God Is In The Boat: A Roman Catholic Woman Priest’s Homily with Prayers for South Carolina for 6/21/15

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God in the Boat

The readings for Sunday are powerful. They are powerful in affirming and giving us a glimpse of the awesome yet maternal and parental God that gave birth to the cosmos and all of creation and is with us still, especially in the times of greatest storm and upheaval.

We note that in the reading from Job (1:8-11) God is speaking to the despondent and hopeless  Job, a man who has lost everyone and everything dear to him and suffered physical and environmental plagues as well and yet holds on to faith by his whitened finger tips. God is describing the creation of the cosmos and earth by a tremendous maternal effort in these verses and later in the chapter includes a paternal side as well (fathering the drops of dew, vs.28, and maternal again, giving birth to ice and frost (vs. 29). God tells Job how the sea was birthed-burst forth from the womb of God (vs.8), and carefully laid into the swaddling clothes of the clouds/darkness (vs.9). God here is a mother giving birth after explosive labor-bursting forth- and also a parent who places limits on its offspring (vs.10).  This same God who brought a universe into being is the one who is there for and with Job in all of his pain and suffering.  And that is what will reignite Job’s faith and well-being.

In the Gospel (Mark 4: 35-41) we are reminded that there are times in life when we have nothing to hold onto at all, when we are at sea in a small boat in the midst of a terrible, violent storm, when it seems like even God is asleep. And yet we learn, God is perhaps not at the helm of the boat, but is in the boat with us. And when we remember that God is there, God speaks to us, and to the storm itself, and there is calm.

The writer of Mark wrote in the first century, in the sixties, after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the bursting forth of the church in the midst of persecution. One of Mark’s strong themes involved the strength, freedom and continuity of the church community at a time of storm. Thirty years after the death of Jesus the Roman Empire carried out a mass persecution of the young Christian churches. The lead apostles and many others were killed. Yet the Gospel spread and the church remained strong especially among the poor. Baptism was an act of faith and courage in which believers died with Christ and rose again with Christ and lived reflecting the indwelling of Christ, with an amazing forgiveness, inclusiveness, and mercy.  The reign of God is so near that it is within-within the church and within each Christ-follower. The Aramaic for reign of God “malkutha di elaha” denotes an intimate and immediate relationship with God.  Hence, though Jesus was asleep in Mark 4:38, (and indeed had died) he, the Christ, has risen and is very much alive and in the boat with the church and the disciples.

I have been thinking about the storms of life when we seem to be overwhelmed and without control. At this moment one of Good Shepherd’s strongest supporters is fighting for his life in a local hospital. Admitted to the hospital Saturday in great abdominal pain, and sustaining an operation, Jack McNally a married priest, who, in his eighties, faithfully serves our feeding ministry( and has done so for seven years) along with his devoted wife Ellen was revived from a “Code Blue” this morning after his heart stopped beating. Ellen describes his smiling at the medical staff and telling them he is fine. And she asks for prayers. The storm is still raging but Jack and Ellen hold on to the one who is in the boat with them, and we join them in prayer.

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Within the last few months one of our faithful families became the victims of drive-by shootings. The windows of a parked truck were blown out first. Then on another occasion bullets literally whizzed by the heads of the young people and children present. One young man can’t stop hearing the sound and it makes him feel as if he were already dead. And all we could do given the specifics of the situation, was pray. We prayed with the family members in ones and twos and as a family and we prayed together as a church. Then, it happened. They were able to move out of the area to another community giving them a start at peace of mind and safety. Jesus was in the boat and despite their fears of moving, almost as great as the fear of the shootings, they held on.  They now begin a new chapter of their lives.

There are so many examples. Many of our young people are successful and seem to sail on in their studies and careers despite some challenges. Racism and classism are still alive and well in Florida, as in most places. But, one of our young women tried and tried and faced defeat in her studies. She was despondent.  She felt her boat was going down. She just about gave up. But she prayed and like Job, she held on. She responded to the belief we had in her abilities against all odds. She is about to start a new program where she has a good chance at a trade and a career.

Today we learned of the horrifying massacre that happened last night in a South Carolina church while the Pastor led a Bible Study. Here, in the Mother Emmanuel AME Zion Church, a historic black church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to visit, speak and pray, a probably mentally ill 21 year old white man filled with hate for black people pulled out a gun and shot nine people. The dead included the Pastor, Clementa Pinckney , also a State Senator and a brilliant rising star and activist for justice, and eight other faithful souls ranging from 26-87 years of age. How horrific. To think this has happened in the sanctity and safety of a church. Dr. King said after the loss of the four little girls in a church on that fateful Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama, that God can draw good out of such tragedies. And eventually the good of civil and human rights did come. Yet, oh the immediate pain. In the face of tragedy and unspeakable loss, this church community holds on, praying together and asking for prayer and forgiveness. What a sign that God is in the boat with them.

This is a request for prayer that was sent to me from PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network,  and you may respond with your prayers using the link:

“We are heartsick this morning as we take in the news of the mass shooting at “Mother Emmanuel” African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, SC. Once again, we are reminded of the power of fear and hatred that devastates our communities.

Whether it’s Sikhs in a gurdwara, Muslims in a mosque beginning the season of Ramadan, Jews in a synagogue or Christians meeting for weekly prayer and Bible study, we collectively grieve the tragic loss of life, denounce the violence, and stand with the families and communities impacted. Our hearts go out to the people of “Mother Emmanuel” Church and the communities of Charleston, SC.

We are working with the LIVE FREE team, our AME clergy leaders, as well as our multi-faith partners to coordinate our prophetic response. In the meantime, we are joining Groundswell in collecting prayers and words of support. Please contribute your prayers using this link.

http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/2115/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17006

Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews
Director of Clergy Organizing
PICO National Network”

AND HERE IS A PRAYER FROM BROTHER JAMES PATRICK HALL and the pictures of the martyred saints of SC:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

James Patrick Hall's photo.

With this plea for prayer and faith, for the strength of Christ and the love of God to be with this community in the midst of their horrific storm, I close this homily. The forces of hatred and injustice are strong, the waves could capsize the church, and all of our little boats. But they will not. God is in the boat with us. God in loving relationship is right there with us. Mother/ Father God is not letting us go it alone. Ever. And, we live with the hope given us in 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  The old order has passed away; now everything is new!” God is still in the boat with us. Amen.

In solidarity and love,

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP

The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida

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