MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“As an Episcopal bishop and the mother of a 10-and-a-half-year-old, I identify with this Scripture — there is a lot going on,” said the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows. She preached at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 1 ecumenical service of worship in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Do you not care that we are perishing?” The Scripture text was Mark 4:35-41.
There was a crowd that wanted attention, so much so that Jesus had to get in a boat to get a little space. “There was a storm, like today, and the boat was sinking,” Baskerville-Burrows said. “The disciples woke Jesus up from a nap. The mom in me says ‘Really? Really?’ ”
She continued, “Jesus was tired, so tired that only deep rest would cure him, but that was not happening. The boat is sinking and the disciples are so themselves; they cry out, ‘Don’t you care that we are perishing?’ ”
Baskerville-Burrows told the congregation, “Of course, Jesus cares. He calms the wind, and I think he was still pretty impatient with the disciples because they are forever missing the point. They have a deep hunger for what Jesus is saying, but they have deep difficulty trusting what he is telling them.”
Jesus said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Baskerville-Burrows said to the congregation, “Often we identify with Jesus, but we should shift our perspective and identify with the disciples. I can hear the tone of exasperation in Jesus’ voice: ‘Why are you afraid?’ You can be in the boat and still have no faith. The disciples are in awe, not of Jesus’ love, or care or that he woke up, but of his meteorological pyrotechnics. They missed the point.”
She said that in the United States, we are all in the same boat, but it is not seaworthy. The wind is blowing harder and harder, and no one person can fix it.
“As Jamaican-born poet June Jordan said, ‘We are the ones we are waiting for.’ So we have to get busy working together,” Baskerville-Burrows said.
“Jesus was God’s act of radical empathy,” she continued, “and we are called to do likewise. We need to calm the wind and quiet the sea so everyone, everyone, can get back to shore in peace, and everyone, everyone, gets a nap.”
Humans have a hard difficulty responding in kind to God’s empathy, she said. “Twenty-first century America is not behaving well.”
Baskerville-Burrows said, “We are behaving as if we are all living by the same rules, and we are prone to miss the point. We keep saying the boat would not sink if ‘those people’ were not on board. Fill in the blank — immigrants, the unvaccinated, Black and brown people, conservatives — any group we put in the blank would be fine.”
Baskerville-Burrows said that emulating God’s love is paramount.
“We have to find empathy for each other — the same empathy God has shown us,” she said. “We have to provide relief, look out for each other, and be curious about each other. We have to overcome our fear that we might come to know the sadness and pain of others, especially if it is more than we can bear. We want to be released from seeing ourselves in the Other.”
Humans are called to the divine presence, but we are also called to be present for one another, she said. “The failure to attend to one another is killing us. Jesus cares very much that we are perishing.”
When Baskerville-Burrows was first elected bishop, she visited each of the 48 parishes in her diocese. She visited one in Anderson, Indiana, that had once been part of the thriving auto industry. That industry was gone. As she held a listening session at the church in Anderson, Baskerville-Burrows marveled that a congregation with 35 people in worship put on a weekly, sit-down lunch for 150 people.
“They were punching above their weight,” she said. “When we talked about what they could do to grow, I encouraged them to reach out to their lunch guests, to be more invitational, and take risks.”
One of the members, a corrections officer, stood up and told the truth about the congregation. “We have to admit that we don’t want them in our pews,” she said. “We don’t like the way they dress, how they raise their kids, and the kinds of changes we would have to make in worship. Let’s be honest.”
Baskerville-Burrows said, “I could watch the shift taking place. This was the ministry Jesus was calling them to — not just talking about race, but talking about class. They had to get over themselves to bring healing to the world. I knew that if these people could be real with each other, they could do something together.”
She continued, “If they did nothing but see Jesus in the face of the Other and live without fear, they could change the world. The world will tell us that this kind of stretching is scary, it is not worth it, it means giving up power and position, that there is not enough time. God says otherwise.”
When the waves rock the boat and change seems too difficult, Jesus invites us to trust and work with one another, she told the congregation. “We are not in the boat alone,” she said. “We are truly together with people of all sorts and conditions. If we trust, we will see God in the face of the Other — and humanity will make it back to shore.”
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor of Chautauqua Institution, presided. Amit Taneja, senior vice president and Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Officer, read the Scripture. For the prelude, Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played “Allegro moderato e serioso,” from Organ Sonata No. 1, by Felix Mendelssohn. For the anthem, members of the Motet Choir sang “Rescue the Perishing,” music by William H. Doane, arranged by Amy Tate Williams and with words by Fanny J. Crosby. The offertory anthem, sung by members of the Motet Choir, was “Be Still, My Soul,” with music by Jean Sibelius, arrangement by Mack Wilberg, words by Katharina von Schlegel, and translated by Jane Bothwick. The postlude, played by Stafford, was “Toccata,” Op. 53, No. 6, by Louis Vierne. Support for this week’s worship services and chaplain is proved by the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and by the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy.