It is a Sunday morning in Advent in the year 1511. In a palm-roofed church in the New World, a Dominican friar named Antonio de Montesinos ascends the pulpit. His text is, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
In John the Baptist fashion, the fearless Montesinos hurls thunder at his shocked congregation. “By what right and by what justice do you hold the Indians in such cruel and horrible bondage? Aren't they dying, or better said, aren't you killing them to get gold every day? Are you not obliged to love them as yourselves? Don't you understand this, don't you feel it?”
Then Montesinos makes his way through the astounded multitude. A murmur of fury swells up. “We'll denounce you to the king. You will be deported!”
One bewildered man remains silent. The son of a merchant who crossed the Atlantic with Columbus on his second voyage, this man has already made a great fortune in the colonies. He is a secular priest and encomendero, Bartolomé de las Casas, owner of slaves, gold mines, and vast plantations.
On this day he takes another step on a journey of solidarity far more demanding and dangerous than crossing an ocean. Las Casas reflects on the Book of Ecclesiastes 34:20-22:
Like one who kills a son before his father's eyes is the person who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor. The bread of the needy is the life of the poor, whoever deprives them of it is a murderer. To take away a neighbor's living is to commit murder; to deprive an employee of wages is to shed blood.
In the light of what the Dominicans were preaching and the harsh reality he saw around him, Las Casas became convinced, as recorded in Gustavo Gutierrez's book Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ, that what was being done to the native peoples of the Indies was “unjust and tyrannical.”
He recognized with horror the tragic relationship between greed for gold and death, turned his life around in repentance, sold his plantations, and freed his slaves. Called the Apostle to the Indians, Bartolomé began a lifelong ministry that would last almost fifty years as advocate for the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
In Nicaragua and Guatemala, he worked for peaceful colonization and denounced at every turn the violent conquest of native communities. What he learned with regard to the unjust treatment of the indigenous communities of the Americas ultimately helped him perceive the terrible violence being done to Africans and led him to an unequivocal rejection of black slavery.
He criss-crossed the Atlantic many times, combining his pastoral work in the Americas with advocacy in the Royal Court of Spain, where he finally succeeded in having slavery banished.
When as an old man he left America for the last time, his return to Spain did not interrupt his pastoral activity on behalf of the people of the Americas. He wrote a history of the Americas from the perspective of the indigenous people, which helped to expose the tragedy of the conquest that is at the heart of American history. Bartolomé de Las Casas is the spiritual father of every person of faith in the Americas who has struggled to cross over to the other side of humanity. His is the story of a conversion that empowered him to cross over the deep divisions in the New World—divisions of race, class, and culture. Bartolomé is most assuredly one of thatgreat cloud of witnesses who accompany us on this journey from the center to the margins.
"Say to This Mountain": Mark's Story of Discipleship Paperback – July 28 2014
by Chad Myers, Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Stuart Taylor pp 53-54
I don’t know about you but I did not grow up in the margins. I was white and I have always lived where white was the majority of the people and sometimes the vast majority.
I did not grow up wealthy, or even comfortable, but I didn’t grow up in poverty and squalor.
I did not live in slums, or the hood, but in small town Canada. I knew of poverty, and I saw a fair amount of poverty. We were not rich, but I didn’t really experience poverty.
Most of my friends were similar in many ways socioeconomically, and came from families that were similar politically, religiously, educationally, ethnically and culturally.
I came from a small world, where there was not a lot of different races and cultures. I came from a small world where I did not know any Muslims or Buddhists, or Jews, and if I did, I didn’t know that I did.
I came from a small world and even those who voted Liberal or Conservative shared many of the same values. NDP was considered out there. I knew one family that identified as NDP and they were what the community considered, radical hippie types.
I came from a small world where we joked about gays and lesbians, but nobody identified as such.
I came from a world of homogeneity, and while my mother and grandparents were good small liberal, progressive people who tried their best to do unto others as you would like done to yourself, and practice equality, there were only two people of racial diversity in our school.
I am not unhappy about that part of my life, and indeed am grateful for a time that was relatively happy and secure.
But I guess all I am saying, is that I really did not know what it was like for people on the margins.
Maybe, there was a lot more going on in my community that I did not know about, because I was just a child and was shielded from dark and difficulty things, or from people who lived in the margins…
I don’t know.
What I do know is that ministry has opened my eyes and I have seen and heard and experienced things.
I have lived in communities that are multicultural. I have heard stories of those on the margins, those who are different, those who are not accepted, those who have done wrong, those who have been convicted, those who are imprisoned by addiction, those with mental illness, those who have been abused… those who have undergone horrible prejudice.
And yet, sometimes it seems as if we learn new things everyday about the atrocities that humans can visit on other humans; and it seems all the time we hear stories about how some humans are treated as garbage for being different.
Recently the attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, but also attacks on Muslim women in Edmonton have opened our eyes yet again to the ongoing prejudice that there is in our world, our country and our community.
Recently the unmarked graves of 215 aboriginal children in the former Kamloops Residential School has horrified us to our history and continued systemic racism.
I know much more about the margins that I ever did, and there is so much more to learn.
One of the reasons I was attracted to apply to this congregation about 19 years ago was the fact that this church had a food bank, and the fact that this church had a refugee ministry and was reaching out to people in the margins.
And so, I want you to think of how you have connected to people in the margins.
It is hard to define the margins. So maybe think of what people are left on the outside because of their faith, their culture, their race, their identity, their gender, their sexual orientation, their disability, their history, their mannerisms, their mental health, their poverty, their manners…their criminal history whatever…
Who is on the outside and how do you connect to them?
Jesus himself was born in the margins, was a refugee as a baby, and ministered to those in the margins.
And today in our gospel lesson we see Jesus in a boat, sleeping as he and his disciples are crossing over the sea of Galilee.
Do you know where he is going? Do you know where the boat is headed, who is there and why Jesus is crossing the Sea of Galilee?
We tend to focus on the miracle itself, the calming of the storm, but maybe we do not see the context.
Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee from West to East.
They are going to the area known as the Decapolis. These were ten towns or cities on the East Side of the Sea of Galilee which were largely founded by Greeks after the time of Alexander the Great. As such, Jews were not the majority of people in this region. They were Gentiles.
And while we have a tendency to think that most of the time Jesus was ministering to Jews, he spent a lot of time in Gentile lands ministering to Gentiles as well as Jews. The healing of the Gerasene demoniac is in this region, as well as the feeding of the four thousand.
Large crowds of Gentiles followed him there as he healed and taught and cast out demons.
The important thing is that the calming of the storm is set in this very important section of Mark where Jesus continually goes to the lands of the Gentiles.
Jesus goes to the land of those unclean. Jesus talks to them heals them, includes them, ministers to them. Whereas most Jews wouldn’t be caught dead dealing with unclean Gentiles, Jesus makes it a point to minister to them and Mark’s gospel is very specific about this ministry.
Maybe you are like me. For years unless the scriptures specifically said that Jesus was dealing with a Gentile, I assumed he was dealing with Jews, but he had a huge ministry to Gentiles.
And it is when he is going to the Gentiles that a storm happens in the boat.
And for years, I have preached that Jesus is Master of the winds and the waves and this was about Jesus, Lord of all creation taking charge.
And for years I talked about the storms of life. Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?
We went through a storm around 14 years ago when both of Fiona’s parents ended up with terminal cancer.
We believe that Jesus was in our boat and with us and guided Peter and Helen safely home to a harbour of love where there is peace for evermore.
And all of us have stormy times, sometimes stormy relationships, stormy health, stormy pasts, stormy work conditions, stormy finances that threaten to overwhelm us.
And I have preached this text many times about the storms of life.
But I am wondering if it is no accident that the storm happens as Jesus is on his way to see the people on the margins, as Jesus is on his way to touch the untouchables, to forgive the unforgivable, to include those who are not chosen, to love those whom were often hated, to bless those the Jews thought God had cursed.
And so, the storms are the forces that oppose unification, reconciliation and forgiveness with the undeserving, the different, the unclean, and the ones who are not worth it.
The wind and the waves are those who want to keep the separation between good and bad, in and out, chosen and unchosen, blessed and cursed.
Most of us are Gentiles. Most of us don’t get it. Most of us don’t understand that the separation between Jews and Gentiles was believed to be the natural order of things, the way God intended it to be. Social Reconciliation wasn’t only difficult, it was inconceivable.
Most of us don’t get it, until we start thinking that is the way we thought about slavery and black people. That is the way we thought about Aboriginals. That is the way we even treated women and children.
They were lesser, they were other, they were not as good.
We thought that other races, other religions were evil and bound straight for hell. They were not human. They were animals, or beasts.
And when people went towards the margins to try and help and include, we often threw up big winds and waves. We created the storms.
Does the story of Jesus asleep in the boat remind you of anybody?
I think Mark has someone in mind here.
Someone else who was asleep in the boat while a terrible storm raged.
His name was Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet who was called by God to go and preach to the Assyrians in their capital called Nineveh.
And Jonah runs away and takes ship in the opposite direction.
When you know that the Assyrians were responsible for a genocidal-like wiping out of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, so that those ten tribes in effect were wiped out and gone, then you think that Jonah was probably scared to go to Nineveh.
And then a big storm comes and it is so big and scary that the sailors know that God must have sent the storm to punish someone, and they get everybody together including the sleeping Jonah, and cast lots to see whom the culprit is. It is Jonah.
And Jonah fesses up and says that he indeed is disobeying God, and that is why God caused the storm, and if you just throw him overboard then the God will stop the storm.
And so, they throw Jonah overboard.
And the big fish comes and swallows Jonah saves him from drowning so that Jonah can go and preach to Nineveh.
So, Nineveh is the margins. Not in terms of poverty, but in terms of terrible sinners.
You see the real issue is that Jonah wants the Ninevites to be consumed with heavenly fire. He doesn’t want them to repent or be saved from God’s wrath.
They are abominable creatures, less than human and beyond hope. How could God love these monsters. It would be like loving the Nazis who caused the Holocaust.
So, when he preaches, and God forgives them he goes and sulks.
You see us humans always think there are those so bad, so terrible, they are beyond God’s mercy and love.
We believe that there are people who deserve what they get.
We believe that people are in the margins and sometimes that is the way God has planned it.
I sometimes wonder if the disciples’ doubt caused the storm.
“Do you not care we are perishing? Jesus.”
I think Jesus could have answered: “Do you not care that the ones in the margin are perishing?”
Instead, Jesus says: why are you afraid? Have you no faith?
Why have we been so afraid of the margins, the different, the sinners, the evil, the unclean?
We have been afraid, because we don’t want to be hurt. We are afraid, because we don’t want to lose our power and our way of life.
We are afraid because we don’t want them to treat us the way we have treated them.
But mostly we are afraid because we don’t have faith in Jesus and Jesus’ way of unconditional love and radical grace for all.
Jesus offers to still the storm in our minds, the storm that is always creating enemies, always suspicious of the other, always telling us to play it safe, always keeping the fences up, always protecting our precious stuff, and always conserving our power.
Let me close with a quote from Martin Laird’s book, Into the Silent Land, where a recovering drug addict James tells his story, using the imagery of today’s Gospel:
“Prayer has shown me the calm at the center of the storm, something that is silent even when the chaos rages.” Once during a particularly difficult storm of inner chaos something happened that James could only call a spiritual breakthrough.
“One morning I was sitting in the chapel where I like to go to pray. The chaos was pretty bad. I thought my head was going to explode. I can’t really describe what happened next, but it was as though while trying to pray I fell into hell. I stopped fighting and just prayed there in hell. Then I felt a welling up of love within me, a love for all people who struggle, who screw up, who have been defined out of the picture, people who despair, people who are told they aren’t the right race, gender or orientation. I saw how I was part of all this, how I judge people who fail and condemn people who are different. I saw how it was all tied to my self-loathing. And there I prayed in solidarity with all people who struggle. I moved beyond my self-loathing and felt one with all these people.” (p. 113)
It may be that in order to cross over to the margins and minister to those who are out and not in, we have to go into the storm.
We have to go into the storm, and struggle with the winds and waves that tell us the others are not good enough, pure enough, clean enough, similar enough…
And we have to tell that storm in Jesus’ name “Peace be still,” so we can get to the margins and share the good news of love for everyone.