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Archive for June 2015

Sermon for a Sunday of Mourning and Repentance for the Racial Atrocity in Charleston, S.C. June 28, 2015

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28th 2015 Christ Lutheran

Lamentations 3:22-33 Psalm 30 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43

We Interrupt this Service

In our pastors’ bible study this week a pastor called our gospel story one of interruption. Jesus was on his way to healing Jairus’ twelve year old daughter, when the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years interrupted him. In our bible study another pastor, who is the chaplain for several nursing homes funded by four Lutheran churches in Oakland, noted that this woman was considered unclean, but she could approach Jesus and he did not reject her even though she had a twelve year unstoppable blood flow and the twelve year old girl, whom Jesus raised from the dead, was probably just beginning menstruation. Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus also had empathy even for women’s issues!

But recent events have shocked our nation: Our Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton is asking us to call a Sunday for mourning and repentance. So like we might hear a radio announcer say, “We interrupt this broadcast,” We interrupt this sermon to call for the mourning of the nine Christians who were murdered in that Bible Study in Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and to repent of the sin of prejudice and racism. Let us first hear the names of these martyrs for whom we rang the bells last Sunday: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethyl Lance, De Payne Middleton Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney (his mother named him after the great ball player and humanitarian Roberto Clemente), David L. Simmons, Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. Bishop Eaton has good reason to call us to repentance. The shooter who slaughtered these nine Christians was the member of an ELCA congregation and the Honorable Pastor Pinckney as well as the associate Pastor Simmons are graduates of the ELCA Southern Seminary. So this racial atrocity hits close to home.

Prejudice itself can be crude, subtle, and/or unconscious bias. Racism is prejudice enforced with institutional power, like our constitution allotting three fifths person-hood to Black people or banks redlining an all-White area so that African Americans cannot buy homes there. When police have been shooting so many Black men and boys and a new Jim Crow situation is a foot, I thought many of us would attend our anti-racism workshop. I’m not sure why we stayed away. Don’t let the term scare you. You take antibiotics when you have an infection. You take an antidote for pain. We need anti-racism conscientization. We need to become aware about what is happening in our country. Perhaps some of this racism is coming out because President Obama, an African American, is our man in the White House. He opened a twitter feed and racists insulted him with many crude slurs, making the White House staff consider closing his account.

Racism is a sin and we are all sinners, including me and I have been the pastor of Black churches for many years. In one workshop, some participants refused to say that they were racist. But we have to be willing to confess it so that the forgiveness that those Christian families gave the killer also reaches us. They overwhelmed us when they spoke forgiveness in the face of such carnage, such hate, and such evil. They are real followers of Jesus, who from the cruel rails of the cross said, “Father, forgive them. They know no what they do.”

We have to own up to our prejudice and racism, because it is sin. What does our confession of sins say? (It is quoting the Epistle of John.) “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We really can’t help it, because we are part of a society that from the get-go was set up for White advantage and Black disadvantage and we should not be like ostriches with our heads stuck in the sand so that we don’t see what going on. Like the Germans in World War II saying, “We did not know what was going on.” “Where ignorance is bliss, it’s a folly to be wise.” To know some things makes life more difficult. That is part of bearing the cross. “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” What do you think hurts Black people more, our ignorance or our apathy? And we answer, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” (Those are three sayings in a row!) In San Francisco, a liberal and progressive city, a study just determined that Black people make up six percent of the population and count for forty percent of the arrests! What’s wrong with this picture?

Here from Christ Lutheran Church we had a very poor showing in the anti-racism workshop at Hope Lutheran, where our former pastor has been attending. Let’s do some make-up on that score. I was the pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Oakland for over four years, a wonderfully loving congregation. Why not invite their choir to sing for us and have our choir sing for that African American congregation? Wouldn’t it be lovely if our bell choir also played in their service? Let’s have some interaction and break down the walls that divide us, to use the words of St. Paul.

I want to let you in on a secret. It might be getting out of our comfort zones, might even feel like suffering and the cross, but it will turn out to be an enrichment that money cannot buy, an enrichment that possessions cannot deliver. When we stay in an all-White ghetto, it is easy to lose our souls. Among those who get the short end of the stick, God comes and becomes their portion and will also become ours when we become one heart and soul with them. Together we could receive some more soul from God, sing with soul, and do some soul-talk to stir up the Holy Spirit within us, where it is flagging. We have to plant the cross of Christ squarely between our shoulder-blades and follow after. Those who would save their lives will lose them; those who lose their lives for Christ sake and his righteousness will save them. That’s the surprise!

It’s a shame what we are doing to Black people and especially Black men in our culture. Like in old biblical Egypt, the Pharaoh ordered the midwives to drawn all the Black males and leave the girls alive. We are decimating Black men so that demonstrations have to say: “Black lives matter.” We feel protected by the police. Why should Black people need protection from our police? On June 19th a judge released a video taken from the dashboard of a Chicago police car, where in 2013 a White policeman repeatedly fired his hand gun into a car filled with Black youth, whom he had pulled over for speeding. Two teenagers were injured and handcuffed and left bleeding in the street with no apparent effort to get them medical help. The judge released the video against the protest of the Chicago police department.[1]

Let’s identify with African Americans, up from slavery and now experiencing a new version of Jim Crow, which is a an attempt to terrorize them and keep them in a subservient place. Let’s become one heart and soul with them. We too can identify with Moses and the Hebrew slaves and sing the Negro spiritual:

When Israel was in Egypt land: let my people go!

They worked so hard they could not stand. Let my people go!

Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land. Tell ole Pharaoh: let my people go!

Amen.

[1] New York Times, June 19th 2015, National Briefing: Midwest, “Illinois, Video of a Shooting Released.”

Written by peterkrey

June 29, 2015 at 11:54 am

Tiny Seeds: a Service Commemorating the Martyr Óscar Romero, died March 24th, 1980

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Reflection for our Óscar Romero Service June 14th 2015

Ezekiel 17:22-24 Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15/ 2 Cor. 5:6-17 Mark 4:26-34

Tiny Seeds

There is a song that goes something like this: we don’t have to worry about the rain because we’ve planted seeds in the ground.

Martyrs have from of old have been called the seeds of the church. And their suffering can make our tears fall like rain, but we can have confidence in God, because those seeds will grow (we don’t know how) and bring a harvest of new Christians. So we commemorate Óscar Romero and think of all the Christians now being martyred in the Middle East and though our tears fall like rain, they will become the seeds for the new growth of our church. So we can no longer be comfortable Christians. We have to get out of our comfort zones.

Jesus said that when a seed is placed into the ground and dies, it bears much fruit. We can’t see the plants grow looking at them. Only patience makes that possible, because growth can be seen only over time. But think of how much fruit a seed can bear. Take one kernel of corn: planted in the ground a sprout grows, then a stalk that can grow 12 feet tall, then on each stalk from six to eight ears of corn that can have hundreds of kernels of corn on each ear. Have you ever tried to count them? So in the sacrifice of one kernel as a seed thousands of kernels miraculously come into existence. (A seed is a sacrifice because we do not eat it.) That growth and that well-spring of new life comes from God. We are not the originators of that whole life cycle and its reproductive multiplier effect. But we can do our part in the gardening which in this case is the ministry of growing and multiplying God’s people.

Often we apologize that we are so small. A nurse in Leigh’s hospital room said there were 2,000 members in her church. That made me think of our small church like the offering of the widow’s mite. But there is a difference between how we are seen by the world and how we are seen by God. We might appear like the widow’s mite to the world but in God’s sight we are mighty. (We could speak about the mighty widow’s mite.) “See this widow,” Jesus said. “She put in more than anybody else, because she put in all she had.” Do you see what we have to shoot for? Not ten percent, but 100 percent. We are invited to orient our whole lives around God’s purposes for our lives.

In our lesson, Jesus does not say that bigger is better, but he features the very smallest of seeds and that mustard seed grows into the greatest of shrubs and the birds of the air come and find refuge in its branches. Now it’s the humility and modesty of a congregation that Jesus underscores here. Jesus does not describe the beloved community as a mighty Cedar of Lebanon or a great oak tree, by which the mighty empires were once compared, where the nations like birds found refuge in their branches.

No, our church is a humble mustard bush, where new members can find refuge and rest and sing merrily in our branches. I knew a fellow who felt very guilty about having had two wives who both had died. He felt very guilty and married a third wife, who was an alcoholic, perhaps as a way to punish himself, because she was very abusive. In the middle of one night he went out of the house contemplating suicide. He was standing under a tree when the morning broke with dawn’s new light. Suddenly the whole tree burst into bird-song with the birds singing away, because it was filled with birds awakening and greeting the sun. The singing birds flooded his emotions with new hope and saved his life.

Isn’t our church like a tree filled with song-birds, bursting into song, because of the breaking light of Christ, the light of the love that is among us, the light of the knowledge of God and of our self-knowledge among us, the light of the developing Christ-consciousness among us. That S-O-N light (Son-light) is greater than the S-U-N light (sunlight), because without the light of our consciousness we could not even see the sun. What good would physical light be if we did not have spiritual light to see it with?

So let’s not apologize for being little. God’s eye is on the sparrow, and Jesus said, even the hairs on our heads, which seem so insignificant to us, God has numbered. Now we know what Jesus meant. Each cell, even in one of our hairs contains our whole genetic code! Can you imagine!?

But we have to be humble as the dust and be a modest bush, knowing that we are called under the cross to become seeds like Óscar Romero. We are called to be buried in the ground and die to ourselves so we come alive for God and our neighbors, bearing much fruit for the glory of God and the people of God so that countries and all their people find refuge in the gentle and friendly branches of God’s church. Our faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice, not the revenge kind, but the forgiving and long-suffering kind of justice. Amen.