This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, June 21, 2015. On June 17, an armed man murdered 9 people at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. Among the dead was the pastor of Emanuel, Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Gospel: Mark 4:35–41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on integrating a theme into my sermons, and into our life together here at Christ the King. This theme is “Chosen to Proclaim”. We have been chosen by God, chosen to be the people of God, chosen to know God, so that we may proclaim with our whole lives the abundant life God has given to all of creation. We have been chosen to proclaim the unending grace and love of God, as it has been given to us in Jesus Christ.
|Myself, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and Rev. Rick Reiten.|
Truly, we are a people, “Chosen to Proclaim.” Of course, part of our proclamation is confession, as we confess that we are chosen not because of our own merits, but by the grace of God. This morning, as we started our service, we said as part of our confession, “that we have looked the other way, when action was needed.” As a people “Chosen to Proclaim”, confession is a part of our proclamation.
This past week, like many of you, I woke up on Thursday morning, to the tragic news from Charleston, where the lives of 9 people were ripped away from them, as they gathered for bible study and prayer. I was in a state of disbelief as I read the text message from my friend, that said Clem Pinckney, a classmate in seminary, the keynote speaker at our graduation, a gentle, kind pastor, and a friend, was among the dead.
I’ve been praying, for this situation, and all involved, and I have been blessed by your prayers even for me. In the past few days, I’ve prayerfully struggled over the proclamation that I was being called to give this morning.
You see, in the wake of yet another tragedy, with an all too familiar theme, I confess that I struggle to proclaim the Word of God that has been given to me. I feel great temptation to stick to the safety of the distance we have from this tragedy, in both a literal and figurative sense. Charleston is a long way from Holliston, and our greater MetroWest communities. And, while we join in our nation’s collective grief, we also have the luxury to compartmentalize things like these, and leave the actual confrontation and dealing with the issues surrounding them, for someone else.
But for me, these events aren’t a long ways away. When someone you know, someone who you can remember nice conversations with in the tranquility of a seminary campus on a beautiful autumn night, is on national news because his life has ended in tragedy, things become surreally personal and painful.
So “this day,” just as the Bible says, “on that day,” Jesus commands us, “Let us go to the other side.” Let us venture from our safety and comfort, so that we may be with our Lord.
But, as we leave the safety of Holliston, still the storm rises-up within me, the winds of doubt and fear continue to blow-in upon me. Like the disciples, as I have prayed and struggled, I have questioned Jesus intentions, was he really calling me to preach these things, is he really calling upon me to say what God has laid upon my heart? As I question Jesus, I’ve continually been answered by him, with an old picture I was sent of myself, and my friend Rick on the day of our seminary graduation, and in between us, with a warm smile, was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Seeing this picture, suddenly calmed the storms of doubt and fear that I had, as Jesus proclaimed to me the truth, and made this tragedy make sense. In that picture, were three men, who would all be pastors, and one of them is now dead, not because of some random act, but because of the color of his skin.
The taking of those 9 lives in Charleston was not a senseless tragedy. It is a tragedy that makes perfect sense in a world, in our nation, a nation where hatred, fear, and violent oppression, were not only at one time accepted, but were the law of the land. This tragedy makes sense in a nation that has torn the bloom off the poisonous plant of racism, but still refuses to take the steps needed to uproot it. This tragedy makes sense in a nation where the underlying current of racist feeling is so strong that it turns a blind-eye to the brokenness of a system built upon the privilege of a white person, like myself. The perpetrator of these acts, extreme as he may be, is unfortunately a natural by-product, of the system that our sinful, human hands have created, a system centuries in the making, and a system we are too afraid to confront.
We are a people, Chosen to Proclaim, our proclamation is Jesus Christ, and while he loves us so much he would die for us, and while he comes to us, no matter what, and feeds us with his merciful body and blood, the Jesus Christ that we have been chosen to proclaim does not let our sinful systems stand. Instead, through his transforming grace, he brings about change, he brings about a new creation where there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, white or black, but only One people, made into Christ’s body.
Though we proclaim our desire for this unity, though we denounce overt racism, prejudice, and discrimination, at this time, in this nation, even right here in Holliston, that proclamation is not enough. The proclamation that God loves everyone, and that all are equal before God, is not a statement of faith, merely a platitude, if we don’t follow Jesus in actively bringing about that reality and sharing it with our lives, especially in favor for those who are oppressed and pushed to the margins of society by the normal functioning of our broken system.
When I think about the life and love of Jesus, that we have been Chosen to Proclaim, the easy thing to say, is “All lives matter”, and we know that this is true. But as I think about that picture, as I stand here before you today; I know that society values my life, and the life of my family. It seems that our society, our broken world, still hasn’t gotten the message that indeed, #blacklivesmatter, just as much as my own.
We are “Chosen to Proclaim”, and we have proclaimed in our confession the sin of looking the other way when action was needed. We are “Chosen to Proclaim” that by his loving grace, Christ takes away our sin, and empowers us to act with righteousness and justice.
In the wake of the death of these 9 people, in the witness of their families to God’s mercy and grace, as we remember the way they stood in front of the man who killed their family members and said, “I forgive you” to him, through these saints, may Jesus open our ears to the cries of injustice, from those who are oppressed, and may he stir-up in us his powerful love, so that our words, our actions, and our lives will proclaim the truth about our broken world, the truth about our own privileged place in it, and the loving God who is transforming it.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,