Be Still
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

June 21, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

After a day of teaching and preaching, Jesus says, “Let us go to the other side.” And proving that a preacher’s Sunday afternoon nap is divinely ordained, Jesus falls asleep in the back of the boat. And other boats were with him, it says.

Storms on the Sea of Galilee can come up suddenly, and one does, and their boat is in danger of being swamped. And even though many of them were able sailors and fishermen, the disciples panic. They wake Jesus up.

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

And Jesus wakes up and speaks to the wind and the waves:

“Peace. Be Still.”

And the wind and the waves stop.

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

This is a pattern found throughout the Bible. The people are in trouble, in danger, in fear, and they call out to God. And God answers them.

But there is something new going on here. After many of such stories, God announces, perhaps through a prophet, that this salvation is so that people will know that this is of God.

But with his disciples, Jesus makes it personal. Are you still afraid? What is your faith if it is not trust?

It is night and Jesus is asleep. How often did Jesus say to work while he is with them, while it is still daylight? How often is sleep used as a euphemism for death in the New Testament? So this story is about Jesus being dead and the disciples fearing the storms of life in his absence. But when they call out to him, he answered them and calmed the storm. This is a resurrection story. This is a story about the church, the old ship of Zion, calling upon the Lord in the midst of the storms of life, and Jesus answering them.

What Mark adds that Matthew and Luke do not is that there are other boats alongside this one. What we do not know is whether the cry of the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” is about “we who are in this boat with you,” or “we who are in these boats on the sea with you.”

We do know that when people panic, we tend to close down our circles to as small as possible. When Jesus asks them if they still have no faith, what if he is asking them “do you not see that there are other boats as well, and we need to care for all the boats on this sea?”

What if the lesson is not simply to trust in Jesus, but to also, always, be drawn out beyond our own little boats?

And this past Wednesday night, a young man whose heart was filled with hatred for African Americans, came in to the prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and sat with them for about an hour, and then he shot and killed

  • Cynthia Hurd, 54, Charleston County Public Library manager
  • The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, pastor of the church and state senator
  • Ethel Lee Lance, 70, longtime Emanuel AME church worker
  • DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, retired government employee
  • Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, speech language pathologist, coach, part-time pastor
  • Daniel L. Simmons Sr., 74, retired pastor from another church
  • Myra Thompson, 59, Bible study attendee
  • Susie Jackson, 87, Longtime Emanuel AME church member
  • Tywanza Sanders, 26, graduate of Allen University, class of 2014

The man who shot these people used some of the oldest racial epithets in the US. Our politicians have been tripping over themselves to not describe this as an act of racial animus, as an act of domestic terrorism (even though it fits the FBI definition), or a hate crime (even though it fits the legal definition there as well).

I do not often quote my own sermons, but last week I asked how the image of a mustard seed which, like kudzu, is something you do not want and cannot get rid of is appropriate for the church:

How is the kingdom like this, and how does this image help us if it is? If we are a small community of faith in the midst of the Roman Empire, where all the land and the farms are owned by folks off in Rome, and we are trying to hold on to our faith, while others are calling us atheists for not joining in the sacrifices to the city gods and the statues of the emperor, then the idea of being a stubborn weed is actually a comfort and an inspiration. They can try and pluck us up, but we will come back. They can try and kill us, but the community remains.

Maybe a change in some wording is necessary:

If we are a vibrant community of faith in an historically black church the midst of the United States of America, where racism is still like a mineral in the water we all drink, and in South Carolina, where the Confederate flag flies at the capital and everywhere else, and in Charleston, where the streets are named after Confederate Generals, and we are trying to hold on to our faith, while others are calling us all sorts of names for not trying to assimilate and give in to the racism around us, then the idea of being a stubborn weed is actually a comfort and an inspiration. They can try and pluck us up, but we will come back. They can try and kill us, but the community remains.

If we want to know what it means to trust in the midst of life’s storms, if we want to understand what faith is in the midst of hatred and violence, let us listen to the family members of the victims of the shooting as they addressed the shooter at his indictment:

Anthony Thompson, the husband of 59-year-old Myra Thompson: “I forgive you, and my family forgives you; but we would like you take this opportunity to repent. Change your ways.”

The grandson of 74-year-old Daniel Simmons said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win.”

A relative of 49-year-old Depayne Middleton Doctor confessed: “For me, I am a work in progress. I am very angry, [but] we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate, so I have to forgive.”

May I learn to trust Jesus this much. May we learn to trust Jesus this much. May we look for how we may help the other boats on our storm tossed seas. For otherwise, our boat will founder, and we will perish.

And when we are afraid, and when our lives are storm-tossed, and when we fear we are perishing, may we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to the storm and to our souls, “Peace! Be still!”

Thanks be to God.