Last Sunday I went off script, way off. I scrapped the prepared sermon in light of the events that had taken place in Charlottesville. I prayed and then trusted that the Spirit would put the right words in my mouth. What follows is a brushed up version. Hopefully it gives you the gist of what I said to the faithful people of First Lutheran Church in Strongsville.
I was in Atlanta last week for the ELCA Rostered Leaders Gathering. I heard powerful preaching from a black South African pastor who lost her father and brother during the apartheid era. James Forbes – arguably the best preacher of our time (still, at age 82) – decried this time as the most embarrassing in the history of our country. But both were able to summon the courage to speak of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, and of the confidence that we have as Christians that hatred and bigotry will not have the final word.
I had the opportunity to visit the Center for Civil and Human Rights. It was a sobering experience. Images of hooded, torch bearing KKK members provide a startling greeting. Visitors can try the “lunch counter” experience, remembering that men were beaten, spit upon, and thrown out of diners. Old style TV’s aired footage of law enforcement officers turning hoses on protesters. Black and white photos of people who were arrested or killed during the freedom rides lined an entire wall. The legacy of Dr. King was eloquently told. When I got to the end I thought to myself, “I hope to God this never happens in America again.”
And then Charlottesville happened. Yet again torch carrying white supremacists marched to a church… A CHURCH. All they needed were the hoods. There was no cross burning and no one was lynched, but it could have happened. Nazi flags were paraded through the streets. I wonder how folks in the Greatest Generation felt about that. Clergy members who were linked arm in arm singing “This Little Light of Mine” were attacked. Peaceful protesters were mowed down by a 20 year-old white racist who intentionally turned his car into a missile, killing a beautiful young woman and injuring many others. Right here in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Some of our leaders made statements, some said nothing, some were late to the game.
Those of us who claim to follow Jesus, we should have something to say. It would be unfaithful to our baptism into Christ to be silent. Because you know, this is going to happen again. We think it could never happen to us, out here in white suburbia, seemingly insulated from all the bad stuff that happens in the world. But it will happen again. There will be marching in the streets, and next time it might be OUR streets. What will we have to say? And what will we do about it? I saw a quote this morning that said, “If you wonder what you would have done during slavery, the Holocaust, or Civil Rights movement, you’re doing it now.”
(Here’s the one thing I “salvaged” from the appointed Gospel Lesson.)
Did you notice what was going on in the Gospel Lesson? A big storm had come up and the disciples were in a boat on the sea, fretting and worrying about their survival. And Jesus wasn’t anywhere to be found – at least not right away – because I think sometimes Jesus leaves us on our own to figure things out so we grow into a more mature faith. But when Jesus finally does come to them, he’s walking on the water. And apparently they couldn’t tell that it was Jesus because Peter asked, “Jesus, if it’s you, let me come to you on the water.” IF it’s you, like Peter still had doubts. So Jesus said, “Come on. This is what I’m looking for. People who want to do what I’m doing!” PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO WHAT I’M DOING. That’s what we need right now, people who want to be doing what Jesus is doing.
And so Peter jumped out of the boat, and as long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus everything was cool. But the moment he took his eyes off of Jesus, the moment his attention was diverted, what happened? He started to sink! Look, this is a time to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and to be doing what Jesus would have us do. We can’t afford to have our attention diverted. It’s time for the church to be the church, and do what the church is called to do.
We have a message of hope that needs to be heard. And there is a world that is in need of hope right now. So what will we do? And what will we say?
This is a time when our faith should matter.