4th Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Terri Hobart - June 21, 2015

Do you not care that we are perishing?
Brother, Sister, do you not care that we are perishing?
These words indict and convict us. For too long we have failed to respond to these cries.
And once again blood is on our hands. May God have mercy on our souls.

Friends, as a church, as a faith tradition, as followers of Jesus we are failing. We have failed to love; we have failed to speak out; we have failed to rebuke the oppressive systems that sustain our privilege and breed hatred towards those who are not like us; we have failed to address the growing scourge of gun violence in our country. We have failed to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of all our brothers and sisters.

This is a day of lament and mourning. Today, along with churches across the nation, we are praying for the victims of the Emmanuel massacre and all those affected by this tragedy. But unless we repent for the things we have left undone, our lament is nothing more than empty words.

May this be a day of true repentance. May we turn from fear to love, from division to unity. May the events of the past week break open our hearts and disrupt our lives. May the words of the gospel strengthen our faith and assure us that Christ Jesus is with us in our battered, fragile boats. May his presence give us the strength and courage to stand up full of heart and offering and confront storms of racism, hatred, and violence that threaten us. Let this be a day of true repentance because our brothers and sisters are dying; Day in and day out, our brothers and sisters are being stripped of their humanity. We can no longer allow fear to prevail.

Fear is our enemy; it is insidious; it leads to both hatred and paralysis; fear of the other, the unknown, the loss of power lies at the root of racism. (And racism both overt and implicit does exist.) Fear of our own complicity precludes honest conversations about racism, fear of what we must relinquish prevents us from acknowledging our privilege; Fear and privilege prevent us from having the difficult but long overdue conversation about gun violence in this country.

But all is not bleak. There is a light shining in the darkness. Just as fear breeds hatred and death, love breeds forgiveness and life as the families of the victims reminded us this week. One by one they addressed Dylann Roof at his hearing with words of forgiveness and prayers for his soul. Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. echoed the sentiments of the others in her response: Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win. Friends, that is faith in the midst of the storm, that is the power of love. In the midst of their grief and pain, these faithful Christians are standing as living witnesses, guiding us along the path toward towards a world where love prevails.

If these men and women of Mother Emmanuel, who have suffered repeated attacks, persecution and violence over the years, can continue to root their lives in Christ’s love, how can we not do the same? How can we allow those we are called to love continue to suffer from unmitigated racism and hatred? How can we continue to rationalize and tolerate the escalating culture of gun violence in our neighborhoods?

My friends, as followers of Christ, we can no longer ignore what is happening all around us. I know it is overwhelming but friend this is our Goliath moment. The systemic factors that contribute to tragedies such as this are many. Those slain, as well as, the perpetrators are victims of a culture that breeds violence, fear and prejudice. Hatred is a learned behavior fueled by fear and protected by our heritage and our culture. We live in a world that does not make sense. We perpetuate an economy of haves and have-nots that forces those in the margins to resort to gangs and violence and drugs to survive. In turn, this behavior feeds our prejudices; it justifies fear and serves as a rationale for racism; we live in a world that glorifies violence; where guns have become toys; And although we live increasingly isolated, insulated lives, the tragic fact is we are complicit. The on-going and growing violence, oppression and injustice in this country require a response. It is time that Christian churches across the nation end our silence and engage the structures of power and oppression. It is time that we confront our cultural heritage, economy and the systems that enable, sustain, rationalize and tolerate racism and violence.

Though our efforts may seem futile, we must act. All God asks of us is that we have faith, love and act with courage. With God’s help – we can choose to respond from love rather than fear. We can choose to build community rather than to create division. We can choose to act from generosity rather than from greed. We can shine lights into the darkness. We can oppose the oppression, injustice and violence in all forms. We can demand an end to beliefs, policies and structures that allow our brothers and sisters to be dehumanized, beaten and slain.

Brother, Sister, do you not care that we are perishing? The poor and oppressed call out to us; they call us to repent. They call us to love; they call us to be the church, the body of Christ in the world today, the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of God. They call us to honor our vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. No longer can we let their cries fall on deaf ears. The storms are gaining strength, swamping the boat, battering our brothers and sisters. It is time to wake up – to respond with faith and courage, to confront the raging winds and cresting waves, to rebuke hatred, racism and gun violence, to demand peace.

“Let us go across to the other side” Jesus invites in today’s gospel. Let’s us journey with him toward a world free of injustice, violence and hatred, toward a world where love prevails, where the oppressed are liberated and we see in each person the image of our creator. The way will be fraught with perils, great windstorms and crashing waves. The storms of evil will swirl around us battering our faith and threatening to overwhelm and swamp our boat. Jesus never promised smooth sailing; what he promised is the he would be with us in the midst of storms and that if we respond with faith rather than fear, love will guide us into peaceful waters where we all may be one.