Sunday, July 12, 2015

This Ain't gonna be easy

Last week Jesus sent out his disciples to minister in pairs in the surrounding villages.  He explains; “if a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” (Mark 6:11) the footnote in the study bible says; “The gesture symbolizes a broken relationship. Jesus makes it clear the mission won’t be entirely successful”[1]  Yet as we heard last week nothing went wrong it says they healed and anointed and had a grand ole time.  The writer does get to write his own history.
After today’s reading in the gospel of Mark is the feeding of 5 thousand and we all know that turns out well.  But today’s reading is to the contrary.  We have John the Baptist who Herod respects and believes to be a righteous and holy person.  Yet his fate is well known even protected by a king he loses his head. 
This is what a professor of mine would call a markan sandwich.  A seemingly incongruent story nestled between two similar stories. Two stories of healing and joy and miracles contrasted by the one in between which is horrifying.  Too often we will focus on the joyous and try to ignore the hard story. Yet this is truly emphasizing that things may not always go as planned to the point of actually foreshadowing Jesus’ own fate.
You may be anticipating where I am heading with this especially after my centering prayer video. “Black churches in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Tennessee have burned in the weeks following the terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. that killed 9 people. In response, agents of the state and mainstream media have attempted to gaslight black America into believing that the smoke choking our collective souls is imagined.”[2]
I have heard some pundits try to blame this as an attack on Christianity and further try to associate it with a response to allowing marriage equality in America.  This rhetoric is not only hateful and mean, it is downright ignorant and it does not touch on an underlying fire that continues to smolder in this country.  As we were in the midst of joyous, rightly earned celebrations, people were mourning and still crying out for justice that has yet to be realized.
Please do not misunderstand me.  As the poem said in centering prayer; “To tell me you know my pain, is to stab yourself in the leg because you saw me get shot. We have two different wounds, and looking at yours does nothing to heal mine…”[3] I know pain, the LGBTQ community knows pain, the African community knows pain, knows it better than I can even dare to compare mine too. Yet when I read and hear of these things, these hateful horrific things that were happening congruent to our Joy, my heart broke.
There is something inside of me that wanted to rush to the side of our Christian brothers and sisters at the AME church, yet, I could not.  I want to reach out and offer something do something for those churches that burned down for those communities that lost their structural center.  I say structural center for the center of those communities continues to live in the people and will survive.  Hate may have burned a building down but the people still stand.  I do have to say that it is possible that not all of these fires were intentional yet it is safe to assume that most were and you see because we know, America knows that hate burned down at least one. Even if it is just one, that hatred, that underlying prejudice informs the reaction, the soul of everyone affected by the fire.
Every one affected by the fires.  Every one affected by the shootings. We are all affected, whether we want to admit it or not.  How many of you when you first heard of the shootings thought if that could happen there it could happen anywhere?
But then we separate ourselves from it and often forget it too easy.  John Metta has pointed out in a recent sermon he gave titled “I, Racist”. John speaks from how when these events happen the black community thinks of an event affecting the “we” meaning  “we as the black community” however
“White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are “you,” I am “one of them.” Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.”[4]

Yet because these events happen in and around faith communities, churches I believe we can speak of this is affecting us. Robert C. Henderson a Parliament of Religion trustee writes;
“Once again our hearts are broken by acts of senseless violence—murders driven by the cancerous madness of racism. And once again the scene is a church, where God fearing souls gathered for Bible study and worship—spiritual fellowship and love, were taken from their families and friends in the vain hope of prompting a racial holy war.

While families and friends grieve and forgive, people of good will and faith offer support and prayers, and politicians make statements, Americans would benefit from deep reflection on the underlying cause of racial division, the heavy price we pay for hate, and the rising sun of racial amity and concord slowly illuminating the darkness of our divided past.”[5]

That last line is where I am heading I want us to look towards that “rising sun of racial amity.”  I do not want to be all doom and gloom but there are some important things coming out of this past week and a lot of it got buried.  Why? I believe it is because many of us hold an internal shame for what this country has done and often continues to do in ignorance. 
Ignorance, a simple lack of knowledge.  If you were brought up with a certain flag and told it represents southern pride. If that was the common message being taught all around, why would you question it? I can understand that and then, shame on us as a country for not doing a better job of educating our children.  But today with access to instant information and hundreds of articles showing how something never was and cannot continue to be protected because it always has been a symbol of hate there is no excuse, and now it is done.
Yet this conversation, which probably should have happened at the end of the civil war has not truly been addressed till today.  I am not going to question our past.  I am not here to judge how we have or have not progressed, by the way I know we have progressed.  But what I am talking about is we still have a way to go. Yet I believe Charleston may have been a major turning point.  Why?  Because not only did a president pay attention…so did a nation.
As the president eulogized Rev. Clementa Pickney he said somethings that were profound.  One addresses a question I have been asked.  Why does the UCC address the politics?  Why don’t you just address the concerns of the church? 
“Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of the AME church. (Applause.) As our brothers and sisters in the AME church know, we don't make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation, but…the life and community in which our congregation resides.” (Applause.)[6]
You see all this stuff that goes on in the world has always been the concern of the church and sometimes, like today, it is our job to hunt it down, bring it to the foreground and talk about it.  Now if you have been paying attention I have not spoken of solutions.  I have only talked about what has happened. Today’s gospel does not talk about solutions it just bluntly told you what happened.  John was executed and his disciples took his body and buried him.
Why put this story in the Gospel if not to talk about it?  Why do these things happen if we are not going to talk about it?  Is talking about it enough? I will say yes and no.  First it depends upon how we talk and second what that talking about it inspires.
President Obama went onto say; “Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah -- (applause) -- rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart -- (applause) -- and taught that they matter. (Applause.) That’s what happens in church.”[7]
Did you hear that the president emphasized what the traditional black churches have meant to people? Where slaves could worship in safety, where free descendants could shout hallelujah, rest for the weary, bunkhouse for soldiers, centers of education, job organization, and justice work and he concludes this paragraph by saying; “That’s what happens in Church.”
That is what happens in church, not just the AME church, but church.  This church, the church you visit on vacation, the church that is having service right now down the street. That is what happens in church!
When speaking of the shooter who acted out in violence the president preached.  President Obama took hold of that pulpit and the Spirit of God spoke through him as clearly as it has spoken through the Gospel today.  Here is what he said
oh, but God works in mysterious ways. (Applause.) God has different ideas. (Applause.)

He didn’t know he was being used by God. (Applause.) Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that. (Applause.)

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- (applause) -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood -- the power of God’s grace. (Applause.)[8]

The Power of God’s grace not only to allow the families of the victims to speak of forgiveness.  But the Grace to allow us to gather here today, living in God’s amazing love, knowing we may have not been perfect people but now, as a nation, we are rising to these challenges that have faced us for so long. We are not allowing, we cannot allow, hate to be a rule for this land any more.  Love has to win, not just in marriage equality, but in equality, period.  Far too long we have allowed this smoldering fire of racial injustice continue.  We have allowed for sexual inequality to continue, we have allowed for economic injustice to continue.  In the face of these atrocities, conversations have reignited, do not let them fade into the background of one victory, or worse yet, just one tragedy.
To maybe hear a different voice in this I want to share
“a few excerpts from “The Vision of Race Unity—America’s Most Challenging Issue,” a statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States….

In no other country is the promise of organic unity more immediately demonstrable than in the United States because this country is a microcosm of the diverse populations of the earth. Yet this promise remains largely unrealized even here because of the endemic racism that, like a cancer, is corroding the vitals of the nation…

The application of the spiritual principle of the oneness of humanity to the life of the nation would necessitate and make possible vast changes in the economic status of the non-white segments of the population. Although poverty afflicts members of all races, its victims tend to be largely people of color. Prejudice and discrimination have created a disparity in standards of living, providing some with excessive economic advantage while denying others the bare necessities for leading healthy and dignified lives. Poor housing, deficient diet, inadequate health care, insufficient education are consequences of poverty that afflict African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans more than they afflict the rest of the population. The cost to society at large is heavy…
The persistent neglect by the governing bodies and the masses of the American people of the ravages of racism jeopardizes both the internal order and the national security of the country.[9]
The concept of oneness that must be the rule of this land and allowed to rule our hearts is simple.  The world is one people. There can be no justification for disparity in wages.  There can be no disparity between the sexes.  There is no room for disparity among the races.
This past Fourth of July weekend the hymn America was song and played all over this country.  America, America God shed Grace on thee.  God did not shed grace on some but not others, God’s grace is not something earned but gifted.  Gifted to each and every one of us no matter race, sex, religion, social or economic status.  Now we must start acting like it.
It is our job as Christians to stop the language that hurts.  If you hear hate speech, stop it or walk away.  If you see an injustice call it out or seek out the group that is working to stop it for there are strengths in numbers. Better yet when you see an article about a church burning, a hate crime happening, it will make you uncomfortable, but read it, understand it, talk about it.  Do not allow silence to be the rule anymore.
You see marriage equality happened because we could not be silent anymore.  Yet racial inequality, discrimination and downright hate are allowed to continue for centuries because we refuse to talk about it.  We regulate it to the back pages.  We rather be joyful and celebrate than be uncomfortable and look at our own history of perpetuating another’s otherness.
Jesus warned the disciples nothing is safe.  John the Baptist who was loved by a king was even executed by the man who respected him because he spoke out against him.  I believe this is a time to no longer stay safe.  I needed to talk about this and I pray the conversation continues beyond this simple sermon.  As Christians we are called to stand up and risk it all so that all may know and be treated, not just know but be treated the same. As we are all created from the same dust, as we are all created in the image of the same God, as we are all given the same Grace then so we must proclaim it and act upon it.
That action can take shape in many ways.  First and foremost Prayer, yes I got prayer into this sermon.  Secondly conversations with each other, your neighbors, your friends.  Get involved, Clergy and laity for economic Justice, Habitat for Humanity, or the walk for hunger.  See what the southern Poverty law center is talking about or, aware –la, is talking about. Check out the Justice and witness ministries of the United Church of Christ.
Remember as it was stated in Centering Prayer today; “Movements are driven by passion not asserting yourself dominant by a world that already put you there.”[10]  I am speaking of deep listening and walking beside the other.  This is only how we can work as a nation, as a congregation, to heal and cure this underlying dis-ease.  I use the term dis-ease as in not at ease, but uncomfortable, because there is still work to be done.
I know this is not a comfortable topic.  I know this is not for everyone.  I also know there is at least one person here who is thinking right now maybe I have not done enough.  Maybe I can take a risk and do more.  I pray for this congregation, this denomination and this nation.  This is the conversation that was started by a shooting, I pray this conversation, one day, will no longer be needed. Amen!

[1] Joel B. Green, Common English Bible: Study Bible (Nashville TN: Common English Bible Inc, 2013), NT 78.
[2] Kirsten West Savali, Silence Around Who Is Burning Black Churches Speaks Volumes, July 5, 2015, accessed July 6, 2015,
[3] Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley, Lost Voices, 2015, accessed July 6, 2015,
[4] John Metta, I, Racist, July 6, 2015, accessed July 11, 2015,
[5] Robert C. Henederson, Reflections on Charleston and the Path to Unity, July 2, 2015, accessed July 6, 2015,
[6] Paige Lavender, You Absolutely Have To Watch And Read Obama's Full Eulogy For Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Medium, accessed July 6, 2015,
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Henederson, Reflections on Charleston and the Path to Unity.
[10] Simpson and Bostley, Lost Voices.

1 comment:

  1. Until the sermon alone is loaded up. Watch the archive service:

    Watch the poem on racism. Rev. Joe's sermon on racism is very good. One of the best I heard such a justice sermon since I was with the Jesuits. Also view Joe's signing the consecration as Christian musician and vocalist Bob Bennett sings. Three moments of grace.