On June 17, 2015, Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons, Sharonda Coleman- Singleton, and Myra Thompson were murdered by a self-professed white supremacist while they were gathered for Bible study and prayer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (often referred to as Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Pastors Pinckney and Simmons were both graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. A resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance for the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine was adopted by the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 8, 2019. Congregations of the ELCA are encouraged reaffirm their commitment to repenting of the sins of racism and white supremacy which continue to plague this church, to venerate the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine, and to mark this day of penitence with study and prayer.
Prayer of the Day
O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. By your strength pilot us, by your power preserve us, by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
1 Samuel 17:32-49
32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord‘s and he will give you into our hand.”
48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
9You, O Lord, will be a refuge for | the oppressed,
a refuge in | time of trouble.
10Those who know your name will put their | trust in you,
for you never forsake those who seek | you, O Lord.
11Sing praise to the Lord who | dwells in Zion;
proclaim to the peoples the things | God has done.
12The avenger of blood will re- | member them
and will not forget the cry of | the afflicted.
13Be gracious to | me, O Lord;
see the misery I suffer from those who hate me, you that lift me up from the | gates of death;
14so that I may tell of all your praises and rejoice in | your salvation
in the gates of the cit- | y of Zion.
15The nations have fallen into the | pit they dug;
in the snare they set, their own | foot is caught.
16The Lord is revealed in | acts of justice;
the wicked are trapped in the works of | their own hands.
17The nations go down | to the grave,
all the peoples | that forget God.
18For the needy shall not always | be forgotten,
nor shall the hope of the poor be tak- | en away.
19Rise up, O Lord, let not mortals have the | upper hand;
let the nations be | judged before you.
20Put them in | fear, O Lord;
let the nations know they | are but mortal.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove
We have this morning an iconic story from the gospels—Jesus calming the sea. How many of us remember portrayals of this story in children’s bibles or paintings in churches or art museums? This story may not have Jesus’ walking on water, that second sea-crossing will come two chapters later, but the story is still striking in its drama and power. What is really going on here?
First, Jesus and the disciples are not just going fishing. There is, in fact, an agenda. They are headed to the other side, to gentile territory. Jesus is not content to proclaim the reign of God only in his home region and to his own people. Healing, restoration, love, and life are for all people. The journey across the sea shows that his vision for the reign of God is vast. Jesus himself is not afraid of difference, of going beyond his comfort zone. Crossing boundaries is essential to his ministry.
The trip is launched at the end of Jesus’ first sermon. Jesus is in the boat when the storm arises, unconcerned, and in a moment of high drama, the terrified disciples scream at their dozing leader, “Master do you not care? We are dying.” Unaware of the purpose of their journey, they betray their fear and abandonment. Jesus silences this lack of faith as well as the storm itself.
Jesus rebukes the wind, reminding us of several verses from the Book of Psalms, “at your rebuke the waters fled” and “He rebuked the Red Sea.” In this story, the lake is now the great sea, which means all that comes with that name: chaos, threat, danger. Jesus’ rebuke of the sea sounds like his rebukes of unclean spirits, the demons, elsewhere in the gospel. The sea listens to him, as the unclean spirits did.
His questions to the disciples may make us squirm, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Is Jesus really saying that if we have enough faith we can somehow transcend our animal brain chemistry? One commentator proposed that Jesus’ question is actually an invitation to reflect on where God is in the midst of storms. Is God immanent (present in a personal way) or transcendent (mighty, distant, powerful)? Maybe Jesus was inviting the disciples to reflect on what it means to be alive on the other side of a situation they thought would kill them.
What we as a congregation are doing today, what our national church did on Thursday, the anniversary of the Emanuel Nine deaths, might very well feel like being on a stormy sea. To look back at Dylann Roof’s horrific actions, to know that he was part of an ELCA Lutheran congregation spurs us into further uncomfortable examination. None of it feels good.
African American Author Rozella Haydee White remembers, “I was working for my denomination [the ELCA] at the national headquarters, one year after Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people at Mother Emmanuel AME…The massacre rocked me to my core. Not only did this tragic event happen on the heels of years of killings of Black and brown people, it was perpetuated by a young white man who was affiliated with my denomination.
“I was an outspoken leader in my denomination on issues of race and justice. I wrote about the massacre and how I felt being a Black member of a predominantly white denomination. I shared how my heart was broken after years of working toward racial justice and education, only to find that we were raising white young adults who had the power and desire to violently kill people who look like me.”
The choppy sea we are traveling across, this reckoning with prejudice and systemic racism, did not start with Roof. They have a long history. Writer and farmer Wendell Berry invites his readers to imagine congregations full of slave owners and slaves from the point of view of the pulpit.
“How, facing that mixture, and dependent on the white half of it for your livelihood, would you handle such a text as the Sermon on the Mount? …If a man wanted to remain a preacher he would have to honor that division in the minds of the congregation between earth and heaven, body and soul. His concern obviously had to be with things heavenly; unless he was a saint or a fool he would leave earthly things to the care of those who stood to benefit from them.”
What was the result of this separation? Berry writes, “Thus the moral obligation was cleanly excerpted from the religion. The question of how best to live on earth, among one’s fellow creatures, was permitted to atrophy, and the churches devoted themselves exclusively and obsessively with the question of salvation.”
This is just one example of the church stepping out of conversations about earthly matters. Instead of dealing with the oppression to embodied Black people, the church made faith only with salvation, and salvation was only something that happened after our life on this earth. The church went further, in other instances, and actually helped foster the idea that white bodies are better than black or brown ones.
Have there been exceptions to this? Were there pastors and lay people who spoke out about slavery? Yes. Did Christians speak out about lynching of black bodies? Did people who proclaimed to follow Jesus protest the clan and other white supremacist groups. Of course and as we open up conversations about racism, we can turn to those prophetic figures. But they were not in the majority.
There has always been so much fear about how life would change. What would our society look like if everyone really was treated equally? How would power shift if we acknowledged with actual resources the labor forced out of slaves and the land taken from indigenous people? What life would look like if we really did that work is a big unknown and for most people it is really frightening, maybe even more frightening than being out on the sea in a storm.
I have known for a long time that artists and theologians took this story and made the boat symbolic of the church, whose safety Jesus’ presence guarantees. The boat on the sea is the official symbol of the National Council of Churches. I thought, well that might work for Christians in countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith, but not here. But as our denomination and local congregation continue this work of reckoning with prejudice and racism, as we build relationships that can sustain conversations about prejudice and racism today, I find the symbol of the boat on the sea both helpful and hopeful.
This miracle of Jesus calming the sea declares the claims God makes upon us. If we cannot sympathize with the disciples’ terror in the presence of a man who instantly calms a raging sea, perhaps we have become numb to the discomfort or danger that accompanies the notion of God’s visitation.
In a 1928 Advent sermon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the tenderness of the Incarnation (God in human form) has left people unable to “feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”
Jesus quiets the forces that threaten chaos, makes the unclean clean, and restores the unacceptable to wholeness. These acts upend our cherished assumptions about order, security, autonomy, and fairness. When God comes so near, we cannot hide. And we cannot push God away.
The fault with Jesus’ followers in the story of the stilling of the storm is the persistence of their fear. Jesus juxtaposes their fear with the desired response of faith. Faith means a willingness to let God be God. The faith Jesus has in mind is both faith like his (enabling him to remain tranquil in the throes of a storm) and faith in him (relying upon his ability to save). Such faith cannot leave us unchanged.
Such faith gives us tremendous hope. We have all experienced, as individuals or as part of a community, times of tumult and grave tumult. We try to wake God up to take care of us. At those times the text speaks to our condition. It pictures Jesus in the boat with the disciples, present with us and concerned for us even when we do not perceive his care.
Edward Hopper’s lyrics paint the picture for us: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unkown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass come from thee. Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
We do not know where he will pilot us, only that he will. We need this assurance, just as the disciples did, because we do not know what is on the other side of the sea. Mark’s story addressed a community of believers in Jesus Christ who, in the guise of the disciples, are challenged to trust Jesus more.
They, the members of the early church, may also be challenged to “cross over” to the Gentile mission, despite the turmoil this Jesus movement stirred up in the early church. Remember that this storm and peace take place during a specific place: between Jesus’ ministry on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee and his first work in gentile territory.
Jesus’ influence broadens across traditional geographic, ethnic, and religious divides. God will continue to issue the early church to follow Jesus’ example and see outsiders as equal members of the body of Christ. This is not a new vision. Jesus takes his cue from the creation story in Genesis Chapter One, when God the Father is described creating human beings, all of them, in God’s very own image. We call this the Imago Dei, the image of God. It sounds great but living it out for every person can sometimes stir up fear and unrest, maybe even lead to violence. At the very least, God’s vision leads to discomfort.
However, and this is the however to hear today, we can be sure that Jesus will never leave us. He gave us the Holy Spirit who is with us still. Our storm might be caused by examining the church’s history of racism and dreaming of a future where people and systems recognize the image of God in every single person. The storm might toss us to and fro. Jesus is the one gives power to rebuke and who ultimately brings peace.
A Litany of Remembrance for the Emanuel Nine
We join with Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in remembering the slain nine—the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lee Lance—and those who survived.
We remember that they lovingly welcomed the stranger into a Wednesday-night bible study—they sang, they prayed, they gathered to study the word of God.
We pray for the continual presence of God’s peace; may it comfort and surround the families of the nine who were slain.
We pray for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, its senior bishop and episcopal leaders, the community of Charleston, and all who continue to grieve—trusting that God will continue to unite us in the work to end racism and white supremacy, so that we may be witnesses of Christian unity.
We remember the legacy of the Rev. Pinckney and his fight for racial justice for his parishioners and his community. Let us not only be moved by emotion but also be moved toward action.
We call the United States to remember and confront its history of racial injustice. We must not forget the crimes committed against humanity in the name of Christ: the land theft from and genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of black bodies that built this nation.
We call this country to remember the policies and practices that excluded Chinese immigrants and that forced the internment of Japanese Americans.
We call this country to remember the exploitation of migrant farm workers from Latin and Central America and the separation of families at the U.S. southern border.
We remember the faith leaders whose lives are a living witness to black liberation and womanist theology in the struggle for black freedom: Bishop Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Jehu Jones, Daniel Payne, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, James Cone, and Katie Cannon.
We remember the unarmed innocent black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement: Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and many others, known and unknown.
We remember the innocent, unarmed black bodies that were racially profiled, shot, and killed because whiteness stood its ground: Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ahmaud Arbery, Renisha McBride, and many others, known and unknown.
As we remember, Living God, may we be re-membered as your body, connected to one another and empowered for the work you call us to do in the name of Jesus and by the power of his renewing Spirit.