SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV'D DAPHNE B. NOYES AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
JUNE 21, 2015, THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
The comedian-commentator Jon Stewart is known for taking the news of the day and presenting it with ironic, sometimes painfully truthful, humor - the kind of joke that makes you laugh, even as you cringe. But three nights ago, after the deadly attack on worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Stewart made news when confessed that he had no jokes. “I got nothing.”
Instead, he continued, “I have nothing other than sadness, once again, that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other in the nexus of a gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.”
I feel in the same boat. The same boat as Jon Stewart, in that this is a time when words fail. The same boat as the disciples who fearfully “Do you not care if we perish?”
This is a big question.
So a word about questions. In the television series The X Files, Agent Fox Mulder says, “Ask an impertinent question, get a pertinent answer.” As you know, rabbis are renowned for answering a question with a question. So in this case, the impertinent question to the rabbi: Don’t ’t you have faith?
We can believe that at the prayer meeting on Wednesday evening at Mother Emanuel there was plenty of faith. Here is part of one report of the events:
“When Tywanza Sanders, the poet and peacemaker of the family, saw the man draw his gun during Bible study and point it at his elderly aunt, Susie Jackson, he shielded her and tried to talk the gunman into laying down his weapon. [...]
“Instead, the gunman killed Mr. Sanders, and then gunned down his aunt and seven other churchgoers who had driven to the church on a Wednesday night for one reason: to discuss Scripture, and how to make Jesus’ actions come alive in their own lives and communities ... ”
The victims were disciples, as close to Jesus as those in the boat when the windstorm arose. But for them, the storm did not abate. The wind did not cease. And for us, the sorrow is renewed; the unhealed wound continues to fester.
We cannot distance ourselves from this act. We cannot take comfort that it happened 976 miles away, not at one of the seven AME churches in Boston, not in an Episcopal church, not right here. For we vow that we are “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” We promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people.” We renounce “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” How are we doing? How is that going for us?
In Mark’s story, the focus shifts from the disciples and their fear to Jesus and his authority - “He rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, Peace! Be still! ”And all is well.
How are we to understand this story? Some preachers may choose to take the easy way out by proclaiming that if only we have enough faith, all our problems will go away. I am not one of those preachers.
If ever there were a time to feel spiritually inadequate, this is it. If you’re on a storm tossed sea, if you’re in fear of perishing, if you wonder who is this Jesus - you’re not alone. Our lives do not depend on whether we have “enough” faith -- what is enough? And for many of us, that’s very good news indeed.
How many people are weighed down by the burden of spiritual inadequacy -- people who love God deeply and serve Christ faithfully, yet feel that they lack sufficient faith? They think something is wrong with them. Are you one of them?
For those who are convinced of their spiritual inadequacy, Mark tells us that the disciples’ deliverance has nothing to do with the adequacy, or the depth or the resilience of their faith. Their security resides in Jesus. Our lives do not depend on whether we have enough faith or not.
For many of us, I daresay for all of us, that's a very good thing.
Yet this burden of spiritual inadequacy increases, can even overwhelm, during times of unrest and uncertainty. And in this country we have been living with unrest and uncertainty for a very, very long time.
Nearly half a century ago - that is, fairly recently -- Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Here is an excerpt from a speech delivered the next day by one citizen: “Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully ... woven for himself and his [family], the whole nation is degraded... Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire...Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness.”
Mark does not give the story called “the calming of the storm” a happily-ever-after ending. Because he is after something greater than a tidy “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
For Mark, the answer is embedded in the psalms, Israel’s prayerbook. This morning we heard Psalm 107, in which God calms a stormy sea and brings frightened sailors safely to the harbor they are bound for.
Psalm 105 is punctuated by the refrain, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” After sailors on a “[God] stilled the storm to a whisper, and quieted the waves of the sea.”
And in Psalm 65, the psalmist addresses God, saying, “You still the roaring of the seas, and roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples.” God’s authority over the power of the sea is linked with God’s authority in human affairs. Just as God brings the storms to silence, so does God bring peace among the peoples of the earth. Just as Israel’s God stills the storm and hushes the waves, so does Mark’s Jesus. These psalms proclaim that the God of Israel brings peace to all circumstances, including distress among our communities. How much we need that peace right now.
The psalmist also writes: “You have fed us with bread of tears. You have given us bowls of tears to drink.” We gather today for the sacred meal of the Eucharist, and today the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation are tinged with tears.
In this story and many others, Mark reveals and reiterates that Jesus carries God’s authority with and in him. When you are in the presence of Jesus, Mark says, you are in the very presence of God. So let us pray: Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Emmanuel. Amen.
 The Daily Show, Comedy Central, 18 June 2015.
 Martha uses the same “Teacher, do you not care ...?” Lk 10.40
 The New York Times, 19 June 2015. “Nine Victims of Charleston Church Shooting Remembered” by Lizette Alvarez and Alan Blinder
 Ps 80.4-5