(Today's gospel was the passage from Mark 4.35-41 where Jesus is asleep in the boat in a fierce storm. The disciples wake him and he says, "Peace! Be still!" and the wind and waves obey him. I preached without text or notes and can't reproduce it but will write some of what I said.)
Storms do come up suddenly on the Sea of Galilee. The moist wind coming off the Mediterranean collide with the Golan Heights and make for very unpredictable weather. And Jesus was sleeping through it! The disciples woke him up in a panic and he says to the Forces of Nature--'Peace! Be still!' and Nature obeys him.
I wish he would come today and say, 'Peace! Be still!' to this stormy, dark time in human history.
Last week, a young white man walked into an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was welcomed warmly and embraced by the people at a Bible study. An hour later, to return their hospitality, he shot nine of them dead.
"Welcoming the Stranger" is one of the basic tenants of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Over and again in scripture we are implored to be hospitable to 'the Other' in our midst. And those good Christians in Charleston did just that...only to be ultimately betrayed by 'the Other'. And you know what the survivors and relatives of the dead did when the young man appeared in court?
They forgave him....
The 12 most frightening words of the New Testament are these: "forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us."
I'm an old English major and I know what 'as' means in that context--it means 'in the same way that'. Our forgiveness depends on our forgiving. That is a thought to chill the blood of the most noble of people. And in Charleston last week, we saw Christians living that out in an almost unthinkable way--forgiving the one who killed their mother, their son, their father, their daughter, their grandparents....It is something we must pause and ponder.
The word translated 'trespasses' in the traditional wording of the Lord's Prayer literally means 'sin'. That translation was made by the folks who put together the King James Bible. At that time, one of the worst offenses was for common folk to go only Royal Lands. Growing up in southern West Virginia, we knew not to 'trespass' on Coal Company property. But today, it is a rather awkward word. Then when the Puritans translated the word that means, literally, 'sins', they came up with 'debt'. Remember, the folks who founded New England thought your condition in life reflected the condition of your soul. So, to be in 'debt' was a very negative condition.
But the word means 'sin'. And if what happened in Charleston wasn't a sin, I don't know what could be called a sin.
And yet those good people forgave the one who took the lives of those they loved. It is humbling and remarkably ennobling to stand in the presence of such Christians.
I heard an AME pastor from another church in Charleston being interviewed on Public Radio. The interviewer asked if this horrible tragedy will make churches more aware of security. And he responded "I pray God not!"
Even when the stranger kills, they must be welcomed.
The older I get, the fewer things I need to believe. God loves us. We are all created in God's image. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Lay down your life for your friends. Share with those in need. Welcome the stranger. That's about all the 'belief' I need these days. And I hope I'll never stop believing in 'welcoming the stranger' in spite of the horrible events of last week.
The Bishop of South Carolina requested that every Episcopal congregation pray the Prayer of St. Francis today to honor the good people of Charleston.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive': it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
We need to ponder that prayer long and hard and seek to lean into it. And we need to pray God to come and say to our dark and stormy world: "Peace! Be Still!"
Amen. So be it.
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