Sunday, August 13

Dont' doubt but believe: Sermon for the 10th Sunday After Pentecost

*Before you read this a note of warning: If you imagine these stories as White stories, if you picture Elijah, Peter, the Disciples, the Psalmist, Saint Paul the Apostle or Jesus Christ as white folk you will not hear the word of God in this sermon nor in the Scriptures upon which this message is drawn. I wish this note of warning was unnecessary. I wish that my Christian European forbearers hadn’t worshiped at the altar of White Supremacy, but it is clear (and has been clear for a long while) that we have yet to escape this distortion and misappropriation.
 For Elijah, and the disciples and Peter, the manifestations of the divine come to them unexpectedly and in times of distress.  They are low moments of faith. We may find ourselves in a similar moment of fear and despair, as we’ve watched white supremacists march with torches shouting, “You will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil.” surrounding a black church and unleash violence against counter protestors and a car ramming into counter protestors killing one. What is happening in Charlottesville, Virginia isn’t isolated from the police killing of black folk and the electoral victory of Trump and the various policies of the Trump administration and the chaos we’ve seen. Gathered here today we may feel a bit like Elijah We may be angry like Elijah that all this is even possible and happening, and we have our own litany of complaint before God. We may be wondering with Elijah and the disciples on the boat where God is in all this and if God is out there in the storm and the overwhelming waves. Yet, our Scriptures point out that Elijah and the disciples and Peter are examples of asking the wrong question. The question isn’t where is God when evil threatens to overwhelm, because no storm, no chaos the enemy can throw at the world chases God away. Nothing a Nation state is will bring the reign of God, nor truly accomplish God’s shalom in the world, and nothing White supremacy does can negate what God did in Jesus Christ upon the cross. The people of God have seen this before and before the Shalom of God comes and is manifest we the people of God will see it again. Yet we who may be surprised and angered and fearful must confess that this form of Empire and Babylon that we call White Supremacy was embraced and nurtured both by the nation state called the United States of America and by its European Christian Citizens, calling themselves White. For centuries members of Christ have themselves chased after these other gods of patriotism, nation state and white supremacy. This is not new and the Nation State and government of the U.S.A., can’t eradicate this power because the U.S.A has worshiped at the altar of White supremacy from its founding. So yes, there is reason to feel the despair of Elijah.  Things are dire. But our scriptures aren’t only stories of despair., They begin there and end in hope. So, amid the chaos, white supremacy, and the failure of human attempts to suppress and eradicate this evil we once embraced, we seek God. Hope isn’t found out there in the world, nor in some isolated fearful retreat. Hope is found in an unexpected but obvious place.
The faith that produces righteousness, doesn’t ask the very human question, why is this happening and where is God in this Chaos, or the evil? Paul says that true faith doesn’t ask Who can go to heaven, …or who can go to hades.” Faith that leads to justice, affirms with the psalmists that the word of God is near us in our hearts and upon our lips. This doesn’t mean that we people of faith won’t find ourselves sitting with Elijah despairing in the cave or with the disciples buffeted by waves threatening to overwhelm our boat. But, No matter, God always comes near. Whether our experience is like Elijah Or we may have moments like the disciples when we have a profound sense the divinity of Jesus Christ, we should not cling to those experiences. Whatever our experience, Paul’s word tells us these experiences of God at our low points, aren’t central to the life of faith.
These are moments of grace but not moments of faith. Theophany’s and epiphanies aren’t what the life of faith is about. The life of faith is trusting something we perhaps don’t quite have the capacity to perceive. The word of God the second person of the trinity become human and dying and descending to the dead isn’t what brought God to us.  God was always there, in the world amid our chaos, on our lips and in our hearts. The problem has never been with God not showing up. What Jesus fixes is our faith, our ability to see and recognize God. The problem is in us as human beings not in God! God in Jesus Christ fills out our faith when it is weak, but what we need is always and has always been accessible. Through, Christ we are awakened to what is truly at the depth of our being.
The exercise of faith is to trust this fundamental reality, even when we are overwhelmed by our fears. The exercise of faith is to trust even when we are threatened by other people’s sins, when we wonder how will we overcome white supremacy once and for all. To continue trustin in the nearness of God even in the face of evil and chaos. In trusting in Christ, we can affirm that the Word of God is in our hearts and upon our lips. We need go nowhere, nor do something to find God. God is here, wherever you are, God is in your heart and upon your lips, you can see it if you trust and have the faith of Christ.
Our exercise of this faith, awakens this same faith and awareness in others. Faith and salvation aren’t individual affairs. The individual American protestant evangelical interpretation of this passage focusing on the individual fails to recognize the communal and interdependent nature of Paul’s message. Faith turned in upon itself either obsessed with experiences of God’s presence or with some sense of assurance that because one has confessed with one’s mouth and believed in one’s heart one can be sure of one’s own individual salvation, is a dead end, and completely misunderstand the Apostle Paul. Rather f the faith that trusts that God’s word is near, in our hearts and upon our lips, confesses this faith so that others may be awakened to that same faith that leads to justice.
Even so sometimes we think we are responding to the chaos in faith, but really, we are seeking proof of God’s presence. Peter in an attempt to show Jesus his great faith, falters in that faith. Thankfully Jesus Christ, doesn’t let Peter be overcome, but gently points out, Peter’s lack of faith. But really the lack of faith began with Peter’s compulsion to prove his faith and step out from the boat. Jesus never asks this of Peter. Jesus doesn’t say Peter show me you aren’t afraid and how great your faith is by coming and walking on water with me. No, Peter asks for proof that it’s Jesus and tells Jesus to tell him to come out on the water. Jesus being kind and loving acquiesces (knowing he has Peter no matter what) and invites him out on the water.
God, in both the story of Elijah in the cave and Peter walking on water, comes in gentleness, grace and in the full otherness and awe inspiring frightening presence. Jesus attempts to calm the disciples and lovingly does as Peter asks, telling Peter to come on the water.  Jesus gently encourages Peter to not doubt but believe. God meets a frightened and discouraged Elijah and asks Elijah a simple question. A question that is to call Elijah back to himself.  God announces God’s presence with the familiar manifestations of Mount Sinai, but doesn’t attach the presence with any of those. Elijah only encounters God in Holy Silence. When in Silence God’s presence is known, Elijah can truly hear the word of God in his heart and upon his lips. God meets us where we are at and will even do what we ask, but doesn’t allow us to stay in the place of little faith. God is patient with us, but also pushes us along, to that place of faith.
What is this place of justifying faith? What is this faith that is accounted to us as righteousness? The place is our being illumined by Christ, God with us, where we remember who we are. To have faith is to no longer see ourselves as distanced from God, but trust that we are close to God and that God is close to us, no matter that our human institutions and attempts to bring about goodness and righteousness and justice continually fail. No matter that we have misplaced our hope and trust in the very things that bring about the chaos. No matter our collective or individual failures, God is always near in our heart and upon our lips, if we can step back and not doubt but believe.
Paul says that they very Word of God is on our lips and in our hearts, when in Christ we trust and believe in the nearness of God in our hearts and trust that our words can confess this truth. We then become those blessed as bearer of good news, and we can awaken this faith and justice in those who hear our confession. It is by this faith, not through the Powers and Nations that the world is transformed and righteousness and justice flourish.
I hope we can find that place of the Holy Silence where we can like Elijah hear God’s voice and call. But maybe your still with Peter on the boat buffeted by the waves of the chaos of our moment, and you want God to call to you.  God will acquiesce to your request, and will tell you come. But your desire to do something, if motivated from a need to prove that God is in the chaos, isn’t God asking you to step into the chaos. Even so, God will invite you into it if you ask God to do so. But if you falter, know God has you and God didn’t ask you to come, you asked God to invite you. However, Jesus’ word to Peter to come is very different form Elijah’s word from God after the Silence. I encourage us to wait before we act. I encourage us to look for the deep silence out of which God can speak. It is form that silence that we can hear God’s word for us not what we think we want to hear from God, as proof of God’s presence but a solid word for us is that God is near and unassailable.
We like Elijah, we of little faith, shaky on our feet, depressed and uncertain in our ways, wondering how this all can be real, we, if we trust and believe in our hearts and confess with our lips the nearness of God, Jesus Christ the Word, we are restored to that relationship with God that humanity had in the Garden of Eden. Through faith, we bring others back into this restored state in Jesus Christ, the Word. It is in this moment of both knowing for ourselves and that we are for others that we can hear God’s word to us that is for others, and then know how we will be sent into the world.
However, the grace of God accepts us where we are, even if we have more doubt than faith, even if we want God to tell us to step out into this chaos. But the way of surer footing is to wait, to be still, to wait to hear from God in your deepest being out of the holy silence. Out of that silence God’s word is near to us. From this silence, we will know how we each are called to be for others. The word of God is near in our hearts and it will be upon our lips. First, we must be silent, then in faith we will be able to proclaim and bring God’s justice and truth. From this faith that God is near in our hearts and upon our lips, the world is renewed. . Amen.