New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
June 21, 2015
You know that bumper sticker (that Gandhi didn't say) “Be the change you wish to see in the world”? Most of us know that changing ourselves isn’t as easy as we might think it might be.
This video illustrates how complex our brain algorithm is for riding a bike. Imagine the brain algorithm for faith. Or for church. Or for how we perceive race. And for each of us it’s different. What if we had to change the way we think about church and faith and each other because the ways we have been doing and being church aren’t working the way they used to?
In the gospel of Mark, this story of Jesus and the disciples isn’t so much about the storms of life that come with change, so much as it is about the most violent storm, the biggest change of all time. The gospel of Mark was written around the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE – about 40 years after the death of Jesus. For Jesus’ followers it wasn’t just a rocky boat they were in; they weren’t sure they were going to make it to the other side. Everything they knew that gave their lives shape and meaning was gone. And to top it off, Jesus was asleep in the boat. It was like he wasn’t there.
The apparent absence of God is a part of our faith most of us don’t talk about. When we can’t sense God, when we don’t feel God’s presence or hear God’s voice; when we can’t see God working in our lives or in the lives of others, then God is not there. We blame ourselves. We blame God. Sometimes we blame church. We want God to be strong because we feel weak and powerless, especially in the face of violence. And yet our God is one of weakness and vulnerability: like a prayer group that welcomed a strange young man, like the survivor who forgave that young man after he took the lives of nine precious human beings.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words not long before he was executed in Nazi Germany: “God would have us know that we must live as [those] who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. [God] is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which [God] is with us and helps us.”
|Jesus Calms the Storm, Daniel Bonnell, 2011|
Sounds a lot like that backwards bicycle. Right is left; left is right. God with us; us without God. God who has the power to stop a storm; God who can’t stop someone who hates from killing. God who gives life; God who came to die.
Faith is not something that keeps us safe. Whether God is present or not offers us no guarantees. For the last 20 or so years we’ve seen our human institutions fail us, from banks to voting, to Congress and healthcare, to the economy, to the security of our nation, to the decline of faith communities, to our color- and power-biased justice system. It’s as if we've been asleep in the boat ourselves, only now waking up to the painful truth that racism continues to be a deep wound in our nation and white privilege is a very real problem.
David Hayward, an online theologian, wrote, “The mind first believes something, then bends the whole universe to conform to and confirm those beliefs. This is suffering.” And yet God is bending the universe toward justice, toward wholeness by bending God’s self into this world and onto a cross to die. This is how God wakes us up, how God changes our minds and hearts, and realigns that algorithm in our brains that says we know the truth.
God’s algorithm, God’s answer to hate and fear is love—radical, unconditional, life-upending, fearless love. Love that engenders peace and stillness and calms raging storms; love that forgives even the unthinkable, because we really don’t know what we are doing.
The only way we get there is every day, with God’s help, we love. Every day we put ourselves in Love’s way. We let go of what we think we know and train our minds and hearts to a different way. In the words of the poet Wendell Berry, “[Every] day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. …Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”