A sermon of lament for Charleston

a sermon preached on 6/21/15

I had a plan for today.

There are a number of things going on and I feel God is leading us.  There are important things to share about our future together.  In truth, I am genuinely excited about these things God is doing in our little church
·         Feel a change in the air,
·         God is breathing life and purpose into us.
·         God is knitting hearts together.
 So the plan was to talk about what God is doing in us and how to give ourselves to it.

I planned to begin a new series called FutureProof, where we looked at 1 Corinthians 15 and talked about our future.  In particular, with all of the transitions and comings and goings, I wanted to talk about hope and the kinds of things we're promise.  In fact, Rev. Doi was so encouraged by all that is going on, he mused out loud about skipping his sabbatical.  That is good news!  So that was the plan. 

After that?
Well in the quiet of the summer, we are trying to hammer out some things about house churches.  We need more centers of connection and discipleship, so we are hoping to do the legwork now and reboot house churches in the fall with a renewed emphasis on discipleship.And of course we then we have the holiday season, advent, when we contemplate the incarnation and celebrate.  And the plan was that, connected in intentional discipleship groups, cheered and encouraged, in the new year, we could begin another extended consideration about race and justice in a thorough way. 

That was the plan.

But all that changed last Wednesday when a man walked into a prayer group in Charleston South Carolina and killed 9 people.  I am sure, by now that everyone has heard what happened, whether online, in print or on TV.  We all have heard of the terrible killing in Emmanuel AME Church of Charleston. 

What do you say in the face of such tragedy?
What kind of response do you have?

It seemed a greater indignity to not talk about the week's events.

In Romans 12, Paul writes that we must, "14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."  Today we must mourn with those who mourn.  Members of the Body of Christ were violently taken from their families, and this is something that must affect us all, if at a distance.  We have to learn to mourn and share in God's righteous grief at injustice.

These are the nine people who were killed last week.  
·         Cynthia Graham Hurd,
·         Susie Jackson,
·         Ethel Lance,
·         Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor,
·         The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney,
·         Tywanza Sanders
·         Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.
·         Rev. Sharonda Singleton,
·         Myra Thompson,
Grandmothers, daughters, fathers, coaches, pastors, state senators.
They were people with families.  They are people who were loved, people who mean something to God. We must open our hearts to them and pray that God would comfort their families in their loss.

Make no mistake, theirs is a powerful witness to the gospel.  They invited the killer in.  They welcomed the stranger at the door.  The Pastor asked him to sit next to him.  They prayed together.  They treated him with the dignity and humanity he was not able to have.  They blessed the one who persecuted him. 

There is no greater sermon to be preached this morning than the response of the families at the arraignment who, through tears, forgave the killer.  They confronted his evil and exhorted him to repent.  They refused his evil the last word.  The footage of this, of the families response, is staggering.  A friend remarked that it was the single greatest argument he had heard for Christianity.  They returned forgiveness for violence in an eye for an eye world. 

These nine are martyrs who lost their lives offering love in the name of Jesus. 
They are a part of the legacy of AME church that has doing it for centuries in the face of injustice, and this morning we remember their faithfulness, and their resistance to the idea that some lives are worth less than others. This is right in the eyes of God. 

I also want you to understand that  from first to last, this act of terror was entirely about race. 
In the ensuing days, all manner of disturbing talk on media airwaves has come out.  Predictably folk have rushed to describe the white killer as a lone gunman who was mentally ill.  They have labeled it an attack on Christianity. 

But don't be fooled.

The killer said it was about race.  His recently discovered manifesto is all about race.  His website supporting apartheid is about race.  That people so quickly want to ignore the killers own words and the most obvious physical evidence and to assign other causes; talk about mental illness, religious persecution, gun rights, is a testimony to how deeply ingrained it is in the fabric of our country to ignore the power of race at work in us.

We can't take comfort and console ourselves by saying that he was a lone killer, a deranged man, an anomaly, as if such violence and hatred towards black people is the exception, and not the norm for many.

African American churches have always been targets.  The AME church was birthed in protest to racism, it was a church outlawed and attacked.  We remember the 60's when black churches were targeted with firebombs and guns, when the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham Alabama, became a symbol for the civil rights movement. We remember the black church burnings that took place in the 90's in Alabama.  We must recognize and deal with the ways the scales of justice are tilted away from people who do not look like  dominant white culture in our country.

A faithful response to the events in Charleston must take seriously that the system we live in, whether or not you believe it or experience it this way, leads to the death and oppression of black people on a consistently high rate.  Injustice here follows a sliding scale based on the color of your skin.  The events in Charleston expose to the rest of the country once again, what black folk have long known, that there are powers and principalities of racism that have a claim in the spirit of America

Do you know that among the murdered was a state senator, Pinckney?
Though all the capitol flags were flown at half mast, by law, the confederate flag, the very symbol of the  war to preserve slavery as a way of life, could not be lowered in respect even at the state capitol? This is the same war the killer said he wanted to start again.  And as the killer rose to kill the saints around him, he told them that he had to, he had to kill them because black people they take our women and are taking over our country.  As obscene as this is, it is eerily similar what Donald Trump said just one day earlier about Mexican immigrants as he announced his candidacy for president.  He railed against Mexican immigrants taking women, taking over. 

Regardless of what you think about Trump as a political candidate, how is it ok say this on national tv?  Is it such a popular opinion that no one cares?  You see we have criminalized melanin. 

So I want the testimony of these 9 brothers and sisters to haunt us.  Our understanding of how the world works must be challenged.  We need to be a part of hte hard questions about this place.  What kind of forces conspire to bear this bitter fruit so consistently in our country?

Our Text this morning is from Jeremiah, Ch.6.
Jeremiah 6
Take warning, O Jerusalem,
    or I shall turn from you in disgust,
and make you a desolation,
    an uninhabited land.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Glean thoroughly as a vine
    the remnant of Israel;
like a grape-gatherer, pass your hand again
    over its branches.

10 To whom shall I speak and give warning,
    that they may hear?
See, their ears are closed,
    they cannot listen.
The word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn;
    they take no pleasure in it.
11 But I am full of the wrath of the Lord;
    I am weary of holding it in.

Pour it out on the children in the street,
    and on the gatherings of young men as well;
both husband and wife shall be taken,
    the old folk and the very aged.
12 Their houses shall be turned over to others,
    their fields and wives together;
for I will stretch out my hand
    against the inhabitants of the land,
says the Lord.

13 For from the least to the greatest of them,
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
14 They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
    saying, “Peace, peace,”
    when there is no peace.
15 They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
    yet they were not ashamed,
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
    at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.

In the 6th C BC, God called Jeremiah to prophesy the impending destruction and captivity of Jerusalem.  Soaked in injustice and idolatry, God judged Jerusalem.

This word is a warning. It is a call for Judah to examine her national habits for the Babylonians would come like a gleaning, picking every last morsel from them. Because God's people could not hear Him calling them to repent.  They ignored the things he had said, and His wrath, his punishment stirred at the injustice. 

And look!  God's accusation is that everyone from greatest to least is looking to get ahead, do well.  Succeed at any cost.  Dishonesty was the norm. And their injustice crystallized as an unwillingness to care for the wounded, those trampled under the rush to get ahead.  All the while, people claim "Peace, peace, when there is no peace," unable to admit or deal with the injustice in their midst.  "Don't make a fuss" they say.  The status quo will get us there.  Like the surrounding nations they pursued their own gain, acting shamefully, committing abominations, following after false idols.   

This oracle is a warning to listen!  It is a warning to be sensitive to the suffering around.  It is a rejection of rthe insistence on "peace, peace" while everyone pursues unjust too busy, too self interested, to care about the injustice and dishonesty that results.  When the wounds of God's people are treated carelessly, his wrath is stirred.

We must treat this wound of injustice in our nation with great care.  We must learn to listen to the suffering louder than the dollar and convenience.  We cannot ignore the wounds anymore.  We cannto ignore race because we think we see colorblindness.  We cannot cling to abstract principles and theology that defend our position in a system from which we profit. 

Because we do profit from it. 

Our nation, the most prosperous nation in the world, was founded on the land of Native Americans with the Labor of African slaves.  There is a wound here we struggle to even talk about, that we still profit from.

All the talk this week of a lone wolf, a crazy man, is another way to cry "peace, peace,"  when there is none and ignore the cries of black folk in our country who testify to a daily experience of violence.  It is treating the wound carelessly.  It is ignoring how ingrained the dishonesty of racial inequality is in our society.

I know some of you here today have tasted this bitter fruit as well, even if only in part;from people telling you that you speak English really well, to jobs not offered because of a perceived lack of potential to people telling you to go home.  Race is the wound of our time and place. 

Be careful not to say "peace, peace." 
"Everything's fine"
We must be careful not to close our ears.  People are dying because of the racial injustice deeply ingrained in our civilization, dying because of a primal wound in our country.  We must not treat the wound carelessly!

So what can we do as a Church?  How can we respond as the People of God?

First, we must admit we are involved in the problem.  That sounds weird.  I realize as a white man it means something different from me.  I know that we are a largely Asian American church.  But even that label isn't fair.  It does not do justice to the vastly different experience of Japanese American and Vietnamese Americans.  It doesn't do justice to the Mexican American experience, the different Latino experiences.

Most of us are here, by and large, because someone came here to get ahead, to thrive.  From greatest to least, we are here for gain though not unjust.  Remember the prosperity of this place was created at expense of at least 4 million Native Americans living in the land we claimed, and that land was worked by 10 million African slaves.  All of us, from Sons & Daughters of the American revolution to recent immigrants stand to benefit currently from how this place began unjustly.

I don’t know what to do about that?  I certainly can't fix it on my own.  But we can and must bear witness to the truth of what has happened.  We must.  We must acknowledge the fallenness of our national myths, our best ideas about country and governement, all these things are fallen before God.  Our history tells the truth, and if our loyalty is to Jesus and the peaceful to the Kingdom He brings, then we must speak the truth about our history.  

The second thing we must do is learn to lament.
No healing without sorrow.  Lamentation is a mourning that things are broken beyond what we can fix.  It is a confession before God.  It is sorrow over what has happened; sorrow for our inability to be just, sorrow for our indifference, sorrow for the shattering loss people have experienced.  It is  sackcloth and ashes.  

The power of honest lament is great, saving even the wicked city of Ninevah.
See it is in the psalms, the prophets; there is an entire book called Lamentations...
Jesus himself laments over Jerusalem, weeping for its hard heartedness. 
It is a kind of sorrowful truth telling that puts yourself in the story.    

So I would like to lead us this morning in a liturgy of lament.  This morning, there are many churches who have chosen to participate in a liturgy of lament, to be right before God.  Leroy Barber has recommended it to churches.  It doesn’t fix things, it doesn’t make the problem go away, but it is a start in truth and I do believe God has said we must be part of the answer.

If you will stand,  I will read aloud the confession, and then congregation the response.  
Afterwards we will take a moment of silence and then worship God around the eucharist.  

[at this point, we participated in the Liturgy of Lament for Charleston at http://onechurchliturgy.com/] 


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