Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I Am an Ally: A Personal Reflection. Why I care.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”[1]

            The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for me, and for a lot of people, in terms of what’s going on in our nation and the world.  I have been mourning the loss of nine lives of African-Americans while they were studying the Bible and praying together at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.   Last Friday the Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for all Americans to marry the people they love, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.   We’re also learning that  at least 5 predominately black  churches have  been burned in the past week or so, with at least 3 determined to be arson..  This has all affected me deeply.
            I think it’s important to understand the particular sensitivities and passions that are a part of who we are as persons.  So I’ve given this a lot of thought.  As I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania, a variety of influences worked together to instill in me a strong sense of fairness and compassion.  In the early 1970’s, I married an African-American man, which would have been a felony in some states until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled that restricting the freedom to marry solely on the basis of race violates the central meaning of equal protection under the law.  My son is biracial and identifies as African-American.  I have family and friends and brothers and sisters in the Christian faith who are persons of color.  Because I care about people whose everyday lives are impacted by prejudice and injustice, I need to care about this. 
            I have family members who are gay.  There is deep pain,  sadness and regret over a broken relationship. Loving parents lost a beloved child over words that were said years ago.  
            Over the years I have become friends with LGBTQ persons.  I have heard their stories and have come to appreciate their paths to self-acceptance and understanding and living with integrity, as who they were created to be.    Because of my growing awareness, I am very intentional when I choose words.  I say “sexual orientation” rather “sexual preference” or “lifestyle choice” to reflect my understanding that they do not choose to be attracted to persons of the same gender, any more than I could choose to be attracted to another woman. 
            I have known a number of LGBTQ persons who have been in long-term, committed, mutually fulfilling relationships.  A  former neighbor was the first person to cross the street and welcome me to the neighborhood when I moved here. He and his partner were fairly private, but casual conversations gave me insights into their life together, as an older couple who had been together for several decades.  When he was diagnosed with cancer, his partner cared for him throughout his illness until he died, as any loving spouse would. 
            I am privileged to have LGBTQ friends who are persons of faith.  Some of them are among the kindest, most loving and compassionate, gentle persons I know.  All of them are like all  the rest of us humans, with individual strengths and weaknesses and quirks.  Their sexual orientation or identification is just one part of who they are.
            Since moving to Dearborn 18 years ago, I have been involved with interfaith work and have become friends with people in the Muslim and Arab-American communities.  I live in east Dearborn, so my relationships with neighbors are interfaith as well.  I am grateful for the relationships I have in the community, for the graciousness and hospitality I have experienced.  Because they are my friends and neighbors and colleagues, I need to care about them.
            In my training to be a chaplain and a pastor, one of the questions I was taught to ask is “Where is God in this?”  Another is, “What kind of a God do we worship?”
            As a Christian, I see myself as a follower of Jesus, who I believe “came to live among us, full of grace and truth.”[2]  Near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and was given the scroll of Isaiah, and he read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ He rolled up the scroll… and began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[3]  With many others, I regard this as Jesus’ mission statement, one that guides my sense of mission.
            Jesus made it clear what is most important for those who follow him.  People came to Jesus and asked him, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[4]  In a related passage in the gospel according to Luke, a lawyer wants to justify himself, so he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus responds by telling the parable of the good Samaritan, in which the person seen by society as unacceptable is held up as an example of a good neighbor.[5]
            I see practicing unconditional love as one of the most important parts of my life of faith, and it is a test of my faith:  “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”[6]

            So why am I an ally to those who are marginalized or oppressed?  Partly because I care about people I know.  But the main reason is because it is an integral part of my faith.   I believe my Christian faith calls me to love and respect each person I meet as a child of God.  God created them and loves them, and I need to love them too—even if I don’t think they’re very likeable, even if I feel uncomfortable around them, even if they make choices that are different from mine, even if they are bigots.  My faith teaches me that it is not my job to judge.
            As a white person, I need to care about systemic racism in our society.  I need to care enough to commit myself to do what I can to change things. 
            As a follower of Jesus, who reached out in love to those who were considered sinners or outcasts in society, I need to care about those in our society whom some others may judge as sinners. 
            As a person of faith committed to promoting greater understanding and cooperation between people who are different, I need to do what I can to combat prejudice and stereotyping. 
            In the upcoming political campaign cycle, there are sure to be candidates who try to gain votes by promoting divisiveness and fear of various groups.  This is a time of significant changes in our society, and people who think they can promote their agenda by exploiting peoples’ fears will surely do so.  We’ll all hear rhetoric about how we need to fear the loss of religious liberty and about Muslim terrorists in our communities.   I am committed to do what I can by sharing accurate information and thoughtful reflections. 
            In this time when so much is changing, a lot of us will be struggling.  Change is hard.  We won’t all agree about everything.   But we can all commit ourselves to be respectful  and constructive, as we work together to build a society in whch we have “liberty and justice for all.”

            As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools."

Fran Hayes
June 29, 2015

[1] 1 John 4:8
[2] John 1:14
[3] Luke 4:16-21.  This is a quote from Isaiah 61.
[4] Matthew 22:34-40; also Mark 12:28-34.
[5] Luke 10:25-37
[6] 1 John 4:20-21.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Your Faith Has Made You Whole." A sermon on Mark 5:21-43. Two stories in which Jesus heals people. But listen to the stories and pay attention to who is being healed and how Jesus is challenging first century Jewish purity regulations. And listen for the good news for us.

The gospel story we just heard is actually two stories, in which one story is interrupted by another story.  In the story that comes before these stories in chapter five of Mark, one that the lectionary skips over, Jesus has been over on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, in Gentile territory, where he performs an exorcism and interferes with the local swine-based economy, until the local folk beg him to get out of town. 
            Now, people who are comfortable with a nice, domesticated Jesus might find the stories in this part of Mark‘s gospel pretty uncomfortable—if they get what the stories are about.  
Some folk would like to hear these stories from Mark as stories about how Jesus was able to miraculously cure people that nobody else was able to heal.  But the stories aren’t just about Jesus’ power to heal.  It’s also about whom he chooses to heal.

            Jesus has crossed back across the lake to the western side of the Sea of Galilee, and a great crowd gathers around him.  One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus comes and falls down at Jesus’ feet and begs him repeatedly to come home with him and heal his young daughter.  “She is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live! 
            Jesus sets off to go with him.  A large crowd follows along and is pressing in on him. 
            But then that story gets interrupted.  As Jesus is making his way through the crowd, he senses that power has gone forth from him, and he turns to find out who has touched him.
            It wasn’t just the crowd pressing in on him, but a woman—a very specific woman.  This woman had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  She’d gone to doctor after doctor, and had spent all her money on them, trying the treatments they prescribed.  But none of it had done any good, and she still bled. 
            In addition to the effects on her physical health, her bleeding had other profound effects on her life.   It made her ritually unclean.  She couldn’t go to the Temple to worship.  Anyone who touched her, or lay on a bed in which she had slept, or sat on a chair where she sat would be considered unclean as well. 
            Imagine the kind of isolation this woman must have experienced over those twelve long years.  Imagine being unable to attend services and rituals in the Temple.  Imagine people shying away from you, being unwilling to touch you.  This woman was an outcast.
Unlike Jairus’ daughter,  she apparently has no male relative to plead her case.    
            If this nameless woman had pushed through a crowd to touch a scribe or a priest or a Pharisee, I imagine she might have gotten a different reaction.  “Get away from us, you unclean old woman!  Why aren’t you more careful?  Now I’m going to have to waste hours getting purified before I can continue my religious duties!”
            But this woman has heard reports of the power at work in Jesus, and that has given birth to hope and faith.  So—in desperation and great faith—she works her way through the jostling crowd and approaches  Jesus from behind and touches his garments.
            She might have thought, “I don’t need to bother him.  I don’t need to slow him down with a lot of chatter.  All I need to do is touch the edge of his garment.  Then I will be healed.”
            But things don’t go exactly as she planned.  No sooner does she touch his clothes than Jesus turns around and says, “Who touched me?” 
            Jesus refuses to let the woman remain invisible.  He insists on personal contact and on drawing the woman into relationship.    And so the woman falls down before him and tells him the whole truth.
            Jesus says to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”  The New RSV translates this verb in terms of healing.  But, as some scholars note, this translation of the verb fails to capture the sense in which the physical cure results in a fuller restoration.[1]  It might be a better translation to hear Jesus saying, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”   Your faith has made you whole.
            As we reach the conclusion of the inner story, we can discern that the miracle involves far more than physical healing.[2]  It includes entry into a ‘saving’ relationship with Jesus himself.  The woman is no longer alone.  Jesus calls her “Daughter,” claiming her as  family, and restoring her to community.  She is told to “go in peace”—shalom, which involves health… wholeness…  and salvation.
            Jesus doesn’t seem to mind that the woman has touched him.  He also doesn’t  seem to worry about the ritual purification.  After he sends the woman on her way, healed and whole, he doesn’t stop off at the baths or send the disciples off for water, so he can wash.  It doesn’t seem to matter to him. 
            For Jesus, there is no such thing as an unclean person.  The society he lives in may try to keep certain people outside of their boundaries, but Jesus keeps reaching out to them.  He keeps welcoming people back inside the circle of God’s love and healing and community.  Time and time again, he welcomes people who have been cast out…or he moves outside the boundary himself, to meet them where they are.
            The other story in today’s gospel lesson shows a similar pattern.
            Some people come from Jairus’ house to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?” 
            After all, you could hardly ask Jesus to deal with a dead body.  Dead bodies were considered unclean.  Touch a dead body, and you become unclean.
            But Jesus overhears and says to Jairus, “Do not fear-- only believe.’  He takes Peter, James, and John and they go to Jairus’ house where they find a commotion of loud weeping and lamenting.  They’ve already started mourning .
             “Why do you make a commotion and weep?” Jesus says.  “The child is not dead but sleeping.”   Jesus sends them all outside.  Then he takes the child’s parents and the three  disciples  and takes the child by the hand and tells her to get up.  The girl begins to walk.  Everybody is amazed!   Jesus gives them orders not to tell anybody about this, and tells them to give the girl something to eat.

            So--  what’s going on here, in these two stories, one story sandwiched inside the other in typical Mark fashion?   As I reviewed some of the stories that come before them in the gospel, I became convinced that purity regulations are an important backdrop to the story.  The distinction between “clean” and “unclean” is an aspect of first-century Jewish consciousness that our modern minds may have trouble grasping, but I think they can help us understand what’s going on in the story.
            The biblical laws of purity, which are set forth in Leviticus and Numbers, sought to preserve the holiness of the Temple—the dwelling place of God on earth and the center of the Jewish religious life.  They spelled out the conditions under which persons could approach the divine presence.  A person became ritually impure through contact with a human corpse, certain unclean animals, or genital discharges.         Observing the purity laws was an effort to preserve proper worship in the Temple   and holiness of the community of faith.  Some sectarian groups within first-century Judaism promoted observance of the purity laws at all times and places. 
            In the Gospel stories, we hear how Jesus repeatedly does things that seem to transgress biblical purity regulations and holiness codes.    He touches a leper.  He heals on the Sabbath. 
            So… it’s’ hard to avoid the impression that a lot of Mark’s story has to do with ritual impurity.  Earlier in chapter 5 of Mark, Jesus goes into Gentile—and therefore unclean--  territory and enters a graveyard.  There he encounters a demoniac with a legion of unclean spirits, whom he drives into a herd of two thousand pigs.  
            Then Jesus is touched by a woman with a continuous flow of blood…and takes a dead girl by the hand.  I agree with scholar David Rhoads when he argues that “The issues of purity are writ large across the pages of Mark’s story.”[3]   Rhoads maintains that Mark believes that God is holy, but represents an alternative view:  “In contrast to the view that people are to attain holiness by separation from the threatening force of impurity, Mark presents the view that people are to overcome uncleanness by spreading wholeness. 
            The religious community in Jesus’ day and through much of history has often gotten in the way of healing.  But the gospel story we heard today from Mark tells how God works through Jesus, who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to touch impurity—to reach out with a healing touch.
            God’s holiness comes to remove and overcome uncleanness, working through Jesus and his followers to spread the life-giving power of the kingdom into the world wherever people are receptive to it.[4]
            So…when Jesus welcomes the woman who has been hemorrhaging as “daughter”—a term of endearment--  and touches a dead girl, we have what Marcus Borg has summarized as “The politics of purity” being replaced by  “a politics of compassion.[5]
            Instead of drawing back from the unclean woman, Jesus deliberately reaches out to her, welcoming her back into the human family, back into the community from which she had been isolated.  Instead of avoiding contact with the dead girl, Jesus reaches out and takes her hand and restores her to life. 
            Jesus reaches out in an invitation of pure love…an invitation to bring our own bleeding bodies and spirits to the only One who can offer us true healing…the only One who can welcome us into true community when our ties with that community have been broken.
            The story invites us to follow Jesus’ example.  It invites us to look at the suffering ones in our own midst, the ones who have been shunned or marginalized or turned away…to listen to their stories, to reach out and touch them, and lift them up.   It invites us to call them “daughter”… “Son”… “Sister”…  “Brother.”  Above all,  it invites them to welcome them home.

            It seems to me that Jesus did some of his best work with the people whom his society was trying to exclude—the people who were outside of the boundaries that were meant to separate the good, religious people from those who were outcasts:  tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, the poor, and anyone the purity laws deemed to be unclean.
            The good news of the gospel calls us to live out our faith in ways that invite all-- not just some--  to be touched and healed by God’s love… and to become a real part of the community. 
            The good news calls us to become a community that in its wholeness truly embodies the shalom that Jesus bids the woman when he says “your faith has made you well…go in peace…”
            So… what do we hear this passage saying to us today? 
            Many of us have been grieving what happened in Charleston, SC and other events in what some have called a season of racial unrest, and some of us are very concerned about gun violence.  Now we hear there are at least three predominately African-American churches in the South that have burned down   Some of us are tired of grieving the latest loss and would like to find ways to join together to work for a more just and peaceful world. 
            Last week, Colleen Nieman—the pastor at St. Paul Lutheran-- and I met for lunch and were sharing our pain, our hopes, and a few ideas. 
            One idea we talked about as a possibility would be to form a group of people of goodwill from our various faith communities that would meet maybe once a month-- people who share our concerns and want to do something more than mourn the latest deaths.  Perhaps we would prepare and share a very simple meal together, and then have intentional conversations.
            We thought we might start by gathering some people for an informal bring-your-own sandwich supper at a local park,  to talk about our hopes and ideas for how we might make a difference together.  The first gathering is just to get some ideas and plan for another gathering in the near future.
            If you’re interested, let’s talk.

            Jesus calls us to live out our faith out to live our faith in ways that invite all to be touched and healed by God’s love… and to embody God’s peace.
            And so… may we never be content to rest within our safe walls.  May we move out to where ministry with Jesus takes place, where we receive God’s blessings, and where we can be a blessing to those who need to know that God’s love is even for them.
            May our faith make us all well and whole.

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
June 28, 2015

[1] Donald Juel, Mark.  Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Augsburg, 1990),  p. 84.
[2] James L. Bailey and Lyle D. Vander Brock, Literary Forms in the New Testament: A Handbook (Westminster/John Knox, 1992), p. 142.
[3] David Rhoads, “Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries,” in Mark and Method, p. 147, cited in Frances Taylor Gench, Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels (Westminster John Knox, 2004), p. 40.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (Harper, 1994), p. 58.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Why Are You Afraid?" A sermon on Mark 4:35-41, preached at Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Sunday after the massacre of 9 people at prayer at Emanuel AME Church.

         “Why are you afraid?   Have you still no faith?”

            During the dark days of World War II, the World Council of Churches adopted a symbol which had been important to the early church during times of danger, hardship, and persecution:  the church universal is depicted as a storm-tossed boat, with a cross for a mast.
            Over the centuries, the ship has been a prominent symbol for the church in Christian art and architecture.  In fact, the area of the church or cathedral where the congregation gathers is called the "nave,"  which is the Latin word for "ship."  When the early Christians tried to describe what it was like to be a Christian and to be a member of the church, they sometimes compared it to being on a ship with Christ and trying to cope with the wind and waves that buffet them so often.               
            In today’s Gospel lesson, we find the disciples on a journey.  The journey is not one of their own choosing, but one they've been commanded to take.  
            It must have been a long day.  Jesus had been teaching beside the sea.  There had been a huge crowd gathered on the shore, while he sat in the boat and spoke in parables about the Reign of God.
            When evening came, Jesus said to the disciples, "Let us go across to the other side of the sea."  So, leaving the crowd behind, they set off across the sea. 
            Now, Peter and the other fishermen among Jesus' inner circle of disciples knew from experience the danger of sudden storms on the Sea of Galilee.  Throughout the Bible,  the sea is a metaphor for the place where chaos and the demonic reside.   Moses leads the people from bondage to liberation through a sea.   In some of the psalms, the sea threatens those who would follow God.[1]    In the Psalms and in the book of Revelations, God's power to calm the sea is affirmed.[2]   As Gary Charles writes:  “For Mark the sea is a metaphor for the demonic and apocalyptic chaos that confronts Jesus, terrorizes his disciples and threatens the future of the gospel."[3]
            A lot of us are trying to live by faith in the midst of a life that can get chaotic and precarious.   Things happen that are beyond our control.  Cancer cells grow in our bodies.   Addictions resurface in the lives of loved ones. People in power abuse it and create destruction for those in their power."[4] 
            This week, what happened in Charleston, South Carolina really tossed a lot of our boats.  For a lot of people, it’s felt pretty stormy.   So it’s ironic that the middle name of the alleged killer is “Storm.”  But I don’t want to say much about him right now.  Whenever terror strikes like this, we pay attention to the shooter, as we try to figure out how this could happen—how this young man who looks like a kid could do what he did.
            For now I want to focus on people who gathered on Wednesday evening for their regular Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.  The Rev. Clemente Pinckney, age 41, was a state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel.  He was married and the father of two children.  He had a graduate degree and was a graduate of the Lutheran Seminary of the South. 
            Cynthia Hurd, age 54, had dedicated her lift to serving and improving the lives of others as a librarian and library manager.  The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, age 45, was a pastor at Emanuel, and was also a speech therapist and high school girls track and field coach at Goose Creek High School.  She was the mother of Chris Singleton, a college student whom some of us saw talking about love and forgiveness on TV, and two younger children.
            Tywanza Sanders was 26, with a business administration degree—known as a “quiet, well-known student who was committed to his education.”
            Ethel Lance, who was 70, had attended Emanuel most of her life and had worked as a custodian.  She is remembered as “funny and a pleasure to be around…a wonderful mother and grandmother.”
            Susie Jackson, 87, was a longtime church member.  Depayne Middleton Doctor was 49.  The mother of four sang in Emanuel’s choir, and previously directed a community development program in Charleston County.  In December, she started a new job as admissions coordinator at her alma mater, Southern Wesleyan University.  She is remembered as “a warm and enthusiastic leader.”
            The Rev. Daniel Simmons, age 74,  had previously pastored another church in the Charleston area.  He attended the Bible study every Wednesday night. 
            Myra Thompson, age 59, was the wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.
            Felicia Sanders, a 57-year-old grandmother and mother of Ty Sanders, survived by playing dead among the bodies and saved her granddaughter by making her play dead.  She saw her son try to talk the shooter out of shooting them…and then saw him killed.
            As Otis Moss III describes what happened,  members of Emanuel gathered Wednesday evening with their pastor in what should have been a safe place, armed with nothing but their Bibles.[5]  Seated in their midst was a young white man who was a stranger,  yet welcomed as a friend. As Rev. Moss says, “The black church embraces all. We accord a certain degree of respect and special recognition to those who do not look like us.”  The young man was seated next to the pastor, “where he returned the church's hospitality with unimaginable inhumanity.”
            Rev. Moss describes Emanuel AME Church as “a national treasure.”  Yolanda Pierce, professor of African American religion and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, reminds us that "the AME denomination was founded as a protest against racism" and "the black church was birthed as a sanctuary from white violence."  This is true of Emanuel AME, affectionately known as "Mother" Emanuel.  Its storied history dates back almost 200 years. Mother Emanuel endured despite being burned down, outlawed and destroyed by an earthquake.[6]
            Emanuel AME has been the target of racist attacks, legal harassment and arson.  Each time, Emanuel Church has responded with love rooted in justice, by teaching literacy, producing leaders, protesting unequal treatment, fighting for economic parity and demanding the confederate flag be replaced by a symbol for all South Carolinians. Mother Emanuel embodies liberation, love and reconciliation.[7]

            This particular storm will pass.  But for now, for some of us, the storm feels overwhelming.  For now, it’s time to grieve the loss of precious lives.  Lives that matter to their families and friends and their community.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ, whose lives need to matter to us.   As the apostle Paul writes in First Corinthians 12,  “when one member of the body of Christ suffers, the whole body suffers as well.”
            I imagine our African-American brothers and sisters around the country may be feeling uneasy as they gather for worship today and in the weeks to come.  I imagine if I were African-American and were attending an African-American church, I might be feeling uneasy if I  saw an unfamiliar white face, someone who nods but doesn’t seem to warm up to the people around him.   Could he be a Charleston copy-cat?  Could he be a white supremacist?  I wonder how safe I’d feel.
            There have been at least six shooting incidents at houses of worship in our nation in the past seven years,[8]  along with all the shootings at schools and elsewhere.  It seems like a storm of violence and hatred has permeated our society. 

            Meanwhile, back in the boat.  The disciples must have been exhausted after the day's activities.  They may have had some qualms about crossing to the other side of the sea, which was gentile territory.  As Jews of that time, it would have been a new idea to them that God's salvation included non-Jews, people who were “other.” 
            The winds were battering against the boat.  It was filling with water. The disciples had plenty of reason to be terrified.
            In the midst of all of this, where is God?  "Don't you care that we are perishing?"
            Jesus had been sleeping through the storm, which was a sign that he trusted in God to keep them all safe.
            Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace!  Be still!"          
            And the wind ceased--  and there was calm.

            Then Jesus said to them, "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"
            When we follow Jesus, when we obey the command to cross over to “the other side,” to be with others who are different from us… when terror strikes, the storm can feel overwhelming.      
            Jesus rebukes the storm:  “Peace! Be still!”   But the peace of Christ is never passive.  It’s never just an absence of conflict or trouble.  We are called to “pursue peace with everyone.”[9]
            My friend and Lutheran colleague Colleen Niemann forwarded  a response to the massacre in Charleston from the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Bishop Eaton writes, “It has been a long season of disquiet in our country.  From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence.  But this ... the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism….”

            Do you not care that we are perishing?  Do you not care that church folk, at prayer, are massacred?  Do you not care that men and women are imprisoned at rates never seen before?  Do you not care that young people are dying?  Do you not care about the disparity in educational opportunities?  The list could go on.   Do you not care?
            What keeps us from having the difficult but necessary conversations about race and privilege that can lead to the healing of the sickness in our society?
            Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?

            I’ve been heartsick over what happened this week in Charleston.  I’m heartsick that people keep dying.  Yet I have to admit that I’ve felt afraid to speak too prophetically about this.  I like to be liked and appreciated.  I don’t like it when people are upset over a sermon.   
            But Jesus calls us to set out in the boat.  We’re called to pursue peace.  We are entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation.  We are called to love all the people God loves. 
            If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to follow him into the storm.  If we want to stand with Jesus, we need to stand with those who have been weathering the storm for a long time, because that’s where Jesus is.  It can be scary.
            But I’m hopeful.  I really want to be hopeful.  I’m hopeful that now is the time.  That now is the time when we say “enough.”  Now is the time for us to stop being afraid of the hard conversations about race and privilege and gun violence.  Now is the time for us to commit ourselves  to living into the Beloved Community, which is just another way of talking about the Kingdom of God.  Now is the time to find ways to work together with our neighbor congregations, to find energy and encouragement from one another—because we’re all in the boat together. 
            Jesus never promised us that we could stay safely on the shore, where things are familiar and comfortable.  But he does promise to be with us always. 
            We can trust in God’s promises,  that God will be with us always.  That’s what “Emmanuel” means.  God with us!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
June 21, 2015          


[1] Ps. 69:1, 14-15.
[2] Ps. 46:1-3; 89:8-9; 93:3-4; Rev. 21:1.
[3] Gary Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices, p. 60.
[4] I am grateful to Alyce MacKenzie, in “Choppy Seas, Calm Spirits,” posted at Edgy Exegesis at Patheos Progressive portal.
[5] Otis Moss III, “The Doors of the Church are Open, at Huffington Post.
[6] Moss.
[7] Moss.
[9] Hebrews 12:14