Who’s going to wake up Jesus? (Mark 4:35-41)
I think that God is sleeping
Or the angels have resigned
I’m sure there’s no one keeping
A peaceful, watchful eye
Are you listening are you knowing
All the desperate, silent calls
From the ones who keep on hoping
That’s the hardest thing of all
Is there no one left in heaven
Making sure we don’t forget
What we learned from painful lessons
& must not repeat again
You have got to be taught to hate and fear
Day after day year after year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You have got to be taught before you are grown
To hate those whose lives are not like your own
To fear right away because it’s unknown
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You have got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught -sung by Ann Reed
Is it true? Is God sleeping? Have the angels resigned? Is there no one left in heaven? This song has been in my head these past weeks. It seems that there are things pressing in on us, and they’re big things—white supremacy culture, government and corporations that focus more on money than human beings, climate change and its effects on our world. There are days when it feels like we are caught in a ferocious storm…the winds are blowing, the waves are crashing, the sun is literally being blocked from shining– and we can’t find a way out.
I know I felt caught in a storm after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the largest mass killing by a single shooter in our country during our lifetime. I felt angry, unable to use words to express my deep sorrow, unable to make my voice heard among all the other voices who wanted a say– many of those voices having no understanding of what it is like to be Latinx or GLBT in the United States. The shooter at Pulse came after my people, people like me, and I felt sad, scared, and angry. I felt despair. In the Harry Potter book series, author JK Rowling describes the characters called dementors as beings who suck every good feeling, every last ounce of happiness out of you, so you feel like you will never be happy again. I think we’ve all had these moments, but some who walk among us feel this more often than others.
I had that same feeling again, two weeks ago, as I was watching a live feed of people in a church on a Friday night in Charlottesville, Virginia. This time the dementors were white supremacists, carrying fire in their hands, who surrounded a church chanting anti-jewish, racist, homophobic rhetoric. Inside the church were my people–and probably your people, too– ministers, seminarians, and lay people—God’s people. They were praying, singing, and preparing for the next day, when they knew there would be conflict. The folks inside that church did not expect the police to tell them it was too dangerous for them to leave on Friday night. They might have felt like the disciples in the storm that night, but they were not defeated. That night, in their singing, and praying, and preparing, they had been waking up Jesus in the middle of the storm. This was no time for Jesus to be sleeping!
Now, if you are anything like me, you wait until things are pretty bad to call for help. At work I’ll ask ten people to help me figure out a problem before I go to my boss. At home I’ll watch 5 YouTube videos and Google 7 different ways of fixing my car before I decide on calling the mechanic. I imagine the disciples were the same way. Whether they were rowing frantically while yelling at one another who’s going to wake up Jesus, or they were trying to set their sails at any position that would get them out of the storm, they probably did everything they could before going to get the boss. Can you hear them say who’s going to wake up Jesus? James are you going to wake up Jesus? No, Matthew, you go do it! But finally they had to give in. So they went together. All of them. This was important, and they needed Jesus to respond.
I noticed that the text of the Gospel didn’t say Luke woke up Jesus. It didn’t say Matthew or Mark or James went in and gave Jesus a gentle nudge. It said, “The disciples woke him.” This was a job that required the whole team.
The disciples didn’t always have it easy. They often missed their cues, made mistakes and had somewhat of a tough life. After all, Jesus told them to drop everything they were doing and follow him. They were witness to a lot of suffering in their world — it must have felt at times like things were crushing in on them. They followed Jesus as people asked him to help, to heal, to make miracles happen when there were none. All of these people, tormented, crying for help, often pressing in… the disciples feeling com-pression…from being around so much o-ppression.
Life lived in Jesus’ name is not always easy, it’s true. There are dangers, there are things that make us worry, sometimes there’s the threat of violence. The Gospels are full of conflict. Jesus’ own life-story shows us the end-game of what happens when angry mobs go unchecked. Suffering happens. Evil exists. Yet, the miracle is that two-thousand years later, we are still remembering the man whose name has never been forgotten. Jesus’ life-story is a guide for living a life of truth and justice, a story of how to stand up against oppression, a map towards a life of being whole and being filled with love.
But how do we wake up Jesus?
UCC President and General Minister John Dorhauer inspired us with his words last Saturday, in Boston, at a worship service just before 40000 people turned to the city streets to stand up against hate.
This is what he said:
“So, I have some good news and some bad news. It is the same news depending on where you find yourself in relationship to what we all know is true, and here it is: we are seeing the final days of white power, white privilege, and white supremacy! It is on its way out and it may be that this nation, 400 years into the making, is finally ready to cast away its original sin.” (people applauded and cheered when he said this) Then he said, “Let’s not be naïve about this, because the most dangerous animal is the wounded animal who feels its life is in danger. We are far from finished in this race we have before us, but perseverance is powerful. The United Church of Christ is not going to sit on the sidelines for this part of the journey!”
As I listened, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s quite a prophecy for a white guy,” even though I knew in my bones what he was saying was truth, I know that I sure want it to be true.
But back in reality, the wounded animal is fighting harder than ever. We were in Boston that day because white supremacists had said they were going to come to town and hold a rally on the Boston Common. No one knew if the day would turn out like Charlottesville—or maybe even worse than that. Fear was real. Violence was possible, maybe even probable. The idea of taking our kids into Boston that day was not a risk we were willing to take.
Things got real—thousands went through non-violence training in Boston. Non-violence training, as practiced by Dr. King and Ghandi, asks us to pinpoint that line–the line where you would walk into harm’s way to stand up for what (or really-who, if you’re a Christian) you believe in, and the line where you would turn and walk away. Another way to ask that question–in considering our scripture passage– what would you get in the boat for? What would you walk willingly into the storm for? We all know the easy answers: our kids, our families, our best buddies. But when we take just one step beyond those treasured things, the question gets a bit harder. When you are standing on the front line, confronting white supremacy, you are holding the line for something more than just a few treasured people. You are holding the line for a way of life, a philosophy, a belief that millions of people should not have to endure suffering because of their race, or their religion, or their sexual orientation. That’s being bold. That’s calling on Jesus. That…takes a crowd of people who all are working together, calling on Jesus together, waking up the one who can calm the storm.
So, is God sleeping? Have the angels resigned? Why is it that it took us this long to understand the coming together of race, class, and gender to combat systems of discrimination, today we call it intersectionality? Why has it taken 400 years to usher in the last breaths of this nation’s original sin of white supremacy? Even if we’ve woken up to the problem, how are we going to be part of fulfilling the prophecy set out by our own General Minister and President?
Maybe it’s us who need to be woken up! It can be done. But all of us have to show up. We leave no one behind. I saw it for myself last weekend on the streets of Boston! Love was palpable, present, 40 thousand people strong, filling the streets, chanting “This is what America looks like” as intersectionality was in full display. President Dorhauer explained it like this:
The entire city of Boston stood proud. When the march began, there were chants calling for justice not only to renounce racism, but also to renounce homophobia and Islamaphobia and transphobia and gender bias. Often, the entire march came to a stop so that those with disabilities could catch up or rest.
Along the entire way, residents came out to signal their support. Standing on rooftops, hanging out windows, gathering on front porches and lining the sidewalks were cheering crowds patting us on the back, holding signs, capturing video and pictures, laughing, singing, crying. Boston was one powerful, vocal, urgent cry to reject the ugliness of white nationalism, white power, white privilege, and white supremacy.
In its place there grew up a spontaneous community of rich color and accent, with peoples from many nations and religious affiliations came together to give us a glimpse of what America wants to be.
When the march reached the Boston Commons, whatever dramatic ending Charlottesville conditioned us to anticipate never materialized. The Nazis were gone, quietly escorted out of the park by Boston police for having violated the cities hate speech codes.
Clearly, Jesus was there, with us, wide awake. He was there all along. Was it really us who were the ones sleeping? Were we the ones, like the disciples, who missed the cues and forgot our faith? We cannot afford to sleep any more. We have to be wide awake—the world needs us to believe.
When the storm comes, when the light of the sun gets blocked, when the waves are crashing over your head, we need to summon Love, the love we have known in our hearts this whole time. Only the strongest love is what drives out the dementors. We need each other for this one—I need you and you need me. We have the power, together– we are the ones, now is the time –Jesus is in each of us. God hasn’t been sleeping. The angels are still here. Jesus tells the disciples to have faith. He was never going to let the ship go down. After all, he was in the boat, too.
Friends, when you are feeling despair, when all the happy is gone, remember– Jesus calms the storm. Even the winds hear him and comply. Jesus brings us peace, when we to bring him, and we are in this together. Love wins. Always. Amen.