#sermon from March 21, 2021
Scripture: Matthew 8:18-27
This morning, I want to begin by reading the eight names, including six who were Asian American, lives snatched away in an act of terror and horror.
Paul Andre Michels
Yong Ae Yue
Hyun Jung Grant
Soon Chung Park
If you wanted an image for how messed up and broken our world is, I invite you to ponder these eights names – grandmothers, mothers, Army veteran, wives, friends, business owners, and ultimately children of God – taken from us by another white man with a gun. I ask God to hold their families close as they grieve and as they wait for answers – and as we stand with our Asian American siblings who have experienced a rise in violence and rhetoric in these past several weeks.
While I understand the investigation is ongoing and we will learn more in the coming weeks, there is much about what happened that echoes throughout our history as a nation.
In fact, it is reported that the white gunman had something posted to the effect of – “I love God and guns” – on his social media page, a refrain we hear way too often in the country.
I’ve been reading a book by David Abulafia called the Discovery of Mankind which follows the journey of Columbus and other Spanish, Portuguese, and English sailors who came west looking for a trade route to India and stumbled upon lands they were not aware existed. And more importantly, people in those lands.
When these folks like Columbus spread out across the world often in the name of Jesus, they brought crosses and bibles with them to share the good news… and they also brought cannons and guns, weapons of war. If there were people that were willing to trade and receive the good news, things were less violent at least initially. But if those people resisted and tried to protect their communities and resources, the guns became a tool to subdue the people, to steal resources and plunder the earth.
Abulafia quotes Bartolome de la Casas who says that the Spaniards would come to the islands and eat in one day what the indigenous people would eat in a week. They brought a hunger and greed for more.
This cycle has continued to repeat throughout our history – God and guns, hand in hand. It is one of the hallmarks of the white supremacist narratives in which we live, believing that we are justified turning to violence to bring order to the chaos around us. The problem is not us – the problem is always them, always someone else, whether it is those who tempt us, those who disagree with us, those coming across our border. And the way to solve it is subdue the land and the people around us.
How does Jesus break our destructive narrative that has harmed our planet and people like the eight killed this past week and so many others?
How does Jesus offer an alternative to deal with the chaos around us?
Our scripture today begins with Jesus reminding his disciples that following him is an all or nothing proposition.
Two men come up to him – a scribe and one of his disciples. The scribe professes to go with Jesus wherever he will, but Jesus reminds him that the Son of Man has no home. Following Jesus will require a deep stretching and willingness to change ourselves, to risk, to be vulnerable.
The disciple asks for permission to go bury his father, and Jesus does not mince words. He gives him no out. “Let the dead bury the dead.”
One of the commentators I read this week invited us to not spiritualize Jesus’ words, but challenged us to know that following Jesus asks much of us. We may be asked to give up family and friends and cultural comforts and the things we think we know are true by saying yes to the Way. We must place our trust in Jesus and open to a new Way.
And then Jesus and his disciples get into a boat to go “to the other side”, already testing his would-be disciples if they would dare follow to the other side of their worlds, places they may not feel comfortable.
Out on the boat in the middle of the lake, a storm hits, and the boat begins to sink. The disciples panic and they cry out to Jesus just as many of those who were healed cried out to him – “Lord, save us!”
One commentator that I read suggested that the boat is reflective of God’s church – God’s community on earth – anytime we sail into the unknown, anytime we chart ourselves into a Future Story that looks different than our past. Water represents chaos through the Bible, and it’s a common thing to note that the Israelite people were never considered a seafaring people in the Bible. Out there, far from land, chaos hits. Their plans are disrupted. They lose a sense of order. This is not their comfort zone.
But notice something fascinating – Jesus is fast asleep.
While the disciples panic because it seems like their world is falling apart, Jesus knows better.
Jesus knows that storms hit us. Jesus knows that going to the other side means facing our own discomfort, our own fears, our own brokenness. Jesus does not succumb to motion sickness, and yet here we see these disciples get a little motion sickness the first time the waters get choppy.
Jesus wakes and calms the wind with a word. Balance is restored. Even the waters of chaos obey Jesus.
The invitation for us is to place ourselves in the panic stricken hearts of those disciples and to think what they saw and experienced in Jesus that day.
When the storms of life hit, are we going to turn to our guns, our desire to fashion order and control, or whatever other idols that we might put our trust in?
Or are we willing to turn to Jesus, to another way, when our waters get choppy?
The church God is calling us to be in this most unusual time in which we live, where we worship together over the internet, where we can broadcast our signals halfway around the world, is a church that is prepared and courageous to leave the life we knew behind and embrace the other side to which God calls.
For too long, friends, evident in all that we saw this week and in recent years, our country chooses the comfort of white supremacy, guns… If we want to be a church that simply makes people comfortable on the boat, then we should never dare push out into the deep. We should seek to make ourselves comfortable, make our worship comfortable, make our statements of faith comfortable.
But if we follow Jesus, we will be called out to the other side.
As Jesus said in Luke 9, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
And still there is grace – for we can turn to Jesus. We can turn to Jesus and turn our lives around. We can turn not to guns or other gods – but we can turn to the God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who promises restoration for our lives and for all who have been shattered by years and years of violence and devastation to our planet and to our communities. We can turn to God who in Genesis created this beautiful creation and created all the people in – people of every race and nationality and ethnicity – created beautiful and whole. We can turn to a God who weeps alongside the families and moves in solidarity with our Asian siblings and all others who fear and feel alone. We can turn to a God who challenges to be peacemakers in this world.
To be that kind of church is incredibly hard. As your pastor, I long to lead you in that journey, but I confess I am still dealing with my own greed and my own stubbornness to cling to gods that cannot save me.
Maybe you are too.
Maybe together we can deal with our motion sickness.
Maybe it begins by crying out in lament, “Lord, save us.”
Dr. Soong Chan Rah reminds us that the most appropriate act for the church in times of violence and chaos is lament. We lament – not that we personally hurt those people – we lament that we are part of a system which is out of control, which greedily eats up the abundance God has blessed us with, which claims lives each and everyday, which makes people feel Othered because of the color of their skin.
Our lament has the potential to turn us to Jesus and say, “Lord, save us.”
Save us from racism.
Save us from discrimination.
Save us from our greed.
Save us from trying to control everything.
Save us from poisoning this planet.
In the language of Alcoholics Anonymous, this means putting our trust in a higher power, giving up the myth that we are god and that we can control our lives and its many details. And let me tell you – it is freeing to take that step and let go. Begin to find ways to be and honor our bodies as a part of this planet and not ones sent to subdue it.
What might that look like for you?
Jesus’ invitation is the kind of life where we can sleep through storms – not because we are irresponsible – but because we know storms are part of life. We will endure. We will get through – without guns. For Jesus is with us.
Thanks be to God.