Do you not care?

June 21, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 4th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 7 
Samuel 17:32-49; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Last week was Sandwich Sunday, so after the 8:00 am service, a bunch of folks gathered in the Parish Hall with loaves of bread, peanut butter & jelly and ham & cheese ready to get to work. As usual, there was the obligatory search for the plastic gloves… my Achilles heel. We had enough to get everyone started, but I decided I’d run up to Target and get a full box and some more bread.

As I was headed back to church I sat at the traffic light and thought to myself, “I love this job.” In my twenty years in banking I know there were times when I liked what I was doing, and certainly who I was working with. I know I was good at my job, but I’m not sure I could ever truthfully say “I love this job.”

I continued to hold onto that feeling of love for this job as the new work-week began. On Monday, I popped in on Mary and her team of helpers at the Norcross Co-op Vacation Bible School. Then headed over to the church with Rita and Ken to map out the new Four-square and Basketball design on the back parking lot. The love continued as I made final adjustments to the Celtic liturgy, not to mention the fun of the Vestry meeting on Monday night!

On Tuesday, my love continued in the midst of conversations about an updated sound system planned for the sanctuary, followed by productive staff and warden’s meetings. And these feeling of love carried over to Wednesday, even as I hauled water hoses under the blazing sun to get things ready for a Wild & Wacky night with the kids.

I went to bed Wednesday night weary from a physically challenging day – earning over 13,000 steps for my effort – and the payoff was an evening filled with smiling kids and teens pelting each other with water balloons and careening across a three-lane slip and slide. I mean, what’s NOT to love about this job!

I anticipated that this feeling of love would continue on Thursday – that’s the day I set aside each week for reading, and for writing my sermon. I had been thinking about the text from Mark all week. Wondering what the Holy Spirit might have in store for me to say. I speculated that it might be something about the rough waters of life; the anxiety we face in the midst of the daunting winds that attempt to blow us off course; the assurance that Jesus is there with us, even when it doesn’t seem so. Yet, when we call, he’s right there to help us through those difficult times. Yes, maybe the sermon would be something like that… I was looking forward to finding out how the Holy Spirit would guide me.

But, as you might have guessed – or perhaps saw if you were on Facebook Thursday – something else took my attention that day.

IMG_2687Like so many others, I woke to the news of the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston – the calculated murder of nine innocent people, during Bible study no less. An attack based solely on the color of their skin. It’s confusing, infuriating, heartbreaking and demoralizing.

It’s at times like these, in the shadow of these tragic events, that the love for my job takes a different turn. I still love my job, don’t get me wrong, but the task at hand today, in speaking a Godly word amid this tragedy, is challenging. So, I did what all faithful Episcopal and lectionary-based preachers do, I turned once again to the gospel lesson appointed for today to see what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us.

I actually think the New American Standard Bible has a more precise translation, so allow me to reread the lesson using that version:

 On that day, when evening came, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and a great calm occurred. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mk 4:35-41, NASB)

As I reflected anew on this passage in light of Wednesday night’s events and the subsequent reactions, I was drawn to the disciples’ fear. Many of them were fishermen – surely they knew how to navigate rough waters. But, precisely because they did know the sea, they also would have realized when things were seriously dangerous. It says that waves were breaking over the boat, and it was beginning to fill. I’m no expert, but that sounds pretty bad!

And what’s particularly interesting is the disciples’ encounter with the sleeping Jesus. Mark’s gospel tells it differently than Matthew and Luke’s version. Matthew’s version says that the disciples woke him up saying “Lord save us! We are perishing!” Luke has them waking up Jesus saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” But Mark’s version doesn’t do this. Listen again. It says: “and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

These guys are terrified. They are in some real trouble here. They turn to their teacher, a carpenter by trade, not a boatman. They aren’t asking him to necessarily save them. They wouldn’t presume he has the skills for that. Their reaction of being amazed and “very much afraid” when, in fact, he does calm the wind and sea makes that clear.

No, they just wanted him to CARE.

“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

It occurred to me that I’ve been hearing those same cries of anguish from my African American friends – Do you not care that we are perishing?” Those words are not directed toward Jesus, but toward all of us who appear to be sleeping – non-responsive, to the turmoil happening all around us – the rushing wind and raging sea that have been relentless and growing stronger.

Just in the past couple of years there has been incident after incident that demonstrate the inequity of treatment of blacks in this country – systemic, perpetual, discrimination.

Discrimination is treatment or distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.

After each unwarranted and tragic death of black men [like Walter Scott (50, North Charleston, SC), Freddie Gray (25, Baltimore, Maryland), Eric Garner (43, New York City), Tamir Rice (12, Cleveland, Ohio), Michael Brown (18, Ferguson, Missouri), Trayvon Martin (17, Stanton, Florida), and countless unnamed victims] – after each we have heard the cry from so many saying to anyone who will listen: Do you not care that we are perishing?

Emanuel AMEAs frustration has built up, the winds are getting stronger and more water is coming in, and panic has set in. Even so, many across this country still seem to be asleep in the back of the boat. Unwilling to be aroused to see what they might be able to do to help.

A poor carpenter named Jesus, in the midst of fatigue and exhaustion, trusted in God’s ability to respond. He cried out: “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and a great calm occurred.

Following his example, what can WE do to be part of the action that brings about a great calm?

First, we must make sure we are awake!

If we have not been stirred awake by the previous incidents, I pray that this latest shooting – one that is so clearly racially motivated against innocent victims – I pray that this will cause us all to be fully awake!

Then I ask that we simply start talking – trusting that God is there, at the center of those conversations.  Engaging in constructive, compassion-based conversations about the race issues that exist in this country and in our communities. It may seem like we have come so far, and we have, but we still have so far yet to go. Conversations matter; they show that we care.

Rainier Ehrhardt

Rainier Ehrhardt

We can also, each of us, take a hard look at our own behavior and ways that we make judgments and distinctions based on race, recognizing it when it happens, and working to change that behavior.

We must assess our own collusion with the systemic iniquities, and find ways to use our influence to insist that our elected officials and other leaders are also wide awake and taking action on behalf of those who are crying out for help.

VeJa Manigault, of Charleston, S.C., sings during a memorial service for the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Friday, June 19, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

And, without question, we must continually pray for guidance and forgiveness, trusting that although we aren’t going to get it right all the time, our willingness to engage in this work is the first evidence that we do CARE.

I realized the importance of VOICE and the demonstration of CARING on Thursday afternoon. A former classmate of mine at Candler, one of the voices crying out over the past couple of years, a minister, and a wife and mother who must navigate raising three black children in America today. When she saw my Facebook post about the shooting, and the diverse, engaged responses of others, she posted this:

Thank you Jody for standing in the gap. Your statements and the discussion generated are giving me hope today, when so much around me seems hopeless. Solidarity matters.


(AP Photo/David Goldman)

I’m thankful for what I learn from her and others who will share their voices. I hate the anguish she and so many are going through. For many, they have reached a place of hopelessness.

But who are we as Christians if not people of HOPE! We live in the promise of God’s redemptive love; the promise that God will hear our cries and calm the storm. But, it doesn’t happen without our voices calling for the winds to be hushed; for things to change. We have to do the EARTHLY work.

So, as I stand before you today, still loving my job, and loving you, I invite you to engage in the work of change – fully awake and taking tangible action to help calm this storm on behalf of those who cry out.

Just like the poor carpenter, we may not feel that we have the right skills, but that didn’t keep him from acting. Like him, we must boldly and courageously demonstrate who we are, and WHOSE we are – knowing that we can call on God, and trusting that God’s is with us on this journey.


One Response to “Do you not care?”

  1. deemallon said

    what a powerful and personal reflection on a national crisis. Not a Christian myself, I nevertheless found your links to the Gospel compelling and thought-provoking and a very apt echo for the new phrase, “Black Lives Matter”. I really agree with your sense that as white people we must wake up, really pay attention, and have conversations of heart. Thank you.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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