About 8:00 last night I threw out the sermon I had for today. I started over and went in a new and completely different direction. That’s why I’m using the pulpit today and why I have notes. I am just not real settled yet with what I am going to say. Maybe that’s my apology or excuse for not being better prepared this morning; I don’t know. I only know that I was too afraid to preach what I originally had prepared.
I don’t mean I was afraid about the sermon or the words I would say. I was afraid of what has happened in Charlottesville. I am still afraid.
I am afraid when I see gatherings of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
I am afraid when I read that Mr. David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said that the protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.”
I am afraid when white supremacists waving Confederate flags, chanting Nazi-era slogans, wearing helmets and carrying shields, chant phrases like “Jews will not replace us.”
I am afraid when armed militia men dressed in fatigues walk the streets of Charlottesville.
I am afraid when white nationalists carry torches and chant “White lives matter.”
I am afraid when violence and willful injury or death become our way of engaging difference.
I am afraid when “blood and soil” are what unite some people.
I am afraid when I see Nazi salutes and hear the words “End immigration, one people, one nation” chanted.
I am afraid when I see, once again, that the ghost of racism, prejudice, violence, and hatred still haunts us.
Sometimes there is good reason to be afraid. And Charlottesville is one of them. I am afraid for you and me. Let me be clear, however. I am not afraid for your or my physical safety or our well being.
I am afraid that we will be brokenhearted over what has happened but not whole hearted enough to speak up.
I am afraid that we will be sad over these circumstances but not angry enough to overturn the tables and drive out the animals (John 2:15).
I am afraid we will express our opinions of how wrong this is but refuse to be witnesses of and for Christ.
I am afraid we will close the gospel book today and go on with business as usual.
I am afraid we will tithe mint, dill, and cumin but neglect justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23).
I am afraid we will love ourselves but not our neighbors, to say nothing of our enemies (Mark. 12:31; Matthew 5:44).
I am afraid we will come to the communion “table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 372).
The boat of our life is far from land right now. The night is dark, the waves are high, and the wind is strong. There is every reason to be afraid but I don’t want to live in fear and I don’t want you to either. I want us to see the light that shines in the darkness of this night, a light the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5). I want us to hear the waves slapping against the bottom of Jesus’ feet as he walks toward us. I want us to feel the wind of change. I want us to make room in the boat for Jesus.
That does not, however, begin in Charlottesville. It begins in my heart, your heart, and the heart of the world; the very same place where fear, racism, violence, hatred, and indifference begin. Charlottesville is a symptom of heart disease.
This isn’t about taking back America, it’s about taking back our hearts and that’s exactly what Jesus tells the disciples in today’s gospel (Matthew. 14:22-33). “Take heart,” he says. The night is dark, the waves are high, the wind is against them, and they’ve seen a ghost. “Take heart.”
A more literal translation of the Greek would be “Take courage.” Be courageous. Jesus is not, however, talking about a macho, power based, “locked and loaded” kind of courage, a life denying courage that threatens to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
He is imploring a “life giving courage,” a courage grounded in the I Am of Jesus. I am the light of the world. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. I am the good shepherd. I am the resurrection. It is the same I Am of the burning bush that gave Moses the courage to lead the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt. When Jesus says to the disciples, “It is I,” he is literally saying, “I Am.” The world needs life giving I Am courage.
Life giving courage confronts evil head on but refuses to become what it hates. Life giving courage seeks reconciliation and the well being of all people. It has no interest in destroying or humiliating the other. It is the courage “dedicated to evolution rather than revolution” (Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, p. 146-147.), the courage to grow up and live the gospel. Ultimately, life giving courage manifests the heart of God and it looks, speaks, acts, and loves like Jesus.
Life giving courage does not mean we won’t be afraid. It is, rather, the means by which we face our fear.
I can’t tell you what to do, how to take back your heart, or what life giving courage might look like in your life. I can only raise the question; not just for you but also for myself. It will be different for each of us. We must each find our own way of taking back our hearts and living with life giving courage.
What do you see when you look at Charlottesville?
What do you see when you look into your heart?
Are you afraid? I sure hope so. I hope you and I are always afraid, afraid enough to take heart, to take heart again, and to never stop taking heart.
“Take heart, it is I,” Jesus says. Hear his words again, “Be courageous, I Am/am.”
Will we be?