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Sermon after Charleston
A sermon preached by Sandi Albom on June 21, 2015


Click on the blue arrow at the bottom of this page to listen to this sermon.

Holy Father, disturb our hearts, Holy Son, break open our lives, Holy Spirit lead us to wholeness.  Amen.

 

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinkney

Tywanza Sanders

The Rev. Daniel Simmons

The Rev. Sharonda Singleton

Myra Thompson

 

By now, you know who they are.  Perhaps you have only heard them referred to as the nine members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, shot dead by a young man in Charleston, SC this week.  I wanted to know their names and to speak aloud each one of them – Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda, and Myra. 

I knew I needed to talk about this today and frankly, I was fearful.  I wanted to find some profound message to give to you this week.  I struggled with what to say, how to say it.  You know…… there’s an overwhelming temptation to feel like we need to say the right words, have the right message, before we can speak.  I kept thinking…..there must be some nugget I’ve learned in seminary that can quiet our broken hearts; some profound wisdom that I should have picked up on to tell you all today. 

And, when it all came down to it, what made the most sense to me was to speak from the place that is most familiar to me…and that is as a Christian.  And so I relied not on my own knowledge and instincts, but in God’s Word. 

In the Gospel story today Jesus and his disciples set off from a long day of teaching the crowds in Galilee for a different shore.  Mark tells us the disciples take Jesus, just as he is…those are the words Mark uses…just as he is…. exhausted and drained from a long day…….really many long days of being surrounded by throngs of people needing healing, hoping for a miracle.  Jesus, just as he is, very human in his need for rest, lies down and falls asleep.

Well, we know what happens.  A great windstorm arises and beats down upon the boat.  Waves crash and the boat takes on water.  The panicking disciples wake Jesus – “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”  And Jesus calms the storm with a command – “Peace.  Be Still.”

What happens next is for me the hard part.  Jesus says to the shaken men, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Well hey, why wouldn’t the disciples be afraid?  Some of these men were fishermen.  They knew the predicament they were in.  Their fear was not unfounded.

So, does experiencing fear mean that we don’t have faith?  I don’t think so.   A scripture reflection I read this week really resonated with me.  It said, “although we often confuse them….. saying ‘there’s nothing to be afraid of’ is a very different thing from saying, ‘do not be afraid’.  The hard truth is that fearsome things are very real.”[1]

I don’t believe Jesus is saying there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Fear can be healthy.  It can allow us to be cautious where it is warranted.  Think about a time when you were about to make an important decision.  A little fear and doubt can help us examine a situation from several angles, to lead us to take a deep breath, perhaps ask for help or advice, or perhaps to even pray. 

I worry about people that say they have no doubt or fear, especially when talking about faith.  One of my favorite passages from scripture comes later in Mark’s gospel when a father asks Jesus to release his son from the grip of an evil spirit.  Jesus says to him, “All things are possible to him who believes.”  The man replies, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  How brutally honest this is. … “I believe, help my unbelief.”  How very human, how very real that is.  I mean, who of us here couldn’t say that at any given time?  “I believe, help my unbelief.”  That gift of belief/unbelief simply underscores that a reliance on God is what God intends. [2]

When I heard about the tragedy in Charleston this week, I was stunned and shocked.  I felt sick.  And, I was afraid.  Nine people of faith - Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Cementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda, and Myra – welcomed a stranger into their company and studied and prayed with him.  Nine people took our Savior’s words to heart, “to love one another as I have loved you”. 

There is nothing simple about responding to this terrible event.  In our anger and frustration we may call for vengeance.  In our fear, we may choose to stay behind locked doors, to suspect every stranger that comes into our midst.  

It is frightening that over and over again in the very recent past we are confronted with the fact that racism and hatred is not a thing of the past.  We have not yet cured the disease in our country, despite our hopes and beliefs to the contrary. “Wake up Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I have to tell you that my heart races and I become short of breath just trying to wrap my head around how pervasive this issue of racism is.  I can become paralyzed when I consider what my response should be.  After all, I am just one person.  What can I do? 

And there is Jesus, just as he is, calling to us from that boat in those unpredictable waters, “Peace. Be still. Be calm. You do not have to do this alone.  You do not have to live in fear.  Come, live in me, in the community of my Body.  He says, “even though things are fearsome, they do not need to have the last word.” [3]

The most extraordinary thing took place on Friday when several family members of the Emmanuel AME church victims were able to address Dylann Roof in court.  They prayed for him and some forgave him.

 

          Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance

         “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

 

Relative of Myra Thompson

“I would just like him to know that, ……: I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.”

 

Sister of DePayne Middleton Doctor

“That was my sister, and I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

 

Their response just blows me away!  I think you can hear that the acts of forgiveness and mercy that each of these people put forth out of their belief in God are so very holy, and at the same time so very painful for them.  They are not saying that what has been done is in any way acceptable.  What we heard from them is that living with hate in their hearts for this man is contrary to everything God wants for them.  They will likely be renewing that forgiveness they offer today over and over in their hearts and minds, in the hours, days, weeks and years to come. 

And their example is just a beginning for us.  Indeed, it is yet another starting point in the very long and arduous voyage we are called again and again and again to take as members of Christ’s Body.  

We may be fearful, and, make no mistake; it will be scary to look hatred, racism and injustice in the face.  It’s hard to even say those words – hatred… racism…. injustice.  The conversations will be difficult.  The truths we must hear may not be what we want to hear.  The mirror we are called to look in may show us a reflection we don’t want to see.

Some people may not find our message as Christ’s own a hopeful one and will react with fear and anger.  We might lose a few folks along the way we thought were our friends.  And we will pray for them and love them, even when we don’t want to, and even when don’t feel like it.  And, you know what?  God calls us to do it anyway.  God does not want for us to live with hatred or suspicion in our hearts.  The good news is that we can follow Christ as our example, just as he is. 

I’ll quote once again from the reflection by Michael Lindvall.[4]  “Be not afraid.  Not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days, not because there are no storms, fierce winds or waves, but rather, because God is with us.”   Amen.

 

Several people requested the full reflection referenced in the sermon.  Here it is.  It come from a series called Daily Feast which provides a series of reflections on the Sunday Lectionary readings – HB, NT, Psalm and Gospel, in the week preceding.   I find it a nice way to prepare for Sundays whether I am the preacher or not.

Peace,  Sandi

 

Reflection by Michael Lindhal – Week leading to Proper 7, Saturday

Mark 4:35-41

Reflection

Although we confuse them, saying, “there’s nothing to be afraid of” is a very different thing from saying, “do not be afraid.”  The hard truth is that fearsome things are very real:  isolation, pain, illness, meaninglessness, rejection, losing one’s job, money problems, failure, illness, and death.  As we grow in faith, we come to understand that even though such fearsome things are very real, they do not have the last word.  They do not have ultimate power over us, because reigning over this world of fearsome things is a God who is mightier than they. 

Time and time again in Scripture the word is, “Do not be afraid”  It is, you might say, the first and last word of the gospel.  It is the word the angels speak to the terrified shepherds and the word spoken at the tomb when the women discover it empty: “Do not be afraid.”  Not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days, not because there are no storms, fierce winds, or waves, but rather, because God is with us.

 

[1] Lindahl, Michael.  Daily Feast, Year B.  p. 354.  Westminster John Knox Press. 2011.

[2] Mark 9: 14-29 NSRV

[3] Lindvall, 354.

[4] Lindvall, 354.

Last Published: June 25, 2015 9:48 AM