Sermon for a Sunday of Mourning and Repentance for the Racial Atrocity in Charleston, S.C. June 28, 2015
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.
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!
 New York Times, June 19th 2015, National Briefing: Midwest, “Illinois, Video of a Shooting Released.”