6-21-15 Circles of Trust

Our theme for this month’s sermon series is Trust, how trust is essential to being human and to being a person of faith. My plan today was to talk about fear, Fathers’ Day and the circles of trust we build in our families and communities. The murders in Charleston, South Carolina have altered those plans somewhat, but we will stick with the assigned reading and the same basic theme about fear and trust. Listen for the word of God for you today.

Mark 4:35-41 With the coming of evening that same day, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let’s cross over to the other shore. Leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus in the boat in which he was sitting.  There were other boats with them. Then a fierce gale arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat so much that it was almost swamped. But Jesus was in the stern through it all, sound asleep on a cushion.  They woke him and said, “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re going to drown?” Jesus awoke, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet!  Be calm!”  And the wind dropped and everything was perfectly calm. Jesus then said to the disciples, “Why were you so frightened?  Have you no faith?” But they became filled with fear and said to one another, “Who is this, whom even the wind and sea obey?”

June 21, 2015

Circles of Trust

“Don’t tell God how big your storm is, Tell the storm how big your God is.” That’s a regular tagline on my e-mail, a saying that comes up after my signature. It’s an appropriate quote for our assigned reading, for our weather, and for our times. “Don’t tell God how big your storm is, Tell the storm how big your God is.” The saying cleverly emphasizes the importance of trusting God in the face of the storms of our lives.

That phrase could summarize the message of this passage for today and of my sermon. Let me add a few words to the mix though. I always felt so little next to my dad. He seemed big enough to me to handle really big problems, really big storms. I was surprised when I found out that he couldn’t fix everything.

Today, I’m sometimes surprised to realize how big I am, because I sometimes feel small in relation to the problems that we need to tackle. When I start to feel small or timid, though, one of my best motivations is to remember that I’m a dad, that I have a son who’s going to notice if I give up or if I let my fear get the better of me.

 

In our assigned reading for today, the disciples wake up Jesus and ask “Do you not care that we are perishing, that we’re going to drown?” Jesus stills the storm then asks the disciples, “Why were you so frightened? Have you no faith?” That just scared them all the more, as they realized they fall so far short of the divine expectation. We have a hard time trusting that God is indeed bigger than the storms we face.

 

Sometimes it seems, our fear makes us not even realize what kind of storm we are in. When I heard about the shooting of 9 people inside of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston this week, my heart sank. It’s hard to even comprehend the pain and suffering, the ugliness of this violence. There are no words for it.

Even as I felt that, however, I noticed that I wanted to distance myself from the violence. Naturally, I don’t want to be in this storm. Unconsciously, I differentiated myself from the people in that church. Unconsciously, I said, “That wouldn’t happen to me. That wouldn’t happen in my church.” Why? Mainly because I am white. Because we are a predominantly white church. Because we are not in the South, not AME, not historical and well known. Unconsciously I tried to make all those reasons stick for why I didn’t have to worry about this particular shooting. But known of those excuses work.

When we in the white church, in the white community don’t even notice that the storm is in fact taking the lives of Black people every day, how can we in any sense be reliable allies? How can we say we are part of one family, if we don’t act as though these are our brothers and sisters being killed?

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty if you have not been able to hold the horror of this event very close. If you had to unconsciously push it away, I totally understand, because that’s what I was doing until Thursday night.

Thursday evening, Brian and I went down to Mother Bethel AME Church for a vigil sponsored by the churches, synagogues and mosques of POWER. Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal was the church started by Richard Allen when he was pulled off his knees in prayer at Old St. George’s Methodist and told he had to worship in the balcony because he was black.

The same thing happened in Charleston, SC at a Methodist Church down there, which led to the founding of Mother Emanuel AME Church. That church has a long history of being a church working to end slavery, segregation and racism. The pastor of that church, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a friend of Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel. I’m trying to show you that we are related. We are closer than we may want to admit.

That’s part of what I learned on Thursday evening. Most importantly, though, I learned about trust in God. When the choir sang, “I will lift my eyes to the hills, knowing my help comes from you. You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you.”

I found myself in tears. I recovered my sense that God is stronger than my fears, stronger than the storms of our lives and I was able to recover my connection with what happened in that church in Charleston. It didn’t feel as far away, scary as it was, and trusting in God felt like a great gift, because it felt like this terrorist was very small compared to God’s power.

I use the word terrorist to describe this 21 year white man because that is what he was. He killed 9 people to try to start a race war, to try to intimidate a whole community through violence. On Tuesday evening, we are going to have an iftar meal with members of the Muslim community to break that day’s Ramadan fast. We have that meal to undo prejudice and the unfair characterization of all Muslims as being terrorists, to let go of our fears in the midst of the storms of our lives.

As we learn to trust God’s presence and God’s help, we may also learn that terror is real, it really does get used against our brothers and sisters. Terror is not too harsh a word to use for the tactics of this young man. We need to know that he learned his prejudice from his parents, from his community. If we don’t name it, we can’t undo it.

As for me, I will trust the ones who two days after this man killed their loved ones, stood in front of him and forgave him, asked him to repent and become part of the human community again. We in the white community have to also learn enough trust in God that we can face the storm and tell the storm, “Our God is bigger than you! Our God is stronger than you. You don’t stand a chance because we are united through God in a love stronger than death, stronger than hatred, stronger than terrorism, stronger than fear.

You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. We will trust you forever to calm our fears and bring us together as your family, as your children, as your beloved community.