Tears, Change, and Trust

The following is the sermon that I shared this weekend at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, Minnesota. It is a message based on the focus text of Psalm 27:1-6 and the accompanying gospel reading of Matthew 6:25-34, the readings assigned for this weekend by the Narrative Lectionary

As we read from and proclaimed with the Psalmist, hear these words again, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh- my adversaries and foes- they shall stumble and fall. One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”

Let us pray.

“Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all that I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen.”

That was one of Marin Luther’s “go to” prayers in times of distress and doubt, and it seems appropriate today.

I have a confession to make. On Wednesday afternoon I was writing a sermon all about mountains because of Vacation Bible School this week. I was going to talk about the trust needed to climb them, and their beauty and challenge. That would have been a fine sermon. But by the time I woke up on Thursday morning, it became just a nice reflection or potential blogpost. It was no longer the sermon I was felt I was being called to preach and the message to wrestle with for this week.

Instead, I am confronted, like I think most of us are. I am confronted by the horrific hate crime spewed by the evils of racism that our country again experienced this past week, this time within the “shelter of sanctuary,” a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I am confronted by the fact that the one doing this evil, could have been among us, a young adult growing up in an ELCA congregation just like ours. We cannot hide from this and we must do better.

Charleston SaintsWe remember the saints: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney; the Rev. Sharonda Singleton; Myra Thompson; Tywanza Sanders; Ethel Lee Lance; Cynthia Hurd; the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.; the Rev. DePayne Middelton-Doctor; and Susie Jackson.

I would like to think that these African American brothers and sisters of ours were martyred because of their faith, a faith we share. I think we all know deep in our hearts, they were killed because of the color of their skin.

An appropriate response might be, “Kyrie eleison- Lord have mercy.” But I don’t think that is enough today.

We can say that “All Lives Matter” and that is true, as we are all God’s children created in the image of God. But today we need to say that “Black Lives Matter,” because when we just go straight to the all-inclusive “All Lives,” we allow ourselves to gloss over the pain and injustice that is happening in our world, in our societies, communities, congregations and even in our own hearts.

The steeple of Mother Emanuel AME
The steeple of Mother Emanuel AME

In my ears ring the words of trust from the Psalmist who has seen and experienced the good and bad of life, knowing neither lasts forever, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” This is the story of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. A congregation which was built with the funds of slaves and former slaves, burned to the ground for being a congregation of Black people in the south, met underground to continue in worship and praise of God, has spoken out and been a leader in proclaiming and working for the rights of all people. This week’s hate crime within the confines of Mother Emanuel is sadly not new to the congregation, and not new to our society.

Enough! It’s time that we join with our sisters and brothers of Mother Emanuel. They have been a leader for nearly 200 years in working for justice, peace, and reconciliation. It’s time that we don’t just cry “Lord have mercy,” it’s time that we hear the words of the gospel writer, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” The work of tomorrow, the work of salvation is done. That’s God’s work and it was taken care of about 2000 years ago. We proclaim with the psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” The work for today though is the work of the kingdom. It’s the work of breaking our hearts open, and of meeting our neighbors among and outside this gathering.

We also ask and ponder with the psalmist, that even though we know, trust and profess that “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” we still wonder and fear. We fear that we aren’t enough. We fear that we don’t know enough, that we aren’t capable of talking to someone we have never met, or having a conversation with someone who we think might be different than us because they look different. We fear that we won’t know what to say when see a stranger at the store.

We try and convince ourselves that the problems of this world of racism, sexism, ageism, guns and violence, injustice, evil that they’re not here, that they are “over there.” We fear that it’s hopeless and that there is nothing that can be done but to just leave it to God.

As a good Lutheran, to do anything else might sound like it’s a work on our part, something we need to do. Well, we don’t get off the hook that easy.

I am reminded of the story of the man by the river.

“There once lived a man by a river. One day he heard on the news that the whole town was going to flood, but the man said to himself ‘I’m a religious man, God loves me, God will protect me.’ Then the town began to flood, a man came by in a row boat and yelled, ‘The town is flooding give me your hand we’ll go to safety,’ but the man replied, ‘I’m a religious man, God loves me, God will protect me.’  The town continued to flood. A man in a helicopter with a megaphone came and yelled, ‘The town is flooding I’ll throw down this ladder grab on, and we’ll fly to safety,’ but the man replied, ‘I’m a religious man, God loves me, God will protect me.’ Then the man drowned in the flood.

When the man got to St. Peter’s door he demanded an audience with God. The man said to God, ‘I’m a religious man, I thought you loved me, why didn’t you protect me?’ God replied, ‘I sent you a news report, a man in a row boat and a helicopter, what were you thinking? What more do you want from me?”

We have seen the evils of racism from Charleston to Baltimore, from New York to Minneapolis, from Los Angeles to Miami. We have seen the evil that is caused by the prevalence of violence and the easy access to weapons in our world, and especially our country. We tried to tell ourselves that Columbine was a one-time thing. We did the same with Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Seattle Pacific University, and so many more.

How many times must we witness this before we act and change? It would certainly be easy to give into the fear and cynicism that there is nothing we can do about it. The fact is, however, there is, and we believe deeply that there is because we believe in a loving God who is building up the kingdom. In building the kingdom, we, all of us are called into that work by God, to be a part of it in our lives and vocations. That’s the work of today that we are called into, when the gospel writer reminds about the “trouble of today” being enough to focus on.

As we have been baptized and affirmed in our faith, we have made promises that we will be part of this work. In affirming our faith we all have promised “to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

Yes, it might be easy to be cynical and to give into the fear or feeling that there’s nothing we can do to respond to the racism and evils of society, and those that are and exist in each of our hearts. We may well feel like our whole world has been shaken, that we are being circled round and swarmed by doubts, insecurities, fear and evil. In the midst of these challenges our doubts, worries, and fears can seem more present than the assurance of God’s peace.

But that’s where we come together as the Body of Christ with God, and we trust that God not only calls and gathers us and feeds us, but that God sends us out and is with us.

When we think that hope is not to be found, we are reminded of these words again from Jesus, “do not worry about your life” and “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” The gospel writer seems to remember the claim and promise that “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”

Today may not be easy. Working for justice and speaking out against hate, injustice and racism is not easy. But in the midst of all of this, we still join with the Psalmist in rejoicing and “singing and making music to the Lord.” Just when we might give into the doubts and frustrations that things are out of control and hopeless, we are reminded that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

A cross covered in pictures of the
A community of the faithful called and gathered together, and sent to serve in building up the kingdom of God.

We are also reminded that God is indeed with us and for us. We see the face of God in our neighbors, the little children, those helping us when we fall or stumble. We see the face of God in the stranger or neighbor who helps us up, and provides a hug or a shoulder to cry on when we need. Perhaps a neighbor or stranger sees the face of God in you when you cast them a reassuring smile or bend down and help?

It’s in these moments, where we are reminded what it really means that the “Lord is the stronghold of my life.” We may have fears, but today, be reminded that you are enough to do this work, and that you have been called in your baptism to “learn to trust God, to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace.” Live fully, serve fully, and strive for the kingdom of God.

When we know, trust, and are reminded that “God is our light and our salvation,” we are reminded of this promise, a promise the Psalmist doesn’t just make, but it’s one God makes to you, that is God is for you, as we will be reminded of again here in a few moments at the table, and God is with you.

When times are tough, God is our light and our salvation. When times are good, God is our light and our salvation. It takes a great trust to remember this at all times, but even when we forget, and the doubts and uncertainties seem to get the better of us, indeed, God is still our light and our salvation. Amen.

Image Credits: The Saints and Mother Emanuel AME.

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