The Rev. Sarah Buteux
June 18, 2015
We Need A Bigger God
Job 38:1-11 Mark 4:35-41
One things pastors are always on the look out for is something that will preach. And I don’t just mean during Bible study. If we’re watching a movie, scanning the news, talking with a friend, even reading a menu, I can assure you that we are always tuned in on some level for how we might use whatever is being said in our next sermon.
We harvest quotes and stories the way squirrels hoard nuts and then we try them out on other pastors. If they’re good enough someone will inevitably say: “yup, that’ll preach,” and then you know, you’re good to go.
Well I had a sermon all ready for you today that was deep and challenging and most importantly done, but in the wake of Thursday’s shootings… it just won’t preach. In fact, I’m not even sure if I can preach.
My heart is so broken and bruised and angry by what happened in Charleston this week. But my brokenness and pain and anger even as a white clergy woman is nothing….absolutely nothing next to the grief, the terror, and the righteous anger of my sisters and brothers of color.
This hasn’t just been a bad week or a even bad year for people of color. This systematic devaluing, this hatred and bigotry, this abuse and misuse, violence and terror we have seen heaped upon people of color has been going on for so long that Thursday’s massacre, as horrific as it is, feels almost inevitable…just one more tragic tale in a story so long we can’t remember how it began or begin to imagine how it might ever end.
But it must. And it will.
Because black lives matter.
Because brown lives matter…
not just to you and me…
they matter to God.
I don’t think I have to start quoting chapter and verse of our scriptures to convince you of that. Convince you that God loves all of her children, and if anything, reserves a preferential option
– a little extra love if you will –
for any of her children who are marginalized, imprisoned, orphaned, or persecuted: be it for the color of their skin or the sake of righteousness… or both, like our brothers and sisters in Charleston … killed in their church… their beautiful storied black church…killed at prayer by the stranger whom they had welcomed in…killed because they were black.)
Black lives matter.
Brown lives matter.
They matter to God.
And if they matter to God, then they should matter to us…to all of us.
But they don’t…not to all of us…not yet.
And I don’t entirely know how we can change that, but I know one place we can start. I had told you last week that I planned on preaching on the fear of God, and as wild and perhaps ill-advised as it might seem, I’m still going to do that. I think the theme still holds.
Now I certainly won’t blame you if you’re sitting there thinking, Sarah, we have enough things in this world to fear right now without adding God to the list:
like whether it’s safe to send our children to school
or out for a pack of skittles
or down to the corner store
or off to the town pool;
let alone whether it’s safe to even show up for church.
(And I get it, though please note that if you’re white, I’m 99.9% sure it still is).
But here’s the thing: if we’re ever going to get to a place where this world is 99.9% safe for everyone, then we need to start listening to the God who loves all of us. We need to take the words and actions of our God seriously.
And I think the best place to start is with as honest a reckoning as we can muster of who God truly is. I think we would do well to remember just how much bigger God is than any one of us, just how much greater God is than all our fear, our pain, and our agendas, such that we’ll listen to God first and accord God the respect God deserves.
I’m going to tell you straight out: I have no problem with the idea of fearing God. In fact I believe that if people like Dylann Roof and those who filled him with such hatred feared God more they might actually pay more attention to what God says, who God values, how God behaves, who and how God loves.
I think whatever god (with a lowercase g) Dylann Roof and those who molded him worships, if they worship any god at all, is way too small a god. As Anne Lamott says, “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image, when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Any god that gives you the right to marginalize, imprison, orphan, or persecute any one of God’s image bearing creatures simply because of the color of their skin is a small god. Any god that leads you down that road, why, that’s no god at all, because that’s not how God works.
That’s not who God is… and maybe if we could all wake up to just how much bigger God is than any of us can fully imagine, we might finally, finally find the humility and the will to get with God’s program and see that things get done here on earth as they already are in heaven, that all people are loved and honored here on earth as they are in heaven.
I have no problem with fearing God, because I think out God is worthy of fear, and I know that when people like us use that word they are quick to soften it somehow and tease out the nuances of awe and respect, which is all well and good, but we’re talking God here, the same God who said to Job:
“put on your big boy pants little man and riddle me this”:
Or, as it is rendered in the NRSV:
Gird up your loins like a man. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have (any idea) who determined its measurements … who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
Friends, our God is huge. Mind-blowingly huge! If the universe began with a big bang, this is the God who lit the fuse. This is the God who set the planets into orbit, calculated the precise tilt of their axles, determined the exact distance our planet would keep from the sun such that life could thrive here upon the earth.
This God, this divine mother, gave birth to the sea, swaddled it like a baby and placed it in playpens we call the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Pacific. This God labors, and nothing less than the universe is born. This God moves and stars break out into song. This God speaks to oceans like a mother speaks to her toddler, and the mighty waters obey.
And sure it’s all metaphor, at least on some level, but it’s metaphor designed to remind us that this God we worship, this God we pray to, this God we long for, is really, really, awe-inspiringly big. We’re talking “Gird up your loins” big.
So big that in order to properly relate to us, God determined that there was a need to make Gods’ self exceedingly, ridiculously, downright laughably small; so small that we could see and relate to God as one of us. So small that God could walk with us and talk with us and sail around in boats with us, which brings us to our gospel reading for today.
Jesus has been teaching for quite some time and evening has come. He says to his disciples, “’Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”
I want to pause there because I think that is such a fascinating little detail, “they took him with them in the boat just as he was.” I like that because I think it gives us some insight into how the disciples perceived Jesus in that moment.
You get the sense that when he stepped on to their boat that – at least to them – Jesus seemed fairly ordinary and not a little bit small. Remember that many of these disciples are fisherman. Out on the land, trying to follow their leader both literally and figuratively they are way out of their element, bumbling fools more often then not.
But when Jesus says to them, “let us go to the other side” of the sea, and steps on their boat, he steps into their element. They are the ones in charge now, the ones with the knowledge and expertise –the power if you will- the ones who can carry him for a time, lead the way, and allow their poor tired all too human teacher to finally rest.
They set him up in front of the boat on a nice soft cushion just as he is, and are probably feeling pretty good about themselves, pretty strong and in control…until a great windstorm erupts, and with the waves beating against the boat and the water pooling beneath their feet they panic. They shake Jesus awake and shout: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” and Jesus, hearing their screams, finally wakes up. Only rather than cry, “Peter, what do we do?” or “James, throw me a line,” or “John, hold that tiller and let’s sail these men safely home” -which I think is what they were hoping for – Jesus goes and does something that utterly blows their minds.
He rebukes the wind with words and it immediately dies down. He says to the sea, “Peace, be still;” and just as she obeyed her maker on the day she was born, she obeys him now.
The wind is gone. The waves are still. The storm has not passed. The storm has ceased. Mark describes what follows as “a dead calm.” Can you feel how ominous that is? Can you imagine how you would feel in that moment?
Probably a lot like they do. Notice that they don’t all collapse around Jesus in relief or erupt in grateful praise. No one runs to hug him. In truth, they don’t move or say anything at all. They are flabbergasted by what they have just witnessed; utterly and completely awestruck.
It is Jesus who speaks first and when he does, pay close attention to the tense of his words. He doesn’t say, “why were you afraid? Why didn’t you have faith?” because that was obvious. They had been afraid of the storm. They had thought they were going to die.
He asks instead, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” because the disciples are quite clearly still terrified, only now they are terrified of him.
And I think they were right to be afraid. I have no problem fearing someone who can command the wind and the waves with as much ease as he once commanded the stars and the planets. I think you’d be a fool not to. I mean that’s power, real power, and real power is frightening.
But I also know this – and here, right here is the good news, so listen close – I know that for all that power, Jesus would never abuse it. I know there are many things in this world that can hurt us, but deep down I know that Jesus, no matter how powerful he may be, is not one of them.
I believe that God not only deserves our fear and respect because God is so powerful, but because God is good. God is worthy of our fear and respect because God will never, ever use that power to do us harm.
And so I want to fear God enough to follow in God’s way. I want us to claim what power we do have for good and good alone, just as God does, and use that power to help heal the world.
And I need that power. We all do. I need a God who is bigger than me. I need a God who is bigger than my brokenness, my hate, my despair, and lust for punishment. A God whose unyielding love and excruciating grace is so much larger than my own that I can fall back on God in order to be the person God is calling me to be when every selfish fiber in my body is crying “NO!”.
I need a God as big as the God the folks in Charleston have called down into the midst of this tragedy as they have flocked not just to the church, but to the courthouse to express their pain and even still offer prayers of forgiveness for that young man’s soul. That takes a power only God can give…and thanks be to God, God gives even this to us freely.
Church, I do not believe stories such as this one of Jesus calming the storm, are here to in any way fool us into thinking we have nothing to fear because God is on our side. No, on the contrary they are here to put the fear of God into us such that we question whether or not we are on God’s side