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The Call to Worship
In the midst of our failures,
ALL: We stand in God’s grace.
In the midst of our struggles,
ALL: We live in hope through Christ.
In the midst of our suffering,
ALL: We claim the endurance given by the Holy Spirit.
In every part of our lives, the love of our Divine Creator has been poured into our hearts.
ALL: Let us be open to this love as we join together in worship.
Eternal Presence, we come before you, exhausted, hurting, and in need of restoration. The news we face can sometimes seem unbearable. We are weary of experiencing pain and depression. Please help us to understand that the trials we face hold within them the potential to produce in us endurance, hope, and a reliance on your love. We lay down our false pride, our selfish desires, and our negative attitudes. We ask that you transform us from the inside out. It is in your many names we pray, Amen.
The Wisdom of Virgil
“Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance.”
The Wisdom of the Buddha
“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.”
2 Corinthians 6.4-10
“As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
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Rest in Peace
As usual I was busy this week. I hadn’t had a chance to even look at the readings until this morning. I knew the general focus of my comments today was going to center on the Charleston Massacre. I was dreading looking at the readings and had already decided that I wasn’t going to bend whatever the readings were into themes that I wanted to address. I was resigned to just ignore them. And then I looked at them… and was amazed.
Most of you know that I was born in the mid 1950’s in the southern US in the middle of desegregation and in the early days of the fight for civil rights. My maternal grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a little village called Waterloo outside Laurens, South Carolina. But I was born closer to Charleston and my love of black water lakes, sand, pine trees, and the Atlantic ocean has always been part of me.
The segregationist attitudes of whites in my childhood are also part of me. My family was not overtly racist. There were no Ku Klux Klan members in my family but I was raised in white privilege, taught that I was different (read better) than people with dark skin. I was taught that it was “right” for blacks to “keep their place” and that I was to keep mine.
I’ve seen the hooded figures in white sheets parading through towns in the south. I’ve seen the burning crosses on hillsides during Klan meetings driving through the southern countryside on summer nights. I’ve seen the Confederate battle flag flown as a symbol of white supremacy and hatred. Seeing that flag flying gives me cold chills. I know what it stands for and it’s not southern pride or heritage, it is hate.
Racism and hatred abound in the United States. Those of privilege who deny it now have to face facts. A black president did not end institutional racism as the Wall Street Journal declared this week. White privilege is largely unexamined and denied in this country. And whether the FBI is willing to acknowledge it or not, this right wing fundamentalist act of terror is perhaps the most corrosive threat to the fabric of American society.
The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s showed me that what I was taught as a child about race was not compatible with what I was taught in church. The cognitive dissonance became apparent to me at an early age. When Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on my mother’s birthday in 1969 I realized that following the teachings of Jesus and working for justice was a very dangerous calling. I realized, perhaps for the first time, that following the teachings of Jesus is just as radical today as I was in Jesus’ day.
This week we witnessed the very worst and the very best of human nature. We learned that the 10 faithful people at bible study at Mother Emanuel on Wednesday night welcomed a young stranger into their midst without reservation. He sat with them as they studied the bible and prayed for an hour. Then he stood up and started shooting the people who had welcomed him into their midst. He had been radicalized by white supremacist rhetoric online in much the same way young people, mostly young men, are radicalized by ISIL. He convinced himself that his hatred was justified and that it was his right and duty to rid the world of those he and his ilk deemed unacceptable.
These good people of the congregation of Mother Emanuel risked their lives to welcome a stranger and treat him with dignity. Six women and three men. Four ministers and five lay people. The youngest, 26 year old Tywanza Sanders died trying to shield his great aunt Susie Jackson who was 87. Teachers, preachers, a librarian, singers, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, fathers, mothers, and grandparents… each one dedicated to their church and community. Good people who just went to bible study on a Wednesday night like usual, studying and praying, doing their best to bring the realm of God into focus in the world.
The congregants of Mother Emanuel have endured through the decades. The building has been burned to the ground and damaged by an earthquake. It has the largest seating capacity of any church in Charleston, known as the Holy City because it had so many churches. But the faithful people of Mother Emanuel were there again this morning, singing, praying, mourning, and rejoicing in the good news of the Christ, the good news that God loves each of us passionately and unconditionally. The people of Mother Emanuel have endured over the decades. And these nine who were martyred this week are just the latest lives lost in the service of justice.
“As servants of God [they] commended [themselves] in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. [They were] treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – [they] are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
May we never forget them: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Ethel Lance, Rev DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson, Rev Sharonda Singleton, and the Honorable Rev Clementa Pinckney. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, may their memories comfort their families, and may light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.