Sermon 28 June 2015: “Struggle in these exciting times”

Text: Psalm 40:1-10

 It has certainly been another big week, hasn’t it? As a nation and a church, we’re still sorting out what to make of the shooting in Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina and the news comes out this past Friday: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that state laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and that same-sex couples may now marry across the nation.    Naturally, there have been all kinds of reactions from both conservative and liberal Christians. What I find ironic about them all is that all of them are calling their response on the SCOTUS gay marriage ruling as the “Christian response.” Both calling the people of God to love. Both calling the people of God to pray. But for some, love is celebration of the decision while others it is weeping over it. For some, it is a time to pray in thanksgiving, others a time to pray for deliverance. Both praying and asking for God “to be with us all” in either this monumental time….or time of crisis, depending on how you look at it.

 But I wonder if what they’re really praying for is for God’s allegiance. Prayers of thanksgiving that God’s justice has been realized – God is on our side. Prayers of comfort as society yet again threatens all that is sacred – God is on our side.

 “I waited patiently for the LORD…..many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” “Happy are those who place their trust in the LORD, who do not turn toward the proud, who do not go astray after false gods.” 

 Today’s psalm is a psalm for us in times such as these past week. In the wake of all these things, we’re called to trust God. But I wonder if the trust folks are speaking of is about allegiance – God’s allegiance to us in our fear and pride and need to be right. What we want, perhaps, is for God to be on OUR side – for us and also, against them. What we want is a god who we know is loyal to us, who will allow us to maintain our walls and categories and boundaries – gay/straight, black/white (or brown,yellow, red for that matter), conservative/liberal, Christian/Muslim…… so that we never have to wrestle with what it means to live with and to love our neighbor. It’s a God that keeps us comfortable.

But last time I checked, that’s not how it works….God’s in control, not the other way around.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.  

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew…..But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act…….An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas…….Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.

That was good, wasn’t it? These words were spoken by President Obama, giving the eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine who was killed in Charleston.  But love or hate our President, he’s right – it’s all about God’s grace and the power of that grace to change us – to call us to self-examination and repentance; to raise us to new life; to proclaim to us a forgiveness that frees us from the bonds of our brokenness and sin.  

I think we live in an exciting time as people of God and as the church. Because more than ever, I think it’s never been clearer to see and hear and feel God moving among us and even more, people are open to being changed by God’s grace.

Look at the responses to Emmanuel AME – churches praying, sending their support, and a whole nation now realizing it can no longer be blind to the hate and prejudice that leads to such violence in our nation. And I wonder if the Supreme Court decision to permit same-sex marriage won’t cause a nation to respond similarly.  All this “crisis” is exciting to me because more than ever, we’re being forced to struggle with what it all means rather than avoid it like we have been for so long. We struggle…..not so much to figure out where we stand for and what we believe on the issues of race and homosexuality, but rather we struggle with what it means to embrace, really embrace the common humanity that exists in those around us – the common humanity that we share, a humanity that God embraces on the cross. We’ve got to struggle with what it means to love – Christian love.

To me that IS exciting…..because the power of God’s grace is coming as a gift, as the Psalmist says, “sacrifice and offering is not what you desire, but you have given us an open ear.” Grace – Not something we attain to, but a free gift. The power of God’s grace is opening not just our ears to hear what our neighbor has to say, but in this amazing grace God comes and finds us when we feel so lost among the crisis of this world. Amazing grace…..helping us see where we once were blind.

And the power of this grace is that God IS WITH US. The deliverance the psalmist sought and that perhaps we seek today is at hand in the struggle, not a false idol that keeps us comfortable in our fear, but the living a God who comes to us in Jesus Christ and by the power of grace is leading us all home….to love. Amen.

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