The Summer of 2018
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
The Summer of 2018 is three days old, yet its legacy may already be written. History will record unforgettable images and the sounds of inconsolable children as families are forced to part. 2018 is the summer of children with no one to hug them or comfort them spirited away in the middle of the night to secret shelters in cities across the U.S. 2018 is the summer of the President of the United States of America and cabinet officials being caught in a bold-faced lie. It’s the summer of state-sanctioned child abuse as a political bargaining chip, or perhaps to send a message to immigrants to stop crossing the border.
A character in a Terry Pratchett novel offers this definition of sin: “Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.” (Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Harper Torch: 1998), 278.) 2018 is the summer when treating people like things became official U.S. policy. It’s easy to treat people like things while we call them animals or criminals. But the Summer of 2018 is barely underway and already we now see that they are not animals but brown children, brown mothers, and brown fathers. They are desperate people fleeing violence and poverty that can often be directly linked to the results of America’s foreign policy decisions and domestic drug use right here in the United States.
It’s the summer of 2018, and like every other year, it began with two obscure feast days. The Annunciation to Mary, and the birth of John the Baptist which we acknowledge today, feature Bible stories we read with great joy every Advent in snowy December. Here they are, Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, in late May and mid-June, nine months before Christmas. These stories teach us that it was in times such as this when no one was looking when the world was busy with itself, hell-bent on the pursuit of self-defeating goals, that God was quietly at work preparing the ground for good news of great joy for all the people. News proclaimed to poor shepherds and foreign wise men that “a child is born to us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He is the anointed one “to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18). And welcome to the immigrant just as the holy family were once refugees and wanderers.
It’s the summer of 2018. We cling to our passports and give thanks to God for the good fortune of being born in America. We who are a nation of immigrants; we who are grafted into Christ who himself was a brown child, a refugee whose family fled terrible violence in his own country to seek welcome and hospitality in another.
By baptism, we have become citizens of new heaven and a new earth. We have died to the old ways and are risen with Christ and joined to the One Undying Life in God. We who have cast our lot with Jesus, find ourselves this morning in the same boat with Jesus and the disciples, as they head across the border to people and places unknown.
Four times in Mark’s gospel Jesus orders his disciples into a boat. In today’s story, Jesus orders them in at night, amidst a threatening sky. The terrible storm in the middle of the Sea “reminds us of that primal boat, the ark, that braved the great flood and preserved humanity and the animals, two by two” (William Willimon). It reminds us that the church is now this boat. Here, once again, we’re on the sea, joined in Jesus’ saving mission, traveling across borders to bring liberation to those on the other side.
St. Paul writes, we have become ambassadors of reconciliation by our baptism into Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are called to traverse the dangerous boundaries between hostile peoples. We are called to journey into life’s storms. We who cross the Great Divide between peoples discover our solidarity with the residents of both sides of the sea. The church-boat is built with a purpose to enter life’s storms, to rescue those torn apart by fear and violence, to bring all people to the other side of hate, to bring them to that distant shore of forgiveness, to the promised land of reconciliation. To be a disciple of Jesus is to get into this boat having faith Jesus has the power to still the storm. “Peace, be still,” Jesus said.
Sitting in the dead calm waters of the sea, Mark writes, the disciples “fear a great fear.” They finally ask each other, “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him!” Living in the church boat with Jesus, fear of the world is slowly, little by little and all at once replaced with awe and wonder at the marvelous grace and power of God.
Wisdom born of fearless awe and wonder is what’s urgently needed today. In the summer of 2018, it’s all-hands-on-deck for faithful swash-bucklers of every stripe and nation to confront the dark clouds looming over our nation and the world. We are challenged to have social progress that matches our technical progress. Practical wisdom born of grace is urgently needed to respond to the emerging modern technologies that offer so much promise but also that threaten our jobs, security, privacy, relationships, our sense of self, and even human survival itself.
We get in this church boat knowing there are other people in other boats who travel with us. We get in this boat knowing that at times it will be scary. We get in this boat knowing it will not always be clear God is paying attention. Sometimes we might even wonder whether anybody cares how we have put ourselves in danger.
Jesus was asleep while the storm raged around them. Being in this church-boat with Jesus clarifies our values real quick. Heading out into life’s storms we will soon find ourselves in over our heads. We’ll be willing to toss all our baggage, everything we possess overboard just to stay afloat. Getting in the same boat with Jesus we suddenly realize, everything we have, all that we are comes God.
After time in this church boat we come to learn there will always be dangerous storms of resistance, sabotage, and recrimination anytime we hoist a sail propelled by the winds of love, anytime we are so bold as to risk the perilous journey across borders, among strangers, and between peoples. But we come to trust church was made for this. Slowly, with the first disciples, we draw confidence that our Lord is the master of the wind and the sea. “The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing?” (ELW # 763)