When I was in college, I was on the rowing team.
The first week of my freshman year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the rowing coach, the team captain, and my political science professor, who happened to be a rower, all spotted me. After ascertaining that I did not play basketball, they recruited me to join the team. From the first time I stepped into a boat I was hooked.
So naturally the first thing I did when I decided to move to Seattle was to find a rowing club to join. Now in college I had always rowed sweep, where each person has one oar that is held in both hands and you are always in a boat with at least one other person. When I got to Seattle, I decided to learn to scull, where each person has an oar in each hand and you can row alone in the boat.
Not long after I started learning to scull, I was out on Lake Union. I was in a one person boat; with a coach in a motor boat and a few other boats. It was a nice evening in early December. The water was calm, the lights from the house boats and cars were twinkling on the water. I was getting the hang of the new technique and starting to feel the boat run under me.
Eventually it was time to head back to the boathouse. By this time, the other boats, which were all two or four person boats and much swifter than I was, had become separated from me. My coach went off to gather them and I set off for the dock.
As I made my way home, all of a sudden, the wind came upon me, the wake beat into my boat, and in the span of 50 meters the water in the boat was over my ankles. By the time I realized it was more than normal rough water, I was already swamped.
In my years of rowing, I’ve taken on water plenty of times, but nothing like this. By the time I knew what was happening it was already too late. I was caught in the chaos.
In our Gospel lesson today, the disciples face a similar and much more severe predicament. At the beginning of Mark chapter 4, Jesus goes out onto the water to teach the crowd from the side of a boat. After teaching all day, using the parables we’ve been hearing the last few weeks, Jesus curls up on a pillow in the stern of the boat to rest while he and the twelve cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
While they are crossing the Sea of Galilee, the wind comes upon them, the wake beats into the boat, and they are already swamped. By the time they know what is happening, it is too late. They are caught in the chaos.
Wednesday night a white man walked into a black church in South Carolina, joined in a bible study for an hour, and then stood up and fired a handgun into the gathered people until eight were dead on the scene and another dead in the hospital. Before they knew what was happening it was already too late. They were caught in the chaos.
Thursday morning we woke to headlines and think pieces. To prayers and to hymns. To remembrances and to celebrations of lives. The general feeling among my friends and many on the internet was that this was “too unspeakable.” There was a feeling that before we knew what was happening it was already too late. We were caught in the chaos.
Back in the boat, in the Sea of Galilee, the disciples woke Jesus crying for help. Now, this is important. They did not gently nudge him awake, but rather they “rose him up.” They lifted him up from his sleep and cried out to him for salvation.
“Teacher! Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus responded by rebuking the wind and calming the sea. He commanded the sea to “Be Silent!” And the sea and the wind responded. The sea and the wind, the chaos all around them, calmed.
On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, people around the country turned to prayer. Thursday evening, people gathered in Seattle, Tacoma, Baltimore, Cleveland, Ferguson, Atlanta, and Charleston to pray. To raise up Jesus to calm the storm.
The gathered people across the country raised up Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, who lives and reigns through the Body of Christ, to carry them through the storm.
We today gather as that Body of Christ and we raise up Jesus the Christ.
Do we, as members of the Body of Christ, have the strength and courage to hear this prayer?
When Jesus is raised up and calms the storm, the disciples are amazed that even the wind and the sea hear him. That’s what that word “obey” really means. Not that the wind and sea blindly and automatically follow orders like automatons, but that they really and truly hear Jesus.
Imagine the impact of the living Body of Christ rising up and bringing calm to the chaos.
Imagine the impact of us, the living Body of Christ, truly hearing the cries of our sisters and brothers and of being truly heard as the voice of the living Body of Christ.
Imagine the impact if we, the living Body of Christ, were to rise up and proclaim “Black Lives Matter.”
St. Paul today exhorts the people of Corinth that “Now is the acceptable time!” Really he says “Now behold the CRITICAL MOMENT! Now Behold the Day of Salvation!”
In the history of the United States, there have been many critical moments and many days of salvation. Will we, the assembled Body of Christ have the courage and perseverance to refuse to allow Wednesday night’s tragedy to be forgotten and become just another tragedy in a long history of race inspired violence, discrimination, and injustice across our country?
In the boat on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples carried on and made it to the other side. The sea was calmed but still there and needed to be crossed.
This morning Mother Emmanuel AME Church worshipped in their sanctuary.
The Body of Christ is wounded; it is pained; it is grieving; but it is not dead.
In the midst of the storm and chaos, words of St. Paul echo loudly “we were seen as ones who are dying and Behold! We are alive!”
So it is for us to open our hearts wide and stand up and proclaim that we are alive, and we will stay to the other side of the chaos.
May we have the courage to never forget our nine brothers and sisters killed in Charleston this week.
May we have the courage to never cease to proclaim that racism is an extreme form of sin.
May we have the courage to never cease crossing the chaos of sin and striving evermore to bring the world into right relationship with God.