A Gospel Reflection on Charleston

We know what happened at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night, June 17, 2015.

Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year old white male, entered the church, observed a prayer meeting for a while, then opened fire on the African-American people gathered to pray. His shots killed 9 of them, including the pastor, The Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

We do not know exactly why.

The FBI is investigating this as a hate crime. Some reports of a surviving witness corroborate the appropriateness of this approach to the investigation. It does appear Dylann was motivated by hatred for African-American people. What we do not know, still, is the next why-- why he felt such hatred in the first place.

Such is the mystery of evil. We may never fully know or understand why.

But we cannot deny the effects. Nine African-American sisters and brothers in Christ are dead. A Christian community is deeply harmed.

And healing.

All at the same time.

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The gospel reading for this coming Sunday may have something to say about all of this.

Jesus went with his disciples into what could very well and very quickly become dangerous waters. They were crossing the Sea of Galilee by night, "far from the peaceful shore." A storm rose, and it threatened to capsize their boat and kill them all.

Jesus was asleep.

They woke him, asking, "Do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus does not rebuke them for their question.

Note that. Jesus does not rebuke them for their question.

Instead he gets busy. He rebukes the wind and the waves.

Then, all becomes calm.

And then the disciples are truly terrified.

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Let me run through that one more time.

Jesus did not rebuke the disciples because when they woke him up.

They understood, rightly, that what was facing them was way too big for them to handle.

He handled it.

What had been their panic was now converted into mysterium tremendum at fascinans, the  bone-rattling and fascinating mystery of the presence of the Divine. "Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" 

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A terrifying reality has descended on sisters and brothers in Charleston, South Carolina. A storm came into their midst, and killed nine people at prayer.

It's what happened next that is most important.

Did you see them on TV or Internet coverage? People gathered in circles, praying aloud, passionately, calling upon Jesus, calling for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The storm had come, and it was too big for them, and they knew it.

They cried out to Jesus.

They're still crying out to Jesus, all over this land.

And if you ask these people who have been praying in this way, calling on Jesus because this is too big for them to fix in any way, what they're feeling as they pray like this, they will tell you.

Some may say, "Peace like a river."

Others may say, "Power. Evil has come upon us, and it has been thoroughly rebuked in the name of Jesus."

Some will say, "Love. Look at all these people coming together and praying with us!"

Sounds like Jesus.

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Some may see coverage of the people gathering in prayer and have no reference point for it. For some, these prayers, calling on the Spirit, calling for rebuke of evil, calling even for forgiveness and mercy and healing (as well as justice) for the killer and for his family, are mystifying. What is this?

Skeptics may say, "What good is your God when your God allowed this to happen?"

Some others may be a bit frightened by the passion and power of this praying. What is this?

Some who had not expected it may catch a glimpse or the smallest inkling that as these people are praying, someone or something actually is shutting up the voices of evil and tearing down their strongholds.

Those praying know. And they feel it. That's what this is. That's exactly what Jesus is doing. 

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Jesus sent his disciples into that storm. And he was with them in the boat.

When they acknowledged what was happening was too big for them to handle, he rebuked the wind and the waves. And there was utter calm.

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I thank God Jesus was in the boat with them.

I thank God the disciples of Jesus recognized when the storm was too big for them.

I thank God Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves.

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Jesus is in the boat with us whenever he sends us into dangerous places.

Jesus rebukes the storm when we recognize it's too big for us and cry out to him for help.

When he does-- and yes, he does!-- we may be skeptical, or surprised, or even terrified.

But last night, and today, and every night or day that sisters and brothers gather to call on the name of Jesus and the power of the Spirit to rebuke the storm, he also fills us with awareness of the answer to those first disciple's awestruck, terrified question: Who is this?

Praise God, it's Jesus.