Some of the most vivid memories I have are those of me as a young boy and not surprisingly these are the memories that have the most feelings attached to them. One of those memories recalls getting ready for church one Sunday morning.
I was probably about six years old and considered myself a “big boy.” Therefore, I didn’t need to ask my parents to get my navy blazer out of the armoire. So, I stepped up into the armoire so I could reach the blazer.
The armoire, mind you, was resting on top a single chest of drawers. The problem, however, was that the armoire was not attached to said chest of drawers. As I stood on my toes to reach for the blazer, I lost my balance.
In an effort to regain control, I grabbed the door frame of the armoire, but the force of gravity was already at work. Crash! I, along with the armoire, hit the floor. The entire house shook. I was trapped inside the armoire and it was dark and it was too heavy to move. I was not a character in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
I can still feel the screams of terror that I belted out. While it felt like an eternity, my father freed me in a matter of seconds. I was given a free pass from church and spent the rest of the day in the loving embrace of my father.
While I have never had to rescue Mary Katherine or John from the inside of a piece of furniture, I have, on numerous occasions, heard them cry out in fear and terror. I have held them tight when they were hurt or scared or afraid.
And I honestly don’t know which is more harrowing – the feeling I felt as a child when I got scared or the feeling I get as a parent when my child is hurt or afraid. I'm not sure what scenario is more distressing to consider, will my parents ever come and rescue me? Or, what if I cannot protect my children?
No matter your age, these primal feelings probe the depths of humanity’s greatest fears – the feeling of abandonment and the feeling of powerlessness. I can almost feel the panic inside of me just thinking about these things.
Holy scripture continually tells the story of how God’s children cry out for help when feeling abandoned and of how our all-powerful God comes to the rescue. While most of us parents might feel powerless over our children, our heavenly Father is not.
God hears the cry of the Israelites when enslaved in Egypt. Through Moses, God shows his mighty power and compassion when he parts the sea and delivers Israel from the hand of their oppressors.
God hears the cry of Job when he cries out following his great ordeal, the ordeal that sees his entire family taken from him. Finally, God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind and assures him that no matter how chaotic things get – I, the Lord, will prevail. In today’s gospel, our Lord Jesus hears the disciples cry out when they think their boat is going to sink in a windstorm. Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace, be still.”
A few days ago, a seven-minute recording was released that captured the sounds of the children who were separated from their parents at the southern border. The children were sobbing and crying out for their parents. I made it through a couple of minutes of the recording before it became too much. In their cries, I could hear the cries of Mary Katherine and John. In their cries, I could hear myself crying out for my own parents.
This recording was released amid the political and social windstorm over immigration that swept across our country. We saw politicians apply scripture to the situation in shameful ways. We saw religious leaders let anger get the best of them. Thankfully, in the midst of it all, Jesus showed up in the storm of our own devising and said, “Peace, be still.”
The cry of those children did not go unanswered by a God whose property is always to have mercy. But that wasn’t the only storm that had the children of this earth crying out for help. There are countless more all over the world and in our very community who are crying to be heard, who are crying to know that they will not be abandoned forever.
Some of our youth were attentive to this cry last week in Hale Country through Sawyerville. Over twenty-five years ago, a few churches in the Blackbelt noticed a need to give the children of Hale county something to do during the summer months.
The result was Sawyerville Day Camp which hosts week long camps, staffed by the youth of our diocese, for children in Hale county. Today, the staff also includes the youth of Hale county. In an otherwise chaotic life for many of the children in Hale county, they can, for at least a week, experience the peace and rest given in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In our own community, St. Paul’s supports The Bloom House – a safe haven and resource for children and families who are a part of the Foster Care system. The Bloom House is a shelter from the storm. In our parish, we have teachers who, on a daily basis, through their words and actions, breath the words, “Peace, be still” to students who are living lives that we can hardly fathom.
Members of this parish also serve as CASA volunteers for children in abusive homes. These volunteers are court appointed advocates for the children and give voice to the needs of the child amid the storm of the court system. Also, members of this congregation are mentors to at-risk youth through the YMCA’s Reach & Rise program. These mentors offer stability in an otherwise unstable life.
Anyone who has served in any of these or similar capacities know that these storms will continue to rage. Despite our best efforts, children will continue to be abused and abandoned. Despite our best programs, children will continue to be neglected and forgotten. However, this is not a license to give up. This is not a license to cover our eyes and ears from human suffering.
Rather, this is an invitation to grow in faith, this is an invitation to be more attentive to the cries of those who feel like they are drowning in the merciless waves of this world. And we are free to be more attentive because we with God’s help we are not powerless. We have a mighty fortress as our God. We are given a faith that says – do not be afraid for I am with you always – even in the middle of the worst storms.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “there is nothing to be afraid of.” Instead, Jesus says, “do not be afraid.” God knows that are plenty of things in this world are scary. God knows humanity will continue to manufacture storms that leave the “least of these” to drown. And God knows there is nothing scarier than leaving it up to politicians to solve our problems.
For this reason, God does not leave his plan of salvation up to those who hold power and control in this world; God does not leave his plan of salvation up to the state or government. Instead, as we hear in the Song of Mary, God’s plan of salvation is accomplished through the poor and lowly, through those who, in our earthly systems, have no voice. Mary sings, “he has cast down mighty from their thrones; and lifted up the lowly.”
God's plan of salvation is accomplished by magnifying the cries of the most vulnerable and powerless. And because this nation heard the cries of those children on our southern boarder God's justice was administered with compassion.
Through Jesus, God is focusing our attention on those who can’t help themselves. Those who can help themselves have no need for God. Like Jesus himself said, a well person has no need of a physician.
Therefore, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God amplifies the cry of the lonely, forgotten, and afraid. Like the cries of our own children, these cries are supposed to rattle the soul, these cries are supposed to grab those of us who can help ourselves in such a way where we can’t help but to respond to the needs of the helpless, in a way where we can’t help but breath God’s word of peace in the midst of chaos.
Friends in Christ, there are children all over the world crying out for the embrace of a loving parent, there are children in our own community crying out for the embrace of a loving parent. May those of us who know the loving embrace of our heavenly Father reach out in love and calm the storms of those who are drowning.
And may our acts of love and peace point to our Savior Jesus Christ – the One who, during the political and social storms of his own day, stretched out his arms of love on the hardwood of the cross so that all may come within the reach of his saving embrace. Amen.