Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 13, 2017
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14, Year A)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Jesus Grabs Us

Lord, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you.

A few winters ago, my partner and I went dog sledding in Minnesota. The morning of our first run, our small group gathered together and learned how to harness the dogs, how to lead them (on their back legs), and how to call out GEE and HAW to steer the rig down the path.  As we talked inside, the 35 anxious dogs outside howled, barked, & pulled their chains in anticipation. Once we went out, all we could hear was a cacophony of canines. Pick Me! Pick Me!  the dogs cried, only fueling our anticipation for the upcoming adventure. 

Battered by the sound of barking, fingers frozen from 40-below temps, we wrestled the harnesses on the dogs, slid across the icy path toward the sled, spilled dogfood bowls, called out to each other. With frantic, barking, jumpy dogs hitched, the guides yelled and we jumped on board, released the sled tether and yelled “Hike Hike!” 

At once, the dogs pulled with the speed and strength and agility of an American Ninja Warrior, and we heard….nothing. The sound of sheer silence. Just barely audible ~ the sound of satisfied breathing, cantering paws padding through snow and the edge of the sled’s runners cutting through the ice. 

Today’s gospel text sets a scene of chaos with a mix of fear and anticipation. For the disciples’ boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land and the wind was against them. When they saw Jesus walking out to them, the power of their fear intensified.  The wind roared, the rig of the sails clanked back and forth, the disciples yelled, the overturned buckets and unleashed stays and clips banged on the deck. The wind howled in the hoods of their rain jackets. At last, Jesus yelled, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

At the invitation of Jesus, Peter got out of the boat, trying out a new authority conferred upon him.  He started walking on the water with the speed and strength and agility of an American Ninja Warrior and he hears…nothing. The sound of sheer silence.

But then Peter noticed the wind, barely audible at first, and it crashed into his silent bubble – the strong wind, the noise, the chaos around him became his reality.  Peter was overcome by fear[1]. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” His fear was justified; it was a storm that fumed powerfully enough to sink the boat and drown the whole crew.  Peter had good reasons to be afraid.

And so do we (have good reasons to be afraid.) The fear is palpable: the clanging noise of North Korea and US escalating threats, the empty harvest buckets and record famine in Africa, the roar of climate-change-fueled storms sweeping across North America, the shroud of 1967 Detroit banging on the deck of our sense of identity, while a hurricane of fear storms through the state of Virginia as extremist groups gather in Charlottesville and clash violently with counter-protestors; all while, the waves of change seem to crash on the shore of our congregation in the midst of personnel departures.

We can be overcome by our fear. That fear can be debilitating, paralyzing us. The power of fear robs the family of God’s people of the abundant life that God intends.  We cry out, “Lord, save me!”

But that’s not the whole story, because immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. When Peter saw the conflict of the storm and heard the persecution of the wind, he began to sink under the power of fear. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saving him and restoring him to his vocation. The wind ceased. The fear relented.

In the grip of Jesus, the disciples recognized that the power of God’s promise of flourishing life and steadfast love was the antidote to fear. “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Today, Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs us. Jesus makes the first move, grabbing us out of the chaos– not depending on us, not giving up on us, not waiting on us. Fears are often real. Fears are understandable. Fears are also debilitating. 

And Jesus grabs us, as his disciples, and demands we use the authority conferred on us at our baptism: to pray for peace and to be the embodiment of God’s love and justice. That means speaking out against bigotry and hatred (and the violence that occurred) in Charlottesville. That means denouncing white nationalism and white supremacy, both an affront to the Gospel born under the power of fear. Because racism is a sin. That means praying for those injured or died in the violence and the safety of all who live in Charlottesville. That means persevering in resisting evil, hatred, violence and prejudice in any form. That means taking measurable steps to build bridges and to be agents of our Lord's mercy, grace, truth and love.

For our story is not over – the future is open! For God is with us and for us And God is not done with us yet. Jesus catches us today and restores us to our vocation, calling out to us to do God’s work in the world, untethered from the power of fear and under the full sail power of God’s promise.

Long Pause

Over the last three months, I have said goodbye to many people, places and things around Christ Church.  The fear of finality that comes with saying that is palpable.  Goodbyes are tough for me and this transition is no different, doling out an overdose of emotions that defy words.

Dr. Ira Byock, a palliative care physician, has coined a phrase[2] to help with goodbyes, “the four things that matter most.” These are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Dr. Byock reminds us, “When we say the four things that matter most – or when we say goodbye, in whatever form – there's going to be real work involved.” Why? because these eleven words – they are not words. They are entry points for sacred connections.  They are admissions of our humanity. They are words made flesh of our incarnate God.

So, today, here are four things that matter most.

First, please forgive me.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus laments having to catch Peter, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He’s not rebuking, he is lamenting. The disciples had so much going for them, yet there in that boat without Jesus for the first time, they doubted, which grieved Jesus. This week, I felt convicted for the various ways that I have doubted the power of Love; how I might have gotten in the way of the gospel.

Please forgive me for speaking in haste, for not meeting your expectations, for fostering a misunderstanding that still might not be resolved, for singing out of tune, for not speaking more prophetically, for “things done and things left undone.” God forgives me, this I know. +

Second, I forgive you.  I forgive you for any times that you might have doubted Love; for serious and for simple mistakes; for petty squabbles; for your outrageous hopes, expansive dreams, & brazen humanness; for challenging me to imagine greater, to love quicker, to grasp lighter; for things done and things left undone. God forgives you, this I know.+

Thirdly, Thank you. Thank you for being The Church. For gathering and sharing in each other’s company at times of joy and times of sorrow; for caring for each other with home communion, intercessory prayer, and listening with the ear of your heart; for risking looking weird by walking the labyrinth or praying spontaneously by candle light in Miller Hall when the power went out; for planting seeds of hope to invite/welcome/connect our community; for drenching me with profoundly moving Anglican choral music, for coming directly to me when we disagreed, for telling me your name at least three times before I got it. And so we especially thank God for calling us to serve together in this place, for this season.

And the fourth thing that matters most: I love you. I love you for being disciples on a journey with me. I love your for being my Christian sisters and brothers who love deeply and yearn to know God. I love you because Jesus loves you.  And that love knows no bounds.  That love arises from the One who loved at the dawn of creation.  That love moves in our tears and catches in our throat and spills out through our smiles. I love you.  God loves you.

Even when we doubt, and even when we say goodbye and even when we don’t have the words. Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

So be at peace with each other, be forgiving of each other and be extravagant with God’s love.

Amen


[1] Portions of sermon inspired by David Lose, “In the Meantime…” cited here on August 8, 2017; http://www.davidlose.net/2017/08/pentecost-10-a-something-more/

[2] From November 2013 Interview by Krista Tippett, OnBeing, titled, “Contemplating Mortality” at this site: https://onbeing.org/programs/ira-byock-contemplating-mortality/