I’m not sure how to describe these last two weeks.
On Thursday morning as I was packing for vacation, my eyes were glued to the news, tears welling up in them, as I heard of the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina.
Charleston, where my wife and I honeymooned.
South Carolina, sister to my home state.
That day Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, put forward a statement. You can read it in full here. In it Bishop Eaton identifies that both the shooter, a member of an ELCA congregation, and two of the victims, The Reverend Clementa Pickney and The Reverend Daniel Simmons who both attended a Lutheran Seminary, are “our own.”
She’s right, of course. I’d take it one more step, though. All of them are “our own.” Are we not all children of God? Are we not all human?
I did not preach last Sunday, but Deaconess Claire did the difficult and necessary work of connecting the scriptures to our current lives. I heard from some of my colleagues that they feared saying the word “racism” from the pulpit because it is divisive.
More divisive than bullets? More divisive than discrimination? Are we not Lutheran? Do we not, as Martin Luther encouraged us, to “call a thing what it is”?!
Racism is real. It is a sin. It is a scourge upon our nation and upon humanity. It is the “original sin of the United States of America,” as The Reverend Jim Wallis so rightly put it.
Today President Obama, giving the eulogy at The Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral, broke into Amazing Grace. He said, “We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith. A man who believed in things not seen.”
And even as this massacre’s shadow lingers on our hearts, we hear today news of great joy for many. The Supreme Court has made marriage equality the law of this land, effectively making something not seen but hoped for by many, a legal reality. Our own faith community has welcomed same-sex couples, and married them, for many years now, believing that God has not made us to be alone in this world, and that the love of two consenting adults is a mirror image of God’s own love for the world.
But I believe the tragedy of last week informs even this joyous occasion today.
Even as confederate flags are taken down and silenced and rainbow flags are flown, we must not mistake the presence of law as a marker of the absence of evil. Indeed, we make laws to protect people from injustice and evil. Were they not present, we wouldn’t need the law.
Discrimination, racism, sin…these things remain. I say this not to call out fear, nor to dampen any joy or elation. We indeed should celebrate today even as we continue to mourn last week’s massacre.
We walk with tragedy in one hand and hope in the other.
But we must continue the God-given work of spreading the message of sacrificial love and peace in this world. We must continue to speak of the love of God seen through Jesus with strength, humility, and resolve until the weapons of violence in this world are silenced and human dignity is upheld in every corner.
The presence of a law that rights injustice is symptomatic of a world on its way, not a world that has arrived.
This Sunday we will, at the urging of Bishop Eaton, honor a day of reconciliation and mourning. Our prayers will be of repentance and hope for peace. Our litany will be one of resolve, where we confess that with God’s help we can change the trajectory of the bullets, the rhetoric of hate, racism, and discrimination in our world.
And we will celebrate with our gay brothers and sisters the presence of marriage equality.
This Sunday we will practice, as a community, what it means to walk with tragedy in one hand and hope in the other.
In the name of the one who calls us into the world to change it,