**This was originally published 6/18/15, 4pm Central Time. Edited at 10:30 pm Central Time on 6/18/15 to add two new ELCA resources: this important letter from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and this press release including messages from other ELCA leaders. Finding out that the white supremacist shooter was a member of an ELCA congregation makes me feel like my choice to focus my reading only on the victims today was actually a little self-serving. I will take an even longer, more uncomfortable look in the mirror tomorrow.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last night, a young white man went to a historic African American Episcopal congregation in Charleston, was invited in to join their Bible study, sat with them, and then opened fire, killing nine people. This morning, the first post I saw on the subject was from my friend and classmate, the Rev. Yejide Peters. She wrote:
“To enter the house of the Lord and murder the pastor and his flock? This hatred of Black folks is diabolical. If this generation was waiting for its Selma, its 16th street baptist church moment, well, it has most definitely arrived. Those have been silent can no longer remain so in good conscience. Those who feel helpless in the face of what seems like endless injustices must realize that God will be our help, if we are willing to work on behalf of justice, if we are willing to examine, speak up, confess, and confront. No one can afford to remain silent. The way I see it, silence=complicity at this point.
‘I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.’ (Psalm 121)”
This post woke me up, literally, and made me wonder. I believe that God does not leave us inarticulate, even in the face of the worst loss and tragedy and suffering in the world. Sometimes silence itself is the most articulate, and appropriate, response, but God also gives us the Word, and God gives us a living hope. God does not leave us in hopeless, helpless, silent despair. But what can a white pastor, of a white congregation, in a predominantly white community and a predominantly white denomination, really say today?
Not much, but here are a couple thoughts and resources I’ve found to help me as I pray today.
***I am keeping up with the news from various sources, but as I do I am giving more time and attention to the voices of black writers, journalists and friends. I’m also spending more of my time on stories about the victims than on the shooter today. I’ve found both these practices helpful in grounding me in prayer for the victims’ families today. It is also exposing me to discussions about race that are outside of my usual perspective and comfort zone, which is important to me.
Strangely enough, buzzfeed, that site that is kind of famous for silly internet quizzes, is doing a pretty wonderful job of collecting information about the people who were murdered yesterday. Here is a story about all the victims, which will be updated throughout the day as they find information from various sources. Here is a story about The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pickney, state senator and the senior pastor of the congregation.
Let us pray. God we remember your beloved children: Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr., and DePayne Middleton-Doctor. We know you never left them for a single moment, and they are with you. We give you thanks for their lives and weep with you for the loss of their lives with us on earth. We pray for their families, and for all the people who love them and are in mourning today. We pray for the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are your love, God; may your healing flow along with their tears. Make us all instruments of your love, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
***I am allowing myself to be uncomfortable, knowing that my discomfort is nothing compared to the real, everyday experience of racism faced by people of color in this country. So, I’m not trying to make the discussion about something other than race, though it would be much more comfortable for me to do so. Instead, I’d like to lean into that discomfort and see if it is God leading me, and maybe us as a congregation, into not only discussion, but action. After all, we live in Wisconsin, the state with the highest black male incarceration rate in the United States. There is a lot of anti-racism work to be done right here in Wisconsin. Here is a link to the 11 x 15 movement. And here is a link to the ELCA’s social statement on race, ethnicity and culture.
Let us pray. God, save us from the evil of racism in our hearts and in our institutions. We have a real problem, and only you can save us. Give us, as white people, the guidance, wisdom, and strength necessary to struggle with and overcome racism wherever it is, even and especially where we can’t see it. Amen.
Finally, and I’m not sure how else to say this, or where it really fits in with everything else … but I love you. So much. It is my joy to be your pastor. Thank you for reading this, for praying with me, for caring about and being connected to the world beyond our walls. If we were an isolated, small, white church in the middle of Wisconsin, we would surely turn inward and slowly, surely, die. But we are part of something larger than ourselves, and each of us (individually, and as a congregation, synod and denomination) has real relationships which connect us across differences and divides to the whole of God’s creation. God is always in community, and God has made us in God’s image–so we must find a way to be community, too, in big and small ways.
And I’m grateful for this community, Redeemer Lutheran Church, truly and with my whole heart.
Let us pray. God, thank you for our congregation, and for all the people of faith who will gather around the world to worship and praise you this week. May we all be one in our love and service of you and our neighbors in need. May we all, by your grace, work for justice and peace. Amen.
Your sister in Christ,
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, February 1, 2015, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright preaching. Today’s text: Mark 1:21-28. Audio improves after about 35 seconds. This sermon contains two video clips. Click the control in the lower-right corner of the screen to view full-screen. Press Escape when you’re done viewing to leave full-screen mode.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This morning, five of us gathered for Bible study, steering our cars carefully toward church to talk about Paul’s letter to the Romans … and Ferguson, Missouri. After last night’s grand jury decision and all that has come after, questions about violence, race and justice were on our hearts and minds.
Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, in part, hoping to heal deep divisions in the church. So we wondered, this morning, if we were to write a letter to heal the church, to heal the world, to speak to all the divisions and bring peace … what would we write? How would we begin?
P. wrote about listening to each other; finding a way to understand what’s really going on in the hearts and minds of people we disagree with. M. wrote about respect, and walking in the other person’s shoes. G. wrote that, no matter what divides us, we are united in God’s love. N. wrote: “We are all humans.”
St. Paul starts his letter to the Romans by introducing himself and his topic, by addressing his audience as beloved children of God who are called to be saints, and with these familiar words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, he starts his letter, and the first thing he does is give thanks. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8.)
Paul starts his letter giving thanks, not just for the church leaders, not just for the people who agreed with him and supported his ministry, but for all of the Christians in Rome. He could have written, “I thank God for those of you who agree with my theology and my ministry. The rest of you can get lost.” But he didn’t.
Last night, right after the news came out, I posted something kind of vague on facebook (beware late-night facebooking!) about feeling sad, and wanting to listen and pray. Two of my friends commented on the post, and were soon going back and forth in dispute. One friend was angry with the grand jury decision not to convict Darren Wilson. The other was angry with people not accepting the work and decision of the grand jury.
The interesting thing about these two particular friends of mine is that they’re both incredibly committed and devoted Christians: they walk the walk. E. is a lawyer who also mentors people recovering from alcohol addiction. K. is a social worker who also advocates for children with birth defects and their families. I’m not sure when either of them finds time to sleep. I have turned to them many times when I needed help, or when someone from this congregation needed help. I give thanks to God for them on a regular basis, for all the big and small ways they live out their faith in their daily lives.
We are divided, and those divisions are real. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be glossed over or ignored; turning a blind eye to the real differences between where E. and K. are coming from doesn’t help. But if the church has room for one of them and not the other … that’s not the church. St. Paul knew that, and you and I know it, too, though we need to be reminded of it often. If you look around and all you see are people who look and think exactly like you, that’s not the church.
Noticing the differences is one thing. Getting over our own defensiveness and really listening to those differences is another thing. Finding something to value in that difference, yet another thing. And going out of our way to break out of our comfortable sameness and seek out that difference and build a long-term, real relationship with someone of a different skin color, culture socioeconomic background, political affiliation, or faith … that’s something else altogether. And if it seems like a tall order, it is.
So, where do we start?
Appropriately enough for this week, we start like St. Paul started: giving thanks. You can imagine that, as he wrote it, he might have had some reservations in his mind. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you (except you … you know who you are … yes, you.)” Whether it was true or whether he was trying to convince himself it was true, it was still a good place to start. If you give thanks for all people, and do it often enough, it’ll become a habit, and it’ll become true.
As we wrapped up our Bible study this morning, we gave thanks for the conversation we’d had, and some regret that more people couldn’t have been part of it. What good is a conversation between five people in a church on a Tuesday morning? A lot of good, M. reminded us. Change starts with us, and with all the other people getting together and talking this morning and in the mornings to come. “We’re not the only ones having this conversation today,” she said. And if God was part of our conversation, surely God was part of other conversations, too … beyond even what we can imagine.
Let us pray: God, we know you are at work in the world in ways we may not be able to see. You are present and at work in Ferguson, Missouri, in Cleveland, Ohio, in our own community, and everywhere. Give us the courage to engage in difficult conversations with love. Give us the wisdom to listen, even when we feel defensive. Give us your vision to see the belovedness and value of all people. Amen.
Giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ for all of you,