June 14, 2020 (Commemoration Emanuel 9)

A Confessional Litany and Lament Commemorating Nine Who Were Slain at Mother Emanuel AME Church

They were doing what we are called to as they engaged in bible study.

It was Wednesday night— a stranger walked in, and these people welcomed him and prayed together:
the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders,
the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, the Rev. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, and the honorable state senator and pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.

This stranger wanted to ignite a “race war,” he said, after he shot and killed them, denying them the very humanity he claimed for himself, claiming rights and privileges associated with “whiteness.”

Now we are grieved, once again in pain,
burning and anguished, lamenting the horror of evil unleashed. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us. 

Sorrow and heartache have come to us.
Death and mourning have visited us.
We feel far from you, O God, and distant from one another. And so we cry out, Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.

Evil besets us in our land.
We acknowledge that our nation is socialized in ways that promote and normalize colonialization.
We cry out against the horrors and agonies of racism. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.

The privileged of our nation have benefited from practices that dehumanize indigenous peoples. We have claimed as “discovery” lands that were not ours. These lands have been stolen and the nations, that were the original occupants of these lands, slain. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.

Tribalism has led to the denial of your presence, O God.
Present generations,
the children whose ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery, those forced to labor not on their own behalf,
still suffer and struggle to live in freedom
while the children of colonizers,
live out of “white privilege,”
denying the fullness of your presence in all people. And so we cry out, Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.

Assaults born of greed and murder continue propping up
white privilege that is institutionalized in our church and nation, preventing us from recognizing
the twin evils of racism and nationalism
still perpetuated among us. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.

Open our eyes, O God, open our hearts.
Open our ears, O God, open our minds.
Help us to behold one another as you behold us.
Help us to be more firmly rooted
in the practices of the gospel—so that, when we pray,
the way we live will make real the dream of your beloved community within and among us. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.

With the help of your mercy and grace, lead us to think, believe, and change. May your gospel’s transforming power by the working of the Holy Spirit be present in us, in our churches, in our nation and all the nations of the earth. May it be so. And the people said, “Amen.” Amen.

Prayer of the Day

God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW pls 39)

Genesis 18:1-15

1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

The Witness of the Emanuel Nine: A Litany of Remembrance for Their Vocations

The “Emanuel Nine,” of blessed and eternal memory, were nine gifted, loving, and faithful people who spent their lives striving for excellence, connection, and the presence of God, and spent their last moments in study of the word. They leave a legacy of grace, resistance, family, and faith.

Gracious God, in remembering their lives and witness, we are called to a wider understanding of the Spirit’s work in the world.

They were preachers: Open us to receive the good news of Jesus Christ. They were students: Kindle in us a desire to learn and grow in your ways. They were teachers: Instill in us a passion to share the wisdom of Christ. They were coaches: Accompany us as we strive to run the race set before us. They were mentors: Inspire us through the wise counsel offered by others. They were leaders: Embolden us to seek out the best in others.

They were musicians: Attune us to the sounds of your creation.
They were poets: Reveal your truth in language we have yet to discover.
They were barbers: Shape us as attentive caregivers to those around us.
They were custodians: Protect those whose work ensures our safety.
They were bus drivers: Carry us as companions in life’s unexpected journeys.
They were veterans: Remember those who risk harm for the sake of others.
They were librarians: Write on our hearts and minds the wisdom of the generations. They were advocates: Call us to speak and act on behalf of those who are silenced. They were public servants: Show us how to love our neighbors as ourselves.
They were legislators: Inscribe your laws of love and justice on our hearts.

In lives of faithful dedication, your servants Clementa, Cynthia, Daniel, DePayne, Ethel, Myra, Sharonda, Susie, and Tywanza lived by your promises, sharing their gifts with those in their families and communities. May we not forget their lives, taken too soon. In the years to come, let us share their names and their witness, so that the world comes to know of your spirit at work in and through them.

We ask this in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

Romans 5:1-8

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Matthew 9:35-10:8

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

At the heart of Jesus’ message is this vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, sometimes the Kingdom of God, but for those of us who will be reading through Matthew’s Gospel through November, the Kingdom of Heaven. What do we imagine when we hear that phrase: Kingdom of Heaven? Those of you worshiping via Facebook Live, I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments.

Jesus himself began to create the scaffolding for this vision when he went up on the mountain and proclaimed the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy….”

This is Jesus’ guide to a life of wholeness aligned with God’s creation and grace. The Beatitudes, like the 10 Commandments given on another mountain, are visions for communal wholeness rooted in God’s liberation of the oppressed. The Beatitudes are then mirrored by Jesus’ actual activities—exorcising demons, the healing of the sick, and the resurrection of the dead. The Beatitudes are clearly prescriptive, showing us how bring in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But the Beatitudes are also descriptive of the Kingdom of Heaven. They become our guide whenever we go looking for the Kingdom of Heaven. Put another way, we should not be surprised to find the kingdom among those who are poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, or those persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

What is our Kingdom of Heaven work today? Last summer at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a resolution was passed to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance for the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine. On June 17, 2015, eight church members and their pastor were murdered during a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a self-professed white supremacist named Dylan Roof. Roof was a member of an ELCA congregation in Columbia, South Carolina.

The commemoration of the Emanuel Nine has already been part of our worship service. Our larger church body is trying to be a public witness. As the Gospel of Matthew records the names of the Andrew, James, Philip and so on (people who we know briefly), we have taken time to name the Emmanuel 9. Repentance is kingdom work because truth and reconciliation belong together. We the church are trying to lead in our nation’s reckoning with racism.

But we are also watching, or following, the society. Protests and vigils and rioting in the streets followed the murder of George Floyd by white Minneapolis police officers. You might be asking how one man’s death could cause such upheaval. I think lots of people are asking that question. It is clear to me that the protests are about much more than Floyd’s murder.

We are living in a unique time—the intersection of a pandemic in which brown and black bodies are suffering from COVID-19 at higher rates than white bodies, not because of something genetic but because of systems we barely see. Added to the pandemic are years of law and order that also hurt brown and black bodies disproportionately. But it is not only people of color who are protesting. The photos show crowds with many white people. What is that about? I confess that I feel the pain in a different way than I did five or six years ago for a variety of reasons. Apparently, I am not alone.

I am going to assume that members of our congregation are all over the map on how they are interpreting this moment in history. You may be bewildered and scratching you head. You may think, this too shall pass. You may be sad and outraged. One of the things I have always loved, really loved, about this congregation is that we welcome all the voices and questions and perspectives.

We also are not afraid of hard things if we decide they are part of bringing near the kingdom of heaven. Lowering the age of when kids could receive Holy Communion, planting a garden, attending to capital improvements, sending kids to camp or a youth gathering, managing affordable housing. We are open to new ideas and ministries. People at Trinity are curious and encouraged in their curiosity.

This week, I heard an interview [Brene Brown interviews Ibram Kendi]  that had a very helpful metaphor for explaining a bit of what is going on in our country, but you need to bring that curiosity. The interviewee said, “to grow up in America is for racist ideas to constantly be rained on your head and you have no umbrella. You have no idea that you are wet with those racist ideas, because the racist ideas themselves cause you to imagine that you are dry. And then someone comes along and says you are wet, these ideas are still raining on your head, here’s an umbrella. You can be like “Thank you. I didn’t even realize I was drenched.” This is why people should not feel ashamed; there were other people, very powerful people, and a history that was constantly raining those ideas on your head.”

Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment because of social systems built to prioritize people with white skin. Because we have not been on the other side, we largely do not recognize the structural access we enjoy, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging. All this we take for granted as normal. Only the outsider can spot these attitudes in us.

Father Richard Rohr put it this week in one of his daily devotions, “Of course we all belong. There is no issue of more or less in the eyes of an infinite God. Yet the ego believes the lie that there is not enough to go around and that for me to succeed or win, someone else must lose. And so, we have supported systems and governments that work to our own advantage at the expense of others, most often people of color or any highly visible difference.”

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into his harvest.” I have been thinking about what it means to be a laborer during this time. As a people of faith, we are steeped in Word and Sacrament. We are called to be witnesses to the love and mercy and abundant life that Jesus offers.

So, we will continue to worship God, to pray, to practice acts of mercy and kindness in our daily lives. But sometimes we are called to something more. At the end of April, we celebrated five years of Trinity New Hope affordable housing. I remembered all the things we began to learn that summer about being affordable housing landlords, human relations, and federal, state, and county laws. It was like learning a new language for me.

Five years later, during a global pandemic and being part of a nation reckoning with a history of systemic racism, I think that laborers of faith are called first and foremost to be learners again. But it needs to be a specific kind of learning—probing deeper and deeper and deeper by asking hard questions.

How did red lining in cities like Seattle, Portland, Denver and across our country shape home ownership for people of color and whites differently? What difference does it make that modern-day policing was born out of Slave Patrols, white men who sought out runaway slaves and captured them? And how do we explain the mass incarceration of people of color in our country? If we are going to hold tight to our ancestors’ stories of being settlers and pioneers and brining food and traditions from the old country, then let us also be curious about the individual and collective histories of people of color.

These are heavy things that I am presenting, and this is big work. But this labor does not have to overwhelm us. Let me interject a little levity hear and suggest that we follow Elsa’s advice from Disney’s Frozen 2 and simply do the next right thing, which is to learn something about how wet we are from the rain we did not know was falling on us.

As Christian disciples we can handle heavy things because we are not supposed to take much else with us. Jesus’ command that the disciples, and us, travel light, means that we have nothing else to commend other than Jesus himself. To be a follower of Jesus did not make those first disciples wealthy, powerful or secure. They are charged to have nothing at their disposal other than the authority that they have been given by Jesus.

As a result, nothing is allowed to get in the way of the witness they make to the gospel. They cannot promise that Jesus will make his followers well-off, worry free, successful, or any other worldly good. Instead, the promise is life in the kingdom of heaven. The church has never been called to be significant or large either. The church is called to be faithful.

The other reason I have hope that we can undertake this heavy work is because we will not be alone. A few chapters later in Matthew, Jesus will pronounce some pretty harsh woes to those who do not repent. But he follows it with some of the most comforting and beautiful words in the gospels, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Prayers of Intercession

Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world.

A brief silence.

God, our truth, through the ages you have spoken through prophets. Stir up in your church a passion for your word revealed in Jesus, that following the witness of the Emanuel Nine, your church studies the scriptures, shows hospitality, prays without ceasing, and embodies prophetic justice in community. Embolden church leaders and all the baptized to remember the lives of the Nine, repent of racism and white supremacy, and renew our commitment to your word revealed most fully in Jesus, our way, truth, and life. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Mighty and loving God, we pray for our nation and the plague of racism that threatens, destroys, and kills. Root out white supremacy wherever it takes hold. Release its grip on those lured by its false promises. Bring to repentance all who continue to benefit from prejudice and hatred, both hidden and revealed. Plant in our hearts and nation a willing spirit open to truth-telling and healing. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Immanuel, God with us, you embrace in love those who cry out to you. Lift up all whom hatred has cast down, embolden those who need courage to speak and act against oppression; sustain those who are weary from efforts that bring no end to injustice. Comfort parents weeping for children, children who have been separated from parents, and families in crises of any kind. Restore hope where it has been lost, so that all may trust your love that reaches to the depths of pain and suffering. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks, Holy God, for the faithful life and witness of Clementa, Cynthia, Daniel, DePayne, Ethel, Myra, Sharonda, Susie, and Tywanza, the Emanuel Nine. May their faith and witness to your forgiving love in Jesus Christ inspire all people to pursue paths of justice, courage, and self-giving love. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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1 Response to June 14, 2020 (Commemoration Emanuel 9)

  1. Donna Shines says:

    Thank you for filling my heart this morning, Pastor Meggan, with hope, love and strength. Thank you for your leadership, teaching, and guidance for each of us to discover who we really are and who we really want to be…by doing the next right thing!
    May your day be filled with miracle moments, my friend…Donna

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