The bells rang at 10:00 a.m.: nine times, then one
1 Samuel 17:32-49 Psalm 9:9-20 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 Mark 4:35-41
Charleston, SC Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Jesus is not the only person in the bible to fall asleep in a boat on a raging sea. Someone else fell asleep when the boat was at risk of sinking: Jonah. That’s right, Jonah. You remember the story: The word of the Lord comes to Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh, to preach against the city’s evils and thereby save it. Jonah, in full disobedience to God, flees on a ship headed for Tarshish.
The disciples in the gospel of Mark were not running away from God, but were with him in ministry, in everyday life. They left their lives to be with him, to follow a new life. Still, there are some similarities in the tales. Many of us have fled from God – and maybe we’re still running! Sooner or later in our stories of flight (and hiding), God catches up. It was the same for Jonah: God caught up, and calmed a stormy sea. Maybe we’re following Jesus already, carrying out as best we can the will of God for us. We’ve invited Jesus into very close quarters. God is present.
Notice this: in the story of Jonah, the response from those who remained on the boat was: “At this (the calming of the sea), the men greatly feared the Lord.”
And in Mark, when Jesus calms the sea, the disciples “feared a great fear.” After the storm, when the water is still, the disciples are afraid.
My imagination says that in the Jonah story, the men in the boat are afraid of the power of God. Their prayers of not being punished for killing Jonah are answered in a more magnificent way than they ever could have imagined. Throwing Jonah over the side not only saves Jonah’s life, but theirs as well, for the sea becomes quiet. Surely they were not expecting that amount of saving power.
The disciples, waking up Jesus with words of: “Do you not care that we perish?” may well have expected him to help them bale the water out of the boat. Instead, Jesus stops the storm that threatens them. We might be afraid, too, at such power. We were expecting help, and received a miracle. No wonder we’re afraid!
I admit that my twenty first century ears are not satisfied with stories of God calming a sea, of me or anyone being struck with fear at God’s awesome power. Not this week. The question that will not quite go away, the one with which I’m wrestling, and maybe you are, too —
Was God asleep on Wednesday, June 17, at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC?
Was God asleep? Why do we have to “wake up Jesus,” shake God awake to save us? It is in some ways an unanswerable question. Our earthly view, ancient or modern, cannot get into the mind of God or the full meaning of our suffering. We align with the psalmists who cry “How long, O Lord, how long?”
We do have clues – even evidence – of the presence of God in a broken world. First, remember that in the gospel of Mark, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear.
The opposite of faith is fear.
For one instant, the disciples responded in fear, not faith.
A man acted in hate in Charleston, SC, murdering nine of God’s precious, beloved children. They had welcomed this man into their study of God’s word. The ending is tragic, unfair, and unbelievably sad. We are angry – outraged! We mourn, deeply, personally, as communities, as God’s beloved children. It is good and holy to do so. We can, for one instant, respond in fear – we’re only human.
Remember our faith. God is bigger than any storm. I do not mean that as an empty platitude, for I, too, am filled with big emotions about death, murders, hate, and rage. I, too, am crying, “how long?” And the families at Mother Emanuel are carrying out the miracle that is God’s presence. Instead of grieving, responding in a way that says, “God, help us bail water in the storm,” they are responding to the miracle that is God’s presence and Jesus’ presence among us: they are answering hate with love.
I remember then that God spoke then, to Jonah and to the people on that boat. God spoke through Jesus, who was present even in his sleep. That same Jesus got up, not only from the boat, but from death and a sealed tomb. Jesus is providing miracles every moment to a parish, a community, and a city that will not be defined by hate or by fear, but by faith.
Words of forgiveness are being spoken from voices and bodies filled with grief. Outrage is channeled to and through the only One who can bear the pain.
Love; Love itself. The opposite of faith is fear. And at the very heart of faith is love. Embodied Love sent from God through Jesus Christ, who is with us all the time. Bid him present. Wake him up, not for him, but for us. Shout for him to calm whatever rages. Love alone can bear our hurt, our anger, our cries of “how long.”
Expect miracles, just as, in fact, we are seeing.