Proper 7, 2015

Lord Jesus Christ,

It was your idea to go to the other side of the lake.

And we’re so glad you and your disciples came to visit us.





The Gospel lesson this week might strike this congregation – and this side of the Flint River – a bit differently than it will across the rest of the Diocese of Georgia.

Since my arrival here, and indeed before my arrival here, I have heard reference to “the flood.” The flood, in my understanding, changed this city, and it was the catalyst for a number of the following difficulties faced here in Albany.

So, my guess is that this congregation and many others in this town have this strange and perhaps traumatic perspective when reading a story that relates the awesome power of uncontrolled waters.

But we are not accustomed to being told how little control we have over God’s creation. Or how little we actually know about it.

Indeed, we hear that God has tamed the leviathan, has given the mighty lion it’s prey, has heavenly storehouses laden with snow before they burst open and cool the ground – a bit north of here, of course.

Indeed God has even shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, has made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, `Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’.

“We hear this, God – but we’ve done pretty good for ourselves around here.

I mean…we’ve built rockets that send us into space. We’ve been to Mars. We’ve built dams that control massive amounts of water. We’ve harnessed electricity. We’ve got all kinds of gadgets and technology that allow us to be virtually anywhere at any time, with any information we need at any time.

We’ve also got technology that allows us to regulate and punish when we need it – justice is what we call it. We’ve been able to learn a lot about these other creatures you’ve put here. We’ve been able to categorize them in ways that let us know all about them, even hold them in captivity. So, we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. I mean, we’ve got it under control.”

Now, we’re not going to say this to God, I don’t think. Not directly, anyway. But many of these things are true, in a sense. We have observed, discovered, categorized – even to the point where we just assume we are in control. And when something goes wrong, we assume we can figure out just why it has gone that way. We have the tools, the technology, the categories, language, research, money, and knowledge to do all of this.

At least, this is our assumption. This is not a decided disposition we have. This is simply habit. We live in a culture – a time and place that has conditioned us into expecting a certain level of control with the help of these things I have just listed.

And without re-hashing the entire story of Job, I think this is what we get throughout the book. Indeed, the majority of the book is Job talking with his friends about why God might be afflicting him in this terrible way.

And Job’s constant refrain is that he is innocent – he has done no wrong – so he shouldn’t be receiving this affliction.

It doesn’t add up. The calculation isn’t working out the way the moral and ethical scientists have said it would. Bad people are supposed to be punished. Good people are supposed to be blessed. But in Job’s case, the scales aren’t balanced according to our calibration. The equation is not turning out the way he thought it would – or the way he thought it should!

I don’t think we can underestimate the sense of control we have when we think we can name, designate, categorize, and calculate. We have classified and compartmentalized creation. We have researched every little thing under the sun, and we know how to read creation like a book. And in doing so, we have overestimated our knowledge of creation. Yes, we have gathered information about it. Yes, we can even predict with some accuracy how it will behave.

But we must not mistake this for control over it. No, our text from Job tells us that we were nowhere to be found when the Almighty Creator brought out the measuring line and carefully wove together the fabric of this world.

And if we were paying attention last week, Jesus reminded us of this important truth. The seeds were sown, but they did not grow because of the farmer. Rather, they grew and the farmer did not know how.

Our calibrations, calculations, designations, categorizations, and conditions do not ensure success. This human arrogance – the belief that we can categorize, research, and invent our way to domination and control – leads to violence against all of God’s creatures.

With that in mind, I think one of the most important aspects of this Gospel story today, in this particular week, is the fact that Jesus wanted to go to the other side of the lake.

If we were to read ahead, we would see that the other side of the Galilee is, in fact, Gentile territory. It is the home of the Garesenes – and the Gerasene demoniac.

For Jesus – a Jew – crossing into the Gentile territory is like crossing to the proverbial “other side of the tracks.” Gentiles were, by definition, outside of the Covenant of God. Being a Gentile was, simply put, to be anyone other than Israel.

We see from the Book of Acts, and elsewhere in Holy Scripture, that the social conventions that separated Jews and Gentiles were well established.

They did not like one another. Roman Gentiles were not fond of the Jews, and the Jews under Roman occupation were not happy about Gentile Rome either.

If we can remember the book of Acts, there was a great fuss about including Gentiles in the Church for this very reason. We do well to remember Peter’s reluctant words: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

We forget, in the church, that the vast majority of us are Gentiles. We are the ones who have been invited into a covenant not our own. We are the ones on the other side of the lake. And Jesus us coming over to us, bringing us – who were once far off from Israel’s covenant – bringing us near by coming near to us.

So when Jesus says, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake,” he’s not asking for a joyride. He’s stirring things up.

And here is where Job’s story makes sense of this – the control we feel we have over creation because of our power of description, calculation, and categorization extends to human beings as well.

We are steeped in a culture that believes we can accurately describe reality through scientific, philosophical, psychological, and whatever other kinds of knowledge.We think we get to name different cultures and traditions as “civilized” and “barbaric.” This power determines distribution of wealth and land, who gets the best healthcare, who gets to live in certain parts of town, and who is the “likely criminal” – we call this JUSTICE.

In simple terms, we have used this power of description and categorization, this perceived power over creation, to say who is and deserves to be “in” and who is and deserves to be “out.” We declare ourselves the arbiters of our own justice. That our laws and our rules are what holds this world together!

We fear a loss of control, so we hold onto our boundaries and social customs so tightly because we believe we will be able to control our circumstances and, ultimately, one another.

So when Jesus wants to move to the other side of the lake, Jesus is transgressing these social boundaries that have been in place for a long time – social boundaries that have the endorsement of a long tradition and history of dividing people into categories that distinguish between insiders and outsiders.

I am a firm believer in the necessity of preaching with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. But the newspapers and online sources this week make for a difficult set of texts.

We have been confronted, once again, with the violence and oppression born of the racial hatred this country has been steeped in for hundreds of years.

Many have suggested that the atrocity and terrible violence brought inside the walls of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church this last week is an act we cannot begin to explain or understand. Perhaps this is because of the great violence or because it was done inside the church.

But one needs to look no further than the history of Mother Emanuel AME to know that this is far too easily traced back to the formation of this country’s – of my – racial imagination.

To put it plainly, we have – in this country, particularly – categorized our fellow human creatures in such a way that we have set up nearly impenetrable social boundaries.

We have spent hundreds of years establishing a culture, social customs, and institutions that – whether it is explicit or implicit – draw lines in the sand that declare black and brown bodies as less than white bodies – that declare outsiders and the insiders. We have been taught a clear outside and a clear inside.

That is the hard truth about our formation. But I believe that is how we have been slowly and thoroughly formed.

That is how we get to an incredibly racist justice system that incarcerates black and brown people at an immensely disproportionate rate. And that is where we get the violence that was visited upon God’s children at Emanuel AME – children of God who wanted to hear a Good Word that night.

It was racist.

And it was evil.

And it was someone who had been taught that he had the right to categorize and control his circumstances by determining who was on the “inside” and who was on the “outside.”

When Jesus calms that storm, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God and the Ruler of all Creation. Jesus calms the violent waves of the sea and stops the storm with a word. And all our attempts at controlling God’s creation are shattered by this single phrase, “Peace. Be still.”

But Jesus continues by breaking down the dividing walls we have constructed to create insiders and outsiders. He calms the storm and continues to the other side of the lake. He smashes through racist social imaginations that would declare anyone less than a child of God, and he brings judgment to those of us – especially those who look like me – who would continue to build and hide behind these walls, saying, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Last week I tried to say that God has made room for “all kinds” in God’s kingdom, in Christ’s Body. It is clear after this week that our culture does not share – and is not teaching us – to seek first this kind of kingdom.

But as we gather here – we who have entered these peace-filled waters of baptism – we have been brought near to a Covenant not our own, and to a God we did not know because we were on the outside.

There is much work to be done. There are so many boundaries and walls to be torn down, and some of them are difficult to see. And some of them make me feel safe and comfortable. I confess my part in building and sustaining those walls and boundaries. I repent of those walls and boundaries.

Because the Body and Blood of Jesus is the only thing that has come to save me on this side of the lake. Amen.


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