“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jane right over!” I was a child; I’m not sure how old. We were playing in a room with a concrete floor. I burst forth from my line with relish, my sneakers squeaking with effort, my arms pumping with determination. (I was a tough little girl who wanted to play football with the boys; Red Rover partly met that need to be aggressive) So I didn’t slow down at all as I approached the opposing team. Bam! I bounced off their securely linked arms and slammed to the ground, my back making full contact with the concrete. I lay there, stunned, and panicked, because I was unable to breathe. I am sure it was just a few seconds but it felt like forever. I learned later what had happened to me is called “getting the wind knocked out of you.”
In today’s scripture passage, Jesus and his disciples cross over from one place to another. The memory of a long ago game of Red Rover speaks to me today about the difficulty and the danger of making such a journey. I can still remember the surprise and dismay I felt when I encountered the resistance of linked arms, and the fear that came over me in those few seconds of lying there on the floor, without breath, and then I recall the courage it took to get up and join the game again, knowing much more clearly what could happen to me next time.
The disciples in today’s story were fishermen; they knew well what the Sea of Galilee was like. They understood that the lake was shallow and large and that winds tunneled down through the mountains, stirring up sudden, fierce storms. They were aware that the lake’s waters could at one moment be moonlit and calm and the next, lashed with rain and slamming like concrete into their boat and their bodies, taking their breath away. Still, I am guessing that the terror they felt on that stormy night with Jesus had less to do with the wind and the waves and more to do what they might find on that opposing shore.
The other side of the lake was a foreign land with unfamiliar cultures, unintelligible languages and despised religions. Going there would mean even more needy people pressing in on them, demanding to be healed, begging to be fed, yearning to hear some good news. Jesus was essentially a “wanted” man; the empire and the religious authorities were out to get him. Crossing over to a land they didn’t know could mean walking into a trap. I interpret the storm that comes up on the lake as a sign of the disciples’ inner struggle with their fears about following Jesus and their resistance to his agenda of movement and change.
Last weekend, at the Annual Meeting of the MN Conference UCC, keynote speaker Jennifer Harvey urged white Christians to make a similar crossing. She argued that we must leave behind the narrative of racial reconciliation which has dominated our thinking and acting for the last 50 years, and take up a paradigm of repentance and repair.
I read the statements of some of the family members of those murdered in Charleston who offered forgiveness to Dylan Roof. I think this generous and hospitable act will help them heal. It is, as they said, their way of trusting that love is stronger than hate. It’s too easy though, for the rest of us to be lulled into complacency by the notion of forgiveness and hopes of reconciliation. Yes, we long to come together across all our differences and be one human family. Yes, we yearn for Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community to be realized. But the truth is that white people and the white church have refused, until now, to do the work that could lead to reconciliation.
AME Minister Jennifer Bailey writes this:
“Nine bullets pierced the side of nine black bodies and in the process, shattered lives and any remaining illusion that there are spaces where black lives are protected in the United States. They were mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers crucified at the foot of the cross for embodying the virtue of hospitality. If, as a Christian, rage is absent from your analysis of what happened in Charleston, I am not sure we worship the same God”….
My God understands that narratives of reconciliation and peace are not what my community needs right now. What we need is truth-telling and accountability. We need this horrific massacre to be named for what it was: a racist act of domestic terrorism. We need those in positions of power to acknowledge that this was not simply a “single incident,” but the latest in a 400-year history of violence against black people in the United States.”
If our nation is ever going to heal, white people must be the ones to venture out into the storm and cross over to a place we’ve never been before: the shores of repentance and repair. Repentance is not about guilt, shame and sorrow; it means turning our hearts and lives in a new direction. Repair means reparations: reparations for the theft of land, culture and religion from indigenous peoples, and the genocide of native children in boarding schools, reparations for the crimes of slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. Reparations mean white people giving stuff back: money, land, power. Until we change the unequal material circumstances that reinforce our racial hierarchy we will not move forward.
I was originally going to focus more of today’s sermon on climate change, given our special offering for Interfaith Power and Light.But then Charleston happened. And you know what, as I read portions of the Pope Francis’ encyclical, I was reminded just how much these issues intersect. Repentance and concrete repair, a change in the hierarchyof material wealth and power,a crossing over from one way of being to another –this is also what our earth needs from us.
Pope Francis writes:
“We have come to see ourselves as [the earth’s] lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (paragraph 2)
In the concluding chapter, he says:
“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.” (paragraph 202)
The disciples, in today’s passage, are distressed by the storm, and by the prospect of what they will find on the further shore, but they are even more upset by the fact that Jesus is sleeping through it all. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they cry out to their teacher. “Perish”; it’s the same word translated “lose” in Mark 8:35: “Those who wish to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”
Remember? Mark’s version of Easter contains no appearances of the risen Christ. Mark concludes his Gospel with scared disciples running away in silence. But the reality is, Jesus’ resurrection is embedded in the story from beginning to end. In today’s text, Jesus doesn’t just awaken from a nap in the stern of a boat; he rises from a sleep as deep as death. He breaks forth from the tomb. As Jesus makes his own crossing from death to new life, he is held in the peace of God. He proclaims this peace to the wind and the waves, to the disciples, to us, to the whole of God’s creation.
When we get into the boat with Jesus, storms arise within and around us. The wind pushes us backward. The cold, hard water stuns us, like a concrete floor, taking away our breath. We get closer to the fragility of life. We get frustrated and angry and terrified. We come to understand, intimately, the barriers that keep us from breaking through from one way of being to another. It can seem as if God has fallen asleep.
Today’s passage agitates us to welcome struggle, movement, and change as part of God’s process of resurrection. At the same time, it reassures us that, if we give ourselves to this crossing we will, paradoxically be held in a peace that is deeper and stronger and more alive than any we have known before.