As one intrepid parishioner reminded me, I have been remiss in updating the blog this summer.
The summer has been busy, with camp, a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine, and Missionpalooza, on top of the usual round of work things.
I will, at some point, go back and do a #sermondump and maybe even write something about the pilgrimage.
But never mind that– this is about Charlottesville.
Every sermon has a specific context, and this one was no different. I spent the week assuming I would preach about Drumpf’s rhetoric about nuclear war, and the growing tension with North Korea. The rector and I had a grim joke going about how we’d see each other tomorrow unless a nuclear holocaust intervened. That sort of thing, I thought, needed addressing from the pulpit.
Then Friday and Saturday happened.
St. Paul’s had a long-standing plan to baptize on Sunday, and as the Spirit would have it, five South Sudanese children were ready. So, in the weekend when Nazis marched on an American city, we welcomed them into the Body of Christ.
There isn’t much more to say. Only that, as I looked at all the photos from Saturday, I noticed a picture of the priest–now retired bishop–who baptized me, standing with the counter-protesters, singing his heart out. I thought about what I heard in church growing up, and what the kids in my parish will remember from me.
Here’s what I said:
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
August 13, 2017
Ordinary Time, Proper 14
It was hot in Israel last month.
I realize that may go without saying, but Israel/Palestine is a geographically diverse place. Jerusalem, for example, is about 2,500 feet above sea level, and more arid, on the edge of the desert, while Galilee is down closer to the sea, more humid, and greener.
So when our small band of pilgrims went up to the Sea of Galilee, it was HOT. We went out on a boat in the morning, with a few other tour groups–one from Italy, and one from South Africa, I think, and we all roasted atop the water. Hardly any breeze, the sun beating down. The Italians played a Messianic Jewish version of ‘Hava Nagila’, as one does, I guess.
Ranya, our tour guide, commented that this was normal, that in the mornings on the Sea everything was calm, which was why fishermen always fished overnight and into the morning. But sure enough, after lunch, a strong wind kicked up. Suddenly the sea was full of white caps, and fairly significant waves hitting the shore near where we were. It hardly seemed like the same calm sea. The sun still shone, and it was still pretty hot, but I would not have wanted to be out in a boat.
“See?” Ranya said, gesturing to the waves crashing on the shore “This is not a good time to go out in a boat. Except Jesus, that is what he did.”
Looking at the water, I understood why the disciples thought Jesus had lost his mind. THIS WAS NOT A GOOD TIME TO GO BOATING. And also, it did this every day. One moment, it was sunny and calm–the next, well, you might drown. The placid lake you thought was so safe disappears in an instant. It’s a recipe for panic.
Yet there they were, those disciples, out in a boat, getting tossed around on the waves, because Jesus had sent them across the water at the wrong time. Instead of sending them across in the morning when they could have made it across calmly, safely; he sent them across in the afternoon, after the wind had kicked up.
Basically, Jesus had sent them into a storm, while he was nowhere to be found, praying by himself back on shore. I imagine there must have been a fair amount of consternation from the disciples, about how you never let carpenters decide when to sail.
But then, suddenly, there he was. Walking towards them on the water. And suddenly, they weren’t alone after all. Jesus had appeared in the middle of the storm. In the middle of the wind and the waves, Jesus was right there with them.
Humans put a lot of stock in staying safe. We spend most of our time trying to stay safe. Fisherman know not to sail our boats when the wind is too high, when the waves might swamp us. Carpenters know to keep their tools extra-sharp, so they won’t cut themselves–all because we want to stay safe. I think as American Christians especially, safety, comfort have gotten to be luxuries that we prize pretty highly. And rightly so–we’re so used to them living here, living as we do, we really don’t want to give them up!.
There are times, though, when we don’t get to make that choice. There are times when that placid lake disappears–when the world is a dangerous place, and there are times when our innate sense of safety, our sense of comfort disappears. Suddenly, the news becomes more terrifying than it did before. Suddenly, sleeping at night becomes an exercise in all the ways life could turn wrong. Suddenly, that wind kicks up and the waves start sloshing over the side.
So then what do we do? What happens when that safety and comfort we spent most of our life strenuously cultivating just blows away?
Well, you’ve got some options, I suppose. Rigid panic is always up for grabs. Anger is always another–lashing out at anyone or anything that could have caused this. Pointless obsession is another–if you can just control EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN, NO MATTER HOW MINUTE, then perhaps your sense of safety might return.
You can ride through the waves and trust that Christ will meet us there because Christ called us there in the first place. You can hold onto your boat without fear and search the horizon for Jesus walking towards you.
We know by now, that Christ doesn’t call us to calm seas and fair winds always. That when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death, and resurrection. And none of that is safe. We stand up here and make enormous promises on behalf of tiny children, and we pray that we can live up to them over a lifetime. More often than not, Christ beckons us into squalls, into stormy places…and then we learn to sail with him.
See, I thought I was writing this sermon about North Korea, all this week. All this week I assumed that this story was about North Korea, and the ramp up in belligerent rhetoric and how we didn’t need to be afraid of a nuclear war because Christ was with us, come what may. And all of that is true, by the way.
Then, Friday night, I started to see worrying messages from friends in Virginia about what was happening in Charlottesville. And from fellow clergy who had answered the call to go and counter protest the long-planned Unite the Right white nationalism gathering on Saturday. Angry people carrying torches marching through the grounds where my parents were educated, chanting Nazi slogans and anti-semitic epithets filled the internet all weekend. There were clashes between the protestors and the peaceful clergy. There was a state of emergency. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors. 19 people were injured, one died.
It’s not a safe world in which to follow Christ. It never has been, but this weekend has proven that to many of us on an emotional level. These are stormy seas we sail in.
And so, we are faced with the same choice as those disciples were–do we panic? Do we give up, or rage about the stupid waves, or the stupid fool who made us come out here in the first place? Do we try to control everyone and everything?
Or will we quietly give over our fear, and let the God who called us out here walk across the water to meet us?
Because, as chilling as those images were yesterday, they also told me this– this stormy world needs the love of Christ that we know. Those images we have seen this weekend on the news–they cry out for the reconciling love of Jesus that we proclaim at baptism–the love that insists that all of us are made in the image and likeness of God. That all humans–all of us– are beloved of God. and that hatred, violence, and white supremacy are evils that draw us away from that divine love, and God will not have the last word. These are truths that we know, and this is the gospel that this world badly needs to hear. That our fellow human beings badly need to hear.
And when we proclaim these truths, our eyes can’t be on our own safety. Preoccupation with our own safety provokes us to fear, and blinds us to Christ’s presence. It wasn’t until Peter started to panic that he started to sink–but when he focused on Jesus, he could walk. Our eyes have to be on the Christ amid the waves. On the Christ who calls us here, and gives us the courage for these stormy times.
We have the God-given chance, in a few minutes, to stand with the newest members of Christ’s body, and reclaim the promises we made at baptism. We have the chance to promise again to God and to each other that we will follow Christ and the gospel where they lead, knowing for certain that Christ is with us. Christ does not abandon his people. Christ does not fail his gospel. And even now, Christ can calm this storm.
**If you care to see it, there’s video up on the St. Paul’s FB site. Video also includes the baptisms, showcasing a full range of adorable children, and a Sudanese hymn that, I swear, is what happens when “Come Thou Fount” is left to its own devices for 200 years.