1 Samuel 17:32-49 | Psalm 133 | 2 Corinthians 6:1-13| Mark 4:35-41
“How very good and pleasant to live in unity” feels like something of a lament this week… a yearning… an if only.
…feels like a statement of what’s meant to be, and far removed…
…but also strangely it feels like some kind balm for the heart: a heart that aches at those lives lost in Charleston and the horrors of witnessing one of God’s beloved so brutally taking the lives of others.
“How very good and pleasant to live in unity”… a sadness at the brokenness that we can’t seem to escape…
…but also these words, they ring, maybe faintly, with the echoes of something we might hold onto.
“How very good and pleasant to live in unity” …a reminder…..a hope - yes a hope…..an enticement…a coaxing …and a question – a gentle question: How will you respond? - we are connected to those who are in pain – we ache with them and this ache is of this unity of which we sing – unity in God – holy belonging to each other – feeling pain for each other – knowing that this violence is far from the peace we are made for and so as people connected to all other’s that God’s loves there come this question…..How will you be? What will you do?
Jobs friends are good at making it all fit neatly into how they need to believe the world works. There are chapters and chapters in the book of Job, where this man Job, this one who has lost everything, his family, his riches, his health, is made to listen to his friends as they lay out all the reasons that they are just sure he must have done something to deserve everything that has come his way. They can’t live with something that doesn’t seem to make sense and after sitting for a while in silence with the devastated Job they start to talk - for chapters and chapters they talk - well you know, you must have done something. You must have brought this on yourself. We know, we have to believe that bad things don’t just happen to good people. We don’t want to imagine that such injustice, such devastation could happen to those who haven’t done something to deserve it. Because where then does that leave us. It leaves us vulnerable and more out of control than we can stand so to imagine no this is your fault dear victim, it must be – so won’t you repent, repent of whatever you have done….for all our sakes.
But at the end of the book of Job and in our story from Mark here – God speaks to the devastation that is life’s storms. The discomfort and heartache that comes from loss. I am here. I am here. You are spinning in circles I know – I am here. Even though it doesn’t feel like it right now I am still the God I have always claimed to be. My ways are not your ways but I am here. I created this world, I am steadfast, I love you and you are mine.
Granted Job’s God comes off just a little aloof – a voice from the heavens looking and watching the drama and answering with a “who do you think you are?” Jesus however, this same God but with us – incarnate – within creation - brings this God of all time much closer to earth and helps us see the action of God with us: the God who made the world and called it good, the God who promised never to forsake us. He helps us see this same steadfast, faithful God right alongside us, in the workings of the world. That’s what he all about after all – letting us see how this God operates amongst, within us, alongside us.
In the story from Mark, the disciples are headed into unknown territory, they are going to be with people who are not like them, people they are not meant to associate with and there is a storm – Storms and crossing over to unknown places go hand in hand in Mark as they do in all our lives I think. Jesus is sleeping when the storm arrives and the disciples run to him up in arms – don’t you care that we are going to die. Jesus does not say you should not have come to me – Jesus never in any story gives the message you should not turn to him – this is the exact opposite of what he wants. What he questions in this story is their panic, their out of control anxiety, and their assumption that they have been abandoned, that there is just no way through. His reaction is to assure them, to assure us – you are never on your own – I am the same God I have always been – I am the creator – I am steadfast. Storms will come, terrible storms, but I will never leave you – there will be a way through. You may not understand it especially when the storm is at its fiercest but there will be a way through and if you look around, if you wait for me, I will show up. You will see me, know me, recognize me right here beside you and you will know how to be – what to do.
I went to an event at Renton High School yesterday. It was a Teen Summit and it was hosted by the African American Clergy of Renton, the City of Renton and the Renton Police Department. The point of the event was to think about relationship between the diverse communities that make up Renton and our police force. It came out of the desire that something like Ferguson or Baltimore not happen here. It grew out of a realization that many of our communities of color are frightened of the police and that there is a lack of trust on both sides. It wanted to focus on our young people and what they perceive and how we as a community can support them, our community, and the police to grow in healthy and constructive relationship.
Part way through the event those in attendance were broken into small groups and they were asked to share their thoughts around the question: “What steps can be taken to increase co-operation and build trust between young adults, community and law enforcement”. Some general questions from the groups were to be considered before we shared some of our thoughts and the question was asked “why does it take 2 or 3 cops to respond to one person.” The police answered in terms of safety and protocol: always better to have more than one police officer respond to calls for the sake of everyone’s safety. It was an answer that made a ton of practical sense and many were nodding their assent. It was at that point a young woman – maybe a sophomore or a junior, African American, stood up and asked directly of a white officer, “How would you feel if you were surrounded by 4 – 5 people questioning you.” “I don’t understand the question,” the police officer answered. We were suddenly in real and honest territory. Two people speaking out of different experiences, different world views, different needs and fears wanting to but not really understanding each other. The young girl wanted to expressed how scared and intimidated, how unjust if felt and how powerless she felt at the idea of a group of police officers responding to a complaint or a suspicion about one person of color.
The police officer wanted her to hear, “we are not making assumptions, we are there to help each other, it’s for everyone protection and if you comply all will be fine.” He honestly didn’t seem to understand what there was to be scared of. It went back a forth a little, they were both trying to find an answer to the question but soon if began to feel like a defense, a debate, a frustration unheard. Any understanding, or possible unity was disappearing further into the background. We were running out of time and the facilitator noted with deep compassion the points being made. She wanted the young woman to know that she had been heard but we had to move on and things felt unfinished.
We moved into reporting out our group discussion and as we were going round the groups I glanced over and there was Jay Covington, the chief administrator of our city, #2 in City Hall, sitting right beside this young woman at the long school lunch bench. In the midst of these large issues and unmet needs and long standing fears, Jesus was not sleeping, God was at work. Their heads were close, Jay and this girl. There were a bunch of other kids at the table and they were all leaning in. He was listening and taking notes, looking at her, not saying much, just listening, pen and bright orange post-its in hand. As we got to the end of the reporting out, Jay stood up, gentle intent smile on his face and said we just had our own break out over hear and I want to report what I heard. He used his power to give voice to the storm in her and many others I would bet, to her feelings, her anxiety, her sense of injustice. How good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity. He was listening in a different way, not debating, not blaming, not getting defensive, not assuming there was not a way, not believing for a second that hope was lost. He saw an opening a chance to hear something we needed to hear. He was sat beside her, listening, giving her all the time she needed, let her say what she needed to say and she was heard and we were all richer for it. Jay acted like someone who trusted there was a way, that the spirit would show up if we trusted and listened to each other, and use any power we have to help give voice to what we hear.
Like he took those disciples in that boat, Jesus asks us to go from the land we know to the other side – a foreign land – with people that everything around us tells us we shouldn’t be mixing with and people who are hurting just like us. When he gets there he sits with an outsider – a crazy person in an unclean space and he asks him who he is. I am legion, he says. I am possessed by foreign forces, they have taken over my space and hear I sit occupied, feeling unsafe, scared, angry. Jesus sits with him, listens to the reality of how he would describe himself and his situation and speaks right to storm in him and in doing so offers him healing – a way forward.
How very good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity…a lament…a desire… a sad remembrance of where life is…
…and a hope… a call… a question: What will we do… will we debate and cling hard and fast to what we know? Will we believe that we are powerless and abandoned? …or will we act out this unity of which we sing? Will we cross over to foreign places and listen to those other who are in pain? And will we use whatever power we have to help give voice to what we hear?
How very good and pleasant it is when we live in Unity.