A Sermon for Father’s Day, June 24, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
When I was little, I went out for a fishing trip with my father, my uncle and three cousins, in my Dad’s small boat. The lake we were on is a large, local reservoir, probably about one quarter the size of the Sea of Galilee. The sky was perfectly clear blue that afternoon, but while we were out on the lake, way over to the southwest a little tiny dark gray spot appeared. Out there in the desert, you don’t get long lasting, heavy rainstorms, but when a thunderstorm hits, it is violent. So, while we were paying attention to our fishing, and with the adults trying to keep us kids from falling out of the boat, we were surprised by a sudden, dark sky and the crack of thunder. As the wind rose and the waves got big, my father was just barely able to get the boat’s motor started. He pointed the boat straight at the closest point of land, just about the furthest point on the shore from where we had put the boat in. The boat hit the shore still going its maximum speed and immediately filled with water.
Dad and some other stranded boaters built a big fire and we got dried out and eventually got back home safely. Though I really wasn’t old enough to appreciate the situation fully, it’s very scary to be out there on the water in a storm. Not to mention dangerous. The disciples out on the Sea of Galilee didn’t even have a 35 horsepower Evinrude motor to push them toward shore in that storm. They were experienced enough to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. And there was Jesus, asleep in the bow of the boat.
When I first started thinking about this sermon, I thought I would have some fun talking about sleepy Jesus and Father’s Day. Then I woke up on Thursday morning and looked at the news. Nine people in Charleston, South Carolina—murdered. Why? Well, they were studying the Bible and praying. And they were members of an African Methodist Episcopal congregation that has stood up, and spoken up, for the dignity and rights of African Americans for over two hundred years.
I would like to say that that is unthinkable. I would like to say that it is not possible. I would like to say that I know why Jesus was asleep in the front of that boat. But I can’t. Yes, maybe the kid is crazy. So his father gave him the money for a .45 automatic for his birthday. I would like to say that racism is a thing of the past, but all the evidence is to the contrary. About seven years ago, this country elected a black president. Many of us saw it as a sign of hope and change in this country. Yet since then, the voices and actions of racial hatred have become increasingly overt. Responding to the possibility of the loss of white racial dominance, hatred has come to the fore. I wish I didn’t see it. I wish it was so distant that I could say that it was only a few out on the edges, who none of us really ever run into. But that would mean that I would have to say that I don’t know the people I grew up with. People who believe that they have to preserve a “way of life,” and that way of life includes lots of guns and mostly people who look the same as they did when I grew up out there in Idaho.
“Jesus, why are you asleep? Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
We are afraid, much as the disciples were. And we grieve. And we fear for the future, for our children and grandchildren. This is a country where civil discourse has broken down. People respond to concerns about insecurity with selfishness, and to worries about violence with terrorism. This must stop. This country must change.
On this Father’s Day, I remember my own father, who died 10 years ago this month. For him, being a father was about loving and enjoying children and giving them a model of dignity and respect. When there was any sort of emergency or crisis, his first response was to protect the children—even though some people might not recognize that was what he was doing when he was focusing on getting that cranky outboard motor to start in that thunderstorm.
Likewise, the witness of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has always been to foster the dignity, respect and well being of the African-American community in South Carolina. The Reverend Clementa Pinckney and his companions were not the first members of that congregation who suffered and died, witnessing for the Gospel and the dignity of every human being. He was a father to two daughters, as well as serving and caring for Mother Emanuel AME Church. His ministry included being a state senator, because there is much work to be done in that state for legislation to protect the dignity and safety of all people. On this Father’s Day, let us remember that it is the vocation of fathers, as well as all of the rest of us, to have the courage to do the right thing, to stand up to protect those who are vulnerable, particularly when we have reason to be afraid ourselves.
The way of Jesus is always the way of the cross, even when it doesn’t fit with our liturgical calendar. Sometimes it looks like he is asleep in the bow of the boat when we want him, need him, to be awake. In the turmoil and storm of our emotions, he says, “Peace! Be still.” There is much left to do, and it requires faith, calm, and resolve.
From today’s psalm:
They beheld the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.
Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose which tossed high the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; their hearts melted because of their peril.
They reeled and staged like drunkards and were at their wits end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea.
Then were they glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.