Like most preachers, I’ve been struggling with what to say this week.
Struggling with what to say to others, when I am coming up painfully short with something to say to myself.
And then, like a breath of fresh wind straight from the Holy Spirit, the families of the victims have begun to speak. And what’s the word we hear?
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?
We can come with ramped up anti-racism programs – and I hope we do. We can march against gun violence – and we will. We can fight the systems which hold up the infrastructure that allows people think such things and commit such acts – and we will try.
But, while those are great and necessary answers, what did Jesus do when he was persecuted and killed?
“Father forgive them.”
Hanging on the cross, forgiveness was on Jesus’ mouth. Forgiveness was on the mouths of countless martyrs on their way to execution. Forgiveness was on the mouths of the Amish after a schoolhouse massacre. Forgiveness was on the mouth of the coptic church after Isis killed their people.
Forgiveness is what we do. It’s what we have.
Really, it’s all we’ve got in the arsenal. That and love. We look to the holster and hope to find wrath, and judgement, retaliation and condemnation so strong it makes toes curl and people think twice.
But, as Christians it not what we have. We have forgiveness. It’s the only arrow in the quill.
It’s how we respond to tragedy, and attack, and pain. It’s a witness to the world of the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus. AND, it’s a call and challenge to Charleston and the world, to be filled with grace and mercy at all times .
A world filled with grace and mercy has no space left over for violence, or hatred, or racism.
Racism and hatred aren’t the disease, they are the symptoms of lives lived in the absence of love.
I never met the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. But I am proud to call him a brother in Christ, and fellow minister. He set the bar high for all of us in the ministry. He helped lead and form a Christian community that is so mature and spiritually sound that after finding itself in the middle of the Valley of the Shadow of Death they instinctively do what Jesus does: forgive.
They will make monuments to the martyrs of Charleston. And, I hope they do. But, the monument could reach as high as the sky, and it still won’t be able to outdo the living monument of the faith of Emanuel AME Church. Their life and witness is the monument that matters.
In our Gospel lesson this weekend we will find Jesus asleep in a boat that is being tossed by the wind and waves of a storm, and into that storm he speaks “peace”. In Charleston’s storm it’s Jesus’ followers who cry out for peace and grace in the storm.
They know the story well, and so they know what to do.
May we pray for them. May we be like them. And, may we have the strength to have forgiveness on our lips so as to fill our world with grace and mercy, that there might not be room for anything else.