The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio.
Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Having grown up on the gulf coast, I am no stranger to storms, particularly of the wind and rain variety. Every June, in my family growing up, it was a time of intensity. Many families were enjoying the end of school and preparing for summer vacations and a time of slowing down. Our family had a different rhythm. Because my father managed the local grain elevator, June had a very different rhythm for us. It was the time in which the grain harvest began and hurricane season started. Because our family’s livelihood and many of the families I knew were dependent upon a successful and good grain harvest, we were weather watchers in my house.
I would suspect that I’m the only person gathered in the Cathedral today who grew up around the dinner table looking at a magnetic hurricane tracking map. Now, for those of you who are Gen Xers or Millennials, this was pre-internet, if you can imagine such a thing. This hurricane tracking map had little teeny red swirling magnets that we would use to plot, whenever a tropical disturbance began, the longitude and latitude so we could watch with growing anxiety as the storm would be coming our way. Let’s just say that it was often high anxiety in my house as storms would begin brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Predictably, every time a storm was about to hit land in our area, my father would calmly do everything he could to prepare the grain elevator for the storm and then come home, look around the house, and promptly go to the bedroom and take a nap—much to my mother’s horror. How in the world could he sleep when all this danger was surrounding us? I asked my father, who is about to turn 91, “How did you do that?” He replied simply, “I knew I couldn’t control it or change it.” How true is that? Truer words were never spoken. The trick, I think, for all of us in our lives is to be cognizant of the things that we cannot change, but equally aware of the things that we can.
As I was thinking about my childhood in the context of today’s gospel lesson, we are reminded that the disciples in the boat with Jesus were about to be overwhelmed and overtaken by a situation they could not control and could not change. They awakened the one person who could. Jesus alone in that scenario had the power and the authority to still the storm and to bring calm. I’m aware that in my youth the storms that I most often was concerned with were hurricanes.
As I look around at the storms in our country today, I realize that many among us grew up with different sorts of storms: storms that ensued from the sin of racism. All of us have storms in our life. The question for us is where and to whom do we turn? We know that when we are to be overwhelmed as Christians we turn to the one who will never leave us or forsake us, who is with us in the boat, if you will. What is our response to what is happening with the sin of racism that has more than overwhelmed this boat of ours?
On Mother’s Day, my friend and fellow clergy colleague The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas preached a powerful sermon. You’ll recall that on Mother’s Day, just a few short weeks ago, we were on the heels of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore. And a short time before that we had all seen the sickening video of the college fraternity chanting a racial song. On that day, Kelly preached on the gospel lesson which was Jesus’ imperative to the disciples “to love one another as I have loved you.” She asked the question, “What are we teaching our children?” Then she turned the lens to the imperative: “What must we teach our children?”
She offered four very important points. That love, at its core, is life-giving. That every life is of sacred worth because God the creator breathed life into each and every one of us, no exceptions. That we are called to be other regarding. That if we are to love one another as Christ loved us that means that we are in relationship. To be in relationship means to get to know people who may not be just like you. To be value-oriented, to teach the eternal truths that make for a life of meaning and purpose and to be expectant visionaries holding fast to our Christian hope that the kingdom of God will come.
We find ourselves on this Father’s Day, a few short days after another horrendous hate crime based on race. Innocent people at prayer murdered at Emanuel AME Church. Perhaps you, as I find myself doing, asked, “What can we do?” I invite you to switch that to the imperative. At this point in time, what must we do? How is God calling you and me and us, collectively, to respond? I believe to the core of my being that if you ask God to show you how you are to respond, how you and I and we as community are being called to respond, that God will answer.
God answers our prayers. Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened unto you. It is a time not just to pray, but to act. Be prepared that when you ask in prayer for God to show you what is yours to do it may be something quite unexpected. Kathleen Norris says that “Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” We know this is true. It is true in the biblical narrative. It is true in our lives. I know from my own experience, as well.
Some 20 years ago, you’ll remember that our country was engulfed in another wave of ugly acts of hate crimes and racism and the burning of the black churches in the South. I found myself praying to God, “What can I do? What are you calling me to do?” I was heartsick and, for me, prayer was not enough. I knew I needed to do something. Well, God’s answer to me came quite unexpectedly. I would not have imagined myself getting in a car with a dear friend from church, driving to Effingham, South Carolina, in August, to help restore and rebuild Effingham Baptist Church which had been burned due to race. It was hot, really hot, but it was some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.
What I found there was a group of faithful people who had heard God’s call in the same way and showed up, by witness and action, to say this will not stand. A community from the Bahá’í tradition, friends from Washington Hebrew Congregation all gathered together as people of God to say this is beyond “enough is enough.”
Brothers and sisters, we are at that moment yet once again when prayer alone is important but not enough. Surely the greatest gift we can give our fathers, our mothers, and all of God’s children today is to pray and to act and I know that together we can turn the tide and still the storm of the sin of racism in our country. With God’s guidance and help and strength we can do this and, my brothers and sisters, we must.