June 21, 2015
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4:35-41, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
To the Glory of God
In Unity with the saints of Emanuel AME Church – Charleston, SC
Let us pray:
For all the blessings of your kingdom, O Lord, for your love, your mercy and your grace, we give you thanks and praise. As we hear your Word, may the words from my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The Reverend Clementa Pinckney was a man whom I had met eleven years ago. He studied at the feet of the same professors who taught me. From time to time, we may have shared a pew in Christ Chapel, worshiping and praying together along with the rest of our seminary family. As students, we took many of our meals in the seminary refrectory. No we didn’t sit at the same table. We studied in the same library, but we didn’t share books and journals. But off in the distance, we both looked forward to the graduation date we would share.
Our paths were very similar, even as they were very different. No, you couldn’t say we were friends, we were acquaintances at best. We both commuted to seminary from Charleston, but we didn’t share rides. Sometimes, we would be members of the same group discussion, members of the same gathering, but it’s not like we met for coffee afterward.
After graduation, we wouldn’t feel the need to keep up with one another, and we went our own separate ways. Still, we both ended up in Charleston doing the very thing we loved to do; the very thing God called us to do. In congregations a little more than a mile apart, we were preaching the gospel, ministering to God’s precious children, telling others about the love of our heavenly Father and the salvation he brings through his Son Jesus Christ.
Much has happened since Clem (as we called him) and I shared that graduation day with about forty other students. Since the time we departed Seminary Ridge, our world has seen wars, acts of terror, civil disobedience, riots, deadly diseases and so much more that it simply boggles the mind. God’s good creation, so long ago turned inward upon itself, continues to be wrapped up in sinful pleasurers, disobedient to the will of God, continually bowing to the devil and all of his empty promises.
It’s a story we know all too well, how we as mere mortals are tempted with self-serving power, glory and status. How we strive to get what’s coming to us before others get theirs. And in the midst of all this, the storms of our lives brew up from nowhere and surround us with doubt, grief, pain or depression.
It used to be that whenever one such storm invaded a person’s life, he or she could run to the safety of the Church and find shelter. People of faith have always been able to come to the church to find an ear to listen, a voice to hear and a heart to love. And that’s where you would have found Pastor Clementa Pinckney and eight of his closest friends last Wednesday night. Studying God’s Word and praying for the wellbeing of others, and welcoming a young man into their midst, just as they have so many times before. This young man did not look like them, he did not speak like them and he wasn’t from the same town. Still, they welcomed him in, this man whom they did not know. That’s when the storm grew to its fullest fury.
It would have been easy to turn this young man away, citing a private gathering or telling him the Church would be open in the morning. But the nature of the Church is different, it is welcoming, accommodating and willing address the needs of all people, no matter who they are or where they are from. That is why Jesus had the disciples put out in the boat and head for the other side of the Sea of Galilee; to share God’s love with others.
One thing about sailing in the first century, if you had your choice, you didn’t sail into the darkness, especially on a stormy night. Going off to an unknown place in order to encounter an unfamiliar people is frightening enough. To do so in the dark of night, in a small boat with a storm welling up is downright terrifying. One question you have to ask if you’re a disciple on such a night might be, “Is this safe?” Indeed, that is a question so many are asking since shots rang out in Charleston last Wednesday night; “Is the church safe?”
No doubt the small fishing boat used by the disciples would be of little consequence should the full force of the stormy sea decide to rise against it. These fishermen weren’t used to sailing so far off shore during the night. It wasn’t long before waves beat against its sides and winds battered the sails. Water was coming over the bow and Jesus’ twelve hand picked men feared for their lives.
Even as Jesus is asleep in the rear of the boat, the disciples are in a panic. Yet, the author of all life, the creator of all that is seen and unseen exhibits the peace brought about by faith. A peace that guards hearts and minds, a peace that simply won’t shrink away from the world’s chaos. In the midst of a violent storm, terrified by the wind and the waves, facing what they felt was the real possibility that their boat might sink, the disciples feared for their lives. And in their fear, they overlooked the most crucial evidence of their hope; they are in the presence of the one who can save them. They are in the presence of Christ. They are certainly safe.
People of God, I can tell you there is no safer place on earth than the nave of God’s church, gathered with the family of faith at worship. There is no feeling as secure as the feeling we have being wrapped up tightly in the loving arms of our almighty and all powerful God. Even as the raging storm broke out all around them, the nine saints of Charleston wrested secure in the Father’s arms. Even as gunfire erupted over the quiet of their Bible study, evil could not snatch God’s children from his hand. Even as families gather in terrible grief, a community, a state and a nation finds itself in shock. Even as the war of words begins to roar as loud as did the gunfire; Jesus faces the winds of our sinful world and says “Peace, be still!” “Be still and know that I am God!”
My friend Pastor Clementa Pinckney, I call him friend for that’s who he is, Clementa would not regret welcoming a troubled young man into the midst of the church. He would not think for a moment of turning away someone who had come to the door of God’s house seeking something or someone. The Reverend Clementa Pinckney and the other eight disciples who lost their lives would have us know that the nature and mission of the Church is to continue to gather for the sake of others. They would teach us that, if you can’t face the storms and stand up for the gospel, don’t get in the boat.
The apostle Paul writes; “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, and calamities.”
People of God, the Church is a safe place. It is a place where people come to hear the Word of God, learn of his ways, feast at his table and cling to the hope of God’s grace. It is a place where today we gather with all the saints for all time, around God’s table of grace, sharing in the meal that unites us with Christ and one another.
Today the Church is a much stronger beacon of God’s redeeming light, for even as we gather here in this place we do so at this very moment with the people of God throughout the land, especially with the family of Emanuel AME Church. We gather safe, secure, and without fear, clinging to the hope we have in our God whose name gives us and them all the assurance we need. Emanuel…God with us. Amen.