555 North Commercial Road #1Palm Springs, CA 92262 • 760-778-8950 • Sung Mass Every Sunday 10:30 AM
SAFE CHURCH IS JOB ONE FOR EVERYONE
TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
June 20, 2015 Church of the Beloved, Northglenn, Colorado Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Job 38:1; 8-11 Psalm 107:23-26; 28-31
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Mark 4:35-41
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am the Pastor of Saint Cecilia Catholic Community in Palm Springs, California, a place with triple-digit temperatures, very little rain, and no snow, ever. We’re a very new congregation. We started on April twelfth of this year, and we’re getting about twelve people at Sunday morning Mass.
I can identify with Jesus in this story. Why? God wanted Jesus to be like us, becoming flesh in the person of Jesus. God’s intentional act was to be among us as one of us, to be a part of us, to feel the same things we do. Like Jesus, I have pastoral responsibilities for a new community of about a dozen people. Being a pastor, I assure you, is nota glamour job. One has to love it to do it. I have to plan the liturgy, put together a service booklet, and prepare a homily, week in and week out. And of course, I take phone calls throughout the week from people who need to talk about what’s happening to them, their families, and as can be expected, things at church. It’s demanding work, intellectually and emotionally. And when it comes to the liturgy, like Mother Kae, I put my heart and soul into it, so after Sunday Mass I am exhausted, so that a Sunday afternoon a nap is a necessityto recoup my strength.
The events that preceded today’s pericope in the Gospel had Jesus preaching and teaching for a full day. At nightfall, He got into a boat with His disciples and headed for another location to do the same the next day. So it’s natural He’d fall asleep, like any other human person would in the same situation. It is that human quality of Jesus that makes us comfortable with Him as our brother, someone who feels what we feel, someone who understands what it means to be a person.
When we as human persons sleep, we trust that everything in the world around us is going to be okay, and remain status quo until we wake up. We don’t expect to be awakened until we are ready to get up. So when we are aroused from sleep, more often than not, it’s because something is going wrong.
In today’s Gospel, something was going verywrong while Jesus was sleeping in the boat. A violent squall arose. The boat started filling up with water. The disciples in the boat with Jesus were scared. They cried out for Jesus to save them. When Jesus woke up, the Divine nature of Jesus became apparent, as he used His Divine powers to calm the storm. One could say that Jesus, being human just like we are, empathized with how the disciples were feeling, and responded to their needs in a Divine manner, in a perfect demonstration of the inseparability of the human and Divine natures of Jesus, to illustrate what the theologians call the “hypostatic union”.
What you just heard was a literalinterpretation of the Gospel – what I just said assumed that the Gospel was reporting a historical event that actually happened, just like reading a story in the newspaper. Our conservative sisters and brothers usually look at scripture that way. But that isn’t the only way to read scripture. In the 3rd century, a scholar named Origen, in a place called Alexandria, came up with the idea that the truth in scripture was its spiritualmeaning. Subsequent scholars found three ways to look at scripture spiritually. One is allegorical, which means that the various parts of the story – the plot, the setting, the characters, and the dialogue – point to something else. Another is moral – the story is saying something about things we should or shouldn’t do. Finally, there is an eschatological reading of it, or how the story relates to the end of time, the final destiny of our life and that of the church.
In today’s Gospel, the allegorical sense conveys the truth it presents. The sea is life, fluid and unpredictable, with calm waters and raging storms. In preparing this homily, I thought of a hymn that goes like this: [sing] “Jesus calls us oe’r the tumult over life’s wild restless sea, day by day the clear voice soundeth saying Christian, follow me”. The tune is mine, but the words were written by someone else.
Sometimes our lives go well, humming like a machine. But sometimes not. The weather of life comes in ways not forecasted. People get sick and injured, sometimes seriously. People get harassed at work and lose jobs. Businesses fail. Tornadoes, floods and storms (snowstorms for you, dust-storms for us in the Desert) suddenly change the reality on the ground. People become crime victims. People get sued. People experience financial problems. Relationships break up. People die. When bad stuff like that happens, it’s natural for us as human persons to seek a place of safety. Christians look to Jesus, hearing Him call us over the tumult of life’s wild restless sea.
The boat in this story is the church. The people in the boat are us. A boat is supposed to be something that takes us on a safe journey. Today’s boats have motors rather than sails, but sometimes the forces of nature are overwhelming anyways, as if to recognize, that although science and technology have given us more control over our lives, there are still forces beyond human control. Christians look to the church as a place of safety, but too often, we’ve been disappointed when church turns out to be not so safe. I’m not only talking about the horrible abuse of children about which we’ve heard so much, but the genuine hurt people experience when they’ve been turned away from the sacraments, when they’ve been excommunicated, when they’ve been denied ordination, fired from church jobs because of sexual orientation, and excluded from church governance. If there’s anything the independent catholic movement has to offer that other churches don’t, is that we place a priority on being a safe place to worship, a safe place to be spiritually who you are without fear of rejection, a safe place to carry on the ministry to which you believe you’re called, a safe place for family celebrations of baptisms, first communion, quincinearas, marriages, and funerals, a place where people are treated with pastoral sensitivity instead of something that feels like law enforcement.
Jesus in today’s gospel story has two roles – a human role as our pastor who needs a nap, and a divine role as our savior, who steps in and calms the storms in our lives. However, the overall theme, the kernel of truth in this story, is not Jesus as an immediate savior of us from life’s disasters, but about what faith is.
We think of the Nicene Creed as a “Statement of Faith.” The commondefinition of “faith” is something like, “a system of religious belief,” to quote the Oxford American Dictionary. That street definition of faith is a synonymous with religion, but that’s not how pre-modern people used the word “faith.” The meaning behind the word “faith”, as it was used way back when, is better expressed by the Latin words fidelitas and fiducia. Fidelitas means fidelity, or “faithfulness”, as in loyalty, commitment and attentiveness to a relationship – isn’t that how we ought to feel about Jesus? Fiducia means trust, as in a deep trust in a Jesus who cares for both our physical and emotional safety. When we say we believe in God, we aren’t saying that God exists. No, to have faith in Jesus is to trust Jesus to be there for you, expecting that Jesus will respond to your trust in Him. Faith in Jesus means a conscious decision to accept Jesus into our lives in lieu of the idols of our world, such as money, material goods, empty pleasure, and power over other people.
So when Jesus said, “Why are you terrified? Why do you not have faith,” Jesus was asking, “don’t you trust me?” It’s easy for us to relate to the disciples here. When storms arise while we are in the boat called church, we instinctively call out to our clergy. We expect them to be not only be human, but divine as well. However, we clergy are not divine and human like Jesus. We are onlyhuman. We are no better or worse than you are. We are simply called to different roles. When storms happen at church, people sometimes don’t have faith in their clergy, meaning they don’t trust their clergy. I understand why. Some clergy abuse their authority. They crush dissent and perpetrated reprehensible and unwanted intimacies. A healthy church starts with a healthy relationship between people and clergy, and includes a recognition that we clergy are people, too. Please recognize our humanity. Just like you, we need privacy, intimacy with our spouses and family time, and we even goof off once in a while and do something other than church. We’re there to help you, yes, but don’t expect us to solve your every problem. Just like you, we have limitations. Some of us do some things well, but not others. The remedy for this is for the church to attract to ministry people from diverse backgrounds with diverse talents and abilities.
You, as lay people, have a right to a safe church, where you can be who and what you are in relation with God, without fear of hurt from other people, free from the abuse and misuse of authority. The most solemn responsibility for both clergy and lay leaders is to make Church safe. Church won’t always meet your expectations, but it has got to be a boat the floats and won’t capsize when storms rage in the sea of life. The niche for the independent catholic movement, is to offer a church that puts people first, where pastoral care is deep, genuine and honest, not surficial. Our conscience should tell us that safe church is Priority One. To paraphrase today’s Epistle, unsafe churches are the old things that should pass away, while safe churches are the new things to come. Our endgame is to make church a safe destination. God wants it that way for the people of God. The people of Israel were led by Moses with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters. God sent Cyrus to allow His people to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. God sent Constantine to save Christians from persecution. Leaving aside the divisive issues these events raise, they do illustrate that God cares. And in sending Jesus, God recognized the necessity to transform human society so that peace and justice reign. Peace and justice are what bring human safety, but only when we love each other as Jesus loved us. A society like ours that punishes people for mistakes, and uses its military to get its way, does not fit that program. It only perpetrates continuing instability, and brings neither true peace nor true justice.
The ultimate safe place is heaven, where God wipes away every tear from our eyes, where there is no more death or pain. Why not make earth, or at least the church, somewhat like heaven? AMEN.