So today I want to talk to you about my friend, Keith. Keith and I were on a seminary trip to Greece and Turkey a few years ago, and Keith was very excited as was his congregation which had blessed him by paying for the trip to advance their pastor’s knowledge. Things were going well until we went to travel from Greece to Turkey when a storm hit. Not one with waves, but a problem at the border. Keith was a citizen of Bermuda and the travel agent had not obtained the right visa for him. And there he was stuck on one side and we on the other. And no idea what would happen. For him to get to the other side was going to take a lot. And there in a flood of emotions was it must have felt like that question the disciples ask Jesus, “ Can’t you see I’m perishing here?”
He had fly to Germany and then on to London and then hope to get the one emergency visa issued by the consulate, which he did. And then he had to fly back to Germany, and to Turkey and then take ground transportation to catch up to us, all in about 48 hours. It was exhausting and it took resources he didn’t have. It took talking with people back him to make it all come together. And he made it.
We’ve been talking about gratitude these past few weeks and there was immense gratitude for God’s leading and protection. Because honestly, how did Keith do all that? God calmed the storm and made a path. You could see God’s hand and power at work to help Keith carry on through.
I remembered this story this week when I thought of Keith because my brother in the gospel is an African Methodist Episcopal pastor in New York. And the news of the week, heavy on my heart made me want to reach out. Keith and I were at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary together. Which at first might sound odd.
Why Gettysburg? That has to do with another storm being calmed and path cleared. In the early 1800’s Payne heard the call of the Lord to preach. But seminaries would not give him entrance, except for Gettyburg. And a major force in the AME church was able to study because the Lord made that path. And many AME pastors have since followed this path- there is a bond.
When news broke of the racial hatred in Charleston that killed 9 innocent Christians at Mother Emanuel AME Church, I thought, “ What can I do?” And how can we live in this storm that just keeps churning in our country? Amidst so many emotions, there are so many questions. The same ones in the gospel, “ Jesus, can’t you see we’re drowning here?” And the one perhaps they spoke to themselves, “ What can we possibly do?” Questions for all of us. When I reached out to Keith I shared the memory that he was the crucifer at my ordination service. And I remembered that while he was delighted to do so, his question to me was, “ What will your people think?” Even now, so much work to do. What can we possibly do we might ask.
Then I heard the interview with Debbie Dills, the florist running late for work in Shelby, North Carolina. She spotted a car that looked like the one on TV and a person that looked like the one on TV. She didn’t want to believe it was him. But she called her boss, and asked, “ What should I do?” He replied, “We need to call someone” and called the police while he kept her on the line. Debbie decided to follow the car, which was daring if it was a person who had killed nine others and had a gun. She provided the tag number and an arrest happened. Afterwards when asked if she had fear, she said, “ I am no brave person, but I felt I had to do this.” And went on to say that she felt someone was watching over her, and in control. “The Lord had his hand in it. God is the one who made this (arrest) happen.” She had been driving to work and praying for the families in Charleston. “ I can’t imagine, they were just studying the Word and they were massacred.”
Debbie moved from fear to faith, and had a role in calming some of this storm. But she went on to say what I think we should take to heart, “ We need to be lifting them, be there for them and surround them. That’s what we need to do.”
Racism is not just about a few bad actors. We as a culture must ask how we allow it to persist when we say it’s not here, it’s not us, or we just hope the storm calms. This incident will pass but there are storms on the sea. Between the storms there will be calm, but you know what the disciples in the boat came to realize? When Jesus calmed the storm, they still had to row to the other side. There were not at the shore, and now with no wind they had to row extra hard. But remember that they were on the way to where Jesus wanted them to go. The goal was not to hang out off shore. They were headed to the other side to see the Gentiles, people who they don’t really know, or maybe “get” or maybe even want to like. But they have said yes to going where Jesus wanted to go. And Jesus always wants to go there. But when they get there, it’s then they will see miracles. It’s hard work to get to the other side.
We have hard work too. To be people follow as Jesus commands, to go where Jesus goes, and to live as Jesus lived. To be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. To stand with those in places of suffering and to name evil realities for what they are. I have been meeting with the group headed to Pittsburgh to the Pittsburgh Project- youth and adults headed to the North Side and a predominantly African American community to help with critical repairs to housing and other ways of ministering with people. And we’ve talked about what it means to stand with others, maybe even those we don’t quite get. And when I asked our youth about the evil realities in our world, before the events of this week, without skipping a beat one of them said- racism. It’s an evil reality and a churning storm in our midst. Not only for those in Charleston, or Baltimore or other places but for all of us. And we have to BE THERE.
Almost 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a book entitled Where do We Go From Here? Indeed this is the question. The subtitle is Chaos or Community?
He wrote,” We can no longer worship the god of hate, or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate…Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good….We must hope that love is going to have the last word…We still have a choice today- chaos or community?" Words still today.
I hope you were as moved as I was at the choice of the famiilies of the AME Church who ringed the area in prayer and singing and whose grieving spoke forgiveness to a man who vowed he hated them. They didn't speak chaos. They spoke love. What hard work.
As ever, like the disciples, we keep rowing with our questions. But lest we think our prayer and our service are insignificant they are not. We ask for your prayers as we head to Pittsburgh and follow Jesus. I think our work matters and is only possible because of the most important question the disciples asked- “Who is THIS?” That he commands even the forces of nature”
Jesus. Jesus empowered them. And Jesus is the power and the guide. Because of the work of the cross. New life is possible. The resurrection is the clearest example of love having the last word. For all of us.
And Jesus is calling us to reach that other shore. To get to the other side because that's where Jesus is going.
To labor still for Beloved Community where miracles happen. For the sake of Christ, may we all lift our brothers and sisters, pray for justice, and not rest until there is dignity for all. We still have rowing to do.
BUT…Jesus is in the boat too, and we’ve got everything we need for the journey.