Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon excerpt: Anchors in the Storm (Response to Charleston church shooting)

Sermon – Anchors in the Storm
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
June 21, 2015
Readings:  Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Today we are in the second of our sermon series on “Finding Jesus Finding Us,” where we’re thinking about what it means to seek God in our lives and in times of great challenges.  But even more importantly, we’re thinking about what does it mean that God is actually seeking us?  Last week we learned how Jesus searches for us even when our faith is no bigger than that of a mustard seed.  Today, we’re grappling with how we find Jesus – and how Jesus finds us – even in the midst of the storms of our lives.
As you may have noticed, our readings today have stormy seas as their theme.  Humans often feel caught in the drama between God and the seas.  When “well-behaved,” the sea is a bountiful source of food, a means of transportation, the site of restorative recreation, and a symbol of openness and exploration.  But when the sea becomes wild and untamed, whipped into a frenzy by storms, or overstepping its bounds by flooding beaches and human habitations, the loss of life and property can be overwhelming.  Ancient peoples prayed to their gods or God to keep the sea within its prescribed boundaries.  This is reflected in both the Psalm (“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress,” v. 28), and in the Gospel of Mark (‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” v. 38). 
Of course, Jesus cares!  With the authority of the one who laid the foundation of the earth and prescribed the bounds for the sea, as the book of Job describes, Jesus echoes the words of the Creator:  “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped.”  Or, more simply:  “Peace, be still!”  . . .

Here’s the thing.  No matter what we may be facing, we find Jesus even in the midst of the storms of life.  But that’s because Jesus finds us even in our moments of greatest fear.  It comes through a shared conversation, a sympathetic ear, a moment of prayer.  It happens over a cup of coffee, and over a small glass of communion wine – Jesus comes to us, steadies us, secures our footing, and calms the storm inside of us so that we can face whatever life sends our way. . . .
Today, especially, our country is still reeling from the shock and horror of a 21-year-old white man who sat for an hour in a Bible study at a black church, Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC, and opened fire on them, killing nine people. His name:  Dylann Storm Roof.  The storm literally came right into the boat of the church.  We know that the storms of racism, gun violence and hatred are battering the boat of the church and this country.  

This tragedy hits especially close to home since the shooter was on the rolls of a Lutheran church, and two of the victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Daniel Simmons, graduated from a Lutheran Southern Seminary.  Our presiding bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton said the following in a public statement:  "All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.  We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man," she added. "But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly."
In other words, we cannot deny and avoid this storm.  We must stand up and confront it, just as Jesus did.  This evening our community will gather at Hufnagle Park in Lewisburg at 7 p.m. for a vigil in solidarity with the families of the victims, the congregation of Emanuel Church, and our whole community which also faces its own storms of racism.  This is our chance as Lutherans, as members of the Christian Church, as followers of the One who stood up in the boat to confront the storm – this is our chance to echo his words:  “Peace! Be still!”  We rebuke the storms of racism and violence and we call for peace.
It’s the same words repeated by the family members of the victims who gathered at the bond hearing for the shooter.  They spoke words of pain and grief, honestly expressing their loss.  But they also spoke words of forgiveness and invited him to turn to God in repentance.  There in that courtroom they, too, echoed the words of Jesus, saying to this Storm:  Peace.  Be still.
On this Father’s Day, we repeat the words of the one who taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father, whom he called Abba:  “Your will be done, Father in Heaven.  Not evil’s will.  But your will be done.  Let there be peace.”  I invite you to come to the vigil this evening, to be an anchor in our community in the midst of the storm. 

May God bless us with the anchor of faithful men and women, teens and children who will stand together to steady the boat in the storm.  Whether that storm hits you on a personal level, whether it is a storm that is battering your health and you’re your body, whether it is a storm that is affecting your family or your community – Jesus is finding us even in that storm.  And we are finding Jesus through each other.  Amen.

We rang our church bell during the service today as we read the names of the victims during the prayers:
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
The Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor
Cynthia Hurd
Susie Jackson
Ethel Lance
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.

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