Sermons

Sun, Jun 21, 2015

Living the Gospel

Series:Sermons

Once again…

there has been another horrific mass-shooting in the United States…

but, this time, at a church––

Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Their minister, Clementa Pinckney––

who also sat in the South Carolina senate…

and was a passionate advocate of gun control––

along with eight other members of the congregation were killed at their Wednesday night Bible study.

The gunman––

a twenty-one year old white supremacist––

picked as his target a powerful symbol of the local black community.

The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was born in protest at racial discrimination and slavery.

And this particular church was one of the oldest black congregations in the south.

The original Emmanuel church was burned to the ground in eighteen twenty two…

when one of its founders planned a slave insurrection.

The congregation then met in secret after the city of Charleston banned all-black churches a few years later.

In the nineteen-sixties, it was prominent in the civil rights movement:

Martin Luther King jr spoke there in nineteen sixty two…

and Coretta Scott King led a protest there only a year after her husband’s assassination.

As President Obama put it, “This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty”.

Pinckney, himself, described the church as a “beacon” of freedom:

“Freedom to worship…freedom to be all God intends you to be”…

and…

“Irregardless of our faiths, our ethnicities, where we are from…Together we come to bury racism, to bury bigotry and to resurrect and revive love, compassion and tenderness”.

 

Clearly, this shooting was an act of racial hatred.

It’s reported that the gunmen stated,

“You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go”.

Flying in the face of that…

however…

some conservative commentators have suggested that it was not really about race…

given that the gunman chose a church.

Rather, as one put it, it was part of “a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our Biblical views”––

which, in conservative-religious-speak, means:

hostility towards our view on reproductive rights…

and our trenchant opposition to marriage equality.

Such an interpretation…

such a denial of the blatant facts…

is, unfortunately, nothing new.

America––

and especially the South––

remains deeply divided along racial lines…

and it’s a division that many whites seem to go out of their way to deny.

There’s a racist undercurrent that cannot be avoided.

Interestingly…

as a number of other commentators point out…

if a coloured person or a Muslim commits a violent act…

the media is quick to label them a terrorist…

whereas a white gunman is simply a psychologically disturbed individual.

 

And yet, in one sense, that conservative commentator is right…

but not in the way that he means.

This atrocity was a racially-motivated act.

No question of that.

But I think it was also a religiously-motivated act.

It was, after all, a black church…

and a church well known for its stance on matters of justice, freedom, and equality.

It was a church that lived out the Gospel––

the true Gospel––

and that confronted the false religiosity of those who hate and denigrate and seek to destroy.

The fact that this black Bible study group had welcomed this young white man into their midst…

innocent of his despicable plans…

and that, afterwards, members of the Church repaid his blind hatred with forgiveness…

speaks volumes of the sort of people…

the sort of faith community that they are.

And, unfortunately, there’s a sense that…

so often…

when people truly live out the Gospel…

when people genuinely manifest the inclusive, all-embracing love…

mercy…

compassion…

and justice of God…

revealed in Jesus Christ…

then it meets hostility.

Because the Gospel enshrines a very different

set of priorities and values…

than does our culture, our society, and our world;

a set of priorities and values that threatens so much that is taken for granted.

The Gospel envisions a world that doesn’t respect national boundaries;

that doesn’t care about colour, or gender, or race, or sexual identity;

that doesn’t erect walls and barriers…

calling other people names…

and declaring them inferior, or illegal, or worthless, or sinful.

In the end, this brave, courageous Church community has had this obscenity visited upon them…

because they took their faith seriously and lived it out.

 

In our reading this morning from the Second Letter to the Corinthians…

Paul goes to some length to explain and to justify his ministry.

You see, after Paul left Corinth…

a group of visiting preachers arrived who were everything that Paul was not.

They were educated and eloquent…

well-to-do and well-connected…

and, in a sense, they told the Corinthians just what they wanted to hear.

They offered a very palatable Gospel…

stripped of all of the seemingly sharp edges of Paul’s version…

and they were making considerable head-roads.

Paul’s reputation and his influence in the Corinthian church was waning.

Here, in our reading, Paul is…

in a sense…

presenting his résumé.

And what he offers is quite surprising.

No talk, here, of his education or formal credentials.

No mention of his background.

No mention of his considerable successes––

of all the churches that he’d helped establish.

In fact, quite the opposite!

What he offers by way of justification––

justification of the legitimacy and integrity of his ministry––

is a catalogue of woes:

“afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger”

of being dishonoured and held in ill-repute…

treated as an imposter…

a nobody…

as poor riff-raff.

In so doing…

of course…

the sub-text is that, in experiencing these things…

in being treated this way…

he was only experiencing what Jesus, himself, had experienced.

For Paul, in a sense, the fact that he was suffering…

enduring trials and tribulations…

being treated with dishonour and social stigma…

and encountering violence…

was simply evidence that he was, genuinely, living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ…

manifesting its values…

and holding up a mirror to society…

and, indeed, to others in the church…

who chose simply to adopt or acquiesce to society’s values.

In one of his more strident sermons, Martin Luther King jr once suggested that…

“The church…has often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion…Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows”…

while its ministers…

“have also been tempted by the enticing cult of conformity”…

preaching “comforting sermons” and avoiding

“saying anything from our pulpits which might disturb the respectable views of the comfortable members of our congregations”.

 

Thankfully, we don’t experience what the people of Emmanuel Church in Charleston do.

And we don’t expect to.

As Church-goers in Australia we don’t expect to encounter hatred…

or violence…

or even strident opposition.

But perhaps we need to ask if, therein, lies the problem.

If we were truly living and manifesting the Gospel…

then perhaps we should expect it. 

Powered by: truthengaged