In the Name of Love
Psalm 27 | Fourth Sunday After Pentecost | The Music of My Mind Sermon Series | June 21, 2015
Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Tywanza Sanders. Cynthia Hurd. Myra Thompson. Ethel Lee Lance. Susie Jackson. Rev. Daniel Simmons. DePayne Middleton-Doctor.
These are the nine people who died on Wednesday evening at Emmanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A group of people gathered for a Bible Study and this night they welcomed a visitor. As the Bible Study ended, a 21-year-old white male took out a gun and started shooting.
When I first read this news on Twitter Wednesday evening I felt a sense of shock. No one imagines a place of worship to be a place where a mass shooting would take place. We don’t call this room a sanctuary for no reason. Churches are supposed to be a place where we are safe from the hardships of the world. It wasn’t that evening.
Then my thoughts became more personal. How many times have I welcomed a stranger to the doors of our church excited to have someone visit? Do I now have to worry if that guy is not only packing heat, but wanting to take out the congregation?
This Sunday morning, we are a nation that is scared. Yes, we are angry that this abomination happened, but we are shaken to the core. This has to be one of the worst acts of racial violence since the bombing of the Sixthteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama some 50 years ago. We have racial issues flare up from time to time, but this kind of terrorism was something I remember reading about in history books, not in my Twitter feed.
We are scared that this could happen again. We are scared that nothing has changed after all the marches and laws. We are scared because we are shocked that someone could have that much hate to kill people in a church. We are scared because we don’t have answers on how to deal with this, let alone how we should move forward in race relations.
So, maybe it’s not an accident that this morning’s text comes from Psalm 27. The writer starts off with giving praise to God, the one that can calm our deepest fears.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Should I fear anyone?
The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
Should I be frightened of anything?
Should I be freightened of anything? The psalmist sounds a little crazy. There is so much to be afraid of! It seems as if the world has gone out of control and God has left the building.
But the psalmist believes in the God of Israel who freed them from slavery. The writer believes in spite of everything they see that God is here and will stand up to the bullies and theives in life that come steal our joy and sometimes our very lives.
Of course, the bullies do come and torment us. The theives come to steal. But the writer believes in all of this that God is trustworthy, that God will overcome any evil it meets. The writer believes that God is with them, all the time.
There was something that I think a lot of reporters missed in the coverage of this tragedy. I don’t know how many times I heard about the name of the church and the congregation’s history. What I didn’t hear is what the name Emmanuel means. It means God with us. It is the name the angels gave to Jesus when they told Mary she was going to give birth to the Savior. God with us.
Maybe it seems that God was absent on Wednesday night. Maybe God didn’t seem very trustworthy. But then I think of the crowd that gathered at the Presbyterian church down the street. It was a multiracial crowd that came together to grieve. I remember seeing a report on ABC news where three women, two African American and one white, people who didn’t know each other who came to Emmanuel AME which was still cordoned off, joined hands together and prayed. I remember hearing that that it was a white woman in North Carolina that saw the suspect and was able to contact the authorities leading to his arrest. God showed up in those actions of unity and healing. Those actions spoke out against the hate that wanted to cause harm even beyond the walls of Emmanuel Church. God was with us.
But we can’t leave it there. As followers of Jesus, we have to be willing to join God in fighting the bullies of racism that come to harm us all. Sometimes the bullies don’t come in the form of a 21 year old white man. The bullies are sometimes seemingly faceless, built into our civic structures. Sometimes the bully are the suttle biases that prevent an African American from finding a job. Sometimes it is in the form of police who automatically thinks ill of a person based only on their color. Talk to an African American, and you will hear the stories of how we are treated differently at times and how that affects us in our daily lives.
In joining God against the bullies we have to be willing to listen to African Americans. We have to work to change laws that hinder people. We have to do more than demand that a flag be taken down. Much work has been done to make a us a less overtly racist nation. But we still have work to do. We all have work to do. What happened in Charleston is a reminder that all is not well in America.
The woman who helped apprehended the killer is named Debbie Dills. She is a member of a small Southern Baptist church in rural North Carolina. She had heard the news and had been praying for the people affected by the shootings. Speaking to CNN she described herself as God’s vessel, as an instrument of the Holy One. She believes God used her for this purpose. She believes God is with us and because she believed that she was confident that God could use her to face a bully. We who are gathered here this morning are called to be God’s instruments as well. We are called to be agents of love and reconciliaton and justice. But for that to happen we have to believe that God is with us, we have to have the confidence Debbie Dills has.
As we continue this sermon series, we have always picked a song that goes with the passage. Some of the others were hard to pair, but this one was simple. It’s the song Pride (In the Name of Love), the 1984 hit by the Irish rock group U2. It was their first Top40 single in the States. The focus of the song is on Martin Luther King and the part of the song I want to focus on is towards the end. Here are the lyrics:
Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
Of course, the song here is talking about King’s assassination. They could take his life, but evil could not be overcome. As King said on the night before he died, he wasn’t not afraid or fearful of any man because God was with him.
What has happened in Charleston will be something we will be talking about for a while. We are reminded that we still need to do more when it comes to race. The last few months have reminded up that we are not yet the beloved community King talked about. Our churches need to be places of racial reconciliation, as well as places where we can talk about race and further us along in healing. None of this is easy. It is hard. But God is with us.
During the hearing for the assailant, the judge allowed for the families of the victims to speak. Many of them were able to forgive the killer. Mind you, this is only a few days from the act. But in between the sobs, were words of healing and grace to someone who surely didn’t deserve it.
How could they do it? Where did they find the strength to do this?
They did it because God was with them. Their Lord was their light and salvation and because of that, they feared no one, especially the killer. God was with them. Evil was overcome.
As Christians, it is vital that we take part in acts of racial healing. It is not easy, it is risky and at times dangerous. But we will not fear because God is With Us. Emmanuel. Emmanuel. Emmanuel.
Thanks be to God. Amen.