Psalm 107:1-3, 23 -32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
This sermon was preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Crockett CA on June 21, 2015.
A couple days ago I watched a fantastic animated film called Inside Out, which creatively portrays the emotional life of an eleven-year old girl named Riley in which joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust are personified as colorful and charming cartoon characters. As the girl Riley struggles to deal with the stress of moving with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco, two of her personified emotions—both Joy and Sadness—get lost in the labyrinthine halls of her distant and fading memories, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge of her emotional life. Somehow Joy and Sadness must work together to find their way back to headquarters and save Riley from emotional shipwreck.
I will confess that, over the last several days, my emotional life has been unusually stormy with fear, anger and disgust. News of the violent act of hate in Charleston, South Carolina has enraged me, smothered my joy and forced me to cry out with the disciples in today’s Gospel to a God who appears to be sleeping, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?”
In the Bible, God does not seem to ignore these questions. In some ways, God seems to invite them and appreciate them, in all their honesty and anger, as we see in the Psalms of Lament. And sometimes God honors these question with a response, as we see in this morning’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures—in which God answers Job out of the whirlwind—as well as in this morning’s Gospel—in which Jesus responds to his disciple’s question by calming the storm. Sometimes it seems like God is asleep and we need to wake him up by pleading and praying forcefully like Job, like the Psalmists, and like the disciples in the storm. Our country is in dire need of such prayer warriors, who might rouse God from his apparent slumber to calm our nation’s tempests of terrorism, racism, and hate, lest we fall overboard. And yet the Gospel calls us to more than bold prayer.
The morning after the massacre, a friend of mine wrote (on his Facebook status), “Where was God? God was in the mind of the terrorist screaming, ‘No! Not this! Wake up! You don’t want this! Wake up. Please, sleeper, awake.’” I agree with my friend. The violent perpetrator in Charleston gave his inner voices of fear, anger and hate the power and control they needed to well up a storm within him that erupted into a calculated massacre of nine innocent lives. And the perpetrator chose to consistently ignore God’s pleas to shake awake the deeply dormant Christ within him.
St. Augustine reflected on this morning’s Gospel when he wrote,
“When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune—shipwreck. Why is this? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him…A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let him remind you of those words: ‘Who can this be? Even the winds and sea obey him.’” Sermons 63.1-3.
The Gospel calls us to wake up and to wake up the Christ within us. We can so easily succumb to our own inner voices of fear, anger, and hate that stir up dark storms within us, which can then burst violently from the inside out. We can so easily fall to the temptation of responding to one act of hate with another act of hate. “[We] long to retaliate,” Augustine says, “but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune—shipwreck.” The Gospel calls us to wake up the Christ within us, the Christ who rebukes the winds of temptation to vengeance and further violence and says, “Peace! Be still;” the Christ who breaks the cycle of violence by calming the storms within us so that we might calm the storms within others.
The families of the victims in Charleston have roused the Christ within themselves and let him calm their storms of profound pain and loss so that they could respond to the perpetrator (the murderer of their family!) with forgiveness and compassion. A colleague of mine, who teaches theology and African American studies at the GTU, said that there could not be a more revolutionary act than the forgiveness of the murderer by the victim’s families. He said that this act of forgiveness wakes the nation up to the humanity of black people. Although we prefer to deny it, racism still haunts our nation and still distorts white perception of blacks, who are continually dehumanized and demonized. By responding to a monstrous act of hate with tender forgiveness, the people whom our country has historically deemed as sub-human have shaken the nation awake with their humanity.
The Christ within the forgiving victims has halted the storm, which the perpetrator sought to stir up, the perpetrator who said he wanted to spark a race war. The forgiving victims paid heed to the Christ within themselves and were thus given eyes to see the deeply dormant Christ within the murderer (!) whom they have attempted to rouse awake with their radical forgiveness.
The Gospel and the forgiving victims of Charleston call us to wake up the Christ within and give his Voice of Love and Peace priority and preeminence over all other voices within us, all those other voices that compete for our attention, that push and pull us like violent winds rocking an unsteady boat.
More than anything else, Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God and what is the Kingdom of God? It is any territory in which the Voice of Love reigns supreme over all other voices. Internal and external voices that abuse us and cause us to abuse others all submit to the Voice of Love in the Kingdom of God. Voices of anger and fear and hate might cause emotional and psychological turbulence like the winds and waves on the sea, but in the Kingdom of God, all of these voices obey the Voice of Love and when the Voice of Love says, “Peace! Be still,” they cease and there is a dead calm. “Who can this be? Even the winds and sea obey him.”
Part of why we gather each Sunday is to listen together to the divine Voice of Love and give it honor and authority in our lives, to calm our storms. That is what we are doing here and that is what the nine innocent victims were doing when they were shot and killed in Charleston. Our gathering here is radical and revolutionary. We are letting Christ’s Voice of Love wake up within us and calm our souls just as it calmed the winds and the sea. This is how we will calm the nation’s tempests of terrorism, racism, and hate. By waking up Christ inside so that we can be Christ in the world, calming the storms, from the inside out.
 “Where was God? God was in the mind of the terrorist screaming, “NO! NOT THIS! WAKE THE FUCK UP! YOU DON’T WANT THIS!” This is my body broken for you. Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. Wake up. Please, sleepers wake. Goddam.” – Tripp Hudgins (June 18, 2015 Facebook status update) https://www.facebook.com/tripp.hudgins/posts/10152815329176286?pnref=story