Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.
These are the names of the victims from the shootings that took place on Wednesday evening in Charleston, SC at the Emanuel AME Church after Bible Study. These are the names that we can not forget.
When I first learned about the events in Charleston on Wednesday night, I immediately began to wonder--how does this happen. How does this kind of thing happen in a church? I have asked this question too many times lately, just with a different location--how does this happen in our neighborhood, in our schools, in our malls, in our movie theaters. How does this kind of thing happen in places that we think are safe? Aren’t we supposed to be able to walk down the street, go to church, the movies, school, do a little shopping...things that “normal” people do on a daily basis without fear or trepidation? Aren’t we supposed to feel safe and secure in our daily living?
I don’t live my life from a place of fear. I live my life from a place of hope, joy and love. I may experience moments of grief, anger or anxiety, but these feelings don’t rule my life--they are part of life.
I am just trying to make sense of it all.
In listening to the news reports on Thursday night, I remembered two brief interviews that were given. One was of a woman who said that even in the midst of this tragedy, she was living with Jesus whose peace passes all understanding...those were words I recognized immediately...words from the Blessing that is found in the Prayer Book. The second was a pastor saying that we are called to live in a world that respects the dignity of every human being...again, words I recognized immediately from our Baptismal Covenant. This connection of words linked these men and women to my heart on an even deeper level.
And I felt inspired by the courage of these two interviewees. I felt that all hope was not lost; that there will be peace again. But sometimes before there is peace, we have to weather the storm.
I was going to speak this morning about the gospel story from Mark of Jesus stilling the storm. I was going to talk about how it serves as a metaphor for so many moments of confusion and anxiety in our lives and how we just need to persevere, pray, and wait for Jesus to still these storms in our lives. I was going to talk about how in many ways, this gospel is a metaphor for the church right now--riding the waves of media reports about how we’re “dying” and how the N-O-N-E-S are the largest identified group in the US, and how this is part of what we’re wrestling with on a national level at General Convention--and that Jesus is offering us peace if we just don’t give up hope. You see, I had this whole great sermon all set up and ready to go...my waves were calm and it was smooth sailing between now and Tuesday’s flight to Salt Lake City.
But then life happened. But then a young man walked into a church, sat in a prayer meeting, and killed nine people. A young white man filled with rage and hatred, walked into a black church, sat with them, heard about their lives and listened to their prayers, and he shot them. Was Jesus asleep while the tides turned?
I don’t know. What happened at Emanuel is inexcusable. What happened at Emanuel is the result of systems that are broken--gun laws that aren’t strict enough, mental illness that has not be treated, and the fact that racism still exists in our neighborhoods. We can pray, we can listen, we can stand in solidarity, but we need to also be aware of how we participate in these broken systems. How do we confront the injustices that allow for events like this to occur? When will we say enough is enough?
I can’t tell you when that moment is. I can’t tell you exactly what you should do about it. But for me, I will pray, I will name it, I will stand against it. I will live with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. I will live in a way that respects the dignity of every human being. I will see my neighbors--regardless of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class status, legal status, ability or ethnicity--as children of God, created in the image of God, knowing that Jesus walks with them.
On Thursday night I turned to my colleagues for help--help to find the words, help to make sense of it, help to pray. I want to share some of that wisdom with you now.
The Rev. Denise Anderson asked “what about your life demonstrates that you walk in solidarity with others who experience life differently from you because of their skin color, legal status, or sexual orientation?” (http://soulascriptura.com/2015/06/allies-the-time-for-your-silence-has-expired/)
The Rev. Wil Gafney said, “We are your fellow citizens, your neighbors, your sisters and brothers sharing a common humanity, we are all children of the same God. I should not have to remind you that we who are blessed with radiant blackness are the image of God. When you grind our faces into the dirt, you grind the very face of God into the dirt. When you slaughter us you slaughter God.”
The Rev. Teri Peterson said, “They are us. And just as they are ours, we are theirs. That's what it means to be part of one nation under God, or the Body of Christ...when one suffers, we all suffer. When one dies, we all die. When one hurts, we all hurt. When one does harm, we all bear some of that guilt and pain. When one celebrates, we all celebrate. After all, we celebrate when one of our kids graduates. We grieve when one of our neighbors dies. We groan alongside our friends who are ill. We would be outraged if one of our Bible Studies were the scene of terrorism. And we would wonder what happened and how we could have done something differently if the shooter were one of ours.”
Friends, I wish I had something positive to say, but it would be cliche and dismissive at this point. I wish I could somehow undo the wrong that has been done to our brothers and sisters, the wrongs that have been done out of a place of privilege, the wrongs done out of fear, anger and hate. And when we say our corporate confession on Sunday, I wish that I could with absolute certainty and peacefulness, absolve us of the things done and left undone. But I can’t.
When we pass the peace, I hope you will look at one another with eyes of love, respect and forgiveness.
When we come to the table to share the Eucharist, come not only to be renewed in your faith, but also in your witness as Christ-bearers to the world.
The storm is still raging.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.