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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, June 21, 2015



Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Mark 4:35-41




Both of the scriptures today are about power.


Do YOU have power? Do you have power at your house? I sure hope so. No power, no air conditioning. No frozen foods. No cold drinks in the fridge. No Internet. OMG.


Do you realize that for nearly 200,000 years, humans had no power? No electrical power, that is. Of course, some of those years were Ice Age, so we caught a break, there. But the rest of the time we were one sweaty, smelly species.


You do not want to lose power. Especially in this heat. Without power, we're miserable. Without power, we're weak. We're slow. We're back to waving hot air at ourselves with funeral home fans. Remember when churches had those? Ours had The Last Supper painting on it. (Was there a message there? Last Supper - Funeral home?) It folded toward the middle. You could go from 12 apostles to 3 apostles, 8 apostles. Gave the kids something to do during the sermon. Funny what you remember. Now we have air conditioning AND wifi in church. Kids these days. They have NO appreciation for how hard we had it.


So much power. Power all around you. Power - running through the air. Power - from cell towers (but not in Lakemoor Hills!). People are powerful mad about that. The power of the people vs. the tower of power. Arise! Fight the power.


That's power. That's how it works. You never know how much power you have until you need it, right? And when it gets taken from you, even if you weren't using it, you get mad. You get sad. Because now you know you're weak. Being without power, being power-less, is bad. Very, very bad.


Both of today's scriptures are about power. So let me ask you. What do YOU think about power? DO you think about power? How much power do YOU have? Really? Where did you get your power? Where does it come from? How do you keep hold of it? And what do you do if it gets taken from you?




Today's Psalm says,

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep.  For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity;


Today's gospel says,

…a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But HE was in the stern, asleep (!) on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"


Look very carefully. It's not about the wind. It's not about the waves. It's not EVEN about God's power. It's that "their courage melted away" (such beautiful poetry) - "their courage MELTED away in their CALAMITY."


Or, put another way, as the apostles cried out to their Teacher and their Lord, "Do you not CARE?" But more, "Do you not care that we are perishing?"


Perishing. Other versions aren't so academic. The NIV has them saying, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" In another version they say, "Don't you care that we're going to die?" (God's Word® Translation). (Maybe a bit of foreshadowing there about Easter.)


Think of all those poor, unevolved humans who lived and died for 200,000 years without central heating and air. They had no idea how miserable they were. But we lose power now? If we lose enough power, for long enough time, it's declared a state of emergency. Medical machines don't work. The economy takes a dive. Power is a matter of life and death. We lose power and more than our courage melts. We demand to know from the powers that be, "Do you not care that we are perishing?"


But electrical power, for all our dependence, is just the tip of the iceberg, or the peak of the heat wave. It's just an example. A symptom. What really matters is when we lose power of heart. When the power of our soul melts away.


In the Bible, water stands for power. But not God's power. Water equals the power of chaos. Water stands for crashing confusion. Water means the chaotic whirlpool of life. You know, the one that scares us into thinking that we're getting sucked down the drain. Because we can't keep up with change. Because we can't work our phones or understand our children (or parents), or get ahead of our debt. Yeah, that whirlpool. It's got a lot of power.


Storms come. We lose someone who's always been there. We lose security that we've never lived without. A job. A house. Independence. Driving privileges. Status. Identity. You used to do THIS. You used to be THAT. But now you don't. Now you're not.


You know the feeling. Tell me that doesn't feel like a wave crashing down on your head. The Bible writers knew how it felt to be wiped out. They knew what it meant for your courage to melt down and fizzle out. You call out to anyone, you call out to God, "Do you not CARE? Does anyone?" Because your power is gone. You're not just drowning. You're not just dying. You're perishing, being wiped away. Powerless.




So the helpless apostles go and wake Jesus up from a sound sleep. And like most men who get startled awake, he's kind of grouchy. The Bible-talk makes him sound all formal. "Peace. Be still." The literal translation of, "Peace, be still," is a lot closer to, "Shut up!" And then he fusses at the disciples, "Have you still no faith?"


It's Father's Day, so it makes me think about how jovial we dads are when a small finger poking us in the shoulder wakes us up from a really nice nap.


"Dad, there's a bee in my room."

"Dad, the dog pooped on the rug."

"Dad, my little brother keeps hitting me. And he's 38."

"Dad. Dad. Dad."


It's nice to be needed, but at some point, you start wondering when they're going to claim their own power.


"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" If you read it one way, it sounds like sweet Jesus is patting their heads and saying, "Silly disciples. Don't you know everything's going to be just fine?"


But I'm starting to think Jesus is more realistic. "Why are you afraid, have you still no faith," means, "When are you people going to stop whining and start saving yourselves?"


I also wonder if Jesus isn't shaking his head this weekend. Pounding his head against the pillow from these prayers coming his way.


"Lord, there's been another shooting."

"Lord, it was a church."

"Lord, there's black people, and white people, and guns, and mental illness, and racists, and rights, and it's all so overwhelming. Help us! Do you not care that we are perishing?"


I wonder if Jesus ever gets tired of being poked over the same old stuff and just wants to say to US, "Shut up! Have you no faith? Have you no power? Then, use it!"


We get so overwhelmed when our power is taken away. But we also get slammed when we don't use the power we have, when we give up too soon, when we think, "Life's too complicated. Let's get Jesus. He'll fix anything. If we only believe and be good, and have faith, Jesus will save us."


The people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina couldn't have had more faith. But the storm washed right in their doors on Wednesday night. It even prayed with them for an hour before it struck.


Some very well-meaning and spiritual people say, "It's the devil." But to attribute such acts of terror and hate to some supernatural Satan is just another way of giving up. At some point we've got to just hang on and start rowing. Because there's going to be another church, another kindergarten, another movie theater, another school. Another incident of racial violence. And if all we do is pray that Jesus will wake up and fix it, then we fail the God who gives us power.




I wrote this sermon earlier this week. And I had a really sweet little ending that, to my mind, was consoling, yet inspiring. And then Emanuel happened.


I think this is one of those times when Jesus doesn't want us to be consoled. I think this is one of those times when Jesus needs US to wake up and see that, yes, we are perishing, and if we don't change, we're gonna drown. Our country is gonna drown. For the love of God: this is America. We're better than this.


But even more, we're disciples of Jesus Christ. We HAVE to do better.


If there is consolation, it's in the name of that church. Emanuel. Emmanuel, which means, "God with us." God was with Rev. Clementa Pinckney. And God will be with all of us as we work together to wipe our eyes clear and claim the power God Almighty continues to give us to be the Body of Christ. The body scarred. The body gunshot. But the body that refuses to lie down in any tomb.


Think about your power. Think about the God who gives you the power of life. And think about how you can use that power, and give it back to God.