Sermon 21 June 2015: Psalm 27, Racism, & Christian Love

This was my sermon for this past Sunday.  The text was Psalm 27 from the summer series of the Narrative Lectionary.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

This opening verse of Psalm 27, and really the whole Psalm, is one of my favorites.  It’s a Psalm of confident trust in God in the midst of threat….of being conquered and overcome.  And today, these words bring us the same powerful message……trust in God. Trust in full confidence for what God has done in Jesus Christ. Trust courageously in God’s unconditional grace, power, and might to overcome for us.  We too can be courageous and confident in the face of threat.

Then why are we so damn afraid all of the time?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get off of my mind what happened down in Charleston, SC this past week…..such a horrible, unspeakable act of evil. Yes, EVIL.  Evil manifest as intense hatred borne out of a prejudice for a group of people because of the color of their skin – racism.  Yes, this shooting happened because the shooter was a racist and the murder of 9 innocent people – all African-American – was an act of racism.  (Note: Racism defined is a prejudice toward another ethnic group combined with the power to be able to act on that prejudice.)

Now hearing that might make you uncomfortable.  It might make you mad.  It might make you roll your eyes because yet again, the political machine has once again turned an act of violence into a “race issue.”  But it can’t be that, right?  I mean, we’ve moved past that; the 1960s is over and we don’t have a race problem in our country, much less in our church.  I mean, we’re all Christian, right?  And more than that, we’re ELCA Lutherans….we’re all about God’s grace. We’re all about acceptance.

But we don’t get off that easy this morning.  The reality is that two of the people killed at Emmanuel AME church were educated at ELCA Lutheran seminaries – our seminaries.  And Dylan Roof, the shooter, was a member of an ELCA Lutheran congregation – our church. 

What do we do with that?  What do we do with the fact that an ELCA Lutheran walked into a church where people gathered, was welcomed in like we would welcome any newcomer in a Sunday morning like this, sat down in the pew with them for an hour, and started shooting – stopped to reload 5 times, 5 TIMES.  What do we do with that?  I wish I knew……

One response I saw from the Synod in St. Paul MN was “hate divides, love unites.”  Amen to that. We just have to love.  Love will fix it; it’ll fix everything.  If we take the words of Psalm 27 to heart, we just have to have the courage to trust confidently in God’s unfailing love.

But again: why are we so damn afraid?

Sure, we love.  We’re nice, kind; we try really really hard not to harbor any prejudice or bias.  We look past things like race and color, we see people for who they are; we all get along as best as we can….we’re friends here; we’re church family.

But that’s not Christian love.  It’s some sort of mushy, sentimental kind of love.  But it’s not Christian love. 

Christian love is above all things honest.  It is a love that isn’t afraid to say what is true and real, even if that truth is painful.  Christian love has the courage to stand with others in facing that reality and speak honestly about the harshness of realities like racism and speak out against the injustice of suffering caused by it.  And Christian love is also confident, a confident trust that God is found right in the midst of that harsh reality with us, hanging on a cross alongside us, right in the thick of the tragic, sobering honesty of sin and evil in this world.

Our own presiding Bishop in the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, wrote a letter in response to what happened in Charleston this past week.  I’d like to share it with you….and as I read parts of it, listen for Christian love as honesty in her words.

[You can read her letter by going to the link here]

Why are we so afraid?  I think we’re afraid because deep down, each of us know that racism still exists in our country and in our world.  We don’t want to admit it, because it’s too painful.  And even more than that, I think we are so afraid because if we dig deeper we’ll find that we harbor those same stereotypes, bias, prejudice in our hearts. I know I’m afraid – and maybe you are too – because the truth is, the sin of prejudice exists in all of us.

And so today, it’s important for us to take pause to pray and reflect, and to ask for God’s forgiveness for our attitudes and prejudice that miss the mark.  We can do that because of Christian love – be honest with ourselves.  And because of Christian love, we can “go to work” as Bishop Eaton suggests.

We can acknowledge and listen to others whose lives are different from ours simply because of the color of their skin or their gender or who they choose to love.  We can be a church that “calls a thing what it is” as Luther said, calling out and standing against prejudice and racism that exists within our own church walls and outside them.  We can do these things, and even more….we don’t have to be afraid any of the time. 

Jesus is our light and salvation, God our stronghold and mighty fortress,…..God, who in Jesus Christ loved us first……and so, we CAN love. Amen.

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