In the context of our story, this is a valid question asked of the disciples by Jesus. And, perhaps, it is still a valid question for us today, perhaps even more so. The disciples were on a boat crossing the water when a storm came up. The waves were crashing against the boat, the wind was blowing, and the boat was taking on water. The disciples were afraid, they thought this was the end; that they would perish in the storm.
I have been on a small boat during a storm and it can be a frightening experience. There is a feeling of helplessness as Mother Nature overpowers mechanical technology. There have been many more people who were caught in storms on the water who did not survive.
But not all of our storms occur in a small boat on the water. During our lives, we face storms of some kind virtually every day. Some of our storms happily fizzle out and end up being more like a gentle rain. But sometimes, the storms continue and seem to hang around for lengthy periods of time.
This past Wednesday a group of us met in the Church House for a discussion group. While we were enjoying conversation and getting to know each other better, a young man walked into a Church in Charleston South Carolina and joined a Bible study group. After a little while of sitting and praying with the folks at that Bible study, he started shooting people, killing nine of them. I am sure there will be months of speculating why a 21 year old man chose to start a storm in the lives of so many people.
The victims of this senseless hate crime were Church folk, just like you and me. They were assembled to study the Word of God, to enjoy fellowship with each other, and to be in community with each other, just as a group of us met for our discussion group. They welcomed young Dylann Roof into their gathering just as we Christians are called to welcome the stranger. But Dylann wasn’t really there to study the Word of God or to be in community with members of Emanuel AME Church, he was there to start a storm. This tragedy has already claimed 9 lives:
54 year old Cynthia Hurd,
87 year old Susie Jackson,
70 year old Ethel Lance,
49 year old Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor,
41 year old Rev. Clementa Pinckney,
26 year old Tywanza Sanders,
74 year old Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.,
45 year old Rev. Sharonda Singleton,
59 year old Myra Thompson.
These 9 people died in this horrific crime. But the storm is affecting many, many more people. These folks have families and friends who are now grieving. They have a Church family that is now grieving. They are part of a community that is now grieving. And they are all part of the Body of Christ which is now grieving, the same Body of Christ that we are part of. And while we grieve with them, we must also grieve with the family of the young man who committed this atrocity. They are also grieving, for they have in many ways, lost their loved one as well.
Although this hate crime took place in a Christian Church, it was not targeting Christians, it was targeting our African American brothers and sisters. It seems that this same scenario has been played over and over again since our country began, and especially in recent years. Racism is so woven into the fabric that makes up our country that we white people seldom notice it in our daily lives, but our African American siblings live it each and every day of their lives.
The question again is “Why are you afraid?”
There are many reasons to be afraid in today’s world. Just listen to the news. We are constantly hearing stories about violence, wars, natural disasters, and the failing economy. There always seems to be another terrorist plot to destroy the United States uncovered. Ron Paul regularly comes on TV and predicts a soon to come financial crisis that will be worse than 2008, predicting the stock markets will collapse, people will loose all their savings, and the government will be unable to help.
I believe one of the things people fear the most is change. People are creatures of habit. We get used to the ways things are and we don’t want to change them, we get comfortable and change makes us uncomfortable. But, change is inevitable and our entire world is constantly changing. Sometimes we realize the way we have always done things doesn’t work any more. Sometimes our health changes and forces us to change our activities. Sometimes we need to change to accommodate other people who have come to our communities.
But we cannot let fear paralyze us. We are called to continue with our lives and living in constant fear is not living, it is existing. I do not believe God put us here just to exist, I believe God put us here to live and live life to the fullest. I do not believe God wants us to be pre occupied worrying about things we cannot control, but that God would rather have us pre occupied with loving God and loving our neighbors. But I digress.
The question Jesus asked his disciples was not “what are you afraid of?” It was “Why are you afraid?” This is a very different question. Jesus knew what had frightened the disciples, what he was asking is why it frightened them. Why are we afraid at times?
We talked last week about some small Churches that do wonderful things in their communities. We talked about how these small Churches with limited resources reach out with God’s love to help people in need. We talked about how people at Rock Presbyterian Church reach out and touch the lives of people in this community and share the love God showers on us with each other and with others outside this congregation.
It is through our faith in God’s love and the Holy Spirit that we are empowered to reach out to others in love.
Rock has seen many changes in recent years, changes in leadership, changes in our attendance, people leaving the Rock family, changes in our denomination, along with all the changes in the world. As I said earlier, most people fear change, it makes us uncomfortable.
But just as the scared disciples in that little boat called out for Jesus to help them, we also can call out to Jesus for help. And just as Jesus responded to the disciples by calming the rough seas and stopping the stormy winds from blowing, Jesus will also calm the rough seas in our lives.
Jesus may not prevent us from enduring rough times, but Jesus will be with us as we go through them. Jesus will always be with us, no matter what we are going through. Through all of life’s storms, through all of life’s changes, through everything that will happen to us, Jesus will be there. And when we leave this life, we are assured we will be with Jesus in our next life.
Why are we afraid?
Do we still have no faith?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, our gathering together for worship and prayer is, this day, both an offering of praise and a show of courage. We come to this sanctuary mindful that even sacred spaces are not necessarily safe spaces. We bow our heads remembering our brothers and sisters in Christ whose last earthly act was prayer. We give thanks for the lives of your faithful servants: Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons and Depayne Middleton Doctor. Comfort their families and friends and strengthen them in the difficult days that are ahead. We pray, too, because Christ commands us to, for Dylan Roof and his family. Bring peace, transform hearts, show us again your resurrection power in places we cannot imagine it can come.
You tell us, Lord, that perfect love casts out fear and the families of the victims of Emmanuel Church and the people of Charleston have shown us what loving fearlessness looks like. Forgiveness has been extended, hands have been held, hymns have been sung, prayers have been lifted, unity has been demonstrated. The Goliath of hate and racism has not and will not win.
People of faith and prayer, slain after extending Christ’s welcome in God’s house, have left a legacy that cannot be gunned down. Their lives of love and grace have begat love and grace. The gifts of the Spirit that you gave them – gifts of love, joy, peace, gentleness and goodness – appeared defeated on Wednesday night, but on Thursday when people came together and sang, “We Shall Overcome,” and on Friday when words of forgiveness were spoken and a vigil packed a coliseum, and on Saturday when crowds gathered in solidarity to say that symbols have consequences, and today as we and countless others pray for peace and commit to being peacemakers, we recognize the gifts you gave those nine are unstoppable, and victorious.
God of justice and compassion, you sent your Son for the sake of the world you love. He was murdered, his last words a prayer for forgiveness. Three days later he rose from the dead, his first words ones of reassurance, telling us not to be afraid because even death had been defeated.
Today we remember and proclaim: Violence and hate do not have the last word. The love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, always has the last word. The Spirit’s crop of goodness and love and joy and peace and gentleness will not stop growing. Now is the time for us – people of faith, brothers and sisters of every race and background – to recognize these unshakable truths and in the midst of the storm, trust the power of the One in the boat with us.
We yield ourselves to you, Triune God, knowing you bring redemption, reconciliation and resurrection. Make us your witnesses. May your perfect love in us and shown through us, cast out fear and help transform the world.
Amen and Amen.
 (June 20, 2015 by Jill Duffield, Presbyterian Outlook)
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