I’m going to guess that most of us have never been on a small boat in the middle of a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee.
But we all know the feeling—and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the weather. It’s pure fear, the fear that we are being overwhelmed by life, and God just isn’t there.
How often have we wondered if God was present, if he was paying attention, if he was listening to our pleas and our prayers?
God, when someone we love is sick…don’t you care?
When our friends turn against us…don’t you care?
When another week goes by without a job, and the bills are piling up…don’t you care?
When tragedy walks into our life for no good reason…don’t you care?
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
It’s a question that haunts us all at one time or another.
This weekend, it is haunting many of our brothers and sisters in Charleston, South Carolina.
We cannot begin to understand what happened to nine innocent people in a church basement in the middle of an otherwise ordinary June evening—how one sad, sick young man devastated so many lives.
This morning, there are more questions than answers.
But Friday, we witnessed one answer that made our doubting, disbelieving world see something beyond the storm.
When the accused killer appeared for his bond hearing, his image beamed into the courtroom on a television screen, the judge offered the families of the victims an opportunity to confront him, and to speak.
One of the first was Nadine Collier, whose 70-year-old mother Ethel Lance was killed. “You took something very precious away from me,” she said, fighting back tears. “But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you and I forgive you.”
“You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know,” said Felicia Sanders, who lost her son, 26-year old Tywanza. “May God have mercy on you.”
Another put it simply: “Hate won’t win.”
Again and again, through tears, the families of those who were killed didn’t mention vengeance or justice.
They spoke, instead, of forgiveness, and God, and mercy.
It was extraordinary. And as I watched it on TV Friday, one thought occurred to me:
This is the Gospel.
This is “Father, forgive him.”
This is grace.
Those nine families understood something in their heart and in their bones. Like the apostles in that boat, they turned to their only source of hope. But they didn’t need to ask, “Do you not care that we perishing?” They already knew the answer.
Christ is their strength, their courage, their trust.
The message of this gospel is so clear: God does not abandon us. He calms the waves, rebukes the wind. He crosses the water with us.
We all know the journey isn’t always smooth.
But it is not one we make alone.
It is a lesson this gospel reinforces—and it is a lesson being lived out, even now, in churches and prayerful gatherings around South Carolina. The outpouring of public prayer has been inspiring and humbling—and it cuts across all denominations, all faiths. The night of the shooting, families gathered outside the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to hold hands, form a circle and pray. Friday, three Sisters of St. Paul stood before the growing shrine of flowers and candles outside the church, opened their breviaries, and prayed Morning Prayer. Those and many more were bearing witness to faith.
It is a witness the world desperately needs—a reminder of God’s quiet and calming presence in our world, a presence often expressed through those around us.
Last week, you probably heard, Pope Francis released a new encyclical on the environment. Many would have you believe that it is all about global warming and climate change. In fact, those subjects occupy only a small part of the document.
It is really about something more fundamental—and something that also applies to the tragedy in South Carolina.
The encyclical ultimately is about our responsibility for the world and our responsibility for each other.
But early on, the Holy Father reminds us of the theme so predominant in this gospel: God is with us.
“The Creator does not abandon us,” he writes. “He never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
We confront the horrors of Charleston, or the violence of Ferguson, or the agony of Iraq and may ask God, in our sorrow and doubt, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
And the answer comes back: the God who created us, the God who gave us his Son in the ultimate sacrifice, the God who sent his Spirit to be with us will not forsake us, no matter how violent the storm or how frightening the forecast. In moments of despair, we need to remember that and turn to him—as the disciples did long ago in that storm-tossed boat.
If we have any further doubt, all we need to do is look here, to the altar—to the great sacrifice that is about to unfold before us. Christ left us a never-ending reminder of his love in the Eucharist. The one who gave himself for us on Calvary gives himself to us again here and now. He continues to pour himself out for us.
In this blessed miracle, this mystery, the Body of Christ is broken, fractured in the form of bread, and shared with a broken, fractured world.
And in that brokenness, we are given the grace to become whole.
Let that be our prayer for Charleston, and our prayer for our country—that God’s abiding grace and mercy will make us whole.
And let us never doubt this unbending truth: he is with us, through rough seas and smooth. He calms our fears, quiets our storms, rebukes the winds that batter us.
May we join our prayers with those of Charleston and around the world this weekend, holding close to our hearts the beautiful words of this morning’s psalm:
He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze,and the billows of the sea were stilled.Give thanks to the Lord. His love is everlasting.