There is something about summer thunderstorms that makes me stand in awe of the power of God. And we’ve had lots of them lately. It is awe inspiring to feel the rumble of thunder deep down to the bones. It must be what it was like to have been there when Lazarus was called out of the tomb; or what it must have felt like for the lame man felt when Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk.
But the force and power of storms can also be scary. This past week a tour boat on a lake in Missouri was capsized by the power of a storm and 17 people died; two men fishing in Texas were struck by lightning and died; several people in Pennsylvania were washed away in the flash floods brought on by storms and died.
The short story we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel, of the disciples rowing their boat across the Sea of Galilee, reminds us of God’s loving power. The disciples’ boat was being rocked by the waves, much as the boat in Missouri must have been tossed, and the wind was blowing them to and fro. But in the midst of all the chaos, there was Jesus, strolling across the water to meet them. What I love about this story is that it reminds us that no matter what we’re going through, no matter how chaotic our life might be, no matter how storm tossed and wind beaten we may be, Jesus comes to us wherever we are – even if it is in the darkest and most remote place – saying to us, do not be afraid. It is I. It can be translated as Jesus saying, “It is I AM”. He calls himself by the Old Testament name for God, and in that statement we know who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, the second person of the Godhead, God. And it is God who walks across the stormy waters to tell us that all will be well, and who will show up in the places we least expect to find God.
This Sunday is the first one in that long season after Pentecost that we sometimes call Ordinary Time. But this Sunday is anything by ordinary. It is Trinity Sunday, and it’s the appointed Sunday when we attempt to make sense of the wonderful mystery of God’s nature. In the Trinity God’s love is made known to us. We recognize the love of God who created us, along with all of creation. We can touch and feel the love of God who became incarnate, in the physical human person of Jesus of Nazareth. And we experience the continuing love of God, who sustains us and comforts us through the Holy Spirit. Our Gospel lesson for this Sunday includes that great verse of God’s love that we all learned as little children: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God’s love has been in the news a lot this week! Last Saturday, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and his sermon was all about God’s love! He reminded us that we are only given two commands, to love God and to love our neighbor. Love, he says, can change the world. More than two billion people heard that sermon. Bishop Curry has been on just about every news outlet in the last few days. Even Saturday Night Live included a caricature of him in last week’s episode. For millions, this was perhaps their first introduction to the Episcopal Church, through our Presiding Bishop’s message of God’s redeeming and life-giving love.
How can we live into that love, which was imparted in us at our baptism and which we are called to share with the rest of the world? How can we step above the fray of the sort of partisanship and national tribalism that seems to be infecting our world, and be bearers of God’s love? How can we express that love to those we encounter each day who most need to hear those words, “God loves you”?
“For God so loved the world” – for God so loved you and me – “that he gave his only Son,” not just so that we might not perish, but so that we can participate in that love. Because love can change the world. My friends, let us change our world through our love for God and for each other.
This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday, but it could just as easily be called Love Sunday. The Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John acts out of love. He is willing to lay his life down for his sheep out of his love for them – in fact he did lay down his life for us. In John’s Epistle we read that “we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.” The God of our salvation, whom we have known through the person of Jesus Christ, is pure love.
As followers of the Way of Jesus, we ask ourselves, “What is our response to this love?” John’s Epistle goes on to say, “little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” We are called not to talk about our love, but to demonstrate our love. My grandmother used to say that, “If you have to tell someone that you love them, then you’re doing something wrong. They should know that you love them by the way that you act.”
When people see the way that we live, when they see how we treat others when we think no one is watching, when they hear the way we talk about others, do they know that we follow the Lord of Love? Can they tell that we are Christians by how we witness to God’s love in our lives? One of my favorite songs reminds us of the core values of our faith: They will know we are Christians by our love. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that our unity will one day be restored. We will work with each other, we will work side by side, and we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride. Because they will know we are Christians by our love.
Does this reflect how we live? During this season of Easter, I challenge each of us to love one another as Christ loved us, as Jesus did when he laid down his life for us, to bring us into loving relationship with God. Let us reflect on what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves, and just who our neighbor is.
You may have heard that a few of us went to Washington, DC this past weekend to speak out against the gun violence that has plagued our nation. Over 800,000 people, mostly youth, (about 90 from the Diocese of Southeast Florida and ten representing Holy Sacrament) filled Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the U.S. Capitol to let the world know that enough is enough! They called us out for our inaction. They let us know that our turning a blind eye to the injustice carried out against young people all around our nation, against those who have been murdered by people who should never have been able to legally purchase a gun, but for whom a broken system allowed them to do so, is no longer acceptable. Our young people are fighting mad and they are looking to us to make change happen now!
This has been a challenging Lent for us. We began this season in which we recall our own mortality with the murder of 17 young people and their teachers just up the road at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In this season when we are called to examine ourselves, when we recall and confess our sins, what we have done, and what we have left undone, our young people have taken to the streets to call out injustice. On Palm Sunday weekend, they marched into our nation’s capital, they waved their signs like palms, they overturned the money tables of the NRA and of those leaders who remain beholden to their blood money. As Lent moves us toward Easter, as we recall Jesus’ passion on the Cross, these young people are reminding us that they are being crucified with Christ, that we are allowing their innocent lives to be sacrificed on the altar of the Second Amendment. When Jesus said to let the little children come to me, this is not what he meant. Our faith should compel us to protect our children, should compel us to do all that we can to provide them peace and security.
As we make our way to the tomb on Easter morning, let us do all that is in our power to confront the corruption and inaction that leads to only more violence. Let us join with Mary Magdalene as she discovers that Christ has risen, that he has conquered death, and that there is real hope in this dark and broken world. Our young people are desperate for hope. So let us make way for change, so that in just a few days we can shout out that hope with conviction in the great Easter acclamation!
On Tuesday morning, on my way to Carmen Schentrup's funeral, one of the young people who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, I stopped by a restaurant in Coral Springs to have breakfast. A father came up to me and started talking. His two children both go to Douglas High, and as we were talking a woman seated nearby came over, two of her children graduated from Douglas and her youngest daughter is a student there. Within a few minutes, I was sitting with seven parents who were sharing the horrific stories that their children have endured and who were expressing their various stages of grief and anger. Our conversation soon turned to prayer, it was one of the fathers who asked if we could pray. And as we stood in a circle, eight strangers in a Panera Bread, praying to God for help, for comfort, for peace, I was acutely aware that this would never have likely happened a week earlier.
Our community has been rocked by tragedy and evil, and though many of us are struggling to process our feelings, it is clear that God is here with us. God is grieving with us. The proof is in the activism that our young people are engaging in, or are planning to engage in. A number of our youth are planning to march in Washington next month, to let the world know that they will not be silent and that they have had enough. It is in the expressions of faith, and prayer, and love that are being shared all around us. All of these responses are pointing to one thing – Community! If we take a moment to observe what’s happening, we will see that we are more a community today than we were last week. Jesus told us to love one another, and that love is evident among us today, as it seems a not so small piece of the Kingdom of God has been made manifest here in our community. Pray with me that this not become simply an emotional reaction, but a transformation of something terrible, into something beautiful.