Vigilance Follows the Vigil!

Black Lives MatterA Litany by Bishop Adam J. Richardson, Jr. of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
From the National Council of Churches

ONE: “Prayers can’t be answered unless they are prayed,” so the poet reminds us and so we have honored the dead in vigils of remembrance, emotional prayers, heartfelt tributes, scripture-based homilies, fervent eulogies, thoughtful soliloquies and appropriate words spoken by public officials, but something must follow the prayer meeting – ACTION.

ALL: VIGILIANCE FOLLOWS THE VIGIL!!!

ONE: “Tragedies are commonplace”, so writes the composer – and the choirs sing and following the tragedies vigils were called in Newtown, Aurora, New York, Sanford, Jacksonville, North Charleston, Charleston, St. Louis, Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Houston, and Roanoke and in sympathizing cities, villages and hamlets around the world for the senseless deaths of mostly young victims – unarmed. That is why something must follow the prayer meeting – ACTION

ALL: VIGILIANCE FOLLOWS THE VIGIL!!!

Find more at the National Council of Churches website.

 

 

Children of the Day (August 2, 2015)

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Rev. Rick MixonA Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In this week’s “Midweek Message,” I offered these “Words to Consider” from Brian McLaren;

As we walk this road together, we are being prepared and strengthened for struggle. We’re learning to cut the strings of ‘unholy spirits’ that have been our puppet masters in the past. We’re learning to be filled, led, and guided, not by a spirit of fear but by the Holy Spirit instead…a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind to face with courage whatever crises may come.
(Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 243).

As we come near the end of our year long journey with Brian, he reminds us that walking this road entails a combination of struggle and joy, challenge and fulfillment, trial and the satisfaction of achievement. The road we make by walking may take us to the gates of hell or home to the Beloved Community of God. How we walk, with whom we walk, the resources we draw on for the journey, all will make a difference to the outcome.

Is he right to assert that we are being prepared and strengthened for the struggle? What do we know of struggle? For the most part, we’re pretty blessed, aren’t we? We’re people of power and privilege and wealth. Oh, I know it doesn’t feel like when for most of us there are always people next door who have more power and privilege and money, right? We’re just kind of average. We’re middle class folk. Some of us had to work hard to get to where we are and some of us are still working hard. But if we open our eyes and minds and hearts to the way most of the world lives, it’s hard to say we have any real struggle by comparison.

Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica was written to people who were having a rough time. There weren’t very many in the congregation. They were the only people in the city who followed the Jesus Way and that wasn’t very popular among all the religious options of the day. And then these Christians had beliefs and practices that seemed strange and unacceptable to most of their neighbors. We don’t run into that so often, do we? In our society and among our neighbors a certain brand of Christianity is commonly known and experienced. Christianity is still the dominant religion in our culture. It’s not much of a struggle to be a Christian in the USA today – or is it?

McLaren argues that, like our sisters and brothers from long ago, we may still be confronted with something like Satan and the demonic. In our modern sophistication we may not like or use that language but he suggests that we might see “…Satan and demons as powerful and insightful images by which our ancestors sought to describe shadowy realities that are still at work today. In today’s terminology,” he continues, “we might call them social, political, structural, ideological, and psychological forces. These forces,” he says, “take control of individuals groups, and even whole civilizations, driving them toward destruction” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 240).

What do you think he means by destructive forces in this so-called Christian environment in which we live? What are some of the powers with which we might struggle in order to remain true to our Christian calling? McLaren, again, suggests that “The real enemies back then and now are invisible realities like racism, greed, fear, ambition, nationalism, religious supremacy and the like – forces that capture decent people and pull their strings as if they were puppets to make them do terrible things” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 242). Does this sound right to you? Are you aware of any of these realities operating around you? Do you ever feel a pull – subtle or obvious – on your own strings to stray from the road we’re walking, to give up on the Jesus Way, to abandon hope for the Beloved Community of God – all for the good life on easy street?

What we struggle with may seem much less obvious than what those first Christians had to face, but that may make it more invidious and dangerous. To walk the road of compassion, hospitality and service may be more difficult than we imagine. It may ask more of us than we expected to give. It may lead us into conflict with our culture, our community, our families, friends and neighbors, maybe even with ourselves, as we have to make challenging choices about what road we walk, how we walk it and with whom. McLaren reminds us that “If we confront the love of power (which lies at the heart of all ‘unholy spirits’) with the power of love (which is the power of the Holy Spirit) we will understand why the New Testament emphasized suffering and persecution as it did” (Brian D. McLaren, “Author’s Commentary on We Make the Road by Walking,” p. 76).

Monday night several of us attended a screening of the powerful documentary film, “White Like Me.” I don’t how others felt about it but it surely convicted me of how easily I get caught up in racism and white supremacy. I don’t mean to but these undesirable perspectives are endemic to the culture I inhabit. They are woven into the social systems and cultural fabric of my life. There is struggle in that for me. “Lord, I want to be a Christian” but it surely is hard sometimes.

When Pastor Smith from University AME Zion kept asking the crowd on Monday to consider what we might do in our community to confront racism and white supremacy, one passionate woman stood up and said we have to speak up. As someone who works in social media, she said that whenever and wherever we encounter these demons we need to say something. On Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites we are all likely to encounter a friend or acquaintance making racist, white supremacist comments. The easy way out for most of us is to remain silent or quietly unfriend the offender. But she argued that we need, then and there, to say, “No, this is not acceptable. It’s not OK with me and let me tell you why.” I see this as a potential struggle, but also crucial to my Christian witness. As Martin Luther King, Jr., observed, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” and ” Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Our witness matters, even if only a little.

This is where the Spirit of Power comes into play. You see we don’t have to walk the road alone. We’re not without resource to face the struggle. We have more power than we imagine to make a difference in the world around us. We don’t have to settle, to give in, to go along with the crowd. We don’t have to get caught up in what is satanic or demonic. We don’t have to be less than what God has made and called us to be. We are children of the day.

The Spirit of Power calls us to be sober. And, no, I don’t think that means grim, narrow-minded. hard-hearted and judgmental. I believe it means to be thoughtful, considerate, and wise. It means to be compassionate, hospitable and oriented to service. Frankly, I see the potentiality for a lot of joy and fulfillment in that sort of sobriety. Take your time. Think it through. Pray about it. Ask God to lead you by the Spirit of Power to walk the way that leads to the Beloved Community. Put on that “breastplate of faith and love” and that “helmet [of] the hope of salvation” – healing, wholeness, peace and well-being. Oh, and don’t forget to sing a song of praise and thanksgiving as you wend your way – up on the mountain top and down deep in the valley.

The Spirit of Power is not just out there blowing around randomly as it sometimes seems to do. It also blows in and through us. When Paul urges the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build up each other,” he is talking about calling on, incorporating and sustaining the Spirit of Power. Together we can do and be so much more than we can be alone. That is why we gather round this table. We need nourishment for the journey. We need a healthy helping of the Spirit of Power. We need to share a common meal in the bright light of the dawning day, God’s new day for all creation. As children of day let us shine out, on, for and with one another to bring about the blessed day of God when the road reaches its destination and the struggle ends, that day when the Beloved Community of God is fulfilled and all is peace and well-being. And until that day, let’s walk together, keep up the struggle and let our little lights shine. Amen.

Moving Change Along

God's PeopleA large group gathered at First Methodist Church to watch the documentary film, “White Like Me.” I found it to be a powerful analysis of white privilege and racism in this country. No one is exempt from the effects of these phenomena. They are deeply embedded in our cultural values and social systems. Though I imagine most of us long for the day when privilege and prejudice may be laid to rest, we aren’t there yet. Whatever progress we’ve made toward social and cultural change is not nearly enough. We still have a long way to go.

One of things that Pastor Kaloma Smith kept asking us Monday night is what are we going to do. It’s one thing to sit and watch a powerful movie, to feel the struggle and pain, to share our stories of the past and present; it’s another thing to seek out and commit ourselves to the actions that will make life different. One commitment is to keep talking and listening and learning from one another. Another suggestion is to speak up when we are aware of the exercise of white privilege and racism whenever and wherever we encounter them, regardless of the personal or social price. Chip Clark attended a pre-screening planning meeting for an event for children in our community to be held at Mitchell Park in September. What ideas do you have to move along this needed change in our own community and the wider world?

Sunday as we continue our journey of “Adventure with the Spirit of God,” we will focus on “The Spirit of Power.” Again, there are several texts suggested by Brian McLaren. I’ve chosen one from 1Thessalonians, the oldest writing in the New Testament. Here Paul exhorts the congregation to “encourage one another and build each other up.” What better way to consolidate and motivate the power of a community to bear witness to and work for God’s Beloved Community on earth?

Join us at 10:00 AM for worship, followed by Patio Hour. Alan Plessinger will be hosting us for a special treat – an ice cream social! Bring someone along to share the experience with you.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.
Pastor Rick

With Liberty and Justice for All

Rev. Rick MixonA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Text: Ephesians 4:1-16 (The Message)

When I was a boy in elementary school, we started every day with Bible reading, prayer and the pledge of allegiance to the flag. These “opening exercises” were as predictable and normal as anything in my life. No one gave it a second thought. The words “under God” were added to the pledge in 1954. I was 7 years old at the time and anticipating the second grade. I have a vague memory of a minor disruption in the rhythm of life as we had to remember to include the new words when we recited the pledge. I don’t remember anyone in my small circle objecting to the addition.

I have more vivid memories of 1962-63 when the Supreme Court ruled that required prayer and Bible reading was not permissible in public schools. I was in high school by then, and I remember my father was outspoken in support of the Supreme Court’s decisions. Though the decisions were unpopular in Boise, Idaho, my dad saw them as consistent with his deeply held Baptist belief in the separation of church and state. Still, American Civil Religion carries weight in this country. Ignoring the growing diversity in religious belief and practice, we still tend to use rhetoric of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in attempts to elevate our discourse and/or get elected to public office.

After the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, it became common practice to sing “God Bless America” in lieu of, or along with, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” during the seventh inning stretch. But, friends, the United States of America is not the “Promised Land” nor have we any right or reason to expect special blessing from God or to claim that “God is on our side.” The privilege bought by the wealth and power of our nation has no special connection to the great God of the universe and the way we exercise that privilege has little to do with Jesus of Nazareth. It is as much a sham to claim that this is “one nation, under God” as it is to pretend that there is “liberty and justice for all.” Independence Day is not a religious holiday and that is why I choose not to celebrate it in worship.

This year, as the 4th of July approached, we were reminded dramatically that this is not “one nation,” that we are not “under God” in any sense of holding for ourselves a relationship more real and significant than other people on the planet, and that we are a long way from “liberty and justice for all.” In recognizing the holiday, one pastor friend chose to reproduce Langston Hughes’s poem, “Let America Be America Again.” Hughes, the great poet of the Harlem Renaissance, writes about the American dream:

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again.

I offer these words as neither hymn nor gospel, but as the passionate yearning of one gifted black man for dignity and respect, for the recognition of his humanity and inclusion in whatever common enterprise that engages us as citizens of this land. In these days when hatred and violence have been so evident in our own backyard, when racism and white supremacy have been exposed as an ugly infection in the body politic, when fear of the foreigner and distrust of difference rule the day, Hughes reminds us how much yet needs to be done to make this “one nation…with liberty and justice for all.”

As people of faith who have reason to claim that we are “under God,” we do have responsibility to consider how our faith might inform and shape a society “with liberty and justice for all.” Hughes’s dream for America is not the dream that Paul had for the church but there does seem to be valuable interface between the two. Beloved Baptist ethicist and prophet, James Dunn, who served twenty years as director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and who died yesterday on the 4th of July, wrote, “To translate the revealed message of God’s love into public policy is a massive and sometimes tricky undertaking but our generation is not the first to try. God’s children have been bringing morality to public life for centuries. Christian social ethics is a well developed discipline, not merely a collection of reactions to news reports” (Quoted in his obituary).

What if our sense of being special is not because we live in the United States of America but because we are children of God, the body of Christ? Special not because of any elevated status but because we have heard and responded to God’s call to service. Our motivation to work for “liberty and justice for all” is not because it’s the American way. We’ve already established that this a dream unfulfilled. What if, instead, our motivation is our desire to see the Beloved Community of God come to fulfillment on earth, which surely is a call to “translate the revealed message of God’s love into public policy”?

“I want you to get out there,” says Paul, “and walk…on the road God called you to travel…And,” he continues, “mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.” He calls us to be “…Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”

In an all too racist society, what would it look like for us to pour ourselves out for each other in acts of love? And I don’t mean sweet, patronizing acts of charity. I mean real, transforming love that sees and respects difference while working to bind all together in love. The God who made us, who loves us with unexplainable love, who calls us to communion with the Holy One and community with one another, sees beyond the American Dream. It is a larger vision of hospitality and inclusion. I know some in the USA have claimed that as our dream, but the failure to bring it to reality speaks to our inadequacies when we try to go it alone. As soon as we begin to get ahead, we suddenly want to reserve the vision of liberty and justice for ourselves rather than for all. We want to confine life to borders that secure our privilege and power because we’re afraid that there just isn’t enough to go around.

This makes me think of the simple wisdom of Malvina Reynolds who sang, “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” In fact, real love is only love in the giving. It cannot be hoarded. I understand that there are challenges to reaching across lines of race and class, to welcoming the stranger in the land, to learning new languages and cultures, to eating strange food and singing unfamiliar songs. But remember God’s challenge to Peter from a couple of weeks ago – “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28b). We used to sing it in Sunday School, “Red, yellow, black, brown, white, all are precious in God’s sight.” What if we committed ourselves to looking within this beautiful diversity for the God-ordained unity that sees every one as precious – yes, even the ones you really struggle with – maybe especially the ones you struggle with.

Let’s be clear though to say that “all lives matter” is not the same as to say “black lives matter.” The call for unity can never gloss over difference nor deny the painful picture painted by Hughes in his poem. Paul says we have to “notice differences,” we have to see and acknowledge the other’s pain and struggle, hopes and dreams. Racism and white supremacy are real. Until we see and understand those realities there will never be “liberty and justice for all.” If one us is not free then none of us is truly free…and God deeply desires freedom for all creation.

Let me close with some words from another poet of the Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson, who, along with his brother, Rosamond, wrote what has come to be known as the black national anthem:

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Or in the words of Paul, “…I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

An Epistle of Metanoia (ABC/USA)

The Mission Summit in Kansas City was a great event. If you get a chance to read Dr. Amy Butler’s keynote sermon, please do so. Riveting stuff.

Read it here: talkwiththepreacher.org/2015/06/26/home-another-way/

 In the wake of the murders in Charleston, many people are again claiming that even in the twenty first century our churches remain the most segregated communities in society. That may still, sadly, be true. But that’s not our legacy and it is not our witness. Our denomination is the most diverse Protestant denomination in America. We have been modeling this kind of messy, beautiful, beloved gospel community for decades.

As we confront our own sin and the sin of our nation, we must remember who we are and we must step forward to lead the church in repentance, in bridge building, in making beloved community a reality.”

It caused quite a stir and from that energy emerged a statement, an Epistle of Metanoia. As it stands, there is no way to present any kind of statement of concern to the body politic. The denominational leadership offered to host the statement online so that we can collect signatures between now and the next biennial meeting to demonstrate the passion behind the statement and, perhaps, find some way to influence denominational activity around it.

Please, take the time and read this. Sign it if you feel so moved. Then share it around.

http://www.abc-usa.org/2015/07/01/an-epistle-of-metanoia-from-the-2015-mission-summit-to-the-abcusa-family/

Tripp Hudgins

 

An Epistle of Metanoia from the 2015 Mission Summit to the ABCUSA family

During the Biennial Mission Summit, June 26-28, 2015, the epistle below was drafted and signed by members of the American Baptist family. The President of ABCUSA, Rev. Dr. Don Ng, read this letter before preaching the closing sermon of the event.  The scope of this letter is broader than solely those who were at the Overland Park Convention Center.  All members of the ABCUSA family are invited to sign this document and commit ourselves to racial justice. View the online list of signatures:

http://www.abc-usa.org/2015/07/01/signatures-an-epistle-of-metanoia/

 

An Epistle of Metanoia from the 2015 Mission Summit to the ABCUSA family

In light of the sin of racism that has infected each and every part of our nation we, the gathered delegates and participants of the 2015 Mission Summit of American Baptist Churches USA, the most diverse Protestant body in our nation, grieve racism’s effects on our people. Therefore, we collectively speak against and repent of our participation in the sin of racism wherever it is found. The presence of white supremacy for too long has gone unacknowledged and prevented us from living as the body of Christ.

Between now and the 2017 Mission Summit we urge each ABCUSA congregation to covenant in order to seek justice & reconciliation, hold one another accountable in this endeavor, and pursue local incarnated manifestations of the Beloved Community.

Double Vision (June 21, 2015)

Black Lives MatterA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Text: Acts 10:1-17

Somewhere in the back of mind I had begun a different sermon this week. I suppose it might have been a kinder, gentler one until a lone gunman entered a church and murdered nine people at prayer. Everything changed. At least, it did for me. Once more gun violence has reared its hideous head in our so-called sophisticated society. Once more racism runs rampant in a heinous act of bigotry. Once more we are at risk to wring our hands in dismay only to move on shortly after, shaking our heads and changing nothing. I don’t have ready answers to either racism or gun violence but I believe with all my heart that something has to change.

I look at the pictures and read the reports about the young man who perpetrated this evil and I cannot help but think, he did not love himself, so he could not love his neighbors. This is neither an excuse or rationalization for what he did. It’s just an observation of what I see as an exceedingly sad reality. I will not be so presumptive as to try to analyze Dylan Roof. I’ll leave that for others more experienced, more expert, than I in the present and for history to determine in the future. But I do know that his action did not stem from love for self or love for neighbor.

Let me leave my rant for the moment to consider the theme and text for today. Maybe it well help to bring some balm from Gilead, some healing to the wounds. Perhaps it will tell us something about how we might move forward in this troubled, troubling world. The portion of Acts 10 that Alan and Melanie read for us this morning does not make the lectionary. I’m not sure why. It tells a powerful story of double vision brought into focus through the work of love for self and neighbor.

First, we have Cornelius, a man of might and privilege, a high-ranking Roman official, a man used to giving orders and having them followed. Surely he evoked fear and disdain in those over whom he ruled. We know the Jews of this period had no love for their oppressors. But there was something different about this warrior. Luke writes that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God…gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” Not your prototypical Roman officer. Something or someone had touched Cornelius at the depths of his being. He didn’t have all the answers, but somehow he knew he was a child of God. He also could sense God alive in those around him and thus his compassion. I suppose you could attribute his respect or love for himself to his position of power and influence. That must have been a factor. Still, Luke says something more was going on. It looks a lot like love.

When he has his vision, he doesn’t hesitate to send for Peter. From his place of privilege, it is not surprising that he would simply go after what he wanted. Note he has slaves and soldiers to do his bidding. But I also think he was eager to hear what God had to say to him, to teach him through the Apostle. It was a word he longed to experience.

Now Peter, over in Joppa, is about to have his own vision as God brings this odd couple together. He was hungry. His stomach was growling. He was ready for dinner but dinner wasn’t ready for him. He thought he would just stretch out for a bit, take a little nap before the meal was put on the table. His physical hunger invites the dream, and what a dream it is! Rutabagas, liver, pickled herring, limburger cheese – all those things he was loathe to eat – appeared before him. Definitely appetite killers. Yuck! If this is the menu, I’m starting my diet today!

OK, I’m being a little flippant. What appeared before Peter was not just stuff that he would find personally disgusting, it was all stuff by ancient law and sacred tradition forbidden for him to consume at all. It wasn’t just yucky. It was a little frightening. It was so shocking, it took three appearances before he realized the invitation to “kill and eat” was a serious one, not just hunger pangs or indigestion.

“Lord Almighty, no! I’ve never let anything unclean or profane pass my lips. My religious identity, my sense of self-respect, is wrapped up in keeping the law. How can you ask me to do such thing?” Is this some sort of test? Well, yes and no. Is God hoping Peter will say “no” and earn God’s favor? No, I don’t think God works like that. God’s not likely to trick us into doing the right thing. But God is asking Peter to take a risk, to step outside his comfort zone, far outside his comfort zone. Does he trust God enough to take a risk? Cornelius has. Will Peter reach out to meet him somewhere along the way?

I may be wrong, but I think it takes a measure of self-love to take such a risk. You see, this kind of self love is not self-absorption, not self-aggrandizing, not selfishness. It is a self-love, a self-respect, that leads to a certain righteousness, to right living, to right relationship with God, with self and with your neighbor. Brian McLaren writes about love for self. “God wants you to love you the way God loves you, so you can join God in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation. If you trust yourself to that love, you will become the best self you can be, thriving in aliveness, full of deep joy, part of the beautiful whole. That’s the kind of self-care and love that is good, right, wise, and necessary” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 224).

You hear that? “God wants you to love you the way God loves you…” There’s a challenge for us. Love the way God does – with infinite patience and amazing grace. “Don’t call profane what I have made clean.” Take a risk. Get outside your comfort zone. Join “in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation.”

So how does the story end? In Peter’s case, the messengers show up with Cornelius’s invitation, Peter decides to take the risk in the service of God’s call, he travels to Caesarea, the gospel is proclaimed and Cornelius and his household find salvation. How will we respond to such a challenging vision and risky call? Will we find the sort of love for ourselves that allows us to love others? Again Brian McLaren reminds us, “Where the Spirit is moving, love for God always, always, always overflows in love for neighbor. And according to Jesus our neighbor isn’t just the person who is like us, the person who likes us, or the person we like. Our neighbor is anyone and everyone – like us or different from us, friend or stranger – even enemy” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 216).

So it seems to me that Dylan Roof could not see, could not understand, could not embrace, his neighbor in love. But before we pass final judgment on him, we might ask ourselves where we, too, fail to see, to understand, to embrace in love, our neighbor. “Don’t call profane anything I have made clean.” We would never do that, would we? Love as God loves – yourself and your neighbor. Jesus said that everything depends on this, along with our love for God. In fact, are they not they not two sides of one coin? Is this not a bringing into focus any double vision about love in its essence? Out of a growing understanding, respect, love for themselves as children of God, Peter and Cornelius come together in Beloved Community. Will we commit ourselves to such gracious activity across all the lines that divide us and threaten to do us in, whether see them as sacred or secular?

Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and DePayne Doctor bowed their heads as Pastor Pinckney led them, along with other members of “Mother Emmanuel” AME Church in prayer. Tragically they were not able to finish their prayers last Wednesday, so I’m thinking this morning we might lift some words from Martin Luther King, Jr. on their behalf:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

And if they take your life, then let the wounded body of Christ take up your prayer and sing your song. “Our lives,” yours and mine, “begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And black lives matter. The lives of Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., DePayne Doctor and Pastor Clementa Pinckney matter. We cannot live with double vision here. We need to focus clearly on what matters. No more gun violence. No more racism. No more self-loathing. No more hatred of our neighbors.

I imagine as the service comes to an end, with heads still bowed and eyes closed someone began to softly hum that gently powerful refrain: “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart. Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart.” As an act of solidarity and hope, would you sing that last verse with me right now – “Lord, I want to be more loving…” Amen.