relationship with God- because even the storm obeys Jesus. Get it?
Cool.   Jesus is like one of the Xmen or an Avenger… an awesome superhero who has great power and is clearly worthy of my cheers and adulation.  Probably a lot better than your non- Christian God. 
But, here’s the thing.    I had a friend who got sick and he died…it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right…  why didn’t Jesus stop that?   Nine people were praying together in church – they were nice, good people… and they were shot and killed… why didn’t he stop that?  
I love the story… but I don’t need a Jesus who can stop the storm – I need one who can stop bullets… I need a God who can stop racism… put an end to hatred… stop me when I’m being part of the problem and refusing to be part of the solution…. 
I get so angry… and upset… and hurt… and angry again… and it all begins to storm inside me…  Mother Emanuel Church… Residential Schools… War in Afghanistan, Nigeria…  injustice  in Ferguson, in Baltimore, in my own city… teenage victims of violence, child criminals…    It boils up inside of me…it roils up…  it becomes a storm…
{STOP and pour boiling water for tea.}
Did you ever have a friend who would offer you tea when the world makes no sense?  I don’t even like tea all that much… but sometimes… I need a cup.
A cup of tea… slows me down… warms me up…brings calm…  and suddenly the story of Jesus in the boat begins to make sense.  It’s not about a superhero who controls the weather… it’s the observation that the presence of God, that deep abiding faith can calm storms…  like a cup of tea…  faith warms you… right  - to the core…And it really does slow things down (you can’t have instant tea).
When I think of the storms of my life and I have had a couple… it was my faith that warmed me, slowed me down and carried me through.  My faith in God… God’s presence in my struggle…. God’s presence in the struggles of the world…   My trust that Jesus doesn’t do party tricks, he speaks, reveals and embodies truth.  So when I’m lost or confused, I stop and listen for the words of Jesus… I pray and I wonder, “What do I do next?  Where is God leading me?”
Those moments when my hurt was so profound that it made my whole body ache and my mind and heart were just swirling and making no sense… I remind myself that I believe in God…that I am beloved… that I am  enmeshed  in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ… and I can almost hear God speaking to me:  Be still… I am with you… you are not alone… I love you.  And in the next moment, I know that I will survive…. the storm inside and around me is calmed.
{STOP take tea out… and sip from here on…}
You know the thing about tea?  When you put it in a cup, you don’t have grab the handle…you can grab the cup itself and feel the warmth … and  you can hold the cup and offer the handle to someone else.  And you can give them calm…  give them perspective… it’s not just your faith that gets you through the storms… it can also be the faith of another.
I don’t know about you but as the news broke and the media followed the story of the murders at Emmanuel Church in Charleston,  I was storming… I was angry and I was devastated,  I cried;  I got more angry.   I started to feel hopeless:  Because this will never end; things will never improve… racism and violence will always a find a way to destroy what is beautiful.  My faith just wasn’t carrying me this time, the storm raged and I could do nothing about it…   and then I heard the families of the victims speak to the man who had murdered their loved ones  (you likely heard it, too)  and they prayed for him; they spoke words of forgiveness, they refused to give into the anger that was storming in me.  And their faith began to calm my storm.  In their faith – not mine  - I recognized the presence of God… I heard the hope… and I began to believe that we can be better… we can come through this…  In their faith, mine was restored.  
This morning, I come to you with my faith restored… and also aware  that at times, I have been that cup of tea for someone else…it’s been my faith that others have relied on to get through the struggle and the storm:  At the death of a loved one; in the midst of destruction; in the absence of hope… some people have asked me directly- How can you believe? How can I believe?? Others have silently implored with their eyes, their tears, their shaky hands: How can I have faith when everything has fallen apart?   I’ve never had great words of theology or philosophy… but I have held some hands… I have sat and cried… I have hugged…I have prayed… I remember once just sitting and singing old hymns…  and I have shown my faith more than explained ed.  I have been told later how important my presence was… how it calmed the storm.
And I bet you have, too.   (it’s not something for which  I have a unique ability)
Each of us has the ability to share the love and presence of God… each of us can calm the storms for others… And in fact, in our baptism, we have taken on the responsibility of allowing that Divine Presence to flow through us to those in need… we have committed to being cups of tea.   But there is a trick… or a precondition to doing properly. 
To be the one who shares that cup of tea… the one who calms the storm… we have to be who we are authentically.  We have to be truly ourselves… which means that I will share and BE God’s presence differently from you… I may use humour… I will hug… I will sigh and probably cry…I will share my kind of wisdom and compassion… that’s me.  Given my privilege in this time and space,  I will try to make things better in this world by letting go of some of my privilege and making space for others to grow and lead, to find space at the table where decisions are made and all people are fed… I can do that and I can do it authentically.
You see that’s what David and Goliath is all about for me… or at least part of what it is all about. 
Goliath is a Giant.   He terrifies all of the armies of Israel.  He cannot be defeated.  David is small… like me in the face of great evil or darkness.    But David’s faith brings him to volunteer to take on the Goliath... he somehow believes that he can vanquish the giant …win the battle and calm the storm for the Israelites.  Eventually he wins the approval of King Saul (not like there was anybody else eager to go into battle).  Naturally, the King is appreciative, if dubious, and  wants to show David how to do it; equip him for the battle.  And so,  he dresses him in his armour.  The King is larger than the boy shepherd, so his helmet engulfs David’s head… his breast plate hangs low on the youth’s body… his sword all but tips David over… it’s good armour, but it doesn’t fit and it ISN’T DAVID!    David is a shepherd…  he has his own way of doing things; ways that may not be familiar to the King or the rest of the army, but ways that can be effective.  David refuses to be somebody that he is not; refuses to wear the armour that is not authentically his… he puts them aside and claims his own authentic self and is then able to win the battle… to reveal God’s presence powerfully for Israel.
You have to be you.  I have to be me.  If we can all be who God created us to be… who we are joyously destined to be… then God’s presence; God’s love can abound… literally flow through us all.  But we have to be who we truly are.
That’s why we celebrate Pride Week and our identity as an Affirming Church – to encourage all members of the LGBTQ community and beyond to be authentically who they are… to affirm that their love and their lives are sacred and God’s love and presence flows through them…
That’s why we repent and need to work at making reparations for our role in the Residential Schools, where children were taught, coerced and forced to be other than they were created to be.  We forced them to give up their culture, their identity and personhood… and in doing so, we precluded them from being able to fully share God’s love and presence… even with the best of intentions, we tried to stop God from shining through these precious lives.
That’s one of the great tragedies of racism… we try to force people to be other than who they are created to be… we refuse to recognize them for who they are… and we shut down God.   We pour that precious cup of tea into the sink…

But it needn’t always be so.   I heard words of love and hope spoken through tears this week; I recognized the presence of God in what I thought was utter darkness.  And if that can happen in Charleston, South Carolina,  it can happen here.  If I can hear and feel the presence of God in the words of another then I can be the presence of God to others… and so can you.
I can release my privilege and make room at the table for others… I can love all of my brothers and sisters; confront my own racism and bigotry – be it large or small…. I can confront it lovingly with my neighbours and family…   and I can… you can… actually change the world, so that all people can who they were created to be: authentic, loving and unafraid.
But along the way…I’m going to need a few more cups of tea… a few more storms will need to be calmed… but right now, I have no doubt that someone will hand me a cup of tea..  and Jesus will wake up and calm the storm

Thanks be to God.  

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