Someone inquired, “What would you preach tomorrow?”
Appreciated the question. Won’t be in a pulpit tomorrow, but the question was helpful…to think through what can the Charleston murders mean, how can they have some value?
The responses I’ve read or heard on CNN basically reveal the speakers’ basic beliefs. A NRA Board member, with no surprise, blames the pastor of the Emanual AME Charleston Church because he voted against allowing people to bring guns into the church. Former Governor Rick Perry, although an aide corrected it to “incident” said the Charleston shooting was an “accident.” And even though it was two years ago Colin Powell said that basically our nation is racist and that many negative comments toward President Obama are more a reaction to his skin color than his politics. I agree, though offered two years ago, if Powell would be asked today about his comment, he would state it is, with remorse and regret, too apt today.
Scorching. Devastating. Horrific. Chills and spilled blood. Immediate reactions. To the Charleston murders.
What about a sermon tomorrow? First approach, hopefully pastors will have some agreement to this is that ANY sermon should keep the Bible, the newspaper and the church roster in hand. A sermon should consider the “voice” of the 4 Bible lessons included in what is called a Lectionary, biblical passages specified for each Sunday, tomorrow, June 21 being the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost. Personally, the passage that makes a strong connection would be the Gospel lesson, Mark 4:35-41, the story of Jesus and the Disciples in a boat caught in a storm. Jesus is asleep then we read, “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped.”
Launching from that, the image of the waves swamping the boat is apt. Storm is apt. Anger, fierce and pointed fury with retribution attached, is apt. It’s not a curiosity that the admitted murderer has the middle name of Storm.
For us as Christians [with no disregard for EVERY person reading this who has other theological/faith connectors] it’s relevant that when Jesus was awakened He didn’t say, “What are you worried about?” He didn’t say, “Why did you wake me?” Not for a breath. He pointed, not to the waves, but to Faith.
I remember now…and actually have never forgotten…that Faith was the focus for William Sloane Coffin when he preached at Battell Chapel at Yale University the Sunday after John Kennedy was assassinated, words with this focus: “This is a dark moment. Perhaps the darkest. It is one thing to remember that dawn breaks when the night’s darkness is at its worst. More, though, it’s important, when life gets shattered, for each of us, never let go of faith. This moment we are called to be faithful. Not to close a fist but to open a hand, to be, unto each of our selves, to be at least one person who doesn’t give in to the bullets and the death. Faith calls us to never give up.”
Those words are what I would attempt to put together were I to preach tomorrow. Even. Even in the realities that we are still very much—and I find this deplorable—we are still very much a racist society. In fact, I believe the outrage of the horrific Charleston murders would have been greater if the shooter had been black and the victims white.
In my own spiritual journey, there’s not a moment or experience or chagrin-time, when Jesus is silent. Calls us to faith. And calls us to not be a partner to those who kill because of racial contempt. Rather, to be a partner with others who have faith, who do not deny the storm but know the storm doesn’t have control of our soul. The storms don’t need to win. Neither does Good Friday.
That takes me to another “boat scene.” Remember when Jesus was in the boat and Peter was in the sea? Jesus called Peter, reached out his hand. Peter looked at Jesus, walked toward Him. Then Peter looked at the storm and sank. Jesus picked him up.
I remember that this Saturday morning, the day before preaching time. And I remember, hopefully as a person of faith…yes, Peter sank. But. He didn’t drown.