I am impressed by many who cry out to Jesus for help. People in the Bible including blind Bartimaeus who shouts louder and louder when he hears Jesus is nearby; the woman who works her way through the crowd and reaches out to touch Jesus’ clothes; the small group who climb up on a roof to lower their friend in front of Jesus, and the centurion who says: “If you just say the word, my servant will be healed.” Jesus healed them and commended them for their faith. 1
In contrast, Jesus’ own disciples are embarrassing and uncomfortably familiar. They spend lots of time with Jesus, see the miracles, witness healing. Yet when a storm rises up, when life gets rough and tough, the disciples freeze in fear. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
In response, Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the sea: “Peace! Be still!’ The wind ceases. The sea is calm. Jesus says: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” It seems we are often more like the disciples—I certainly am—focused on fear rather than faith.
What a wind-swept and stormy week with the horrible massacre, suffering and grief reverberate from Charleston. Nine were murdered because of their race, like a lynching, intended to dominate and incite fear, by a young adult showing our racist history is both present and being passed on to the next generation.
In the face of such tragedy, in midst of such fear and sorrow, how can we have faith?
Faith “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”2 Assurance that God is good, all-powerful, healing and saving. Assurance that Jesus is Lord over wind and waves, the one “who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,”3 including every threat, every hate and death itself. Conviction to trust while enduring horror and suffering.
Stories of people acting in faith do not just impress, they inspire and strengthen. So we remember and retell our stories of ordinary people who trusted God. Stories of Bartimaeus, the woman who reached out, the group who lowered their friend through the room, the centurion. We remember Mary who said: yes, “be it unto me according to your word.” We remember saints down through the ages and today.
A contemporary saint died Monday. Elizabeth Eliot, long-time local resident on the North Shore, was a well-known missionary who inspired, encouraged and formed generations of Christians and again offers timely courage for us this week.
In the 1950s, Elizabeth and her husband Jim went to Ecuador to share the gospel with an unreached people group. Jim and four other men flew to a remote village and after brief contact were massacred. Two years later Elizabeth with her 3-year-old daughter and the sister of one of the other murdered missionaries moved in and lived among that same tribe, in time gaining trust, sharing the good news and ushering people, including the murderers, into faith.
After a few years, Elizabeth returned to the United States then writing and speaking for decades about her experiences of loss and suffering, courage and obedience, grace and hope. Elizabeth Eliot said: “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” Elizabeth, Jim and their companions are part of our “great cloud of witnesses.” They encourage our perseverance and perspective by saying: look to Jesus.
Look to Jesus who endured the cross, which like a lynching intended to dominate and incite fear. On the cross, exposed and vulnerable, Jesus draws the whole world in a loving embrace. Everything hangs, everyone is held here. On the cross, Jesus holds all of us in his hands. Jesus holds the people of Charlestown and Ferguson and Baltimore. Jesus holds us in Cambridge and all around the globe. Jesus listens to grieving and grappling, terrorized and troubled, frightened and crying. Jesus listens to all the heartache, all the questions, everything for everyone. On the cross Jesus bears the weight, the weight of the world, holding us all in his wounded hands.
Look to Jesus on the cross, and pray with him. The gospel writers give different emphases when telling the story, each with a helpful meaning.4
With Matthew, remember Judas’ betrayal and Pilate washing his hands. Remember our own hatred, prejudice and violence. Remember our power and privilege, including how we tell our national story. Ask how have we have cried “crucify” in word or deed, with inaction or silence.
Pray with penitence by saying: I am sorry.
With Mark, pray Jesus’ agony: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the first line of Psalm 22, which surely Jesus knew. Like other psalms of lament, it goes back and forth from trouble to trust:
“[Why] are you so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? … I cry in the daytime but you do not answer, by night as well, but I find no rest. Yet you are the Holy One, enthroned upon the praises of Israel. Our forebears put their trust in you; they trusted, and you delivered them.”5
Pray Psalm 22 or use it as a model. Be specific about your pain and your present situation. Cry. Question. Grieve. Then pause to remember the past. What’s your experience of God? When have you received love? Cling to past provision as hope even amid today’s desolation. Pray the tension of present pain and trust for God’s future.
With Luke, pray Jesus’ compassion: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” and as he said to one crucified beside him: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”6 Ask for grace and mercy for those who hurt and oppress.
The cloud of witnesses help us pray. The Wednesday night Bible study at Mother Emanuel warmly welcomed a stranger into their midst. After his horrifying massacre, their family members with hurt and grief told him: “I forgive you.” May we pray for and with them in their courageous and compassionate faith.
With John, remember Jesus is sovereign over evil and death, much like Jesus commanding the wind and waves from the boat. He dies in control, saying “It is finished.” Pray your obedience and gratitude to Jesus’ authority.
Though the wind is wild wind and waves crash with threats, though we grieve, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. With their help, we look to Jesus on the cross and there find assurance and confidence that he upholds everyone with love.
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