Get in the Boat

Preached on 21 June 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year B

I have run out of words.  Too many Sundays, I have stood in front of a congregation trying to find words in the face of violence and death; of public grief.  I’m reluctant to call it tragedy because somehow tragedy sounds like it was inevitable; there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it; there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it from happening again.

I have no words of explanation except human sin, racial hatred, hatred grown out of prejudice and racial bias.  No explanation except the willingness of the American people to put up with so much violence and death in order to protect … what?

I have no words of comfort except that God is with us in our grief.  God weeps with those who weep who have lost beloved members of their families and communities.  God is with us in our outrage.  And I believe that God is especially with those who have suffered similar violence and are now reliving it again.  I wish I had words of more comfort for them.

Perhaps I have no words of comfort because we have already grown too comfortable with violence and death.  Perhaps God prefers our discomfort and outrage.  Perhaps because we are complicit – by our silence, by our complacency, by our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

And so, because I have run out of words, I turn to Scripture to see if I can find some illumination.  This is what I found in our readings for today.  Following Jesus, doing God’s will is hard.  It can be terrifying, risky; downright dangerous, even.  Being chosen, anointed by God does not offer protection – but it does offer God’s presence and help.

Today we have two such stories.

First we have a story about David and Saul.  You may remember two weeks ago when we heard the people reject God as their king and demand a king like the other nations.  So, Saul was chosen and anointed king.

In the part we didn’t read, Saul ruled Israel and led the people into battle as God instructed, but he disobeyed God and the spirit of God was withdrawn from him and an evil spirit from God afflicted him with terrors.

Last week, we heard how God called David and Samuel anointed him to be king after Saul.  Unaware of this, Saul brought David into his household to play the harp for him because it soothed him when he was afflicted with terrors.  The rest of the time, David continued to tend his father’s sheep.

Today, we come into the story immediately after David’s battle with the Philistine Giant, Goliath.  This time, David is brought fully into Saul’s household as a brother to Saul’s son, Jonathan, who finds in David a soul-mate.

The next thing we know, Saul is throwing spears at David! While David is playing his music trying to calm Saul’s terrors.  No protection for God’s anointed.  Doing God’s will can be dangerous indeed.

Then we come to the gospel – It’s the end of the day and evening is approaching.  Jesus has been in a boat on the lake, teaching the crowd that’s on the shore.  Now it’s starting to get dark and he calls to his disciples and tells them to do what everyone knows you shouldn’t do.  Get in the boat. But you just don’t go out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at night!  It’s too dangerous.  Storms are deadly and more common at night.  It’s not as if they have lights or that the towns on shore are all lit up like ours are.

Then there’s their destination.  They’re not just crossing over to the other side.  They are crossing over to the side of the Other; to gentile territory – dangerous territory.  Following Jesus can be frightening and dangerous.  Of course a storm does come and the disciples are terrified.  But they are even more so when Jesus calms it.  Who IS this, they ask.

Perhaps the hardest thing the disciples did that night was get in the boat.  They didn’t know what would happen, but they decided to trust Jesus; to get in the boat and follow him.

Maybe that’s what Jesus asks of us right now – to follow him; to Get in the Boat and cross to the side of the Other.

At our baptism, we are asked to promise:
            To seek and serve Christ in all persons
            To strive for justice and peace
To respect the dignity of all persons
To persevere in resisting evil and
whenever we fall into sin
to repent and return to the Lord.
To each question, we respond,
“I will, with God’s help.”

Each of these promises is relevant to what we face today.  But I would like to focus on the last one.  I think we often focus on the last part of the promise and think that it’s about if we catch ourselves doing something wrong, personally harming another person, that we should apologize, make amends, and get right with God.  But let’s back up to the first half.

To resist evil.  This is not simply about resisting the temptation to do something bad.  It’s about offering resistance against the powers of evil in the world around us: the evil of racism; the evil of racist systems in almost every aspect of society; the evil of mindsets, organizations, industries, and institutions that promote violence, killing, and tolerance of it; the evil of doing nothing in the face of evil.  And it is about examining our own hearts and confronting the demons of fear or racism or bias that we may find there.

We promise to persevere in resisting evil.  To keep at it even when we seem to fail again and again.  To never give up. We don’t try to do it alone; we do it with each other and with God’s help. The evil we face is complex.  No single change will stop it.  However, if we persevere, the accumulation of changes can and will.  We must not be discouraged or dismissed when someone points and says, that any particular proposed change wouldn’t have prevented this event or that event.

As Edmund Burke has said,
“No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”  and
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing.”

Will we get in the boat and brave the storm; cross to the other side and confront the demons?

Let us pray.
Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.