Monday, June 22, 2015

Not The Sermon I Was Planning On Preaching!

The sermon I am going to give this morning is not the sermon I was planning to preach.
When I started my preparation earlier this week I was planning on talking about our capital campaign.
However, the shooting in an AME church is South Carolina changed that for me.
But even when I first heard about the shooting I still wasn’t going to talk about it.
There are so many stories like this in our country today that I don’t know if it is always helpful to always talk about them.
We live crisis to crisis.
We live in a time when there is one sensational story after another.
And I don’t want to perpetuate that from the pulpit on Sunday morning.
I don’t want to become another talking head with an opinion telling you what you should or should not be thinking about the latest unbelievable events of the day.
Instead I try to be the calm voice among the storm.
In my preaching I want to be the place where we hear God’s words through the cacophony of opinions being shouted at us every day.
But the more that came out about what happened in South Carolina the more I knew I had to say something.
I knew that no matter what I said it would be taken wrong by some, because this is about racism.
And let us be honest this is one of the subject like sex or money that we really don’t want to talk about.
And we don’t want to believe that it exists in our Churches, in our community, in our hearts.
But this story cannot be ignored by me for a couple of reasons.
One it took place in a church.
It took place in a place that should be the one place of peace and safety in the world.
It took place while people were studying the Bible, reading God’s word.
Just so you remember that this is not new.
In 1963 four young girls were killed by white terrorist while attending Sunday school in a church in Birmingham Alabama.
So I guess the church is not as much a sanctuary as we think.
But still this particular shooting really got to me, because I couldn’t imagine someone killing people while studying God’s word.
But it goes to show that the Church is not devoid from the world around it.

But the second reason I couldn’t ignore it was because some of the victims had ties to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The same church structure that you and I belong to, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel.
I didn’t know Rev. Clementa but I have friends who knew him, and went to seminary the same time he did.
And then it was discovered that the shooter was a member of an ELCA church in South Carolina!
This was not merely some crazy person from some radical Church this was one of our own.
I feel it necessary to say something about it.

As usual the place to start is in the scripture.
And our Gospel provides a great entry way to start to talk about racism.
Our story is a familiar one to us who have been going to Church for a long time.
In this story we have found comfort.
That even though we are tossed about in the storms of life Jesus is with us.
Because the point of it is that Jesus is in control.
That faith in Jesus is what gets us through the storm.
In the early days of the church when they would interpret the story using allegory the boat was the symbol of the Church.
Whenever the disciples are in a boat we can imagine that it is a symbol of the Church.
The Church is the place where we find safety from the storm.
And that is appropriate for this subject this morning.
Because my message to all of you is that we are all in the same boat.
We are in the same boat with the shooter, because we too have failed to rid our hearts of racism.
Even more we have not done enough to stop the injustices within a system that you and I as white people benefit from.
We have been silent too often when our co-workers, friends, family members, nonchalantly make an “innocent” joke or comment about someone of another color.
We have been silent too often when cries of our brothers and sisters have gone up of the injustice and humiliation they face on a daily basis because of the color of their skin.
This young man who killed all these people, he was confirmed in an ELCA church.
From what I read he held racist views for a long time.
He believed in segregation, he had a jacket with racist symbols on it.
How did this allow to go on?
Where were the other people in his life telling him this were was not acceptable.
That person is in the boat with us, we are that person at times.
We are the ones who need to repent, to ask for forgiveness.
I know what you are going to say, “Pastor I am not a racist like this person.”
I agree you didn’t kill anyone today because of their skin color, congratulations.
I am saying that all of us who live in this country as a white person we are often too silent about things that we need to stop.
That includes me, because my first reaction when this hit the news was that there was no way I was going to talk about it in Church this morning.
It might make people upset.
It might make them mad at me.
It might mean that things are not so great.
But when the victims and the perpetrator both have ties to our church then I simply can’t keep quiet and I have to risk whatever reaction people have.

We are in the same boat.
I lament today that everything that happens in our world has to be so controversial.
This one is easy.
People are dead.
A white man with a history of racial hatred, (He wrote and posted a racist manifesto on the internet! He told the person he left alive that he was doing this because of the color of their skin!) came into an historic black church and shot people having a Bible study.
There is not gray matter here.
This was a hate crime, it was based on race.
It was racism at work!

Today I hope we can all agree that this type of thing has no place in the Church.
It has no place in our world, in our country, it is wrong.
I hope that at least we can agree that we need to pray for all the families of those who were killed.
I hope we pray for the family of the man who was the shooter.
Because what we don’t need is more hate.
We should be outraged, we should be moved to action, but being hateful doesn’t solve this.
I was amazed that already some of the family members of those that were killed have offered forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.
It is an example of what true faith looks like while we are in the middle of the storm.
This is what Jesus was talking about to his disciples.
That it is in the storm that we must have faith and use the best of what it means to believe in Jesus, that faith is not only their when there are calm seas.
It is for the times when the storm is raging and the boat is being flooded.
In those times we need to reach deep into our faith and use the best of what we believe to overcome.

What begins to solve our racial problems is to admit that we are in the same boat.
The starting point is for us to admit that race doesn’t exists.
There is no such thing as black people and white people.
There is only people.
Bill Nye the science guy said it at a commence speech he gave, “Researchers have proven scientifically, that humans are one people.
That color of our ancestor’s skin and ultimately my skin and your skin is a consequence of ultra-violet light, of latitude and climate.
Despite our recent sad conflicts here in the U.S., there really is no such thing, scientifically, as race.
We are one species.
Each of us is much more alike than we are different.
We all came from Africa. We’re all made of the same star dust.
We’re all going to live and die on the same planet –
A pale blue dot in the vastness of space.
We have to work together!”

I wouldn’t use those same words, but I think that people of faith have known this before science proved it.
We are all God’s children, we are all in the same boat, and we have to have faith that God is in the boat with us if we are going to get through the storm.

I know that this sermon will not solve the race problem in the world.
It will not make injustice go away.

It will not end racism in our community, our church, or even in your hearts.

It will not stop someone from telling what they consider a “harmless” joke.
I am only hoping that when you leave worship this morning you think a little bit about what you contribute to the boat ride.
Are you helping out by bailing water, are you telling others that they are love by God in the boat too.
Or are you making it worse by talking bad about the others in the boat?
Are you making it fair so everyone can row, and participate?
Are you making it just by doing extra because some people in the boat are not capable of rowing like you are?
Are you complaining because you are the only hard worker in the boat and everyone else is lazy?
Do you have faith that this storm will pass?
Do you have faith that the others in the boat are worthy of being rescued just like you?
Are you going to throw up your hands and say this storm is not my problem, you row by yourself?
Or are we going to believe in the one who lies asleep in the boat.
The one who surprises us, and who calls us to account for our actions, the one who died so that we might live.
Are we going to have faith?
Are we going to believe that and row together to repent and fight against racism?

This was not the sermon I wanted to preach this morning.
It is the one that the Holy Spirit wanted me to preach.
It may not have been the sermon you wanted to hear but it may be the sermon the Holy Spirit wants you to hear.

I am going to give the last words to our presiding Bishop, Bishop Eaton said in her statement on this issue, “The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence.
Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday.
Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.
 I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


When we first introduced the idea of having a Stephen Ministry in our congregation people had some questions.
Such questions were welcomed and I was glad people asked them.
One person in our congregation said to me, “Pastor why do we need to take a class to help people shouldn’t we just be doing this anyway.”
It was a legitimate question.
And one I want to answer this morning as a way to start my sermon.
Yes of course all of us as people of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, can show Christian love and care for someone else going through a difficult time.
I know that all of you do this for each other all the time.
Someone looses a job, gets sick, gets divorced, or has a life crushing event.
I know that you are there for each other to offer comfort and support.
A Stephen minister is someone who has been trained to offer one on one Christian support and love to someone who is need of a listening non-judgmental ear.
What sets a Stephen Minister apart is that they have been trained to do one very important thing.
They have been trained to put aside their own agendas, opinions, and theologies.
They have been trained to simply be there for someone else.

This would seem like an easy thing to do.
But I can assure you that it is not.
Most of what we say to people in time of crisis is based on our own internal stuff.
Just as an example, when someone dies we often don’t know what to say to comfort someone else.
Out of our own anxiety we often will say something that sounds good.
It comes from a somewhat good place of wanting to say something comforting.
What I have heard from people who are hearing those things is that it is not always helpful.
A woman who lost her husband recently wrote a blog post on what she has learned since her husband’s death.
She said, “A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.”
That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay?
 Do you not understand that I might die?
I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me.
Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.”
What that person might need is simply someone to listen to them, sit in that uncomfortable place of it not being ok and that it is not going to get better.
What Stephen Minister have been trained to do is to put aside that need to say something good and healing and instead to focus on what the person who is living through the difficult time needs to say, and express in that moment.
Even if what the person express is uncomfortable or not what we think is the right thing to think or say.
And this is an extraordinary thing in our day.
Because everyone seems to have an opinion on what everyone else is doing.
Everyone seems to want to judge others for what they are doing.
Everyone wants to speak first and listen second if at all.
But Stephen Ministers are trained to listen actively and attentively, they are trained to use our Christian traditions only for the benefit of those they are trying to help.

I think what they do is driving Satan crazy.
(I want to stop for a second and add a disclaimer here.
If you have heard me preach you will know that I do not talk a lot about Satan.
The reasons for this are too many to go into here.
But Just real quick to me Satan is not a dude in a red suit with a pitchfork and horns.
Satan is the name that we give evil.
Just as God is the name that we give to what is good.
Since it is in the Gospel this morning I am going to be using the word Satan to talk about evil in the world.)
Satan does not like when we do good in the world.
Satan does not like when we care for each other, love each other.
Satan does not like when we listen to each other’s problems with a non-judgmental ear.
What Satan wants more than anything is for us to selfish, and me-centered.
We know this because Jesus wants us to be other-centered.
Jesus wants us to listen to each other.
Jesus wants us to love each other.
Jesus wants us to judge not.

What Jesus says in his parable this morning is that in order to go out and do good we have to tie up Satan.
We have to get a hold of our agendas, opinions, and theology so that we can go out and plunder Satan’s house.
We can ruin evil by being about what other people want, not what we want.

And that is what Kate, Diana, and Larry have been doing for the last 6 months is learning to tie up Satan.
To put their needs on hold so they can plunder Satan’s house by going out and loving other people.
And I can assure you that even with all of that training that at times they will still not be able to stop themselves.
There will be times when their own agendas, opinions, and theologies will sneak in.

But that is ok.
I know that you all want to do a really good job.
I know that you will take this task very seriously.
I also do not expect any of you to be perfect.
But what I do expect is that the Holy Spirit will be in your work.
I do expect that you will do some plundering of Satan’s house.
That God through you will cure the disease of despair.
I know that you are going to have some wonderful Holy Spirit moments where God is going to surprise you in how much God helps others through you.
Because What Jesus tells us this morning in our Gospel reading from Mark is that the only thing that helps us do good in the world is the Holy Spirit.
That if through our work someone who feels alone is comforted, or someone who feels unloved feels loved, or someone who is sad feels joy, or someone who doesn’t feel heard gets heard.
If we are able to accomplish any good it is because God has been involved.

Because what we often forget is that this is not about us.
We are not the subject of the sentence.
We are not what make good things happen.
This is about the good news of Jesus Christ.
This is about how God brings healing and wholeness into people’s lives.

I say that this morning to you three so that you will know that you are never alone in this work.
You have each other.
You have supervision with Jim.
Most important God is with you in this work.
As it says on the first page of the Stephen Ministry training manual, “Jesus will be with you as you take each step in this journey.
In fact, Jesus will go ahead of you to prepare the way for your ministry.
You will never make a caring visit, listen to a person’s story, or say a prayer without Jesus-your companion, your guide, your strength, and your inspiration.”

Kate, Diana, and Larry you have spent 50 weeks tying up Satan, now it is time to go out and do some plundering to listen, love, and care.
These are all things that are healing for the world and all things that Satan hates.
Today we all hear that call to plunder, to rob Satan of the things that he loves, despair, hatred, loneliness, selfishness.
And to give the world the things that God loves grace, mercy, a listening ear, selflessness, joy, peace.
We know that as we leave here God is with us all in this work, and this day especially you three.
May you have joy in your plundering of Satan.