The Ripple Effect

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“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I was stopped right there in the text as I reflected the past few days on this morning’s Gospel lesson. I didn’t get any further.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

These words from the disciples echo in my heart as I watch the news…with images of the nine there on my screen. Nine beloved children of God tragically killed in a spirit of racism and violence. It seems so senseless…

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

How are we to make sense of this? How are we to make sense of our world… of the way we seem hell-bent on alienating—eliminating—the other.

Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

These are the words we will say in a short while after we all come forward to receive Holy Communion—on this Fr. Alan’s first day to celebrate Mass as a priest.

“You have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Who is the “us?” This is the question I think we need to explore in our world today. Who is the “us?” On one hand, it is us who are gathered in this space this morning. That is true. And, it is equally true that the “us” points to every single Christian gathered throughout the world in prayer and worship today—every single soul gathered to find nourishment at the altar of Our Lord. Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. And, the “us” is also the whole world—in its rich diversity. The Eucharist gives us imagination to see beyond ourselves….to look out and see ourselves in “the other,” and to see them in ourselves…as we see Christ in all.

“One faith, one Lord, one Baptism, one God and Father of all,” as our Baptismal liturgy reminds us.

But, we lose sight of this. We fail to remember that we are created not live for ourselves but to to lay down our lives for one another.

We have a failure of imagination. And, maybe at the heart of it, that is our root problem. Racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, misuse of the environment…all of the “isms” that seep into our society, darkening our collective vision. All of these stem from a lack of mindfulness, from our failure to live into the imaginative space the Eucharist offers us: one people, joined around a table, receiving nourishment from the Risen One who offers himself to all. One people, all living on one planet, created by a God who had the nerve—or craziness—to entrust it into our care, as Pope Francis reminded us this week in his encyclical Laudato Si.

So a question looms over our heads: will we have the courage to imagine a different way of being? Will we have the spiritual courage to say “no more” and reach out our hands and hearts in love….to dare to look beyond ourselves…to see the whole and our place within it?

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

The disciples asked Jesus this when they found him sleeping in the midst of the storm. I have heard sermons that said that Jesus was playing possum to teach them a lesson. I have to tell you: I don’t know what Jesus was doing, but I think we all know how the disciples felt.

I remember once being stuck in our condo on the fifteenth floor right on the beach in a hurricane. It wasn’t a pleasant experience….I wanted it to stop.

I hope we all want this to stop too, this storm we find ourselves in: the violence, the hatred, the craziness…the attitude that says, “I can do anything I want because I have a right to do what I want.” A right… It’s hard for that attitude to jive with the Risen One who tells us to take care of the widow, the orphan, the poor, the immigrant…the least of these in our midst.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t know how this text was assigned on this day, but I give thanks that it was. I give thanks for the image we’re offered here.

Jesus gathered with his disciples on the boat. And, do you know what I’ve never noticed before? This one little sentence: “Other boats were with him.” There was a wider community. And, the image that came to me, was of Jesus rebuking the winds and seeing the calmness spread from one boat, to the others, and outward….throughout the whole world…. “Peace. Be still.”

I think of it as a ripple effect of Eucharistic imagination and hope….going out from Christ into the world…..

Now, here’s where the text gets tricky for me, though….

And it goes back to this lament the text gives us: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And, it has to do with how we imagine Jesus working in the world today…

When I finished my first round of studies at Sewanee years back, Archbishop Tutu gave the sermon at our service. There he stood, this short man, this icon, this holy man, who had faced down persecution and oppression….who had stared racism in the eyes…with a heart of compassion…who knew that it was going to take a revival of spiritual imagination to regain our sanity.

And he shared with us how much the prayers of others had meant to him. But, he also shared how he struggled with prayer sometimes—with how we seem to approach prayer. He told us this: so often, when we look around and see hunger and poverty, we pray….and we pray for God to do something like send hamburgers from heaven. We think that God’s going to solve hunger for us….

But, that’s a failure of imagination… what we need to see is that God has already chosen…of all things….to work through us, to be with us, in us…. There are no holy hamburgers…

you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ… Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart;

The way we’re going to solve hunger, Archbishop Tutu told us, is through us….through our conscious decision to participate with the grace that is already around us and within us. That is a challenge that has stuck with me for many years…

So, look back at that image from today’s text, with the disciples asking Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The radical thing that our liturgy allows us to do—demands that we do– is to engage with this practice of imagination.

So….we see this question not only asked of Jesus….but asked of us today. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” It is asked by our brothers and sisters suffering from racism, by our brothers and sisters who are immigrants seeking hope and freedom, by our brothers and sisters suffering from homophobia, by our brothers and sisters not able to earn a decent wage…it is asked by the entire planet that we share….

It is asked of us all…..

When we open ourselves to this level and practice of spiritual imagination, we find that the ability to calm waters comes from passing through the waters of Christ’s death and burial…our own waters of baptism. That is our common ordination….our common vocation…..

And, in that spirit, I’d like to ask us to “go off script” this morning… I invite you to stand and turn to page 304 in your Book of Common Prayer….as we share together in the Renewal of our Baptismal Covenant.

The Baptismal Covenant

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the
prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?
I will, with God’s help.

 

Fr. Stuart Higginbotham
Proper 7, Year B
St. Mark 4:35-41
June 21, 2015

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