SERMON by PASTOR DONNA HERZFELDT-KAMPRATH
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Texts for the day: Mark 4:35-41; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Job 38:1-11
Grace to you, and peace, from Christ who continues with us on this journey of faith, seeking safety and sanctuary from the chaos of life.
Before the news broke this week about the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, I had wanted to return to that powerful quote that Pastor Tim shared with you last Sunday about faith. It is striking in light of what has happened. Martin Luther wrote: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.”
We spent a year (at least) living with the theme, “Open the Door: Risk Hospitality”. And we challenged ourselves to consider what would we risk to publicly and openly say that we want to be in an open and reconciling relationship with sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer. We are just starting that journey – and by faith we say that it is God’s grace that both compels us to take the journey, and promises to be with us every step of the way.
We’re also working on a vision for who we are in this time and place- in Campaign 360 – a vision of West Linn Lutheran Church being physically open and welcoming. Literally! We literally keep the church open as much as possible for people to come and go. And you are investing your money and labor into making the facility and grounds accessible and comfortable for each and every guest. What are we risking? What does answering this call to radical hospitality cost us?
Will we risk even death for the vision of grace and hospitality that shapes us as we worship, as we pray together, as we build up relationships, and open this space and ourselves to the stranger as well as the friend? Death has not yet been demanded of us in this place, but it was and is demanded of others, in other sanctuaries, who are our sisters and brothers in faith – our own body in the body of Christ.
Trusting in God’s grace, black believers in Charleston, South Carolina, gathered for prayer and study and fellowship at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church last Wednesday. They welcomed the young Lutheran white stranger to their circle. They engaged in conversation. They risked death for the sake of radical hospitality. As Christ had welcomed and shared grace with them, they shared that welcome and grace with him.
And this is where I stumble and struggle. All my days of preaching, I have declared with much hope and confidence what I read in the Scripture and was taught in seminary – God’s Promise is real and active and powerful. The Word of God, the Living Christ, changes hearts and minds by the power of the Spirit. Those folks spent an hour together with the Word, in study and prayer and conversation. And it sounds like from reports in the news that perhaps for a moment the shooter was tempted to change from his destructive course of action. So, why? Why did that Word not stop what happened in that church?
I know I’m in good company asking this question. Not just with folks all across the country – and around this room – but with folks throughout Scripture. Foremost, those gathered around Job. Job, who lost his whole family and his land and his health, all for no good reason, was left with that question, why? And Paul, the preacher and missionary, going through imprisonment and torture and beatings and rejection, asked why? And even the disciples in the boat with Jesus, cried out, why? Don’t you care, Jesus? So we should not be surprised that the signs are on the streets of Charleston and across the country – “why?” It is the cry of the human heart as it opens up to the pain and suffering – especially the suffering and destruction humans impose on other humans. Hate trumping good. Evil trampling kindness. Prejudice destroying love.
Of all places, Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church could ask that question. It was founded by people wanting to worship free of racism. It was burned to the ground for trying to stop slavery. For a time there were actually laws that forbid all-black worship services, and people had to meet in secret. It has been a site where people gathered to hear the word of God, to pray and sing, and to resist evil in all its faces and forms. Maybe that answers some of the “why?” question – this church, Mother Emmanuel, does not shy away from the tempests that swirl around it. She is a vessel that carries believers with Jesus to “the other side” of issues and change.
And isn’t the hope right there – right in that boat – so small compared to the heaving waves that threaten to crash and demolish. Hope is in the boat – Jesus is in the boat! Emmanuel; God with us! Mother Emmanuel who holds open the circle of faith for the stranger, the white stranger, the young man with troubled mind and evil intent. And the body of Christ will welcome, challenge, study, pray, and receive openly and with grace – and even forgive unspeakable horror. Why? And where is God? In the boat! In the circle! In the sanctuary! In the suffering. In family members publicly praying for the soul of a man who hates their very existence!
“Peace!” Jesus cries out. “Peace! Be still.” And there is a “dead calm” for a moment. Long enough for Jesus to challenge us and our faith. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus asks. What does faith in God’s grace look like? Feel like? In the face of overwhelming powers it looks a lot like letting go.
Walt Wangerin, a Lutheran pastor I worked with in a mostly black congregation in inner city Evansville, tells a story of discovering faith – a time when he as a young boy thought he knew what faith was – until he had to act on that faith! Walt tells us: When I was a kid in second grade, I roared it all over the neighborhood, how strong were the arms of my father. I knew my dad, had watched him chopping wood and declared his strength superior to Jimmy's dad's for sure. But I didn't believe it. Not with my life. In our backyard stood a cherry tree. Ten feet up a stout branch forked northward. Upon that fork I would lay me down—my “private place” where I went to be alone, to dream, to read, to bathe myself in the higher air of self-importance.
Now it happened on a summer's day that a thunderstorm caught me in my kingdom unaware. Suddenly the east wind assailed my tree, and tore the book from my hands, and made a small boy throw his arms around the forking branches for dear life, his head slung down between them. “Dad! Dad!” I shrieked and the rain swept up and whipped me. A low cloud cracked and blackened the earth. “Dad!” My father appeared at the back door. For just an instant I giggled in the wind, relieved. “Hurry!” I cried.
But my father didn't climb the tree as I expected, made no effort at all, in fact, to carry me down. He stood directly below me and raised his two arms and called above the thunder, “Jump”. Jump? If I broke his sticklike arms I would hit the ground and then what? Then I'd die. Forget your jumping! I gripped the branches with my arms tighter than ever.
But the east wind makes no concessions to the sensibilities of little boys. It ripped that tree and bent it. Savagely it shook it. Then suddenly my own poor branch exhaled and split beneath me. “Daddeeee!”
I did not jump that day. In bloody panic, I let go. All helplessly, I fell. I thought, here comes the bump, and I simply gave up. But my father caught me. Then—then, … , my father's arms were strong indeed. To say so was a creed in me. To hug him, and to let him carry me, why, that was love and faith and life together. We strode that storm barefaced into the kitchen. Me, I was weak and strong at once, who had only been weak before. Dad, he was strong as he had always been. So, what had happened? I had fallen to land on the truth, and truth was a living being. So, what had happened? Faith.
God promises, “I have listened to you, and … I have helped you.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) And on the cross of Christ God’s heart is open wide. There truly is room in the circle for those who come with confidence, for those with evil intent, for those who are confused and angry, and those who are trying to change the system. And there Christ accomplishes the forgiveness for all our sin and failure, and the life everlasting – with room in the kingdom for all of us, of every race and nation, every time and place! God’s promises are sure and worth our trust! Can I let go?? Can you let go?!?
Let me finish that quote from Martin Luther to help us know how faith can grow as it is acted upon: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.”
Day Camp this week will wrestle with “What Matters Most”. We all can be watching and working on this – what matters most to those who suffer from human injustice? What matters most for us as we respond to evil – right in front of us or across the country or across the globe? What matters most as we gather in the sanctuary of West Linn Lutheran Church – in the circles of friendship and fellowship and service? We must dig into this work with hearts open wide – deeply, with vulnerability and honesty, ready to examine our own culture, our own privilege, and repent and change, publicly speaking out that all might live.
May the peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, be your safe place, and also your motivation to work for peace in the world. Amen!
We remember the names of those who lost their lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, on June 17, 2015, and hold their families in our prayers…
Cynthia Hurd, 54, branch manager for the Charleston County Library System
Susie Jackson, 87, longtime church member
Ethel Lance, 70, employee of Emanuel AME Church for 30 years
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, admissions counselor of Southern Wesleyan University
The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, state senator and Reverend of Emanuel AME Church
Tywanza Sanders, 26, earned business administration degree from Allen University
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, retired pastor (died at MUSC)
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, track coach at Goose Creek High School
Myra Thompson, 59, church member