More than once I have heard the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth being quoted as seeing that one should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. When looking for this quote and the context in which he said it, I found that it does not appear to be a true statement; however, Barth is quoted in a 1963 article in Time magazine as saying that he advised theologians to “take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible”[i]. What Karl Barth was saying, and I agree, is that theologians must put on their “gospel glasses” so to speak and make sense of the meaning and impact to us of all that is happening through them.
That is not an easy task. And it is a scary task. And it is one I sometimes want to shy away from because it is so easy to be seen as being too “political” or even worse “partisan”. Being partisan is never my intent. Party affiliation is of no interest to me. It is impossible, however, to preach the Good News without being political. As the late Scholar Marcus Borg once wrote, “Politics are at the center of the story of Jesus. His historical life ended with a political execution…In [Jesus’s] world, “kingdom” language was political. Jesus’ hearers knew about other kingdoms…The kingdom of God had to be something different from those kingdoms…The Lord’s Prayer speaks of God’s kingdom coming on earth, even as it already exists in heaven. It is about the transformation of this world—what life would be like on earth if God were ruler and the lords of the domination systems were not… It would be a world of economic justice in which everybody had the material basics of existence. And it would be a world of peace and nonviolence. Together, economic justice and peace are “the dream of God”— God’s passion for a transformed world. Jesus’ passion for the kingdom of God created conflict with the authorities.”[ii]
And often it still does today. The Christian life is a political life – if we want to or not, and so I believe that I cannot preach here this morning without lifting up the deep concerns regarding immigrants and refugees from Mexico as well as places in South and Central American, and the separation of families at our borders.
The reports I have heard and pictures I have seen touch me on a very personal level. Not only because I am an immigrant to this country, although from a Western Nation, but because:
I have separated children from their parents. For nearly five years I worked for Child Protective Services and was a first responder to allegations of child abuse and neglect. I had to separate families and the tears from the children as well as the parents will stay with me forever. But, from hugs to gentle words, from a small blanket or pillow from home to a picture of their parent – I did whatever I could to calm children’s fears and answer their questions. Above all, however, every attempt was made to not separate a child from their parent. Every attempt was made to keep families together whenever possible or to at least have a child stay with another relative of home was not safe. The goal was to keep the trauma of separation as minimal as possible.
According to one organization, “Trauma can affect children’s brains, bodies, behavior, and ways of thinking. Ongoing trauma often disrupts children’s sense of security, safety, and sense of themselves and alters the way they see and respond to people and situations in their lives. Approximately one in four children in foster care will show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.”[iii] And these are children in Foster care – not children kept in a Walmart warehouse.
And so, when I read the news about the children that are being separated from their parents at the border, I worry about the trauma these children experience. I wonder about the long-term effects not only on their emotional and psychological well-being but also their physical well-being. I can’t help but wonder how these children may live out the trauma they experienced later in life. What will the ripple effects be of their storm and how will it impact even the next generation? And it is not only about the trauma of the children and their future, but also about the parents and about us and our country and about the bigger question of what to do.
After reading the lesson from the Gospel of Mark I could just draw easy connections between the story and our lives. I could tell you to think of the many storms in your own lives or even illustrate my point with some of mine, and there have been plenty, and I could tell you to have faith and that we are all in the same boat and that Jesus can calm any storm in our lives. But I don’t think this story is only about us and our own lives or boats. Preaching that Jesus can calm any storm rather than that he is with us in the storm would make room for the type of bad theology that teaches that bad things won’t happen if only you have enough faith. And focusing on the one boat in which Jesus sits and making it our boat ignores the fact that we are not all in the same boat. The same storm, yes, but not the same boat. The way that we experience this current storm is very different from how the families of immigrants and refugees experience this storm. Still, it is important to remember that, unless all of us are safe, none of us are safe.
The same is true in our scripture - that evening, when the disciples took Jesus with them in the boat, it states that “other boats were with him”. And when Jesus was “in the stern, asleep on a cushion”, and “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped”, all other boats found themselves in the same situation. And when the disciples tried to wake Jesus feeling as if he did not care about them and their safety, and he finally woke up and rebuked the wind, then the wind was also stilled for all other boats.
Jesus' disciples are fishermen, and have surely survived storms on this sea before, but this time they are terrified. Large waves threaten to capsize the boat and they are fearful. As is written in a publication by Church World Services “We quickly learn that the fear of the disciples has overpowered their faith. They lose faith that God could be present even during the threat of a devastating storm…This passage teaches that fear is the most destructive force that exists. Fear has the power to paralyze us; and lead to inaction in the face of injustice. Fear has the power to make us blind to the spirit of God, and the redeeming work of God.”[iv]. There are certainly times when we fearfully wonder if God is awake and where fear makes us wish for Jesus to wake up to command the storm to "Peace! Be still!" - Fear is a powerful emotion. Overcoming our fears helps enables us to calm the storm.
If only the storms of violence that cause people to fear for their lives and abandon their homes and attempt dangerous day or weeklong marches through mountains and deserts or sea crossings in flimsy boats could be stilled! Likewise, if only the storms of fear could be stilled in ourselves; storms that cause us to believe that immigrants or refugees, the people from the “other side” will take our jobs, bring drugs and crimes to our streets, and that they will take away resources from those who were privileged enough to be born on “this side”. If only…
The Good News is that we are not alone. Jesus is in all of our boats. "Peace, be still" is a call to trust, to calm our fears, and to rise above them. It is a call to be non-anxious, but not inactive. What if Jesus was sleeping in the boat because he trusted that the disciples were perfectly capable to keep the boat steady in storm, empowered by their faith and by the example he had set? We have Christ’s powerful teachings of justice and mercy and compassion and the command to love our neighbor. What we do have is the love of Christ to call upon and to pray for the Spirit to fall afresh on us. What we do have is love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”[v]
We can wake up the sleeping Jesus in all of us and call on him to still our fears and help us encounter our own chaos and biases and moves us from complacency to action for justice and peace. It is through the lens of the Gospel, the lens of justice and peace, that we can begin to recognize and conquer the storm. Be it writing letters to officials or sharing on social media, donating to the UCC’s “Keep Families Together” campaign[vi] or donating to UCC affiliated Bethany Children’s Home in Womelsdorf here in Pennsylvania, which has helped unaccompanied minors, or be it any other way in which the Spirit moves you to act -- there is something that each one of us can do to speak up for these children and these families.
There is SOMETHING each one of us can do to bring about God’s dream of a world of justice and equality. And as I said last week – With God, all things are possible – so:
What will you do?
[v] 1 John 4:18