TRANSCRIPT OF SERMON August 13, 2017
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore, love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17-19
So, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4
The first I heard of Charlottesville was probably on The Waltons, where it served as a metaphor for the world beyond the mountain, the big city, with all its exotic ways. Around that time, I remember visiting Monticello on a family trip, and coming home with a small portrait of Jefferson – the engraving on the two dollar bill – to display in my room. Charlottesville was a stop on our honeymoon, as we wandered from Pittsburgh to Lewisburg, into the Shenandoah Valley and across the mountains to the vibrant culture of an outdoor café on the UVA Corner. It was a place of back to school shopping, and family celebrations; the place Ann spent a year ministering to patients; the place I have prayed for the living and the dying for 16 years.
But today, Charlottesville is something different.
I had intended today to continue the series I began last week, but then, Charlottesville happened, and the Lord placed something different upon my heart.
Time after time, the world holds up ideals or standards, only to snatch them away again when it turns out those ideals threaten the comfort or position of the privileged. It’s like a game of hide and seek; we read clearly the Biblical injunction, ‘Love thy neighbor,’ but actually finding that love in the world around us can be difficult. The founding documents of this nation speak clearly of ‘Unalienable Rights,’ but even the most casual survey of our history reveals at best, a painful, protracted process to make those aspirations into reality; at worst, we find hypocrisy and cynicism actively thwarting efforts to achieve the equality demanded by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. In the end, we give up; we make do, lowering our sights. We seek only what we have already found, what we can reasonably expect to achieve; and because most of us are white, and immigration to this country is but a distant family memory, that compromise, that lowering of sights, is relatively painless.
But not today. My wife and daughter were in Charlottesville.
After we watched with horror and revulsion the chaos of Friday night, as racist hordes marching with torches on the campus of the university founded by the author of the Declaration of Independence; after we watched with sorrow and fear as those white supremacists chanted Nazi slogans and surrounded students – students on their own campus- with the intent to harass, demean and intimidate. After all that, my wife and daughter travelled over the mountain before sunrise Saturday morning to worship and pray with strangers of all descriptions. My wife and daughter made the choice to confront evil with the message of the Gospel: love is stronger than hate, because God is love. They joined hands in prayer and song; they marched, peacefully and quietly to a park nearby; they had a peaceful gathering, there in the early morning, and then they came home.
Heather Heyer did not.
There is much we will never know about this 32 year old paralegal from Ruckersville, but we do know this: Saturday morning, she made the choice to confront evil, and was run down, run over, murdered by a disciple of hate on the Downtown Mall.
Friends, my family has been on this continent since the 1600s. My forebears fought in the American Revolution. I have great-great grandfathers who served on both sides in the Civil War. At the age of 32, my grandfather entered the navy to fight the racist imperialism of the Axis powers in World War II. For almost 15 years, my parents have been active in Lakeland and Polk County, Florida, combatting racism and poverty, hand in hand with brothers and sisters of every color and heritage. My wife and daughter went to Charlottesville.
I stayed at home.
I stayed at home because I didn’t think it was that big a deal; after all, there had already been 2 protests about the Robert E. Lee Statue – what was one more?
I stayed at home because I didn’t think confrontation was the best way to deal these ‘Unite the Right’ people. “Ignore it,” I thought, “don’t give them a spotlight, and they will scurry home.”
I stayed at home because I was concerned making such an overt stand might make it more difficult to minister in churches with diverse opinions.
I stayed at home because I feel awkward in large crowds.
I stayed at home because I am lazy.
I had things to do at home.
I just didn’t want to go.
Scripture tells us, Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
But setting on minds on higher things does not mean we are called to ignore evil when it marches into our midst.
Now, I am not about to tell you how to vote, or what to think about President Trump and his vision for making America great again; I am not going to tell you what to think about Confederate monuments, or the flying of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia; I would never dismiss concerns about jobs and the economy, or about the moral future of our society. What I will tell you is this:
‘YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US’ is a racist threat;
‘BLOOD AND SOIL’ is the refrain of those who murdered eleven million people they thought were less than human;
‘WHITE RIGHTS’ is code for a society based on discrimination and hate; and
‘F*** YOU, FAGGOTS…’well, that one speaks for itself.
Whatever we might believe about statues of Confederate generals, or the problem of illegal immigration along the southern border; whatever we might think about economic insecurity or the government’s size and inefficiency; we must stand against racism and hate.
I must stand against racism and hate.
Our lives are hidden with Christ in God, and so we are free – free to speak the truth! And more than free, we are commissioned, commanded to proclaim the Good News: there is no partiality with God; for Christ came to save us all.
I tell you truly, there is an evil at work in our land. As disciples of Christ, we must confront that evil, so when Christ who is our life is revealed, we also might be revealed with him in glory.
I didn’t go to Charlottesville.
The next time, I will. Will you come with me?
God of all people, we come into your presence, our heads bowed in humility. Your love and grace surround the world and all who live in it, promising to tear down the foolish distinctions that separate us, and draw us into one family, united in Christ. But there a darkness on the loose Lord; we see those who hate their neighbors pray in your name and ask for your blessing.
You have told us, O Lord, what is good: to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with you, and yet there are those among us who wield guns to intimidate; who chant hateful rhetoric to terrorize and incite; who use cars as weapons to maim and kill the innocent. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
We have no hope save in you. We have no hope to stop the violence against those who are different; no hope to stem the racism that threatens to divide our nation; no hope to reclaim a civil society, save in you. Save us now.
Father, your touch is healing; your gaze is compassion. Be with those who are in pain this day; with the sick and injured, especially those brutalized by hatred. Be with those who mourn, especially the families of Heather Hayer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates. Be with all those who grieve for this nation.
God of peace; you remind us not to be afraid, even in the darkest times of uncertainty and fear. In this time of political turmoil and heated rhetoric, we pray for all people living in precarious situations beyond our community; especially our brothers and sisters in Guam and on the Korean peninsula. For those crippled by anxiety and fear, grant them the power to trust in you. May your wide world come to know that peace which passes all understanding, and find your calm.
You are Justice, Lord. You trample fear and hatred under your feet. You convict our hearts, stir our spirits, transform our minds. You revel in the joyful dance of community and invite us to do the same, sacrificing even your own son that fear and hatred might be overcome by love. Do not let our imaginations be tainted by the forces of violence and division. Do not let our spirits be colonized by the fear of the other. When we find ourselves in the shadows, lead us out into your light. We lift these prayers, along with the secret prayers of our hearts, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
With thanks to Rev. Jill Duffield (http://pres-outlook.org/2017/08/a-prayer-for-charlottesville/) and Seminarian Lauren Grubaugh (https://allsaints-pas.org/a-prayer-from-the-streets-of-charlottesville-from-seminarian-lauren-grubaugh/) for their beautiful prayers, from which I have stolen.