St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 21, 2015
Year B, Proper 7: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Sometimes when I’m downtown at the waterfront I like to take a few minutes and look at the boats docked in the marina next to Liberty Park.
Have you ever done that?
Now, I don’t know the first thing about boats but the beauty and the size of many of the boats always impresses me.
I bet like a lot of other people, I always think to myself that these boats must cost a fortune – a fortune just to buy one and a fortune to maintain it just sitting there in the dock.
Now, I don’t know this for sure but I suspect that some of these boat owners don’t actually take their boats out of dock and into the open waters all that often.
Instead, for them the fun of owning the boat is tinkering with the engine and the other mechanisms, making improvements and refinements, painting and polishing and so on.
They enjoy just hanging out on the boat while it’s docked.
Well, in today’s gospel passage Jesus and his disciples take their boat out of the dock and out into the open sea.
Mark tells us that Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Which means across the Sea of Galilee away from the Jewish territory where Jesus has been teaching and healing – across the Sea of Galilee to Gentile lands on the other side – across the Sea of Galilee and into unknown territory.
And, as we just heard, sure enough Jesus and the disciples get caught up in a great windstorm, terrifying the disciples, but not Jesus who seems to be snoozing through the whole thing.
But, Jesus is there in the boat with the disciples and he calms the storm.
And then, Jesus asks the disciples the haunting questions, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
For more than one reason, I’ll never own a boat.
And I’m going to guess that’s true for pretty much everybody here today.
But, actually, you and I, we do have boat.
One of the earliest Christian images for the church – maybe as early as the Gospel of Mark – is a boat.
We see that image in lots of early Christian art.
And we see it in church architecture where this center part of the church is called the nave, from the Latin word for ship, and the ceilings of many churches are designed to look like the bottom of a boat.
Here at St. Paul’s, we have a boat.
The church is a boat – not the building but the people - us.
The church is a boat.
I have no doubt that the people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston have always understood that their church is a boat.
Their boat was tossed to and fro by the terrifying storms of slavery and relentless racism, when by law black people had to worship only during daylight hours, when by law in South Carolina all churches had to have majority white congregations, when it was illegal for black people to be taught how to read and write, when their church was burned to the ground after an alleged slave revolt.
In the 1960s, they took their boat into the heart of the civil rights movement, invited the major leaders to speak right there in the heart of racist white Charleston, the so-called “holy city.”
And, of course, now they have faced yet another storm – the storm of a young, angry, violent racist with a gun joining an evening bible study for an hour before opening fire killing nine beautiful people, including the church’s pastor.
During all these storms, I’m sure what sustained the people of Mother Emanuel was the sure knowledge that Jesus was right there on the boat with them, maybe seeming to be asleep but never really asleep.
Jesus was right there - is right there - and we can hear him speaking in and through the family members when they spoke to the alleged perpetrator the other day in court.
Tywanza Sanders’ mother said, “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But, may God have mercy on you.”
In the midst of the terrible storm, Jesus says, “Peace! Be Still!”
So, the question for us is, are we going to be like the boat owner spending most of our time tinkering and repairing and polishing and painting our boat – are we just going to hang out on our boat here at the dock?
Or, are we going to take her out across to the other side – out into the open sea – out to unknown and sometimes dangerous territory?
I see signs that we’re willing to go further out from shore.
We’ve taken our boat out on some short cruises like our Good Friday Stations of the Cross procession which took us to some dangerous places, to some corners of sadness and tragedy.
We’ve taken her out through our monthly community suppers, opening our doors to anyone who shows up looking for a meal.
We’ve taken her out by getting involved in the new community organizing effort with other people from all across Jersey City.
And, just yesterday morning a couple of our kids took her out by volunteering at Garden State Episcopal CDC’s emergency food pantry over at Church of the Incarnation where we saw about 150 of our neighbors come forward to receive bags of food.
I believe we are going to take our boat out across to the other side – out to our neighborhoods, out to the streets of Bergen-Lafayette and Greenville where young men continue to maim and kill one another, with two murders within hours of each other last Sunday.
We are going to take our boat out into a society still infected by racism, still divided into a few haves and so many have-nots, still armed to the teeth - out into a world that through our waste and carelessness we are quickly to reducing to a pile of filth, as Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical released on Thursday.
Together we are going to take our boat – the church – this church – across to the other side.
But, as the disciples learned long ago and as the people of Emanuel Church learned yet again on Wednesday night, this can be a dangerous journey. Terrifying storms can pop up at any minute and it can feel like we are about to perish. And, sometimes, it can look to the world like we have in fact perished.
But, Jesus was right there at that Bible Study on Wednesday night.
And, Jesus is still with the people of Emanuel Church.
And, Jesus is right here with us on our boat.
Jesus is right here on our boat asking us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”