Plea from AME Pastor

plea from an AME pastor went out a few days ago in the Huffington Post:

To my white Christian brethren, I don’t need for you to tell me how angry you are. I need you to tell your white family members, friends and congregants. I need you to talk about your anger at racism and white supremacy from the pulpit. I need you to urge your congregants to address racism in their own family. White folks know who their racist family members and friends are — now is not the time sit idly by and ignore it. We must face those who we love, and challenge their prejudice. White folks must say, “no more” to racism, especially when it’s a system that they benefit from.

It was shared with me on Facebook, but I didn’t see it until this morning, because AT&T and Facebook weren’t playing together nicely, and it only now occurred to me that I could turn off my wifi connection and access Facebook through Verizon instead. My internet cluelessness aside, the whole article is well worth reading. Yesterday, I did make an attempt at addressing race from the pulpit, because Holy Trinity is a historically white (Hungarian) parish in the midst of a predominantly African American neighborhood. We are learning what it means to be in relationship with our neighbors. I don’t usually post my sermons online, but maybe this one needs a wider audience.

Proper 7—Year B (RCL—1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 / Psalm 9:9-20 / 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 / Mark 4:35-41)

Church of the Holy Trinity—Terri Bays

South Bend, IN

Proper 7—Year B    Church of the Holy Trinity
RCL    South Bend, IN

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

From Psalm 9:
The LORD will be a refuge for the oppressed,
a refuge in time of trouble.
In the name of the Father. . . Amen.

What a week this has been!
We may have heard the news Wednesday night,
Or we may have awakened to it Thursday morning,
But I hope it is safe to say
That we were all appalled
To hear that nine of our Christian brothers and sisters
Had been gunned down in their church
Where they had gathered for bible study,
And that their killer
Was a man they had welcomed into their midst,
A man who had prayed with them,
Looked them in the eye
And then shot them dead
Simply because they were black.
These people were not thieves or drug dealers or gang bangers.
They were not engaged in a domestic violence dispute.
They weren’t even in the wrong place at the wrong time.
They were poets and preachers,
Librarians and speech therapists,
County workers and sextons.
Christians doing exactly what God called them to do,
Exactly where God was calling them to do it,
And a man they had welcomed into their midst,
A man who had prayed with them,
Looked them in the eye
And then shot them dead
Simply because they were black.
And we were appalled.

We have stood around and wrung our hands
Just as we have stood around and wrung our hands
In response to all the racial violence of this year
And of years past.
It is no accident at such times
that “appalled” means to be made pale,
Because those of us who are white
become all the more conscious of our whiteness
when our brothers and sisters are being subjected
not only to shootings, but also to “afflictions and hardships,
calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots,
labors, sleepless nights, and hunger”
simply because they are black.
“What is this world coming to?” we wonder aloud.
And we take shelter among ourselves as best we can.

The ranks of Israel were likewise appalled
When Goliath of Gath stood before them
And challenged one of them
To represent his people.
If he is able to fight with me and kill me,
Shouted Goliath, “then we will be your servants;
but if I prevail against him and kill him,
then you shall be our servants and serve us.”
How chilling it is so hear those words,
Knowing that there are still those among us
Who would fight and kill
In order to return African Americans
To a state of servitude—
If not a full servitude under state law
Then at least a servitude of fear, under a state of siege.

What Goliath didn’t know,
And what our killer this week didn’t know,
Was that he would be fighting
Not only against mere mortals
But against the God who has sworn to protect them.

Goliath doesn’t know this, but David does,
and when Goliath taunts him, David says to Goliath,
“You come to me with sword and spear and javelin;
but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts,
the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand.”
And the Lord does deliver Goliath into David’s hand
Against all apparent odds.

If it seems to you, however,
That victory is not quite so apparent
In the case of our nine sisters and brothers in Charleston,
Take another look.

In the bond hearing Friday for the primary suspect, Dylann Roof,
Family members of those who had been killed
Were given the opportunity to address the suspect.
Here is some of what they said,
According to the New York Times.

“You took something very precious away from me,”
said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance,
her voice rising in anguish.
“I will never talk to her ever again.
I will never be able to hold her again.
But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night
in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders,
the mother of 26-year old Tywanza Sanders,
a poet who died after trying to save his aunt,
who was also killed.
“You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,”
she said in a quavering voice.
“Every fiber in my body hurts,
and I will never be the same.
Tywanza Sanders is my son,
but Tywanza was my hero.
Tywanza was my hero.
But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you.
But may God have mercy on you.”

“It was,” remarked the NYT reporters
(a group not much known for their expressions of faith)
as if the Bible study had never ended
as one after another, victims’ family members
offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith
that is not compromised by violence or grief.
They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.”

Nine people were killed,
But their people were not returned to servitude.
Nine people were killed,
But the faith in which they died
Is only strengthened by their deaths.

If we are appalled by what happened in South Carolina,
If those of us who are white
are called to account for our whiteness,
Let us demonstrate that the faith
That burns strong in the hearts of the people
of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church,
burns strong in our hearts as well.

Now as David was preparing to face Goliath,
Saul offered to dress David in Saul’s own armor.
David tried on the armor,
and strapped Saul’s sword over the armor,
and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them.
Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these;
for I am not used to them.”
So David removed them.

In the weeks and months to come,
Many people will offer us armor
In which we will be unable to walk.
They will offer us the kinds of protection
That set up barriers of hate and fear between people
In order to protect them from physical harm.
But the people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Have shown us a far better way.
They have set aside the armor of fear
And put on the armor Paul speaks of to the Corinthians:
The armor of purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness,
holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God;
They have taken up the weapons of righteousness
for the right hand and for the left.
This is the armor in which they, like Paul
Were called to walk as children of the light.
This is the armor in which we too are called
To walk beside them
And to walk beside all the people of this neighborhood.

Our psalmist says to us
that the Lord never forsakes those who seek Him.
Never, means never.
Even after death, The Avenger of blood will remember them; *
he will not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Do we have the courage and the faith
To avenge the blood shed in Charleston on Wednesday?
Do we have the courage and the faith
To show that our nine Christian brothers and sisters
Have not died in vain,
But rather by their example and that of their families
have turned the hearts of these white people
To the loving care of their neighbors?

I ask you, my brothers and sisters,
Will you simply stand there and be appalled,
Or will you summon the courage
To walk with our neighbors
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
And of the Holy Spirit?

A Pastoral Letter from our Bishop on the Charleston Tragedy

June 19, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

Shortly after the devastating news of the mass murders at Emmanuel AME Church began to spread, a deacon of our diocese wrote to me.  “Why?” he asked.  “How could such a thing happen in a sacred place?  What can I say to people who are looking for an explanation?”  I have pondered those questions for a day and still am unable to answer.  The “Why?” and the “How?” are unfathomable in the face of overwhelming evil.  Nine people are dead, brothers and sisters in Christ.  They were cut down solely because of their race.  How could one human being inflict such a thing on another?  How can we hear God’s voice in the midst of the storm of emotions – from fear to anger to bewilderment – that sweep over us?

In the end, we are reduced to silence and prayer.  I find myself seeking to be still in the presence of the Lord.  I find myself gazing at the cross, and into the face of the One who suffered immeasurably on our behalf.  I find myself allowing the questions simply to be, now and perhaps forever unanswered.  Meanwhile, we can seek comfort in the familiar and oft-prayed words of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer – words that themselves were written by people who asked the same questions and struggled with their own version of the same pain.

Here are some texts that have seared themselves into my heart.  Perhaps they will touch yours as well.  In the first, the Psalmist – like us – pleads for understanding, and then slowly, tentatively, recognizes the Lord presence, without “explaining away” the evil.

O God, why have you utterly cast us off?
Why is your wrath so hot against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation that purchased long ago,
and the tribe you redeemed to be your inheritance,
and Mount Zion where you dwell.
Turn your steps toward the endless ruins;
the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.
Your adversaries roared in your holy place;
they set up banners as tokens of victory.
Yet God is my King from ancient times,
victorious in the midst of the earth.
(Psalm 74:1-4,11)

In the second, the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus himself suffered our sufferings and prayed our prayers (indeed, his Prayer Book was the Book of Psalms).  He walked the way of the Cross not only to rescue us from sin, but also to drink to the dregs the pain of human life.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
(Hebrews 5:7-8)

And finally, two prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brothers and sisters Cynthia, Sharonda, Ethel, Tywanza, Clementa, Myra, DePayne, Daniel, and Susie, who were reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that their death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love.  Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way, and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 498)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 815)

I ask that this Sunday, in all the parishes of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, prayer be offered for the victims, for their families, for the city of Charleston and all touched by this tragedy, and for our nation.  With all blessings I am

Yours in Christ,