By Jan Shannon
On Sunday we talked about our superhero Jesus. I selected two different images with slightly different perspectives of the story of Jesus walking on water for us to ponder. I want to focus on the difference between these two paintings. In the one, Peter is at Jesus’ feet. Jesus is reaching out for Peter, grasping him by the arm. He’s going to help him stand back up again. And just beyond Peter, you can see the boat, you can see the men in the boat, you can see that there are waves, and the boat is being tossed in the waves and the wind.
In the other image, you also see Peter reaching up for help and you see Jesus reaching down with a strong arm to pull him up. But the boat’s much further in the distance. You can barely see the people on the boat. Today I want to talk about leaving the boat.
I am preached without notes on Sunday. My stomach hurt. My mouth was dry. I was nervous as heck. I have left my boat. The boat to me in this story represents all things safe. It represents everything we know, that we count on, that we look to for strength and comfort.
What’s in the boat are 11 other guys: Peter’s brothers in Christ. Peter alone said “Savior, call to me and I’ll come to you.” Only Peter asked to be called. Others are sitting in the boat probably thinking, “What a fool Peter is.” It would have been very easy to go with the crowd and stay in the boat, but Peter said “I want to go where you are, Jesus. I want to go out there and do the crazy, wild superhero-thing that you’re doing.”
And as I studied the Scripture, I found that the crazy wild superhero-thing Jesus was doing was not necessarily walking on the water.
What Jesus was doing was dominating water. Jesus was exercising power over the material creation that we call water. Karl Barth, the theologian, has likened water to all things evil that oppress the salvation of God. You can look back to the Old Testament and the stories of Jonah and the Whale and of the Flood. In these stories, Barth says, these all represent the oppressive evil that attempts to overthrow the salvation of God. So when Jesus comes walking to them on the water, knowing these are Jewish men raised in this theology, to them Jesus is saying “I can dominate that which is evil and that which attempts to kill you.”
I prepared this sermon before the events of Charlottesville. Once again the Holy Spirit has showed up to give us a message that we need to hear in this place and time today after the events of Charlottesville.
We have got to leave the boat.
Our Savior is out there calling us to resist the forces of evil that oppress certain people in America. And we’ve got to get out of the boat and we’ve got to meet Jesus out there on the waves.
One thing I can tell you, if you choose to call to Jesus, “Call to me and I will come to you Lord,” you will leave friends behind in the boat. Your friends in the boat will say, “I don’t know what in the world has got into you, but you are on your own.” I can guarantee that will happen.
If you choose to get out of the boat, there will be waves.
In this story, Jesus doesn’t calm the sea and then say, “Peter, come to me.” He says, “Peter, come to me” while there are waves. The Bible tells us the wind was against them. If you choose to get out of the boat and answer Jesus’ call there will be waves. You will get wet. And it will be treacherous. You might come to harm. Hopefully not physical harm. Certainly emotional harm. Because people will attack you. A pastor in Northern Idaho wrote an article that was in the Spokesman Review Saturday that attacked and vilified transgender people. I will have none of that. So I wrote a response to the online article and called him out on his hate speech. Since I wrote that, several people on the online comments section have taken me to task.
Some of them have said things like I’m not a Christian, or that I don’t preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as a pastor.
From one comment, just one simple piece of writing, I got attacked. That’s what happens when you get out of the boat.
I’d like you to raise your hand if you identify as white, I asked the congregation. We’re 95% white in this church. We’re the ones who need to fix this thing because we’re the ones that created this thing.
Four hundred years ago, the very first black people were brought here as slaves. The first black feet that touched American soil, were bought and paid for.
My mother was a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. We did that, my family did that. We have to change that.
We talk about the white supremacy that was evident in Charlottesville. White supremacy is real. It’s not just a few angry white guys, it’s the systemic racism embedded in our country. There are more whites than people of color in seats of authority and power, even in regional areas where whites are the minority. That is just flat wrong! We cannot continue to speak over our black and brown siblings in Christ.
We created the systems that oppress them. We have to own that and we have to speak. We have to get out of the boat of comfort and peace and security among ourselves.
We have to get out there and do something and say something. It’s not enough to call people we disagree with idiots, that’s not helping any. We shouldn’t stoop to their level. We have to respond positively with love, like Jesus did. We have to find a way to love them. It’s not easy, but we have to take steps.
The first step is the one Peter took. Peter said, “Savior, call to me and I will come to you.”
Are we willing to step out in faith? Are we willing to be people of faith not knowing scientifically if God exists? Not sure empirically if Jesus is really the son of God, or if he’s just a really good guy. Are we willing to step out in faith? To believe that Jesus has the power to walk on water? To say we too want the power to oppress evil?
That’s what we have to be willing to do if we want to make any real change in America. I’m not wearing black and my children’s stole coincidentally. This a day to remember that Black Lives Matter.
One of the posts that I saw on Twitter said that if I really want to do something to create change, I should make a covenant for the next week or the next 30 days, that I should retweet or repost only people of color, to lift up and magnify their voices. They know what they need. We don’t need to speak for them. But we can magnify their voices so that they can be heard above the “white noise” of racism.
There are other things we can do.
We can call out racism when we see it.
We can call out privilege when we see it.
I am a white woman, I have privilege of stature, a platform, a pulpit to speak from. This gives me a power other people don’t have. I can use this.
What privilege do you have? Think about it, what privilege do you have, that people of color do not have?
If you walk into a grocery store, and pick up an item and put it down, just wander around, you’re not going to get followed. If you forget something like I once did, tuck it under your arm and walk out of the store with it, no security manager is going to come and accuse you of stealing. If I write a check, they’re not going to ask for two forms of ID. These are things our friends of color, people of color, go through every single day. If you see it, in line, call out the cashier, call out the manager.
We have to speak up, we have to say that’s not okay.
Each one of us has to speak up. As a white person living in America, we have so much power and privilege.
This church has been on the forefront of LGBTQ support and advocacy in this city and in this state. We fought hard for R74 for marriage equality to get passed. We can do the same for racial justice. We can stand up as a congregation and say, “not in our town.” If one of these groups decides to have a supremacy rally in Spokane. We can’t just say “oh, this is so sad, those stupid men and their guns.” You’re going to have to show up. You’re going to have to get out of the boat and say “not in my town.” Trust me, you’ll get attacked. Your friends back in the boat are going to say, “I don’t know who you are.”
Maybe that’s not all they’ll do. You might have family members that say you’re not welcome at Thanksgiving dinner. Will that stop you from speaking up?
We can’t stand idly by after what happened in Charlottesville, what’s been happening in our country for too long. Racism should have no place in our country, and should not be supported by our government.
If you do choose to get out of the boat, if you do choose to take some active anti-racist action, you’re going to lose some friends, but you’ll also see that God is there for us every moment, waiting for us to reach out when we are drowning. And we have each other to turn to for strength. At my church, Westminster, we covenant together to oppose racism. And we are ready to leave the boat.
Jan Shannon is a full-time seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, a wife, mom, granny, and gay Christian.