Sermon on the Martyrs of Charleston and the Power of Christ Crucified and Risen

(I suggest clicking above  to listen along)

by Ty Poe

by Ty Poe

The texts you just heard are amazing and I apologize, but you won’t be hearing a sermon on them today. Come back 3 years from today and maybe you’ll hear a sermon on Job or the calming of the sea – but not today.

You already know this, but I just need to say it from this pulpit.

I need to say out loud that on Wednesday night, a hate-filled, young white supremacist walked into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and after sitting with them for an hour in a Bible study, he took out a gun his father bought him for his 20th birthday and murdered 9 of the people who had welcomed him into their midst and opened with him the Word of God.

And every preacher in America worth their salt ripped up their sermon and started over. I read tweets this weekend saying that if people didn’t hear a prophetic call to dismantle racism from the pulpit they should find another church. There was a cry on social media for preachers to bravely speak the truth about white supremacy and gun control. And I totally understand that impulse.

But I confess that this weekend I struggled with that. Because I don’t trust myself enough to take on that kind of role. Since every time I started to write that brave prophetic call to action the twitterverse was demanding of me I was confronted by the fact that it felt like what I was really doing was trying to be seen as brave and prophetic. I wasn’t actually being brave and prophetic and those two things are different. Being something is different that trying to be seen as being something. And there is no power in a sermon that is preached in order for the preacher to be perceived in a certain way.

And I’m not really known for giving calls to action anyhow – I take those cues from you more than you take them from me. What I wanted to find this weekend was some good news for you since what passes for preaching in most churches is some combination of “here’s the problem and here’s what you should be doing about it” and I don’t ever hear that as good news. I never hear “you can do better” as good news.

And yet, at the same time, we can do better. We can do better as a country around issues of race. I know this. So here’s another confession: I know this so deeply, that I will use as much politically correct language and post as many articles of liberal outrage on social media as it takes to conceal my own sin around race. And all of it may make me feel better for a minute but it’s like applying topical anesthetic to a compound fracture. I mean, if I talk enough about how the shooter was a white supremacist maybe I can hide how white supremacy formed me – I mean, what else do you call it when you receive subtle and not so subtle messages every single day of your life that tell you that you are superior by accident of birth. Like so many of us, I was born on 3rd base and told I’d hit a home run.

So the fact is, just because I don’t like racism or agree with it, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a part of my makeup. And I hate that and I want it to not be true and so what better way to do that than to write a prophetic call to action instead. What better way to distract myself from my own crap than to stand above you and “call you out” and say here’s the problem and here’s what you should be doing about it.

I just don’t have what it takes to be that preacher. I have only what I always have – confession of my sin and confession of my faith.

So while we can and should do better – that doesn’t sound like good news to me. So let’s move on to a confession of faith.

Because we need a power greater than our desire to be seen as some of the good guys right now, – greater than our own goodness, greater than our own humility, greater than our own progressive politics – because none of that is powerful enough defeat the destructive, murderous sin of racism.

So here’s what I’ve got: I am standing here before you and defiantly confessing that I believe in the power – not of us, but the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not as a platitude either. I’m talking the real thing.

I confess my belief that it was the power of the Gospel, the power of Christ crucified and risen that we saw in the people of Emanuel AME who welcomed a stranger into their midst. Who opened to him the Word of God.

I confess my belief that it was the power of the Gospel – the power of Christ crucified and risen we saw in the tens of thousands who then flooded into churches to pray and lament over that unspeakable violence.

And I confess my belief that it was definitely the power of the Gospel – the power of Christ crucified and risen that we saw in the families’ response in court on Friday. Just when hate thought it could win – when hate thought it could conquer hope – we saw people of the Gospel say here and no further.

We need a power greater than ourselves in order to face ourselves right now. And I believe that the power of forgiveness we saw in the families of those whose loved ones had been shot dead – came not from themselves – I believe it was a supernatural power.

So tonight I confess my belief that this power came from being a people who have heard the Gospel and believed the Gospel – a people who are formed by the Word of God and who have been formed into the image of Christ – that is the power we saw at work in the baffling and defiant words of forgiveness spoken from the family members to the young man who had just murdered their loved ones.

So, my friends, I ask us this: If the power of the Gospel, the power of Christ crucified and risen is this strong – then I ask, is it not also strong enough to bring us to true repentance? Is it not strong enough to carry us as we look at ourselves and our country with stark honesty and fractured pride? I have no idea what dismantling racism even looks like and I remain suspicious of my own ego and desire to be seen as one of the good guys. But I stand before you and confess my belief that if the power of the Gospel, the Power of Christ crucified and risen is strong enough to be the source of Dr Martin Luther King’s work and strong enough to be the source of the hospitality they extended when they welcomed that young man into the Bible study and strong enough to be the source of their defiant forgiveness of the young man who stole their loved ones from them then it is strong enough to be the source of confession and repentance about white supremacy in our own hearts and in this nation of ours.

Let us pray,

That your Gospel is more powerful than our hate, more powerful than our despair, more powerful than our pride, and more powerful than our delusions, we give you thanks O God.

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org