I have to admit, as I sat down to write my sermon this week, I was angry. I was angry and sad, and honestly, a little bit scared. For the first time in a while, praying felt useless. Church is supposed to be a safe place. After all, it is called a “sanctuary” for a reason. But on Wednesday evening, as people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian church were sitting in Bible Study, talking about the word of God, a white man, who had sat with them for nearly an hour, rose and opened fire. And reloaded. 5 times. In the end, 9 people had been executed. I refused to say that they died because that’s not what happened. They were executed. A grandmother covered her 5 year old grandbaby with her own body and told her to “play dead.” No 5 year old should know how to play dead. The pastor was among those in the carnage.
Not once have I feared for my life while standing up here. Not once have I entered this place of worship and wondered “am I going to get to walk out of here today?” Not once have I wondered about the motive of a visitor. I take this all for granted. My biggest fears in being a targeted pastor come from being female, not from being white. There are still some, yes, even in the ELCA, that believe I shouldn’t be a pastor because I’m a female. But, you knew that I was female when you called me to be your pastor; and you knew that I was white; and you knew that I was a little cooky. And you took the risk and asked me here anyway, and I love you for that. However, part of my call as a pastor (not just your pastor, but as a pastor of the church of Christ) is to preach the Gospel. And sometimes, friends, that means asking difficult questions.
I don’t ask difficult questions because I have all the answers. I ask difficult questions because I too struggle with the same difficult questions. I often say that the person I write my sermon for (first and foremost) is myself. So I usually just verbally let you all in on what I’m struggling with in my head and maybe, just maybe, every once in a while, you might also say “hey, me too!” What happened in Charleston was a hate crime. It was the work of evil, even Satan himself. I’m not saying these things to make you uncomfortable, brothers and sisters. I am saying these things because when you are rooted in the cross, you sometimes need to call something what it is. This was a hate crime. The man who did this was not mentally ill. He wasn’t acting at random. He was engaging in hate. He planned the where, when, how, and possibly who. He was taught to hate. And that makes my skin crawl.
The disciples witnessed something in that boat and they were scared. They were in awe. They weren’t scared like scary movie scared, but I think they were scared because they were finally starting to realize that the future they had planned wasn’t the future they were going to get. This Jesus they had started to follow (which, by the way, the Jesus we confess to believe in and follow looked more like those who laid executed on the floor of the AME church than the shooter himself) wasn’t just an ordinary guy. This Jesus could perform miracles. He made the wind and sea obey. Things were changing. I think it was then that the disciples realized that they weren’t just going to be fishing with this Jesus guy anymore. They were faced with change and they were scared. I think we can relate on one level or another.
The disciples are facing real and difficult change. The one who makes even the wind and sea obey really is the son of God, really is immortal, really is the one who has come to make all things new. And what that meant was change. The disciples knew that they would have to change everything they thought they knew. And looking into the face of change can be scary. I’ve talked about this before. Would it be easier to sit and be comfy in our lazy boys, covered with our fluffy blanket, and drown out the world? Some days, yes. But, my friends, today is not that day. Today is the day we need to get angry. Today is the day we need to finally put our foot down and say “no more.” Today is the day we need to be more like Christ and calm the waters of hate, injustice, inequality, and bigotry. Today is the day we start taking our roles as disciples seriously. And that’s scary. Like the disciples in the boat, we might start to realize that this task isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t the task we thought we’d be ask to do as disciples. But here we are. We are standing at the crossroads as a country. We are teetering between moving forward with great gusto and understanding or moving backwards 60 years with great embarrassment and shame. And so what shall we choose?
If people of any color cannot gather in a church and be safe, then where can we be safe? Why is it okay that we live in a country where 5 year old African American children know how to play dead? Why is it okay that when the gunman is black, he’s called a “thug” and a “man” but when he’s white he’s a “troubled boy?” So, at the risk of being unpopular, at the risk of being scary, at the risk even of being hated, I want my message to be loud and clear today. What happened in Charleston is not okay. There is no spin that can make this situation okay. This was not a mental illness. People with mental illnesses do not plot and plan a massacre like this, terrorists do. What happened in Charleston was the work of Satan himself. And it is to us, fellow Christians, to point out evil when we see it.
I want to have a conversation in this church, in this city, in this county, about the value of all lives, yes, but more importantly, about black lives. Because black lives do matter. Black lives matter because our black brothers and sisters were made in the image of God, just like we were. When we kill one another, we are crucifying Jesus all over again. Being disciples of Christ means caring for one another, even when the “other” may not look like us, or talk like us, or go to the same church as us. Being disciples means being informed. Being disciples means taking small steps like telling your relative that telling that racist joke at the dinner table not only wasn’t funny, it’s not welcome. If we cry out for change we must be willing to be part of the change. And yes, change is scary.
Brothers and sisters, I don’t usually get so political in the pulpit. But, I am tired. I am tired of standing on the sidelines feeling helpless, waiting for someone else to do something. And I was reminded of the promises I made in baptism, the promises we all make in baptism. We are asked to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” This is the life that Christ has called us to. This is the life that we should start living. Be willing to be changed, make a change, and fight for change.
The news gives a lot of attention to the shooter. I refuse to say his name. Instead, hear these names: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Reverend Depayne Middleton Doctor, Susie Jackson, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., and Reverend Clementa Pinckney.
“We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” MLK