Wake Up

Randall Tremba
June 24, 2012
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Mark 4:35-41
"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!"

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Early in the morning this past Monday I stood with a distraught widow gazing at her late husband’s tombstone in Elmwood Cemetery. It was the first anniversary of his death. We stood side by side under dark skies. Rain fell softly from the heavens.

From the earth we have come and to the earth we shall return.

This past Monday was one full year since her husband died and still waves of grief threaten to undo her. And she’s not the only one in this congregation still overwhelmed by waves of grief and battered by fear of what the future holds.

No one gets a storm-free passage across the sea of life. You can count on that.

On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat. A great windstorm arose, and waves beat into the boat. The boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.

They woke him up. "Teacher, they cried out, don’t you care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" The wind ceased. There was dead calm. "Why are you afraid? He asked them. Have you still no faith?"

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who in the world is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Did you hear that? Theywere filled with great awe and said, "Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

And that, as it turns out is a good question to ask of ourselves. Who are we? What powers lay dormant, asleep within our hearts? This gospel story is a revelation, a parable about our humanity. It reveals who we are and what we can be.

When I stand or sit beside bereaved persons, I know we are not alone. I know there is something there greater than the sum of our bodies and souls. You see, our cries—aloud or silent—awaken something that is always present but not always known.

That loving presence is called by many names. We call it “Christ,” or “the Beloved”—the One who never leaves or forsakes us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death or sail through a storm.

This past Monday before I went to the cemetery I conferred with a member of this congregation who had sailed into a storm of controversy. She was overwhelmed by a swirling, turbulent moral dilemma. And so we talked about her dilemma.

A year or so ago, the national, non-profit, secular organization—in which she holds a high profile leadership position—had planned a retreat for about sixty employees. It was to be held this past week at a church conference center in South Carolina. Little did she or her colleagues know until a few days prior that the church facility was operated by a renegade group of that particular historic church. The directors of the facility publicly opposed the ordination of woman and LBGT persons. Members of her organization were appalled and enraged; some threatened not to attend.

But contracts had been signed, plane tickets purchased. Hence, the dilemma.

What would you do?

As most of you know, our congregation has worked its way through difficult moral dilemmas more than once. And this particular church member had witnessed those times. She respected our way of listening to each other and to the spirit of Christ in the midst of controversy and troubled waters. And that’s why she called me for advice this past Monday.

She conceded that the retreat had to go on despite the circumstances. But she and I also agreed that the truth must be spoken in love at that facility and to the officials who owned it.

Easy for me to say. She was the one on the spot. I wished her good luck and told her I’d keep her in my prayers. And then I asked her to tell me how things went once she got home.

This is what she told me on Friday.

When we all had arrived, we changed the agenda and dedicated the first 90 minutes to this topic. You could have cut the air in the room with a knife. My colleagues who had been responsible for making the decision to proceed with the retreat described the whole process they had been through, the advice they had received from allies, discussions they had with the retreat center director, and the steps they would take to ensure this wouldn't happen again.

Then we had an open discussion. Everyone was very thoughtful, direct, and respectful. Almost everyone said something, and when each person spoke, everyone else was listening attentively. Without exception, all those who spoke said they were glad that we had decided to proceed with the retreat.

After all of that, we somehow had to close the discussion and find a graceful way to shift to our prior agenda. That was my job, my responsibility.

I had decided to lead us in a meditation. But first I shared my own personal story about how profound and personal the process of changing people's views can be, and how that was true for our organization’s work as well. Then I asked everyone to close their eyes and join me in a meditation.

If this were you, what kind of meditation would you have offered?

This is what she offered:

Everyone assembled here has dedicated their life to making this world a better place. We come from a wide variety of faiths, traditions, and backgrounds. We are all students in a school of love, and whether you describe that love as God, or the universe, or nature, or life itself, we all agree that there is nothing loving about bigotry and discrimination towards our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered brothers and sisters. Together, we invite the light of love and justice to come and transform this facility and institution, to cleanse it from bigotry and ignorance.

And then silence.

Teacher, wake up. We’re about to perish here!

As it turns out there’s more to the Christ than love; there is also this: light shining in the darkness. The Beloved, you see, is also a teacher, a teacher in the way of wisdom.

Last week I sat with a family of three absorbing a grim medical diagnosis—besides the degenerative loss of sight and hearing, there was now an intrusive tumor. The prospects are overwhelming. How could this family function with so few hands on deck? Well, some of us heard their nearly silent cry for help. It awakened us and so some of us are standing with this family and bringing meals and companionship, bridging gaps, bringing care one day at a time.

You can’t get around every storm. You just can’t. Some you just have to go through. And the best way through is with companions.

Lord, wake up. Don’t you care?

Some of us are facing transitions in the coming days that are frightful. Some of us are relocating from a familiar home to a retirement community in another state. Some of us are retiring from a long-time job or career that defined us and now find ourselves in uncharted waters.

Some of us are caring for aging parents. Some of us are caring for newborn children or adolescent children or adult children who themselves are battered by storms.

Lord, wake up. Lord, please wake up. O God, please be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.

There are homeless people in our county crying out for a meal. Homeless people in Wayne Co. West Virginia, crying out for a roof over their heads. Unemployed are crying out for a job. Peoples in the Palestinian territories up against Goliath are crying out for justice. Peoples in Syria are crying out for peace.

I don’t know for sure but I can guess: there’s someone under your own roof or in your own small world crying out for attention or just a little kindness.

No one gets a storm-free ride across the sea of life. You can count on that. But you can count on something else. Christ, the Beloved, is right there with you. And here’s the awesome part: the Christ, the Beloved One, is right there within you as well.

May all be well. May all manner of things be well.