Monday, June 29, 2015

Sermon for June 28, 2015: Repent, the Room's Only Half-Painted

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, June 28, 2015. Our service was one of Repentance and Mourning, in the wake of the killing of 9 people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015.

Matthew 5:1-10

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
I opened by reading this a letter from ELCA Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, found here.

Rev. Elizabeth Eaton,
 Presiding Bishop of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
On Wednesday of this week, I received this email...a mass email, the Presiding Bishop doesn't just email me personally. It was an email talking about this day of Repentance and Mourning, with the above letter attached, and I opened the email, and sighed, as I thought about how we had just had a theme like that to our services at Christ the King last Sunday. A day when I shared some of my own personal connection to this tragedy, as I knew and was a friend to Rev. Clementa Pinckney in seminary. It seemed like we'd already done this, and I was thinking about being outside for the first time and joining together as One, I really didn't want to do this today.

But, we are a people Chosen to Proclaim, and part of our proclam
ation is being in unity with something greater than ourselves. Of course we are in unity with God, but a reflection of that is our unity with our fellow ELCA congregations in our synod, and across the nation. Our Presiding Bishop is our leader, and so as an expression of our unity, it is good for us to join together in this day of Repentance and Mourning, just as we'll join with the ELCA in September for God's Work, Our Hands Sunday.

In an act of civil disobedience, Bree Newsome
 takes down the Confederate Flag
that flew at the South Carolina State Capitol
And so, I was sort of over the hump of hesitancy about doing this Service of Repentance and Mourning, and then something else hit me. I was kind of shocked, by my own fearfulness and callousness, my own desire to so quickly move on, from even a tragedy that affects me, on a personal level. I thought about how, in the celebrations of these lives that were lost, as the people have really come together, especially in South Carolina where I lived for almost five years, as it looks as if a great symbol of hatred, the Confederate Flag, is finally going to be taken down. A symbol that I would see frequently, as the state capitol, was not far from the seminary. As the people came together this past week, it seemed as if the work around racism was going to be finally accomplished. But throughout this great coming together, there has been a constant drumbeat that the work is not over, our problems aren't solved, and that coming together over this tragedy and a renewed focus to ridding ourselves of racism and racist symbols is wonderful, but this work needs to continue. 

So, I was a little shocked, when I heard those messages of the work needing to continue and agreeing with them, and then found myself thinking, "well, we don't really need to do that here in Holliston. Here at Christ the King." I was shocked by my own response, and it really speaks for itself. It speaks to our need to continue to remember, to continue to do the hard work of self-examination, about where we are in error in this country, and our own contributions to that error. Also, to examine just how in our day to day lives and goings-on, we contribute to a system that has not been founded on equality. The work needs to continue.

In thinking about this issue of race, I thought about what happened just a little before my time. It seems to me, that we as a society in general feel as if we've settled these issues over race, with things like the passage of the Civil Rights act, the marches that took place, and the movement as a whole. We feel that racial discrimination is a thing of the past because we've outlawed it in this country. The work though, is not complete.

The way we've dealt with race issues in this nation, is as if we were re-painting a room. While, it seems like the majority of the work is basically over, because we've gotten the main walls painted, and the room does look a lot different, there's more to do. There's now taking care of touching up some of the little areas, doing the trim work, and cleaning-up. The parts of painting that are real tedious, and take much longer than we think, or maybe that's just me, as I never seem to give enough time to complete any task. It seems like these things are just small potatoes, in the large body of work, and no one is real eager to start on them, like perhaps they were to take care of the bigger parts, that someone notices first. Yet, until this secondary work is done, the work is not complete, and the room while looking different, still remains a mess. 

This is what our work with racial inequality is in this country. It needs to be continued, and moved forward. It hasn't been completed, and the party responsible for leading the way on the work that remains is the Church. We are called to lead this work not because it makes us feel good, or even because it's the "right thing to do". We are called to lead this work, because the completed result of this work is the vision of the Kingdom of God. A vision of a people and creation living together in peace, justice, and in love. A place, a kingdom, where no one lives in fear. Rather, a place where each person lives with an abundance, and with dignity. 

God is at this work, and God is calling us to join in this work. God is calling us to repent. To be clear,
Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton 
middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders
Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson
the repentance that God calls us to, is not necessarily to feel ashamed, or sorry; or to not be proud of who we are and how we've gotten there. The repentance God is calling us to, is to turn and look at the world and admit to ourselves that the work is not yet done, and that God is calling us to join in the work that remains.

We are called to a repentance to turn and see that our sisters and brother, who don't look like many of us, experience this world and this country in a unique way, and often, that experience is not on equal terms as us. 
We are being called to repent and join our sisters and brothers, to be peacemakers and bridge the chasm that exists between us. We are being called to bridge this chasm not by saying "come and join us", but by joining others, in their walks, in their lives, and in their perspectives; by joining others in their sorrow and grief. 

Why do we need to repent?
Not too long ago, I was given a subscription to, and in doing family research, there is a good possibility that one, (that I know of anyway) of my lines was a slave owner. While this discovery wasn't a real big issue for me in this time and place, I don't even really know if it's true, and doesn't seem to have any effect on me, I then thought about something else. My reflections turned to my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Truman Payne, who had three different wives and four different marriages. My Great-Great-Great Grandmother was Truman's second wife, and yet in Truman's obituary, she's never even mentioned. I've previously wondered how this brokenness affected the lives of my Great-Great, my Great, and even my Grandmother, and consequently, how this family history has played into my own life. 

We are much bigger than ourselves, and while much of the past that makes us up is good, there are parts that can be tough to reckon with. Yet, looking at our past helps us to better understand who we are as we examine the roll it plays in making us the people we are in the present. 
When we examine our country's past, and think and show some empathy; we empathize with those whose ancestors were bought and sold, whose grandparents knew their place in society, whose parents were told where exactly it was that they could buy a house. These are the people today, who are told to be proud of their history and culture, and yet even today, often suffer if they are too proud, if they openly display their own "blackness" too much. 

We are a part of this society, and it is time for us to repent, and continue the hard work of self-examination, and to walk with those who view society with a different lens than the one we've been given. It is time to join our sisters and brothers of color in their walks, because Jesus is walking with them. It is time to join with our sisters and brothers in their walks, because Jesus is walking with us in order that we may join in the blessing of those who are the subjects of the Beattitudes.

One final piece that I would like to share. When I was in Columbia, SC, my friend Scott and I went to one of the little neighborhood, storefront type churches that were around the seminary. We did this to complete a class assignment of going to a worship service at a congregation in another denomination. The church we went to, like many in our neighborhood, was a black church. The service was about three hours long, and we were the only people in the service who were white, and yet, I've never felt more welcomed in a house of worship, than I was that day. 

We weren't only greeted by friendly people, but by people who actually cared that we were there. People who showed us where we were in the service, helped us to understand what was going on in the service, and spoke to us after the service in a way that made us feel as if we were guests, leaving the house of friends. The welcome we received was one of true friendship, and it was and is very humbling. 

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC.
So, as we as a society, as a church, as even a pastor, are in danger of moving on from such tragic events, we remember that moving on isn't the way of the Kingdom of God. Instead, it is through repentance, and transformation, and a fuller reliance on the love that has been given to us, and will continue to be given to us, that will bring about this Kingdom. 

On this day of repentance, we join in mourning over the violence and loss of life in Charleston. We join in the mourning of a broken society, and our broken communities. And in our mourning, in our dark night, we wait with hope, because we know that as the Psalm says, "Joy comes in the morning." 
We give thanks today for the witness of all, the victims, the families, and so many others involved, who have shared God's love. We ask that their witness and grace may fill our lives, so that we too may witness to the One who is Lord of all, Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 


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