Proper 7 - Emmanuel AME Church Shooting
June 21, 2015, 12:00 AM

Proper 7

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy


    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.


    One of my favorite books in the Bible is the story of Job. For several weeks, I have been taking mental notes about how to approach this morning’s sermon. Thoughts from when I spent a whole semester studying Job in seminary, to new insights gleaned from re-reading the book again a few weeks ago. Now, the Book of Job is a lot of things, butt its core, though, the book of Job is a meditation on the subject of Theodicy. Formally, Theodicy is an attempt to reconcile the manifestation of evil with a good and all powerful God. Theodicy tries to answer questions like “How or why does God allow or permit evil to exist?” Colloquially, the question is “why do bad things happen to good people?”

    The sermon I wrote on Tuesday approached the Book of Job and the topic of Theodicy from a very sterile and intellectual perspective. Yet, the events of Wednesday night, the horrific, cold-blooded murder of nine Christians gathered at a Bible Study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, men and women gunned down by an assailant whose hatred twisted his soul into committing these heinous acts makes any discussion about the presence and nature of evil more than academic.  We are no longer given the luxury of debating what our response to an imagined evil should be, instead, we are being called to model—to witness—who Scripture calls us to be in the presence of evil and suffering. 

    First and foremost, it needs to be understood that Scripture does not give us a guide on how to avoid or protect yourself from evil or suffering—it teaches us how to live with and in the face of suffering. Stories like Job, and especially the Passion of Jesus underscore this point fully: Innocence and righteousness are not shields from evil and suffering. 

    When it comes to an understanding of suffering, perhaps there is no greater spokesman in scripture than Paul. Paul was himself no stranger to suffering in his ministry to the church. He was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and often found himself as the object of scorn and derision in the early church. But more importantly, Paul never understood his suffering as evidence that he was separated from God’s love. In fact, quite the opposite. Paul was absolutely convinced that God is present with us and shares in our sufferings. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Whether facing personal or national tragedies, we too, should remind ourselves of Paul’s bedrock belief that God is always present in our lives. That the God who bore the sins of the world upon the cross also bears our pains in his heart. 

    And because Paul was so absolutely convinced of God’s love and presence, Paul began to completely trust God’s ways, even when they didn’t make sense, especially when they didn’t make sense. Paul knew that God operates on a different, righteous plane of understanding. That while we may look at God’s action in the world, or even at God’s apparent inaction when it comes to preventing evil, that God’s purposes will never be thwarted. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. But we proclaim Christ crucified. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”

    This understanding of the Christ, and of Christ Crucified especially, is critical to our response to evil and suffering. Paul wrote that Jesus’ death by crucifixion was a “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” How could the Jewish God abandon his own anointed one, his own Messiah, his own Christ, to the profane and sacrilegious death upon a cross? Compounding that was the foolishness that Christianity must have represented to the Romans. How could the symbol for a religion be a powerless man dying upon a cross, hoisted there by the world’s most powerful empire? What power could this God ultimately have if he was powerless to save his Son?

    The answer, which by God’s grace we have witnessed this week, is that God’s power is not exercised through human scales of strength and power, but through humility and service. As early as Midnight Thursday morning, there were pundits, even religious leaders advocating that we secure and defend our sanctuaries. Those who would weaponize our clergy have abandoned the gospel of Christ. We can never insulate the Church from suffering or evil, for our charter is to be in the midst of suffering and to resist evil by the power of Holy Spirit. 

    These same observers were shocked that so many family members of the victims could pronounce their forgiveness to Dylann Roof at his arraignment on Friday. Yet that is the power of God, a stumbling bock to the world, and foolishness for those outside the faith. 

    Our media, in a critical dis-service to all of us, play into the power of fear. Shooters like Dylann Roof in Charleston, Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook, James Holmes in Aurora, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in Columbine, are drawn to the seductive power that violence pretends to offer. They foolishly believe that their brandishing weapons in the face of the unarmed makes them powerful, capable of instilling fear. But, to their great credit, and in a move undoubtably inspired by the Holy Spirit, the families of the victims Wednesday night demonstrated what real power is. Merely hours after their loved ones were killed, they said they forgave Dylann. When we balance the firepower of these assailants with the power which these families demonstrated in forgiving the one who so violently took the lives of their loved ones just a day after their deaths…where does the real power lie?

    There. Exactly that, is what we, as Christians are called to be. We are called to witness to the power of God in Christ—and that power is revealed not in physical strength but spiritual resolve. To be anchored in the faith that nothing, not even violent and truly senseless deaths will separate us from God’s love. 


    For most of this past half-week, I have been struggling to find a way to understand the problem of Theodicy. And in my early preparation, I neglected to look at this morning’s Gospel lesson. Since Wednesday night, I have felt, and maybe you have felt the same way—but I have felt like a disciple in that ship being tossed by the violent seas. I look at everything our culture is facing, and I want to turn to Jesus and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

    There are a heartbreaking number of ways in which we are perishing—none of them metaphorical. Why doesn’t God seem to care…why doesn’t God do something to save us from the threats that surround us!? 

    For the people of the Biblical era, the sea was a dangerous and foreboding place. The seas were the manifestation of chaos itself. The sea, in many ways, came to represent everything that we can’t control. Yet what the Gospel of Mark makes absolutely clear, is that Jesus has total authority over the wind and waves. What is chaotic and fearful by human standards, is merely an opportunity for faith by divine standards. 

    When it comes to understanding the chaos of violence which thrashes the boat of our culture, what can we do to save us from perishing? For one, we are called to live faithfully as followers, as disciples of Christ. As such, we are called to rebuke the powers of this world. We must insist that power does not correlate with caliber. We must replace the existential fear that we can not insulate our lives from suffering with the faith that God will always be with us. 

    That, I think, more than anything else, is what drives our culture: fear. In turn, that fear inevitably leads to violence. As a nation, we must recognize the central role violence has played in our national history; why it permeates our society today, and then we must rebuke violence by preaching the gospel. This world cautions us to protect everything through force, if necessary; the gospel insists that it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

    The Christian life is inexorably linked with danger and threats. How did Jesus call his disciples? With these words: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

    Those are the stakes. Imagine the gospel if, instead of peacefully allowing himself to be arrested in the Garden of Gesthemene, Jesus had escalated Peter’s attack on the guard. Jesus could have pronounced that he was merely protecting himself, as was his right. But the story wouldn’t end on Easter Sunday. That perversion of the gospel would have ended on Maundy Thursday, and where would we be as a result? 

    We are called to confound the powers of this world, not by returning violence, by through transforming power of love. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Love grounded in the faith that God will not abandon us to the powers of this world. 


    Those disciples, afraid and fearing for their own lives on that storm battered sea, did something remarkable. They stayed on the boat. They were not convinced that their salvation rested on their own self-reliance. They knew that they help was, and could only be, centered on Christ. In turn, Jesus modeled what we are called to do. As we respond to the horrors our culture manufacturers in an all too-frequent basis, we are not going to extend or magnify the chaos of the storms. We are called to be agents of stillness and peace. We are called to witness what true power in this world is. We are called to be disciples of Christ. We are called to replace our fears and insecurities upon the foot of the cross and put all our trust in a love which shall never be severed by the lesser powers of this world. 

    I ask your prayers for the victims at the Emmanuel AME Church. I ask you prayers for all the victims of violence. Pray for this nation, that it might have the courage to forsake the gospel of self-reliance in favor of the gospel of Christ. Pray for the courage of stillness. Pray for the Peace which only God can provide. Pray that like the disciples, we may all be brought safely to that distant shore where with the saints and martyrs we shall find our rest. 


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