Who is this Really?

The Rev. Robert P. Travis 4th Pentecost Sunday Sermon  –5pm, 8 and 10:00am Church of the Ascension Wakefield RI – Revised Common Lectionary Proper 7 Year B 6/20/2021

Scripture Text: 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5,10-16 Psalm 133, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

Sermon Text:

Six years ago this week, which was also Father’s Day weekend, I preached to you all about a horrific shooting at the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina. Have you forgotten about that one? Perhaps since there have been so many mass shootings since then, it fades from our memories.

But that event changed my focus,

at that time as your new pastor.

And I am happy to share,

six years later that good things have resulted for us.

 

This week, our national government declared Juneteenth, the day we celebrate the final official notice of the emancipation proclamation to the enslaved people in Galveston Texas, which happened two years after that proclamation was issued in the Civil War. This is the first national holiday that our government has declared since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared in 1983. And you can see a theme here,

That finally, even after a year of protests and even riots in the wake of racial violence by employees of our government we are starting to acknowledge the long debt we owe to the African Americans who were enslaved in this country, and then oppressed with laws meant to keep them inferior for decades after we ended legal slavery.

This acknowledgment is only just beginning, and it is a story of a change of recognition, a revelation to the European-Americans that we had it wrong.

We see beginning to acknowledge the wrong is already causing racists to come out of their holes and protest, using things like Critical Race Theory to incite people to fear that the unjust privilege they have long enjoyed may be coming to an end.

 

It has an interesting connection to our scriptures today.

 

In the story we continue from the 1st book of Samuel, we encounter David after he defeated the Goliath. I chose this story, because while hopefully we all know the story of David and Goliath, many of us do not know what happened after that. What I want to focus on is the relationship between David and King Saul, and the separate and very different relationship between David and Saul’s son Johnathan.

 

In the story where we hear Saul say to David, “whose son are you,” which is essentially like saying, “who are you really?” We might forget that Saul already knew who David was, but he did not know what David was capable of,

so he didn’t really trust in who David really was.

 

David had come to him, identified himself as the shepherd son of one of Saul’s servants, who wanted to defy Goliath and try to rescue Israel. Saul likely did not believe him, but he accepted his offer as no one else was offering to help, and he tried to give him his own armor, which David couldn’t wear because he was too small for it. Saul later called him a “stripling,” indicating how weak he perceived him to be.

When he came back, after defeating Goliath, Saul wondered “who is this really?” And he went from seeing David as a lost cause but the only one who would help, to a threat to his power, a threat to his privileged position, as now people regarded David as a hero.

From that point forward, Saul tried to kill David.

 

Johnathan, Saul’s son, on the other hand, also had his mind changed about David, and went from not knowing who he was at all, to caring about him deeply.

Loving him, as the scripture says, “More than his own soul.”

Notice that when the scripture says his soul was bound to David’s, what that implies is that David and Johnathan became soul-mates.

Johnathan’s change of heart towards David led him later to risk his life to protect David from his own father. His change of attitude about David caused him to break the bonds of kinship loyalty for a greater loyalty based in love.

 

Similarly, when Jesus’s disciples brought Jesus into their boat, getting him away from the crowd after a long day of preaching and healing people, the story says they took him in,

“Just as he was.”

And how was he?

Tired, worn out, needing to rest, human, even if popular and able to heal people and teach them in a new way.

So they had no inkling that Jesus could protect them when the storm rose up, like Goliath, threatening their lives.

When the storm rose up and the boat was being swamped,

They found Jesus sleeping in the boat and they woke him up, saying “do you not even care that we are perishing?”

They weren’t asking him to do something, they were wondering why he wasn’t afraid as they were.

The weather and the sea were great forces that terrified them,

And so when Jesus calmed the storm,

They were shocked, awestruck even,

And they asked, “who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him.”

Like Saul, and Johnathan, they had a change of heart and couldn’t understand how this Jesus could be the same person from just a little earlier.

And how often do we take Jesus as he really is,

I think more often, like the disciples before the storm,

We take Jesus as we think he is, and have no idea what he is capable of in our lives,

What seas and storms he can control.

 

The sea that, at that time, terrified people,

And even seemed like a malevolent force,

For most of human history,

Has been replaced by a different kind of sea.

The stormy sea of bigotry and prejudice,

Which leads to hatred and violence,

That powerful sea challenges us over and over again.

 

When Jesus and his disciples were in the boat together,

The disciples were terrified, and feared for their lives.

But Jesus was undisturbed.

And then by rebuking his disciples,

He said, “why are you afraid, have you still no faith?”

 

They are shocked that he made the storm cease,

And then they must have realized in a powerful way,

That they had no idea who Jesus was up to that point.

Now they were beginning to understand,

Just what it means to say that Jesus is with them.

They have nothing to fear,

From that point onwards,

As long as Jesus is with them.

Though we see that same fear return again,

After Jesus’ death,

When they lock the doors to the outside world,

For fear that those who killed Jesus will come for them.

 

The Christians of Emmanuel AME Church

In Charleston SC,

Know what true martyrdom is,

They know what it means to suffer and die for their faith,

And even to suffer for simply who others perceive them to be.

Indeed, like most people of color

they experienced that suffering

For most of the last century and for hundreds of years before.

While they could easily,

And justifiably in the eyes of most people,

They could have locked their doors

To all white people.

 

They have continued to be open to all people.

So that when that young man,

Entered for their bible study time,

And asked for the pastor.

While I imagine they might have thought it was strange,

That this young white man should be interested.

They invited him in, showing the Christian hospitality,

That I would hope any church,

Any community that follows Jesus would show,

Even sitting him next to the pastor.

I cannot imagine how horrific the scene,

When that same man they welcomed,

Gunned them all down.

But they still have not locked their doors,

They have overcome that adversity,

And not let the realistic fear of what really happened,

Deter them from openly welcoming neighbors and worshipping together.

 

So as we look back at what the disciples experienced,

It seems that had they known who Jesus really was,

what Jesus could do,

Then just the knowledge that he was in the boat with them,

Sleeping or not,

Would have helped them fear less,

They would not have been afraid for their lives,

If they had just realized just what it meant

To have Jesus in the boat with them.

 

Paul knew that he had Jesus in the boat with him,

Which is why he was able to go through,

That list of horrible things he experienced,

And proclaim,

“Now is the acceptable time,

Now is the day of salvation.”

 

When I asked my friend Jim,

An African American priest,

Who has seen his share of suffering,

What he would proclaim to white Christians,

In the wake of so much violence against African-Americans.

He said “there has been too much white silence,

And  “we need to not just offer private prayers,

Not just express condolences from a distance,

But be willing to build real relationships,

With people of color,

In order to defeat the evil which would divide us.”

 

What I saw in Charleston,

Was that the Ebenezer AME church,

Has known for a long time,

they have Jesus in the boat with them.

They have had a welcoming policy,

And an open door,

Even to the point of welcoming a strange,

White young man into their Bible study

On that Wednesday night in 2015

In spite of that tragedy,

they continue to welcome the stranger,

As we must do as well,

Even though the increased polarization of our times might lead us to be afraid that a storm of anti-religious bigotry might hurt us.

 

In the wake of a fear-filled pandemic,

We have begun again opening our doors every day

To the whole community,

In spite of the risks that that brings

to our beautiful worship space.

I pray that will be a symbol,

And even a push for us to be more intentionally inviting

of all in our community

to join us in this space for worship and fellowship.

For that open door of Christian hospitality,

Stands at the center of the Christian tradition,

And cannot be shut by fearful acts of violence,

As they have not been shut by such acts in the past.

 

We have an opportunity to reflect on how

Open our churches are to people of color,

LGBTQ people,

And others who seem different from us.

If we believe that Jesus in the boat with us, is more powerful than we knew,

That now is the acceptable time,

Now is the day of salvation,

We will reach out our arms in love,

To those who are our neighbors,

Even if they are different.

That is the beginning of being the calming of the storm,

In a world that is so full of violence.

 

In response to the shooting in Charleston, SC six years ago, we began opening our arms in a new way,

By reaching out to Christians of color,

In the African American community.

We reached out to our brothers and sisters at the First Church of God in Peacedale,

And began learning how we can work together,

To build better bridges between our people.

 

Though we may not want to go there,

Jesus was asking us to cross the sea,

That divides us from people who seem different from us.

He continues to ask us to cross that sea,

As we begin celebrating Juneteenth in our country,

As we work to end systemic racism,

As we work to overcome homophobia,

And welcome our brothers and sisters

in the Queer Community.

 

While crossing that sea,

May involve some scary storms,

And may stir up a powerful hatred among people who fear losing their privilege.

Jesus is in the boat with us,

And we need not be afraid. Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details