Christ Church, New Haven
The Revd Ann J. Broomell
June 21, 2015
In the Bible there is a short description of Paul, but nothing of Jesus. Without a picture, we know Jesus through his actions and the responses of people to him. Often in the Gospels we see Jesus through the eyes of the disciples as he calms the sea, feeds the five thousand, walks on water. Each of these stories shows Jesus’ power. In each story he renders nature powerless.
For a good while, the disciples observe his power. While he is living, the disciples have no power without Jesus. Sent out to heal in his name they fail. They need him to calm sea and to feed the crowds. After his death, the disciples know his presence in feelings they recognize of being cared for, enlightened, and challenged to grow that the disciples knew from him when he lived. Finally, after the sending of the Holy Spirit, we see the disciples take the mantle of his ministry upon themselves. They find that, acting in his name, they can heal and cast out demons. They can create miracles. They can effect change.
In her poem Maybe, Mary Oliver begins:
Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,
silky and sorry.
Oliver goes on to describe Jesus as:
….tender and luminous and demanding—
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer sea. (1)
I love Mary Oliver’s description of Jesus as tender and luminous and demanding. To me he is all three. Some say the Episcopalian approach is Christianity lite. They misinterpret freedom, not understanding the responsibility that rests on us in our life in Christ. Anyone of us who sees themselves as followers of Jesus, who seeks to live their life as he lived his, knows this is not Christianity lite. To us, Jesus is tender and luminous and demanding. Demanding of our lives, our commitment.
As we hear in today’s reading form the Gospel of Mark, He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. (Mark 4:39) In his presence, all the turmoil that swirls around us is brought to a standstill in one perfect moment of peace.
Lest anyone misunderstand, however, the peace we know in Christ isn’t an invitation or a license to stay in that place. We could ask if the disciples were more afraid before or after the sea lay still. To follow Jesus Christ is to take on his mantle. To follow Jesus is to work for change, to effect change, in his day or in ours.
This week brought us a heartbreaking massacre at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. A young white man walked into an evening Bible study and was welcomed. Space was made for him to sit next to the pastor, also a State Senator. Before the evening had ended eight African American men and women, and the pastor, all lay shot to death.
We mourn the horror, the loss, the pain being suffered by so many. The images, the stories of the victims and the families bring back our memories of the massacre in Newtown. I don’t know about you, but I wonder what it will take for our country to break out of the hold of special interests and make sure that unstable 21 year olds can’t just go out and buy a gun, that households don’t hold guns that can be taken into a school to kill children, that any of the massacres we have seen since Columbine are not repeated. Will Jon Stewart’s prediction that nothing will happen, nothing will change, be the reality that unfolds? I believe our faith in Jesus Christ requires us to do all we can to enact change. I speak of myself when I say that my great fear is that we become inured to the violence around us. That we think we can’t do anything to improve the situation.
Guns and racism came together in this tragedy. The words from that haunting song from the musical South Pacific have come into my mind repeatedly this week. You have to be taught to hate and fear. (2) It is not part of our natures to hate and to kill. People are taught. Children are taught. It is not human nature. It is not acceptable. Clearly our education system as it stands is unable to create the critical thinkers needed for our culture to move away from racism and violence.
There are outward signs of change. We have elected an African American President two times. Is it not this kind of hatred and fear of change that killed Jesus? Jesus is tender, luminous and demanding. Our faith, our God, our tradition as Anglo-Catholics, demands that we work for change.
This week I had the chance to read through the Parish Profile, which is ready to be sent to the Bishops for final review. Soon you will see it as well—a compelling story of this parish accompanied by photographs that share the ethos of Christ Church, the life we share in this place.
The history section was especially enlightening to me. It is emblematic to me of Anglo-Catholicism that the first gathering of people that became Christ Church was as a mission next to an alms house. Anglo-Catholicism in this country was an urban phenomenon. Churches and religious orders were situated next to settlement houses, in the midst of slums. Social justice and ministry among those in need is as much part of the roots of this place as the beauty of the worship we share.
It seems especially important to me that we, each of us, consider what we can do to effect change in these pervasive issues of our culture. Gun control, Racism—they require the efforts of everyone that cares about safety and equality if anything is to change. We may fear that nothing we can do will make a difference. Think of same sex marriage—long standing areas of prejudice are disappearing before our eyes. Change can happen but obviously it will take courageous and sustained effort.
We know that we take on the mantle of Jesus as we choose to follow him. We respond to that demanding Jesus—calling us to use all we receive from him to overcome evil in our midst. Remember that question whether the disciples were more afraid of Jesus before or after he calmed the sea. When we work for change in Jesus’ name we carry enormous power in who we are. Some of us can have an impact at a national level, others will find opportunity to have an impact in our state and this city—just outside our doors.
This morning we come to gather around the table. We bring our selves—the joy, the turmoil, the anxiety we carry comes too. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ in reverence and awe. May we use all we receive, all that Jesus taught, to take on the challenges this tragedy sets before us. Like those early disciples may we find that, acting in his name, we can heal and cast out demons. We can create miracles. We can effect change.
(1) Oliver, Mary. “Maybe”, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1, Boston: Beacon Press, 1993, pp. 97-98.
(2) Hammerstein II, Oscar and Richard Rodgers. “You have to be carefully taught”, South Pacific. 1949.