Monday, June 22, 2015

Riders on the Storm

Sermon preached  June 21, 2015

Texts: II Corinthians 6:1-10; Mark 4:35-41

            The Doors, “Riders on the Storm”
Those of you who knew about this song, have been waiting for it since you saw the sermon title.  I have not been doing this for ten years.  It is something that has developed over time and I appreciate how you have let me weave some of this music into the sermons.
            There were other song possibilities.  I might have used “Stormy Weather,” but then I thought about what our sign outside might say: “Come celebrate ten years of Pastor David’s ministry - Stormy Weather.”  Turns out we did not have room for the sermon title anyway.  Another good song choice may have been Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm.”
            This morning’s Scripture readings are about stormy weather, about storms in life, about difficulties, traumas.  The bulletin insert offers quite a few statements about the difficulties and traumas of life.  Scott Peck: Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. (The Road Less Traveled, 15).  D. W. Winnicott: Life is difficult, inherently difficult for every human being, for everyone from the beginning. (Winnicott, 31).  Joan Chittister: I have yet to meet a human being who is not in some way still dealing with traumas, most of them garden-variety incidents, perhaps, but traumas nonetheless.  Every one of us goes through some kind of personal pain or psychic wounding in life that changes us….  Everybody has a story of twists and turns along the way that shook their certainties about life. (Living Well, 74, 75)
            There are storms further away that also mark us, mar us, move us.  The shooting this week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina -  a twenty-one year-old high school dropout, motivated by racial hatred, shoots and kills nine African-Americans at their church – that storm has sent deep ripples into the souls of many.  I am moved to ask deep questions about race relations in this country – how long until we get it right, or at least significantly better.  I am moved to ask deep questions about gun violence in this country.  I know that is a sensitive topic, but I really don’t think it is a choice between policies that “take our guns away” or that leave guns everywhere.  There may be reasonable policies that help, but even more, people need to ask themselves more questions about their behavior with guns.  How is it that a loner and a high school dropout and someone such extreme views about people of color has such easy access to guns?  Stormy weather indeed.
            So what might this Gospel text, illumined some by Paul’s writing in II Corinthians 6 have to say to us about navigating the storms of life, and about the difference Jesus might make as we do so?  I want to offer three thoughts, and you can see them on the insert or in the morning prayer.
            Sometimes Jesus calms the storms of life.  God is at work in the world.  The Spirit moves and touches and influences and shapes.  Change for the better is possible.  Healing happens.  Storms abate.  Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “peace!  Be still!”  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  Last weekend, Julie and I watched the movie “Selma.”  Part of the background for the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965 was the September 15, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed four young African-American girls.  It was the 21st bombing in Birmingham in eight years, none of them solved.  It is ironic that we should have watched that movie last weekend, given the events in Charleston this week.  Here is part of the story of the Birmingham bombing.  Monday after the bombing a young Alabama lawyer named Charles Morgan stood up at a lunch meeting of the Birmingham Young Men's Business Club and offered powerful words about race and prejudice.  Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, "Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?" The answer should be, "We all did it." Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it….  The "who" is every little individual… who spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son. The jokester, the crude oaf whose racial jokes rock the party with laughter. The "who" is every governor who ever shouted for lawlessness and became a law violator. It is every senator and every representative who in the halls of Congress stands and with mock humility tells the world that things back home aren't really like they are. It is courts that move ever so slowly, and newspapers that timorously defend the law….  It is all the Christians and all their ministers who spoke too late in anguished cries against violence. It is the coward in each of us who clucks admonitions….  We are a mass of intolerance and bigotry and stand indicted before our young. We are cursed by the failure of each of us to accept responsibility, by our defense of an already dead institution. (The Atlantic, September 13, 2013.  Andrew Cohen:  For his speech, Charles Morgan and his family were forced to flee Birmingham because of the vicious reaction of his fellow Alabamans.  His wife and family received death threats.
            I tell this story because after Charleston, there will be no death threats for people appalled by what has happened there.  The governor is appalled by the violence, her voice choking back tears, but she will not be condemned by any but those on the very fringes of our society.  Our progress on race is still too slow.  It has not moved in a straight line.  There is work to do, but there is also more determination to do that work than fifty years ago.  Some of the storms have calmed just a bit, even if new storms arise.  Change is possible.  The Spirit is at work, even if we are slow to respond.
            Sometimes Jesus calms the storms and sometimes Jesus calms us.  When Paul writes about his work in II Corinthians, the storms of life have not gone away.  We have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.  Not exactly a stilling of the storms.  Yet in the midst of that Paul has also experienced and shared purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.  Storms don’t always go away, but there can be a calm within.  We can hear the whisper of God in the voice of Jesus saying to us “Peace!  It is I.” (from the poem “On Christ Calming the Storm, Anatolius).
            Over the years, not all the storms in my life have gone away, but I have grown in my ability to be calm and centered in the midst of many of them.  I have never really enjoyed conflict, but my ability to manage myself in the midst of it has grown, though I am really glad that I have not had to test that out much here lately.  I think we have grown together as a congregation in our ability to deal with issues.  We are a stronger church even as we work with all the issues that face churches everywhere today.  In the midst of some of the storms of life, Jesus calms us.
            Even more than simply calming us, I think Jesus invites us to be wave riders.  In Jesus, we are invited to see something of the potential for our own lives, and Jesus was often a wave rider.  Wave Riders are curious people possessed of an innate capacity to go with the flow, constantly seizing upon opportunity when others see no possibility, or even disaster.  (Harrison Owen, Wave Rider, 1).  Jesus: Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?  In these questions is an invitation to be wave riders.
            Part of the context for this story of Jesus stilling the storm is that the boats are headed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, toward the more unfamiliar Gentile side. There is a storm there all its own and perhaps the disciples would have been just as glad to turn the boats around.  Following Jesus isn’t only about being comforted in the midst of the storms of life, important as that is.  Following Jesus is also about riding some waves, working with God’s Spirit to make changes in our lives and in the world.  In the midst of the storms of the turmoil of race relations in this country, we are challenged to be wave riders, to be willing to go to the other shore to build bridges of understanding and care. 
In the midst of the storms of climate change, Pope Francis this week issued his encyclical, “Praise Be.”  Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of
goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact
will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.  He encourages us to care for our common home, including cultivating a renewed spirituality.  An adequate understanding of spirituality consists in filling out what we mean by peace, which is much more than the
absence of war. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for
wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life.  The call here is to be wave riders.
            I love this part of Mara Eichner’s poem, “What My Teachers Taught Me I Try to Teach My Students.”  It is about wave riding.
Make routine
a stimulus. Remember
it can cease.  Forge
hosannahs from doubt.
Hammer on doors with the heart.
All occasions invite God’s
mercies and all times
are his seasons.

            Life is difficult.  There is no trauma-free world, no trauma-free space in real life (Michael Eigen, Conversations, 113).  Sometimes as followers of Jesus, we find that the storms get stilled.  Even more important, though, is often it is not the storms that change, but it is us.  Jesus calms us, grows us, and in that growth we hear an invitation to ride the waves, to make a difference, to work with the Spirit for a newer world.  Let me end with these word of invitation to wave riding, from Mara Eichner (from “Out of Cana):
Eat bread.  Drink wine.  Try to sing the song
of Christ.  Live life.  If you can dance, dance.

Everywhere grace awaits.  Desire to love to love.

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