Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Right to be Scared": a sermon Pentecost 4 2015

Pentecost 4 2015, Year B
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond
“Right To Be Scared”

Lectionary Readings:
  • 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 (David defeating Goliath)
  • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (Paul listing his challenges and trials)
  • Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calming the storm)

Giants, and Storms, and Tragedies, oh my!  We are looking at a collection of lectionary readings where there are some big baddies coming at the people of God.  And I could be pithy, and say that with Jesus in the boat, it will all be okay.  But our books of saints are filled with martyrs of the faith with whom Jesus was by their side and they still became martyrs.  This week’s news was beyond belief, and there are cries coming from every corner in response.  We are still reeling still from the racist murders in Charleston on Wednesday night.  God help them.  God help us.  There are times when it is right to be scared.

Our giants may not be literal, but Goliath was.  While this might be easily seen as a tall tale from the biblical account, Goliath’s name has been found on a shard of pottery and carved into a wall in his hometown, contemporary with David.  It is one thing to stretch the truth centuries later, but not when people could say, “I was there.”  Giants are real, literal and figurative.

Storms are real.  We experienced that last night.  It will be a while cleaning up the mess from it.  Luckily we had warning, but they can come out of nowhere.  There was a time a few years ago when my oldest daughter Selah and I were hiking North Mountain at Shrine Mont.  She was all of five.  It was her first time.  I knew it would be hard, but she was a tough kid.  We worked hard to get her all the way to the top, and she was a trooper.  The hike is a hard one, especially the second half.  And we made it all the way to the top, and as we did, the dark clouds came rolling in.  The mountain, you see, is so steep you cannot see the weather that is coming, and it most often comes from that direction across the West Virginia line.  She was a little nervous.  I was more worried for her than I was for me, and with the full faith of a child looking at her father, she asked, “We’re not going to get wet, are we?  We’ll be okay, right?”

Being the good dad, or someone trying to be the good dad, I did not lie to her.  “No, honey,” I said, “we are going to get soaked.  But we are going to be okay.”  Everyone else ran down the mountain, but her little legs could only go so fast.  The first hard drops came at the halfway mark, the cave, and she held my hand.  Big, fat drops were pelting us, and she started getting nervous.  I was more nervous about the thunderstorm directly above us, and there was nowhere for us to go but back to Shrine Mont.  And we just kept walking.  At the height of the storm, with the rain coming down horizontally, with the wind and the thunder cracking right above our heads we started singing camp songs.  We sang.  We laughed.  We got soaked.  After about fifteen minutes the storm had fully passed.  We were drenched, despite our rain jackets.  I asked her if she was wet.  “Even my underwear is wet.  Nothing is dry!”  And then she smiled.  I have never been more proud as a dad, and there have only been a few times when I have been that scared.  But she had that childlike faith, and it helped get me through.  And she may even go on a hike with me again, sometime.

Giants are real, and Storms are real.  And there are tragedies in this life.  As Paul described it,
(2 Corinthians 6:4-10) servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; ...We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
There are real problems out there.  And there are no guarantees.  When Paul is speaking of his problems, he is speaking from experience, not in hypotheticals.  He is speaking from a life dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus, and yet he did not have it easy, and yes, he even died for his beliefs.

And what makes it even more pointed when we look to all the readings of the day, every single one of these examples from Scripture points to people doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  

David, the little shepherd, not the mighty king yet, was taking food to his brothers fighting in Saul’s army when he heard the taunts of Goliath against the Army of God.  Even as a young man, he was going to have none of that.

The disciples in the boat with Jesus, they were in the boat because Jesus told them to get in and go to the other side of the lake.  This was all Jesus’ idea!  THEY WERE DOING WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING!

And Paul, in all his wanderings and adventures after his Damascus road experience, he was following and fulfilling the call of God to his very best.  Yet the litany of bad stuff still took place.  All of these, and all of us, have a right to be scared.

Scary things are scary, and what may be scary for you, may not be scary for me.  Learning to respect our fears, to honor our fears, and to face our fears is what makes us adults.  

I would posit that one who is not appropriately afraid is either a fool, or incapable of loving.  The folly of youth, and one of the reasons they take such chances, is that they do not know or think through the possible outcomes for their actions.  Likewise, if one is incapable of love then one is incapable of loss, for they have nothing to hold and hence nothing to lose.  Fear lets us cherish our life and our loves.

In the storm, I knew I would be okay, but my fear was around my daughter and her safety, because I loved her.  She did not know how bad it was, but she knew I was with her, and would help her do the things that she needed to do.
(I Corinthians 13:11-12)When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Like my daughter looked to me, with faith and absolute trust, I need to be like the disciples who looked to Jesus, with that same faith and absolute trust.

My fear today is that we are not going to face the problems that Charleston calls us to face.  My brothers and sisters were murdered for the color of their skin, people who were doing the right thing at the right time.  This has been classified as a hate crime, and yet it is something more.  It is evil, and we live in a world where there is evil.  I am called to preach a Gospel where love conquers evil, but that Gospel also reminds us that there is a price to that overcoming of evil.  9 brothers and sisters in Christ paid that price.  And I must ask myself what difference will their sacrifice make?  When this storm of hate came into their church, was Jesus in that boat?  Can Jesus calm this storm?  I believe he can.  I heard the voice of Christ in the bail hearing when the relative told Dylann Roof that she forgave him.  She will never see her mother again, but Jesus was in the boat with her when she forgave him.

Jesus is in the boat with us, too.  I believe that he expects us to be a part to end the the hate and violence in our city and in our country.  All lives matter, it is that black or white.  It cannot be more clear.  

Can Jesus slay the Giant of hatred?  I believe he can.  A friend of my boasted on Facebook of how he would volunteer to pull the switch for Dylann Roof.  But more death and more hate CANNOT be the answer.  Jesus promised us that what we sow, we will reap.  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

My other fear today is that I may want to dismiss that Dylann Roof is my brother, too.  I can easily dismiss him as crazy, or raised to hate, but he is white like me.  He lives in the same  country as me, where systemic racism is still a major factor.  He was angry and grieving the loss of white privilege.  It is as mature an argument as two kids fighting over who got the bigger half of something.  As much as I want to claim the Charleston martyrs as my brother, I must look into this young man’s eyes and claim him as my brother, too.  That creates another storm.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked God.  And the implicit answer in the text, and the implicit answer in the newspaper is YES!  Yes we are.

There are Giants.  There are Storms.  There are Charlestons.  

In the popular Game of Thrones, both the book and the show, young Prince Bran asks his father early on about fear.  
“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

In our fears of these days, when the headlines drip with hate and violence, I need to remind myself that Giants can be slain, and Storms can be calmed.  I also MUST remind myself that I must be in the boat, as well as picking up stones to slay, though the Storm be raging above, or the Giant be taunting and slandering me and my God.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers were early Christian monastics, often living alone in small huts in the desert to be able to commune with God.  Often they would weave baskets or other simple tasks to pay their meager expenses, and they would be disciplined enough to be able to pray the entirety of the Psalms daily.  When you read the Psalms, often there is language of God slaying the enemy or smiting the evildoer.  To the monastics out there claiming and praying the Bible’s prayerbook daily, one might ask what enemies do they have?  What evildoers do they know who should be smited?  Their answer was that they were the enemy.  They were the evildoers.  Those parts of themselves not fully converted to the Gospel of Christ.  In these days, may we do the same.  Before we point fingers, what parts of us does Jesus need to calm?  What shadow down deep hides a Giant which needs to be slain?  What part of us is a scared, pathetic, racist 21-year-old afraid of the world changing and acting insane to keep things the same?

Today, find some way to make a difference.  We all can do something.  We all must do something.  This will happen again.  There were even threats to a memorial service being held in our very city.  Evil is real, but it does not have the final word.

Giants can be killed.  Storms can be calmed.  The deaths in Charleston are not, MUST NOT BE, the end.  Amen.

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Blessings, Rock