On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
When I planned on preaching this text this week, I thought I would spend the days on the beach, soaking up the sun and sand, dipping my toes in the ocean, and come home to some profound sermon about water and waves. I even walked in the sand, praying for a message about crossing from one side to another – maybe about transition, following one’s dream, following God’s call even if it means going elsewhere. All very relevant, at least to this congregation and my life. And oh, how’d I like to focus on the positive, with only four sermons left till I depart.
But then Wednesday happened. A twenty one year old white man entered the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. After an hour in the prayer meeting, he opened fire and shot and killed nine people.
Oh dear God. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” These are the words the disciples asked Jesus as the waves crashed into their boat. These are the words that are now asked of us. Scripture takes on new meanings in light of current events.
This has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is an important story, as it occurs in all four gospels, but I especially respond to, "they took Jesus, just as he was," and "Peace! Be Still!" I am sure I have preached this text with thoughts that no matter what storms come our way, Jesus is in the boat with us, and we need not worry. God will take care of things. It’s all gonna be ok.
But is it? The sanctuary of the church has been called a nave, which is the Latin word for boat. The sanctuary of First Christian Owensboro, before it burned down, looked like the inside of a boat, in the way the ceiling was created. The church is safe haven, a boat where no one perishes. It is a place of resurrection and new life in Christ. Not of death. At least it’s not supposed to be.
Historically, even in the worst of times, African Americans found refuge in their houses of worship. There, they could be as loud or quiet as the Spirit moved. They were free from those who enslaved, oppressed, and abused them.
But, alas. Four young girls were killed when their church was bombed in Birmingham. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mother was shot and killed in Atlanta while she was playing the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
And just last year, there were 74 violent incidents at religious sites, and they resulted in the deaths of 176 people.
Isn’t the sanctuary supposed to be a place of holiness and safety? Don’t we call churches Houses of God, where Love lives, where we are free to worship as we wish? What happens when Hate walks in and starts shooting?
And that is just what happened. It wasn’t a storm of a natural disaster that killed nine people. It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t an illness. It was hate. The sin of racism. And racism has no place in our sanctuaries, our houses of worship, our safe havens, our even rocky boats.
“Do you not care that we are perishing?” This is not our cry, those of us who have light skin and can worship here with no fear. This is the cry of our African American brothers and sisters, who have lived in fear, in the face of racism from the beginning of this United States.
“Do you not care that we are perishing?” This is not our question. This is the question we are called to answer. And we better do it now because the waves are crashing in and our brothers and sisters of color are drowning.
I can preach until I am blue in the face, and you can listen or tune me out. You can watch the news or ignore it. We have the privilege of living in peace, and yes, our storms come and go, but we do not live as constant “others.”
And, yet, we are disciples of the one who said, "Let us go across to the other side."
Jesus knew what that meant. It was Gentile territory. It may be hostile and uncomfortable. And the journey there surely would be. The Sea of Galilee was more like a lake three miles across, and it was prone to storms raging. “In Biblical literature, the sea is where the great chaos monster resides, and going out upon the sea is to be subjected to that fear, that chaos . . . everything we cannot control.” (Emily Scott)
It would almost be too easy to say this or that shooter cannot be controlled. It’s a shame, but what’re gonna do? Well, that may be where it gets even more uncomfortable. We can do something. And we must. We must talk about racism like we’ve never done before. And you may be thinking, “Haven’t race relations been in the news all year?”
Yes, of course, but now we have a face to go along with the evil of racism. There are no politics on this side or that side when the face of hate is a 21 year old who wore racist badges on his jacket and sought out a group of people to massacre because of the color of their skin. That is racism. And that is evil. And it has no place in our churches, our communities, or our country.
“Do you not care that we are perishing” we must answer to, because, for too long, we have let racist ideologies fester in our churches, communities, and country. We have uncomfortably laughed (or told) racist jokes, we have used language long ago deemed inappropriate, we have made excuses for our friends and family members who belong to this generation or another. “So, do we not care that Black children are dying in the streets? Do we not care that African American teenagers are subject to racist slurs and police force at a pool party? Do we not care that men and woman of color are imprisoned at rates never seen before? Do we not care that church folk, at prayer, are massacred?” (Scott)
And to think we have been the ones to complain that our boat is rocking when we encounter some rough water.
Teacher!! Jesus!! Help us!! Save us from ourselves, our sins, and tell us what to do!!
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!"
“Jesus speaks commandingly, directly to the storm: “Peace! Be still!” Peace is never passive, never merely an absence of conflict. It is the presence of the Spirit who charges us, despite storms, as in “Pursue peace with everyone!” from Hebrews 12:14. The Greek verb here means to aggressively go after something deeply cherished.” (John Arthur Nunes, Ph.D.)
If we are to heed Jesus’ call and answer to the question “Do you not care that we are perishing?” we must actively challenge the status quo, speak up when old habits and old hatreds rear their ugly racist heads, seek friendships with the “other,” have uncomfortable conversations, and be willing to wade through the stormy waters in order to reach the peace that passes understanding.
“Do you not care that we are perishing?” the disciples asked. Of course, Jesus cared. And he did something about it. Do we not care that our Black brothers and sisters are perishing? Of course, we do. And we must do something about it. With the help of God, may it be so.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.