Sermon: "Margins of Our Lives" by Pastor Fred Kinsey
We now have two Independence Days in our country. Finally, a celebration for blacks, as well as whites. A Holiday, not just for those with an abundance of power and privilege, but also for those who have been marginalized. And indeed, the crossing from one shore to the other, may be more passable, with the passage of Juneteenth Day, here in Illinois, and on the federal level, just this past week!
Jesus, in our gospel today, loads his Disciples into a fishing boat to make a passage, to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It’s a voyage of great intentionality for the Master. Mark’s gospel envisions bridging this chasm, despite the fear of the journey, from the comfortable center of the home shores, to those on the margins – in this case, the Gentiles, those who live east of Lake Galilee and the Jordan River, on the outer edges of Israel.
In the boat, Jesus, tired, after healing and teaching in parables, finds a cushion to stretch out on, and immediately falls asleep. Afterall, four of his disciples come from a fishing background on this very lake, and who better to leave the skipper responsibilities to?!
But, as can happen on the Sea of Galilee, a great windstorm arose, almost more than the fishing boat could handle. They were taking in water, and large waves and swells were causing great alarm. The Disciples, their worst fears realized, call out in a panic, sure they are about to capsize. And seeing Jesus still enjoying his nap, without a care, they were all the more aggravated and annoyed. They actually had to shake him up out of his slumber, like a sleeping teenager, to get his attention and plead with him to save them. Jesus then, immediately exorcised, the demon-waves, crying out to the sea, “Peace, Be still!”
Jesus amazes his Disciples with his divine power. But what I’m mostly interested in today, is how closely this story follows, the Jonah and the Whale story. For the disciples, as it turns out, are eerily, mirror-images of Jonah, the reluctant prophet. The obstinance of Jonah, had grown out of his low regard for the people of Nineveh, his Gentile neighbors. He is far from convinced that he must go and preach repentance to them. They are, admittedly, wicked and not God-fearing, and way too far on the margins, thinks Jonah, for him to be concerned with them.
So Jonah hops a boat going in the opposite direction from Nineveh, away from where God was so purposefully directed him to go. And so, with Jonah, the same thing happened to him that happens to the Disciples. A great windstorm arose and threatened to swamp the boat. And God eventually has to save Jonah.
The Disciples, of course are saved by the Son, by Jesus. Not just because it’s what the disciples want and plead for, but because God has a mission on the margins, for them, just like God did for Jonah. Jesus is focused-in, on going to the other side, to save and reconcile with the wrongly enslaved, in Gerasene, of the Decapolis – present day Jordan.
Conquering our fear of the evil Sea monster, and raging storm, is all part of the journey.
In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was finally published – the Revolutionary War, of course, already underway – the beauty and clarity of the right to freedom was forever enshrined, in its words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Fine rhetoric by the Founding Fathers, except that, men meant men, and not women. And as was defined a decade later in the Constitution, men also meant white men, and not negro slaves. Independence, freedom, and democracy, were only applicable to the monied few, a minority of citizens, at the birth of our country.
July 4th was never a holiday, and day of celebration, for African Americans in the U.S., for the most part. And that is why, the long struggle to make Juneteenth a national holiday is so important.
It was on June 19, 1865, nearly three years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that “a” last group of slaves in Galveston, TX received the news that: “all persons held as slaves … shall be then, thenceforward and forever free…” Major General Gordon Granger, had taken a long time, traveling as he was by horseback, to get the word, all the way out, to the margins. He read the proclamation at a number of locations, including “the Negro Church on Broadway, as Reedy Chapel-AME Church was referred to then.” And Reedy Chapel, held perhaps the first Junteenth celebration the very next New Year’s Day! (https://www.galvestonhistory.org/news/juneteenth-and-general-order-no-3)
Slowly but surely, the celebrations spread across Texas, and the whole country. And forever after, black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth as their Independence Day. Their, Freedom, Liberation, and, Emancipation Day.
God, in Jesus, calls us to the margins, to continue the work of liberation. To set the captives free, to proclaim the year of our Lord, a Jubilee Year. The aim is to lift up the downtrodden, and bring low the mighty. To make a level playing field, where no one is denied equity.
Jesus knew that didn’t mean aiming for, a color-blind society, because that is a society which, in and of itself, is blind to institutions and systems of racism. Jesus’ quest to travel to the margins, was embarked upon with, open-eyes, and there he declared liberation and salvation, in word and deed, teaching and healing.
Also on the margins, I think we could say, especially as we celebrate Pride Month, was Angel Haynes, a transgender woman, murdered because of her identity, this past October, and who we have been praying for every Sunday. “Angel was taken away from her mom, grandmother, uncle…she was taken away from all of us unexpectedly,” said her best friend, Takia Weddle. She was just 2 months shy of her 26th birthday. “She was a caring, determined, funny, smart and, giving woman. Unfortunately, our time with her was cut very, very short,” added Takia, at her vigil, the weekend after. (https://avp.org/ncavp-mourns-the-death-of-angel-haynes-25-year-old-black-transgender-woman-memphis/)
Jesus faced great opposition in going to the margins, as we see in his boat ride with his Disciples, across the Sea of Galilee. Just as Jonah’s uncaring attitude, landed him in the storm, needing to be saved by a big fish, so the Disciples needed saving by Jesus from their unfaithfulness to those on the margins.
We know that the wind and the waves were against Jesus’ mission. But more significantly perhaps, so were the Disciples. They had little regard for the Gentiles on the margins, on the other side, even though Jesus had taught them to love your enemies. They were afraid, not just of the rough seas, but, of what they would find on other shores. They never would have gone, without Jesus as their slumbering, all-powerful, captain!
Jesus calls us, to the margins, especially from our privileged positions of dominion. I am confident, that -we here- are not counted among the Insurrectionists, who are the wind and waves of evil. But: ?Are we regularly traveling with Jesus to the margins, on the other side? Do we walk as allies with Black Lives Matter? Are we speaking up against the historic and invisible barriers of racism, that persist, and still regularly occur, each and every day in our land?
The storm that threatened to swamp the boat with Jesus and his disciples, was indeed the raging battle of evil that surrounded them. But like Jonah, the disciples had gotten into deep waters because of their complete lack of concern for the Gentiles, those on the margins. And, it was their silence, that invited the specter of death.
This is our battle today, too. Silence is complicity. Silence, and in-action, will swamp our boat. The boat we are all in together.
Let us forego Jonah’s boat, that is fleeing responsibility, and our call, to follow God’s ways. And let us get in the boat with Jesus, however fearful it may seem to cross over. And let us head, directly and purposefully, to the margins of our lives. Let us go to the other side, knowing that our liberation and salvation, cannot be found without enrolling in our baptismal calling, and taking the voyage, every day.
Let us trust in God’s beloved Child, our slumbering Savior, who commands the wind and waves!