June 20, 2015
This is a time for lament
if ever there was one.
Tywanza Sanders was a 26 year old barber
who recently graduated from Allen University with a business degree.
Depayne Middletown Doctor was a retired director of the Community Block Grant program
in Charleston County.
was the regional library manager
for St. Andrews Regional Library.
was a mother of 3 and coached the high school girls track team.
Ethel Lance was employed by the church as a sexton
in her retirement.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney was not only the church’s pastor,
but served as a state senator.
Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons was also a pastor at the church
and died at the hospital nearby.
Rev. Myra Thompson was the third pastor of the church
who was killed.
The oldest who died was Susie Jackson,
an 87 year old woman and longtime member of Emanuel AME.
This is a time for lament.
Lament is the language of the psalms…
Lament psalms have phrases such as
“How long O Lord?”
“Why have you forsaken me?”
“Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord!”
“Awake O Lord! Why are you sleeping?” (Ps 44:23)
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC
is a church formed out of lament.
It was formed in 1816
when white Christians discriminated those of color in their church.
This new church was burned down by white supremacists in 1822.
When the church was rebuilt,
people worshipped there until 1834…
until a new law made it illegal
for black churches to worship in Charleston.
(For over 30 years it was illegal for black churches to worship together!)
For 30 years the church worshipped underground.
In 1865 when they returned to their sanctuary,
they took the name Emanuel,
a name meaning “God with us.”
Emanuel AME Church is a church formed out of lament.
In later years, Martin Luther King used the pulpit
and encouraged people to register and vote.
In 1969 Coretta Scott King led a march of 1500 demonstrators to the steps
of Mother Emanuel in support of striking hospital workers.
They were met there by the National Guard armed with bayonets.
Emanuel AME Church is a church which knows the language of lament.
And after the events on Wednesday night at a Bible study…
I like many have prayed the words of the psalm,
“How long O Lord?”
This is a time for lament…
It is also a time of confession and repentance.
Our presiding bishop of the ELCA, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a statement on Thursday… She writes:
We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly.
Racism is a fact in American culture.
This was not just a ‘single incident,’
but only the most recent act of violence against black people in the United States.
And not all racist actions are violent ones.
None of us gathered here would ever conceive of committing an act of violence
but we in the white majority by and large have passively accepted
the benefits we’ve received from racism.
It is a time for lament…and a time for repentance.
It is also a time for commitment.
At our synod assembly yesterday,
we gathered in a standing-room only room to talk about what happened in Charleston.
For us Lutherans, this is a personal tragedy.
Two of those who were killed had degrees from the Lutheran Seminary in Columbia, SC.
And, as it turns out, the shooter is a member of an ELCA Lutheran church.
We named our laments.
Around my table an older man began to cry.
He had been in the movement.
He had marched on Washington.
He had spoken out against Jim Crow…
and it seemed to him that in all these years, we’ve come so very little farther.
We named our laments;
and we called out our commitment to action.
What can we do?
One thing that we can do is to commit ourselves
to no longer deny or avoid the issue of racism,
but to “engage difference.”
Get to know people who are not like you.
We as a church council will be discussing ways we might engage difference
as a congregation.
But individually and as families,
we too can look for ways to seek out others.
We are living in the midst of a storm.
In our gospel reading the disciples are in a boat with Jesus
and a storm kicks up.
The waves are beating against the side of the boat,
and the boat is being swamped.
Where is Jesus?
Jesus is lying down sleeping on a cushion in the boat.
His disciples ask him,
“Don’t you care Jesus that we are perishing?”
Jesus ignores them and responds to the storm,
“Peace, be still….”
This storm of racism will not have the last word.
Jesus proclaims it.
We proclaim it.
We pray it.
And we sing it…
Let us sing together Martin Luther King’s favorite hymn,
“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”