In the days leading up to the storm, Jesus was busy. He taught, he healed, he argued with religious leaders who criticized his teaching and healing. Crowds followed him everywhere: to his house, to the synagogue, to the lake. Sometimes on the shore, the only way Jesus could avoid being crushed by the crowd was to row a boat out on the lake and speak from there.
With all those crowds, Jesus knew: he needed help. He went up a mountain and called 12 of his followers to join him. “He named them apostles, to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message.”
After the brief respite on the mountaintop, Jesus returned home to Capernaum. Again, the crowds were waiting for him. Mark tells us the crowd was so dense, Jesus and his family couldn’t even eat. The neighbors started a rumor that Jesus had gone mad. Religious leaders call him Beelzebub, the devil incarnate. Jesus tried–again–to explain his ministry to them.
Finally, Jesus’ blood family came out into the fray and tried to take him home. When told his mother and brothers are waiting for him, Jesus said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
And so, we arrive at the day of the storm. Again, Jesus starts teaching beside the lake. Again, the crowd is so large, he rows a boat out on the lake. From the boat, Jesus tells stories that describe God’s dreams for the world. When the disciples don’t get the meaning of the stories–which happens often–Jesus takes them aside and explains them.
Toward evening, Jesus suggests they go to the other side of the lake. “And leaving the crowd behind,”–Finally!–they set sail for the opposite shore.
That’s when the storm blows in. Of course. The wind whips up, the waves grow and crash down on the boat, the boat starts filling with water. Jesus! Help us! Where are you? He’s asleep in the stern of the boat!
The disciples wake him. “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceases. There’s dead calm.
In the sudden stillness, Jesus looks at the disciples and asks: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ Just like with the stories Jesus has been telling, the disciples miss the meaning. Instead of answering Jesus’ questions, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” they wonder aloud, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
Maybe when they got to the other side of Lake Tiberias, they did talk some about Jesus’ questions. Maybe gathered around the campfire, they retold the story of the storm on the sea. Maybe they shared how afraid they were.
Maybe they wrestled with Jesus’ question: Have you still no faith? If I’d been there at the campfire, here’s what I would have asked: Have we still no faith in what, Jesus? Faith in you? Faith in God? Faith in happy endings? What is it we’re supposed to have faith in? And how might that faith have made us less afraid in a storm that was about to kill us?
I doubt Jesus–who’d be crucified in a couple of years–was talking about faith in happy endings. He might have been talking about faith in God, at least in part. He also might have been talking about faith in himself…except that he implies that the disciples could have dealt with the storm while he was asleep, so I’m not sure that’s the faith he was talking about.
Let’s look again at what happens before the storm…Jesus has been teaching and healing. The crowds are growing. As the crowds grow, the religious authorities get nervous and start criticizing. Recognizing he needs help, Jesus appoints 12 apostles.
And then, remember the time when the neighbors start the rumor that Jesus is crazy and his family comes to take him home? Remember what Jesus says? “Who are my mother and my siblings?” Remember how he looked at everyone around him and said, “Here are my mother and my siblings. Whoever does the will of God is my family.”
Leading up to the storm, everyone is focused on Jesus. They look to him for wisdom and healing. To be sure, Jesus dispenses wisdom. He heals to be the band. But also at every turn, he turns people’s gaze away from himself. He invites them to see the world of which God dreams. He also shows them their greatest asset in creating that world: each other.
When Jesus calls the apostles, he’s acknowledging that, by himself, he’s not enough. He needs help. Creating the world of which God dreams isn’t a one-person job. It takes all of us. We’re all connected. We’re all family.
So maybe over the campfire on the far side of Lake Tiberias when my theological forebear asked, “Have we still no faith in what, Jesus?” Maybe Jesus answered: “Have you still no faith in yourselves, and in the community you’re creating? I’ve entrusted you with the work of the kindom. I’ve shown you that you don’t need to depend on religious authorities to explain your faith to you. I’ve told you in no uncertain terms that when we work together to create the world of which God dreams, we are family. So, why are you still afraid when storms come? Don’t you know that–together–you can weather the storm? Haven’t you learned yet that your togetherness is your superpower?”
Yesterday was Juneteenth! The holiday gets its name from June 19, 1865, the date when formerly enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned–two months after the Civil War ended–that they were free. Congress’ nearly unanimous decision this week to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was huge. It means that we are, as a country, acknowledging that slavery happened. In fact, until next year, our slaveholding history is still longer than our history as an independent nation. And, as Isabel Wilkerson notes in her book Caste, “No current-day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaved. That will not come until the year 2111,” (48)
At Wednesday night’s Racial Justice Team meeting, someone asked, “What does Juneteenth mean for white folks?” I think it’s going to take us a while to work that out. Most white folks have only recently learned about Juneteenth. We have a lot of catching up to do.
As I’ve been working out an answer for myself, I’ve decided to celebrate Juneteenth in two ways–to listen to the experiences of our siblings with Black skin and then to do whatever I can to support my Black siblings, especially Black-owned businesses and artists who are Black. Why? Because we’re all in the boat together. And because the only way to create the world of which God dreams is to nurture our faith in each other, in the beloved community.
Our budding partnership with YMI is bearing good fruit these days. Offering our space for artists who are Black to exhibit their work is a big deal. Right now, beyond YMI and our Oak Street Gallery, few places in Asheville exhibit the art of artists who are Black. When alexandria at YMI suggested the partnership, I was pleased we could offer our space.
But here’s what happened last month. The first time I walked through the gallery after the “Say Their Names” exhibit was up…I told Kai it was like I was walking through a sermon. The artwork–each piece and all the pieces together–spoke to me. I realized then that we’re not only providing space for the artwork of artists who are Black, though that is important. I also realized that every time we host an artist who is Black, we have an opportunity–and now, I would say, a responsibility–to listen to what they are saying through their art.
As mostly white people seeking to cultivate a culture of anti-racism in our church, our first task is to listen to our siblings with Black skin…to hear what living in the United States is like for them…to hear what freedom means for them…to hear what Juneteenth means for them… to hear what it’s like for so few places to be open to displaying their artwork…to hear whatever they have to say. Why? Because we’re all in the boat together…and the only way to weather the storm is to nurture our faith in each other, in the beloved community we’re creating together.
For someone who advocates listening, I sure am talking a lot. So, I’m going to stop…. just as soon as I introduce this beautiful human being to you.
Micah Mackenzie’s artwork is currently displayed in our gallery. Last month, when the “Say Their Names” exhibit was in the gallery, Micah’s work was displayed at YMI. Micah spoke at the opening for the exhibit. After the opening some of us walked over to YMI to see Micah’s exhibit.
When I saw Micah’s exhibit at YMI, this piece kept drawing me in. In truth, I’m still working it all out in my own mind and heart. Planning for today, I asked Micah if he might bring the artwork and share with us something about its creation. He said yes! And so, Micah, with love and openness, we are ready to hear whatever you have to share with us today. Welcome to our boat.