Do You Not Care that We Are Perishing? [Sermon]

Having just heard that reading, I want to read you something from the Hebrew scriptures. This is from the first chapter of Jonah, leading up to his being in a great fish:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the sailors were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.

6 The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up; call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

7 The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.

8 Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

9 “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 Then the men were even more afraid and said to him,
“What is this that you have done!”
For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous.

12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”

13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord,
“Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”

15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

Jonah 1:1-16, NRSVue

Let’s go to God in prayer.
God of wisdom, may the words that I speak, and the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds, help us to continue to grow into the people, and the church, that you have dreamed us to be.
Amen.

The call has gone up in the USA:
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants are in danger of losing their culture.

I want to break that down:
White refers to a pale skin tone.

Anglo-Saxon refers primarily to people of England and South-eastern Scotland and their descendants.

And Protestant refers to the churches that descended from the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century beginning with Martin Luther’s Lutheran Church, Reform churches of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, the Church of Scotland (and in America the Presbyterian Church) of John Knox, and King Henry VIII’s Church of England (Anglican or Episcopal other churches).

There is concern about mixed ancestry, that people with pale skin may marry and have children with people who have darker skin, and we will lose our whiteness.

“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

And even if the other person has pale skin, they may have ancestors who are not Anglo-Saxon: at various times there were concerns about Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Czech, and Slovak people.

“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

And cultural religion, even if one does not attend church regularly: only two American presidents have been Roman Catholic, and one was a Quaker.

The nation has increasing representation of may religions, an increasing number of citizens are listing their religious affiliation as “none,” Churches are closing, and ones that remain open are declining in membership.

“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

The solutions have included immigration restrictions – more restrictive, for example, at the southern border than at the northern border – and an attempt to bring back the prominence of Christianity, for example: promoting a Bible that includes the US Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the refrain from a country song, and requiring the Ten Commandments in all classrooms.

When Christians read today’s scripture about Jesus calming the seas, we often put ourselves in the place of the disciples: We are afraid, and Jesus tells us to have faith, and Jesus fixes things.

And so if we’re afraid of the decline of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and we put ourselves in the place of the disciples, we can admonish ourselves to be more faithful, and ask Jesus to fix things.

But on other Sundays we will say that it’s the job of the church to do the work of Christ in the world, and that Jesus has no hands or feet but ours.

So today, maybe the church is Jesus in this story.

So who is crying out to us?

In Israel, 373 Israel Defense Forces personnel and 766 civilians were killed, 3,400 people were wounded, and 247 people were taken hostage, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Since then Israel Defense Forces have killed 37,598 Palestinian people have been killed and 86,032 wounded in Gaza, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Over 14,000 people have died and 33,000 other wounded in the civil war in Sudan, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In Ukraine, at least 11,126 people have been killed 21,863 people wounded, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In the USA, just in 2022, 21,593 people were murdered, 6.4 per 100,000 Americans, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

68,000 Americans die each year due to lack of access to health care, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

More than 20,000 Americans die each year due to malnutrition, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

About 14,000 Americans die each year due to overdoses, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

About 1,600 Americans die each year due to exposure from being unhoused, and they cry out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”

And we, as Christians, may be tempted to say “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

But that’s not the first thing Jesus does when he wakes up.

The first thing he does is

rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

Mark 4:38, NRSVue

The first thing he does is address the situation.

We can be tempted to tell people to have faith, to pray, and hope that Jesus will fix it when people are dying, but oddly, when our fear is that there will be fewer pale people descended from English (and French, German, and Scandinavian) people who share our particular kind of faith and worship, we pass laws to enforce our culture on land that had already had many people of many faiths before the first Europeans arrived.

I don’t think Christianity is dying, but if the church is holding the place of Jesus in the world, the church ought to recognize that following in the steps of Jesus is risky.

And the story of Jonah illustrates that the risks to ourselves increases as we attempt to avoid the prophetic work to which we are called.

Yesterday our church did a very simple thing: we hosted a spaghetti dinner for LGBTQ people.

The cost in dollars was relatively small.

The cost in time and energy was modest, and I appreciate the offerings of time and talent from many members.

Instead of paper plates and cups and plastic utensils, we had actual plates, glasses, and flatwear.

There were tablecloths on the tables.

And the people who dined with us were greatly appreciative. One even made a $20 donation.

This is the kind of concrete work that affirms the lives of people who are often turned away from churches and even their own families.

We can also prayerfully consider a resolution passed at the Northern California/Nevada Conference’s Annual Gathering this year, which reads in part:

WHEREAS, voters across California will have an opportunity to vote to support funding for quality affordable housing construction through a $10-20 billion bond in the 9 Bay Area counties and a $10 billion bond in other areas of the state,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED

that the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ endorses these upcoming ballot measures for affordable housing funding and encourages all members and friends to prayerfully consider supporting these measures this Fall in an effort to respond to God’s call to meet the need of all of our neighbors for dignified, safe shelter so that all God’s people can thrive.

So my challenge this week is for each of us to listen for the voices of those who are crying out
“Do you not care that we are perishing?”
and, where we have the power, to rebuke those winds that drive the high seas that threaten those lives.

May we have the faith to walk the paths to which we are called.

Amen.


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