Pastor Randy Milleville
So how's everybody doing? Sometimes things happen in our lives that are too hard to understand. And way too often they are things beyond our control. This week – once again – and I loathe the fact that I have to use those two words, “once again,” – we as a nation are grieving. We grieve with the members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. We grieve with the city of Charleston. And the people of South Carolina. We grieve. A storm has arisen over our country once again.
There is a certain irony, I think, that our Gospel lesson today is the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. And a storm arises. And what I want you to hear today is that Jesus knows something about storms. Whether on lakes or in our own lives – Jesus knows something about storms.
Now let me tell you. I have been on the Sea of Galilee four different times. The last time it got mighty windy. Those from here who were with me on the trip can tell you – we never felt in any danger – but the wind blew so hard that it knocked my hat right off my head. Yeah! I have a hat sitting on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.
So there is reason for us to think that these disciples are frightened. At least four of them – Peter, Andrew, James and John – were fishermen. They knew the lake. They knew how to handle a boat. And yet, it seems that even that is not enough. Jesus is asleep through all of this – and how he is able to sleep through all this – I have no idea. But they wake him. It isn’t clear what they expected Jesus to do – or even if they knew what Jesus was capable of doing. Maybe they needed him to help bail. Or row. Or help with the ropes on the sails. I don’t know. We’re not told.
But this we do know. When Jesus wakes up he takes one look at the situation and says three words. “Peace. Be still.”
And immediately – immediately – the storm is over. The sea is calm. The winds have died down.
We are told – and this is how this episode ends – we are told that the disciples are filled with great awe – in other words – they are filled with fear. I can just picture them all looking at the sea – looking at each other – looking at Jesus with their eyes and their mouths wide open.
“Whaaa…did you – did you see that? Wowww! What just happened? Who – who is this man – that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
They have heard him teach. They have been with him when he has healed many people, including casting out demons. But now – now that they witness first hand that Jesus has control over even the elements – wind and sea – they now experience a different kind of awe altogether. Who – is – this – man?
Let me tell you. Jesus is the One who is with you no matter what personal storm you may be going through right now. Just as He is with everyone whose lives have been upended by the tragedy that occurred at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Now I'll get back to that in a minute.
Because first I want to go back to the reading from our Gospel lesson. The disciples while in the boat with Jesus – witness something they have never seen before. And they really don’t know what to make of it. They do not as of yet realize that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, Jesus chastises them for having little or no faith. I think Jesus chastises them – not because they are stunned that he can bring a storm to an end – I think he chastises them because they still don’t quite get it. They still don’t quite understand who Jesus really is.
So I guess the question I ought to ask right now is, “Do you know who Jesus is?” We call him Savior – the One who saves us from the penalty of our sins – which would be eternal separation from God. And we’re good with that. I mean – hey – who wouldn’t want to know Jesus as Savior?
But we also call him Lord. That is who he is and what he wants us to recognize. Calling him Lord is not so easy. Because if Jesus is Lord – the Lord of my life – then that means that I am NOT the Lord of MY life. I am not in control – He is! And if he is Lord – well then – maybe I need to give some thought about how he wants me to live my life.
Because not everybody gets it. And that brings me back to the events of Wednesday night at Emmanuel AME Church. The young man involved in the shooting – Dylann Roof – and this pains me to say this – was a member of an ELCA church. He was raised a Lutheran. He was one of us. Now, I don't know anything about this young man's life. But I can imagine that some 21 years ago, a pastor somewhere held Dylann and baptized him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I suspect he may have gone to Sunday School and confirmation class. I don't know the details.
But if this is true – he heard the love of Jesus. He learned the Ten Commandments. You shall not kill. Which also means you shall not hate. It is not my place to analyze this young man. But I am curious who it is that taught him how to hate. Make no mistake about it – this was a hate crime – a hate crime based on race.
And as much as it is a racial issue – it is also a spiritual issue. A faith issue. Jesus came to make a difference. To touch hearts and to change lives. Again, not everybody gets that; not everybody allows that to happen We must allow that to happen. And yes, I know it is a process – but it is a change – a transformation that allows people to love and to forgive.
Listen to what was in this morning's Buffalo News. “One by one they looked to the screen in a corner of the courtroom Friday, into the expressionless face of the young man charged with making them motherless, snuffing out the life of a promising son, taking away a loving wife for good, bringing a grandmother's life to a horrific end. And they answered him with: forgiveness.
“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, 70, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.
“...it was as if the Bible study never ended, as one after another, victims' family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.
“I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of one of the dead, DePayne Middleton-Doctor. But “she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”
Only Jesus can make that kind of change in a person's life. That even those who are angry, hurting, and grieving can stand up and say, “I forgive. I forgive you.”
And it's all because of Jesus. So who is this man that even the winds and the sea obey him? Who is this man who has been touching hearts and changing lives for nearly 2,000 years?
Who is this man? He is the One who makes a difference. He is the One who wants you to know that he is with you always. Even when life throws its worst at you. Even when you find yourself in the middle of a storm – some set back – some disappointment – some illness – some grief. No matter what.
I want to finish with the words of our bishop, Bishop John Macholz.
Sometimes events occur that leave one speechless, without words. The events in Charleston on Wednesday night was one of those times. So, instead of sharing words I share names, the names of those who were brutally killed because of the color of their skin.
Pastor Clementa Pinckney
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Rev. Daniel Simmons,
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
I invite you to read those names out loud and remember them. Include them in your prayers in the coming days at home and add them to the list of those named on Sunday at worship. Learn what you can about them, they are us. They are pastors, a librarian, former county legislator, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and relatives. People of God, children of the same heavenly father, members of the household of faith.
Rest eternal grant them, O Lord. And let light perpetual shine upon them.