Sunday, August 13, 2017

10 Pentecost

August 13, 2017

1 King 19.9-18; Matthew 14.22-33

+  As we gather this morning, the world seems in turmoil—even more so than usual. I had hoped and prayed that we would not be facing what we are now facing in this world—this show-down of nuclear powers or the amazingly overt racism that manifested itself yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It is all sobering. And it is all very frightening.  And it causes me to return to someone would understand all of this.

I am speaking of Thomas Merton.  If you do not know Thomas Merton, you must find out more about Thomas Merton. I cannot stress that enough. You will never regret knowing more about Merton.

Merton was an American Roman Catholic Trappist monk at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, who died in December 1968. And in the turbulent 1960s he was, despite being a monk in a very enclosed monastery separated from the rest of the world, a radical, to say the very least. He was a pacifist who spoke out loudly against the war in Vietnam at a time when few priests and monks did so. And he spoke out loudly and clearly on the issues of racial discrimination that was coming to the forefront in the United States 50 years ago.  And because of his views, let me tell you, there are many people returning to Merton, especially now.

Merton’s voice from 50 years ago is echoing to us across the abyss this morning. In fact,
 an article that just appeared in the Jesuit magazine America asks the question: What would Thomas Merton be saying about the current situation with North Korea?  I would add, what would be his response to Charlottesville? His response would not surprise many of this morning.

Merton would be telling us that, as Christians, we have only one response. We, followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, have only peace as our option. And not just a supernatural peace, not such a warm fuzzy sense of peace.  But real, practical peace in this world.  Merton wrote,

“Christ Our Lord did not come to bring peace to the world as a kind of spiritual tranquilizer. He brought to His disciples a vocation and a task, to struggle in the world of violence to establish His peace not only in their own hearts but in society itself.

In other words, we must strive for peace—not only a supernatural, spiritual peace, but actual peace in this world, in society. Because, there are consequences to war, to actions, to words thrown in violence and anger, to hatred and anything hate-fueled, to tweets, and to a car driven into a crowd, as we all know. There are consequences to the votes we cast. And there are consequences to racism and inequality and homophobia in this world.

Merton writes,

“We cannot go on playing with nuclear fire and shrugging off the results as ‘history.’ We are the ones concerned. We are the ones responsible. History does not make us, we make it—or end it.

And exactly 50 years ago, in the summer of 1967, Merton wrote this about the racial issues that were raging at that time,

"The problem as I see it is no longer merely political or economic or legal or what have you (it was never merely that). It is a spiritual and psychological problem. . . . We are living in a society which for all its unquestionable advantages and all its fantastic ingenuity just does not seem to be able to provide people with lives that are fully human and fully real."

He wrote that 50 years and it rings as loudly right now as if he wrote it this morning. 

Merton would understand the storms we are living within right now, right here. And he would be asking us, “Seriously? You’re still dealing with these things after all these years?”

Sadly, yes, we are.  It’s not a pleasant place to be this morning.

And I want to be very clear. I want there to be no doubt on what I am about to say:

Warmongering is a sin.

Racism is a sin.

You cannot be a Christian and be a warmonger.

You cannot be a Christian and be a racist.

You cannot be a Christian and be an anti-Semite or a homophobe or sexist.

And I never thought in a million years that I would have to say this in 2017, of all years, but you cannot be a Christian and also be a Nazi, a neo-Nazi, a member of the KKK or Alt-Right.

You cannot hate and still be a Christian. (unless, of course, you hate injustice or inequality or or homophobia or war).

It’s as simple as that!

(If you have any issue with what I have just said, don’t attempt to debate me on it. Do not try to convince me otherwise in the narthex or at any other time.)

So, how do we respond to this violence and war and racism and collective and personal anxiety and fear we are experiencing?    

Well, today, in our reading from 1 Kings and from our Gospel reading, we get an idea. In those scriptures, there are storms.  We find, in our reading from First Kings, that the prophet Elijah is being confronted with first a storm, then an earthquake and then a fire.  And in each of them, he finds that, despite their magnificence, despite the fact that they are more powerful than Elijah himself, God is not in any of them.  He does not hear the Word of God coming to him out of these instances.

For our life right now, I can tell you, God is not in any type of nuclear response to what is happening. And I can tell you God is definitely not in the storm of hatred and violence we find at a neo-Nazi rally!

For Elijah, God speaks to him not in the storms, but rather in the “sheer silence” after the storm.

Our Gospel reading is similar in many ways.  There too is a storm.  And this one is just as frightening.  The disciples in the boat are buffeting, they are trying to make their way back to shore and cannot because the storm’s wind is against them, and they are clearly afraid.

A word we keep experiencing in our gospel reading for today is “fear.”  The disciples see Jesus, think he’s a ghost and they cry out in fear.  And Jesus says to them,

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter, audacious as he is, then gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus.  But when he notices the storm raging around him, he becomes frightened and begins to sink.

Fear brings him down.

Jesus then reaches out his hands and lifts him from the water and stills the storm.

These scriptural storms speak very loudly to us on this particular Sunday morning.  We understand these kind of storms today. We know the fear storms of whatever kind can produce.

In the storms of this world in which we live, we often find ourselves at a loss.  We too often do unpredictable things in these storms like Peter.  We do the equivalent of getting out of a boat and attempting to walk on water.  We find ourselves doing naively audacious things.  And while doing it, we sometimes lose heart, we become afraid, and we begin sinking.

This is what storms and fear do to us. This is what terror does to us.  These things sap us of our energy, of our joy, of our bravery and they leave us vulnerable to them.

Fear causes us to lose heart.  It causes us to lose our joy and our gladness and our happiness. It saps our life and our energy from us. It gets in the way of standing up against injustice.

And that is why, during those storms, during those moments of false courage, during those times of raging fear, we need to lean into the storm and we need to hear that calm voice speaking to us with familiar words:

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In the storms of our lives, in the raging tempests of fear, these are the only words we can cling to.  God, again and again, says to us,

“Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid of the things this world can throw at us.

Do not be afraid of things you cannot change.

Do not be afraid of wars and rumors of wars.

Do not be afraid of North Korea or Kim Jong-Un. 

Do not be afraid of Nazis and neo-Nazis and the Alt-Right and hatemongers.

Do not be afraid, but also let us not stand here passively in the face of the storm. Rather, let us take courage and let us embody the Price of Peace in our lives. Let us be true children of the God of Peace.  Let us be symbols of peace and love and acceptance in this world. Let us strive actively for peace, as we speak out against war, against aggression, against racism, against inequality, against violence in action and words. And I never thought I would ever have to say this, BUT, let is speak out against Nazis! 

For those of us who live in faith, we have no reason to fear.  Faith means trust.  Faith means being able to look to God, in those storms of our lives, and know that although frightening things may rage about us, with God, we can find the calm center of our lives.

As we strive for peace, even in those choppy waters of our lives and the world,  we need to look up and see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, standing there.

This reminds of the greatest part of the Gospel reading for today.  In the midst of that storm, as Peter sinks into the waters, Jesus doesn’t simply stay put and raise Peter miraculously from the waters from a distance.  Rather, Jesus actually comes to Peter where he is in that storm and lifts him out of those waters.  And that is the image we can take away with us as well. In the storms of this world and of our lives, as we sink deeply into the dark waters of anxiety and fear and war and anxiety, when we call out to Jesus, he comes to us in peace, where ever we are and he raises us up.  He instills peace in us.  And, in peace, he leads us back to a place of safety.

But it doesn’t end there.  We also in turn must go out in peace into the storm, without fear to help others, to lift them up and lead them from the waters of chaos. 

So, let us follow this Prince of Peace. Let us allow the Prince of Peace to reign, to come to us and let him lift us up from the waters of chaos.  In telling us not to fear, in taking our hand and raising us up from the darkness of our lives, he stills the storms of our lives as well. He stills the storms of anxiety and depression and frustration and war and racism and hatred and fear that rage in us and all around us.  

There is a wonderful prayer from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church in New Zealand that I often pray with people I visit in the hospital or who are suffering from any anxiety or fear.  The prayer begins,

O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to those who trust in you.

That is our prayer today as well, as rumors of war and violence and hatred churn around us.   We also should pray that the God, who in Jesus stills the storms of our lives and soothes our frantic hearts, truly does bring hope and courage and eternal peace to us, who trust in God. And when Jesus does, we will find an abundance of hope and courage in our lives so that we can live our lives fully and completely in peace—without any fear—as God intends for us.

Let us pray.

O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to us—
us, who live here, at this time of fear in the midst of the storm—
for we trust in you.
You are God, and we need you. Amen.

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