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Pentecost 2A – June 14, 2020

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) – The Lord appears to Abraham by the oaks at Mamre. Sarah laughed.
Exodus 19:2-8a –  If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 – I love the Lord because he heard my voice. The nares of death encompassed me. I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
Psalm 100 – Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

Romans 5:1-8 – Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8, (9-23) – Jesus sends the 12. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

June 14, 2015 is the Commemoration of the Emanuel Nine. Resources here.

June 19, 1865 is Junteenth, Emancipation Day in Texas. More information here.


Remembering the Emanuel Nine

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

– W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.

― James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

 The conspicuous absence of the lynching tree in American theological discourse and preaching is profoundly revealing, especially since the crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching.

― James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave.”

― Harriet Tubman

Scroll to the bottom for a complete list of the Summer 2020 Lessons-at-a-glance

Including Hebrew Lessons (Genesis), Epistles, and the Gospels

Remember the Emanuel 9

Next Sunday we mark five years since a young man who was raised in an ELCA congregation walked into a Bible Study in an African American church known as Mother Emanuel and executed nine people. He said he wanted to spark a “race war.” As a church we adopted June 17 as a commemoration of the nine who were martyred on that day. I’m asking our congregations to honor this on Sunday, June 14. This is not the time to shy away from this important conversation.

This last two months have been marked not only by pandemic fatigue, but also by a deep frustration over racial inequality in America following the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and the death of George Floyd, who grew up in Houston. This is a 400-year-old frustration. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said this week, “Racism is alive and well in America. Those who deny this are fooling themselves.” This is the perfect time for us to talk about things that matter.

Talking about race and racism in predominately white communities is challenging. The responses are so formulaic, that it often seems that people are reading from some kind of script:

  • I’m not racist.
  • I have black friends, or coworkers.
  • I am fond of people of color, and therefore cannot be racist.
  • I have nothing against black people.
  • I don’t dislike anyone because of their skin color.
  • Are you saying I’m racist?
  • I’m the least racist person.
  • Are you saying I’m a bad person?
  • Are you calling me prejudiced, bigoted, ignorant…?
  • Are you questioning my moral character?
  • I was taught to treat everyone the same.
  • I don’t see color. I’m colorblind.
  • I don’t care if you are red, yellow, black or white.
  • You’re making me uncomfortable. (Tears may follow.)
  • You are the one who is being racist.
  • You’re playing the race card.
  • Focusing on race is what divides us.

People have reduced racism to meanness. Being racist means you’re a mean person. I am not a “mean” person, therefore I could not be racist. Racism is immoral, so if you call me racist, you’re are saying I’m immoral. I am deeply offended that you would insinuate that I’m “a racist.”

Discussing racism, or calling it out, is breaking the white code. You will be punished for this. If you point out racism, if you name, it you will be called racist. This is much like the kindergarten playground. You will then be penalized for making people feel uncomfortable.

We have been raised to view racism individualistically. Racism, however, is a system into which we have all been socialized. It is a system of laws, mores and social views from which some people benefit. It views people of color as perpetrators of crime. If Blacks or Latinos move into a community, people think crime will go up, all evidence to the contrary. This set of views is inescapable. It views people of color as lazy. It views them as dangerous. These views result in actions that are often deadly for people of color. Racism kills.

Race, a social construct with no basis in science, determines where you will live, the kind of house and neighborhood you will grow up in, the friends you will have, the people you will date, the kind of education you will receive, what kind of job you will have, how much money you will earn, how high you will rise in your profession, how healthy you will be, and how long you will live.

All of these things are reinforced by the jokes that white people tell and the myths they perpetuate. They are undergirded by the centering of white culture and perspectives. History is told from the white perspective. Black, Native American and Latino histories are deprioritized.

We like to tell ourselves that all people are equal, but we know this to be untrue. Everyone knows that it is better to grow up in wealth than in poverty. It is better to have food on the table and a roof over the head than not. A good education has generational consequences.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We cannot pretend that this is not the case. We want to view America as the land of liberty from sea to shining sea and ignore the history of deadly racism. We view the past as being a kinder, gentler time, which is of course ridiculous. My Old Testament professor Ron Hals used to call this “the good-old-days motif,” longing for the days of King David. We long for the days of the “founding fathers.”Robin Diangelo invites us to consider the “good old days” from the perspective of people of color:

  • 246 years of brutal enslavement (that began even before the Pilgrims arrived)
  • The rape of black women for the pleasure of white masters, and to produce more slaves
  • Selling off of black children
  • Attempted genocide of the Native American populations
  • Indian Removal Acts
  • Reservations
  • Indentured servitude
  • Lynching and mob violence
  • Sharecropping
  • Chinese exclusion laws
  • Japanese-American internment
  • Jim Crow laws
  • Black codes
  • Barring blacks from serving on juries
  • Whites only drinking fountains and lunch counters
  • Bans on voting
  • Imprisonment on flimsy evidence by all-white juries
  • Employment discrimination
  • Educational discrimination
  • Inferior schools
  • Biased law enforcement and policing policies
  • Redlining and subprime mortgages
  • Payday lending at exorbitant interest rates

The list goes on, but this feels like enough for now. I have friends that have been arrested or detained. I’ve had coworkers who have been pulled over, handcuffed and put in the back of a police car numerous times on account of things for which I would have been given a ticket, or a polite warning.

If you are white and are accused of being racist, the best thing is to own it. Yes, I have undoubtably benefitted from an unjust system. Denial is self-delusion. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Confession is good for the soul. Repentance is even better. Repentance, contrary to popular opinion, is not feeling sorry for your sins. Repentance, μετάνοια, means to change course, literally, to change one’s mind. How do we “turn” from our sins, not just individually, but as a society? Certainly, the first step is to acknowledge it, but we cannot stop there. We must be willing to work for change. Without this our words are empty. How can we shed light on the darkness? How can we focus a spotlight when we see injustice? How can we actively promote change in public policy and law?

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,
we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In my experience, nothing dispels the myths of the other than being in relationship. We must preach, but preaching alone will not change everyone’s mind. (It will not μετά everyone’s νοια.) We must create platforms that bring people into relationship. Where is the closest AME church? Send them a letter this week lamenting with them, and committing yourself and your congregation to racial justice.

Do something, anything, for starters, with a congregation of a different ethnicity. Bible study, softball, barbecue, fellowship. Go slow. They will be understandably suspicious of your motives. Invite. Ask their leaders if they would be willing. Ask them what assurances they might need. Ask them how they might suggest beginning. Once people begin to talk, they learn. Slowly, walls begin to come down. Bridges can form.

It seems to me that, of the texts appointed for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, the epistle reading, from Romans 5:1-8 may be a place to begin:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Ben Witherington III in his book Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 131, says,

The language of peace, reconciliation, and the pacification of the enemies would be familiar to those in Rome used to hearing the honorific propaganda about the emperor and his accomplishments, vis à vis the Pax Romana.

In other words, Paul juxtaposes the Pax Romana, a forced peace through subjugating one’s enemies (a peace with which is listeners are no doubt familiar), with an alternative vision for peace through the death of Christ on the cross for the unrighteous. Cynthia Briggs Kittridge, (Dean, Professor and President of New Testament at the Seminary of the Southwest, in Austin, Texas). Christ’s death on the cross brings us peace with God, and also with one another. Those who were once enemies are reconciled. Suffering leads to endurance, then character and hope. God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This is the post-baptismal life in Paul’s view.

Justification by grace through faith in Christ means a new life, in which earthly distinctions fade to the background. “…this new life as founded in the justification by faith through Christ, revealed to all humanity, is available for all who puts their trust in the crucified Christ.” (Rev. Fredrick Amolo | Lecturer, Africa Nazarene University)

Paul’s conclusion in Galatians (chapter 3) is that the life, death and resurrection of Christ means that there can no longer be any meaningful distinctions between these six groups: Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are all one in Christ. The cross confronts racism, classism and sexism.

The conclusion in Ephesians is that the cross of Christ means nothing less than the tearing down of the walls of racial hostility between Jew and Greek. Can this also be a uniting point for us today? Could it be that the lynching of Christ, seen in the lynching of Black lives in North America, becomes the place where we can counterintuitively find reconciliation? When the innocent suffer, a transforming power is released.

Once we recognize that Christ died for us, the unrighteous, we are free to acknowledge our shortcomings. Reconciliation does not come by sweeping our sins under the rug, but acknowledging them. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive… This is the only way to move forward.

This Sunday, I urge you to remember the Emanuel Nine. Say their names aloud in your prayers:

The Emanuel Nine
Clementa C. Pinckney
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd
Susie Jackson
Ethel Lee Lance
DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Tywanza Sanders
Daniel Lee Simmons
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Myra Thompson

This Sunday, let us confess together:

A Confessional Litany and Lament Commemorating
Nine Who Were Slain at Mother Emanuel AME Church

They were doing
what we are called to
as they engaged in bible study.

It was Wednesday night—
a stranger walked in,
and these people welcomed him and prayed together:
the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel
Lee Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders,
the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, the Rev. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, and the
honorable state senator and pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.
This stranger wanted to ignite a “race war,”
he said, after he shot and killed them,
denying them the very humanity he claimed for himself,
claiming rights and privileges associated with “whiteness.”
Now we are grieved, once again in pain,
burning and anguished, lamenting the horror of evil unleashed.
And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
Sorrow and heartache have come to us.
Death and mourning have visited us.
We feel far from you, O God, and distant from one another. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
Evil besets us in our land.
We acknowledge that our nation is socialized in ways that promote and normalize colonialization.
We cry out against the horrors and agonies of racism. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
The privileged of our nation have benefited from practices that dehumanize indigenous peoples. We have claimed as “discovery” lands that were not ours. These lands have been stolen and the nations, that were the original occupants of these lands, slain. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
Tribalism has led to the denial of your presence, O God.
Present generations,
the children whose ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery,
those forced to labor not on their own behalf,
still suffer and struggle to live in freedom
while the children of colonizers,
live out of “white privilege,”
denying the fullness of your presence in all people. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
Assaults born of greed and murder continue propping up
white privilege that is institutionalized in our church and nation,
preventing us from recognizing
the twin evils of racism and nationalism
still perpetuated among us. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
Open our eyes, O God, open our hearts.
Open our ears, O God, open our minds.
Help us to behold one another as you behold us.
Help us to be more firmly rooted
in the practices of the gospel—so that, when we pray,
the way we live will make real the dream of your beloved community
within and among us. And so we cry out,
Have mercy, O God, have mercy on us.
With the help of your mercy and grace,
lead us to think, believe, and change.
May your gospel’s transforming power
by the working of the Holy Spirit
be present in us, in our churches,
in our nation and all the nations of the earth.
May it be so. And the people said, “Amen.”

This Sunday, let us tell the story of the Emanuel Nine. It speaks for itself. Let it sink in. Let us commit to a better future:

On June 17, 2015, Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson were murdered by a self-professed white supremacist while they were gathered for Bible study and prayer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (often referred to as Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Pastors Pinckney and Simmons were both graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. A resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance for the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine was adopted by the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 8, 2019. Congregations of the ELCA are encouraged reaffirm their commitment to repenting of the sins of racism and white supremacy which continue to plague this church, to venerate the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine, and to mark this day of penitence with study and prayer.

This Sunday, let us pray together. Here is a prayer penned by one of my beloved colleagues in the Conference of Bishops:

Bishop Ann Svennungsen’s Prayer for Minneapolis: 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.”

We join Jesus’ lament, keening at the brokenness – broken bodies, broken lives, broken systems. We plead for God to gather all people and all systems under her wings, empowering us in the hard work of justice and transformation.

By your Holy Wings, Mothering God…
– Enfold and comfort all who grieve the murder of George Floyd
– Tenderly care for those who’ve been traumatized once again by this death
– Spread your protection over all who tirelessly give themselves to provide care and comfort
– Prod the county attorney to swiftly prosecute the officers involved
– Sweep out the racism in our criminal justice system
– Uncover the sin of white supremacy that has plagued our city, state, country, and our individual lives
– Move us all to repentance, to radical change – joining hands with all to rebuild our communities in the way of justice
– Hover continuously over our city, inspire us with vision to imagine a new way of being community; and a new resolve to work toward that vision.

 “Minneapolis, Minneapolis, O how Jesus longs for us to wake up, to name our sin, to see our complicity, to recognize every single person as a beloved sibling. The time is now.”

You can find more resources for this commemoration HERE.

Blessed are you who enter the difficult conversation. Be sure to share stories of your own missteps so that you don’t come at the this from an imaginary moral high horse. Know that you will make some people uncomfortable, but to avoid the conversation could cost lives. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Other Resources for the Conversation

Our synod Anti-Racism Team has been working on finding someone to help us have a healthy conversation about race and address racism in our context. One of our deans suggested that it might be helpful to have some resources for dealing with racism. Here are some resources to help with conversations:

 Hebrew Lessons-at-a-Glance

A sprint through the second half of Genesis.

  • June 14 – Genesis 18:1-15
  • June 21 – Genesis 21:8-21
  • June 28 – Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham tested by God.
  • July 5 – Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 Isaac and Rebekah. “So he put a ring in her nose, and bracelets on her arm… Then Isaac took her into his mother’s tent… and she became his wife… And he loved her.”
  • July 12 – Genesis 25:19-34 Jacob swindles Esau’s birthright, with red stew.
  • July 19 – Genesis 28:10-19a Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, at Bethel
  • July 26 – Genesis 29:15-28 Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel.
  • August 2 – Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with God/the angel
  • August 9 – Genesis 37 Joseph’s dreams and his brothers’ plot. “Here comes this dreamer. Let us kill him and throw him into a pit… and see what will become of his dreams.”
  • August 16 – Genesis 45:1-15 Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

Summer-Epistles-at-a-Glance, Romans 6-14

14 Sundays, June 14 to September 13, 2020

  • June 14 – Rom. 5:1-8 Justified. Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.
  • June 21 – Rom. 6:1b-11 Baptized. Baptized into Christ’s death, we rise with him.
  • June 28 – Rom. 6:12-23 Freedom. Shall we sin now that we are not under the law?
  • July 5 – Rom. 7:15-25a Sin. Paul’s dilemma: The good I want to do, I don’t do.
  • July 12 – Rom. 8:1-11 Spirit. To set the mind on the Spirit is life.
  • July 19 – Rom. 8:12-25 Glory. cannot be compared to suffering now.
  • July 26 – Rom. 8:26-39 Confidence: Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
  • August 2 – Rom. 9:1-5 The Jews: Paul grieves his people have rejected Christ. But theirs are adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, promises, patriarchs and Messiah.
  • August 9 – Rom. 10:5-15 The Jews: Justified by Faith just like the Greeks. But who can believe without hearing? So blessed is the proclaimer.
  • August 16 – Rom. 11:1-2a, 29-32 The Jews: God has not rejected his people. God has imprisoned all in disobedience, in order that all might have mercy.
  • August 23 – Rom. 12:1-8 Gifts: One body; many members. Conform not. Be transformed.
  • August 30 – Rom.12:9-21 Life in the Body. Love one another. Live in harmony. Never seek vengeance.
  • Sept 6 – Rom. 13:8-14 Love in the Body. The whole law is summed up in a single word: Love one another.
  • Sept 13 – Rom. 14:1-12 Conflict in the Body. Don’t quarrel. Welcome one another. Don’t pass judgment on one another. Tolerate differences in piety.

2020 Summer-Gospels-at-a-Glance, Matthew 10-18

13 Sundays, June 14 to September 6, 2020

  • June 14 – Matthew 9:35-10:8. Mission. Jesus sends the 12. Harvest plentiful. Laborers few.
  • June 21 – Matthew 10:24-39. Commitment. Not peace. Sword. Find life by losing it.
  • June 30 – Mt. 10:40-42 Hospitality. Whoever gives a cup of water in my name…
  • July 5 – Mt. 11:16-19, 25-30 Repentance and Comfort. Come to me all weary…
  • July 12 – Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23 Parable of the Sower. Birds, rocks, thorns, good soil.
  • July 19 – Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43 Parable of Wheat and Tares. Let them grow together.
  • July 26 – Mt. 13:31-33, 44-52 Parables: Mustard Seed, Yeast, Treasure, Pearls, Net.
  • August 2 – Mt. 14:13-21 Jesus Feeds the 5,000. Send the crowds away…
  • August 9 – Mt. 14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Sea. Command me to come to you…
  • August 16 – Mt. 15:[10-20] 21-28 (Blind Guides.) Jesus heals the Canaanite Woman.
  • August 23 – Mt. 16:13-20 Peter Confesses Jesus. On this rock I will build my church.
  • August 30 – Mt. 16:21-28 Jesus rebukes Peter. If you follow me, take up your cross.
  • Sept 6 – Mt. 18:15-20 Jesus teaches on Conflict. If a member sins against you…