Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 21, 2015

2015.06.21 “A Tale of Three Churches” – 2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13

Central United Methodist Church
A Tale of Three Churches
2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13
Pastor David L. Haley
June 21, 2015
Memorial

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return — I speak as to children — open wide your hearts also.” – 2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13

Some of us remember the rhyme with accompanying gestures we learned when we were children:

“Here is the church and here is the steeple;

Open the doors and see all the people.”

But what happens when we open the doors of the church and see all the people, and they are divided in conflict? What happens when we open the doors of the church – as this week – and see people lying bleeding and dead, in the middle of a church Bible study? What happens when we open the doors of the church, and see deeply concerned people at worship and prayer –like us – wondering what to do about the problem?

Our theme today is not “The Church,” but particular churches, real churches with real people. A church in Corinth some 20 years after the life of Jesus; one in Charleston, South Carolina, Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church; and one in Skokie, IL, our church, Central United Methodist Church. Though different in time and place and culture, all these churches have this in common, they are microcosms of the followers of Jesus. All of these churches do the same things: we worship and pray and learn and serve. And all these churches have the same purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Yet, from time to time, the mission of the church is hindered and harmed when other things get in the way.

The first of these churches was the one in Corinth, about which we read in the New Testament. As I studied the text for today, I began to wonder – why on earth did I choose to preach from Corinthians? Three years ago I did the David story; most years I preach from the Gospel, which today is the well-known story of Jesus’ disciples in a boat on the storm-tossed sea of Galilee: there’s a story that will preach! But these letters of Paul to the Corinthians are like going through someone’s dirty laundry. Because the church are Corinth was hindered in its mission by conflict, conflict between the church and its founder, Paul.

As we have learned in previous weeks, the Apostle Paul writes to them in the middle of some painful difficulties, urging them to be reconciled to God and one another. We do not know the context, we know that there has been a breach: an experience of hurt and anger that has split the church and left everyone bruised and hurting. It is – unfortunately – not hard to imagine; there are churches today like the church at Corinth, torn apart by conflict. Who would want to attend them, much less pastor them?

As in previous readings, Paul continues to defend himself and his ministry to them, elaborating the paradoxes not only of Christian ministry, but of the Christian life, a life of virtue, but also difficulty. I like how Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message:   

“Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.” (2 Corinthians 6: 4 – 10, The Message)

Don’t we find the Christian life to be this way, paradoxical in its ups-and-downs? Sometimes we think that to follow Jesus will make our life easier – as some TV preachers describe it, when in reality following Jesus makes life much harder. Like the old spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, says: “Sometimes I’m up; sometimes I’m down; sometimes I’m almost to the ground. Oh yes Lord.” And then there are weeks like this, when the darkness of the world interrupts even our prayers with murderous violence.

Which brings us to our second Christian congregation, Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S. C. The New York Times describes what happened:

“Wednesday was a busy day at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church.

The pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a tall, rangy man with a deep voice, would normally have stayed in Columbia, the capital, for his job as a state senator. But he had returned to his congregation here for an important meeting with the presiding elder of the district. There was the matter of the church elevator, long under construction. The budget needed review. And three congregants were officially received as new preachers. One by one, they stepped before the group to receive a certificate and applause.

The meeting in the church basement ended around 8 p.m., and the crowd of about 50 dwindled to 12 of the congregation’s most devout members, who would remain for the Wednesday night Bible study.

That was when the visitor, a young white man came to the door, asking for the minister. It was unusual for a stranger, much less a white one, to come to the Wednesday night session, but Bible study was open to all, and Mr. Pinckney welcomed him. They sat together around a green table, prayed, sang and then opened to the Gospel of Mark, 4:16­20, which likens the word of God to a seed that must fall on good soil to bear fruit.

At about 9, gunfire and terrified cries shattered the evening calm. In the pastor’s office, Mr. Pinckney’s wife, who had been waiting patiently with their younger daughter, turned off the lights, locked the door, hugged her child close and called 911.

When the shooting was over, nine congregants were dead, including Mr. Pinckney and two of the newly ordained ministers, each shot multiple times with a .45 ­caliber handgun. The stranger — identified by the police as Dylann Storm Roof, 21, a high school dropout and sometime landscaper — has been charged with nine counts of murder.

“You are raping our women and taking over our country,” Mr. Roof said to the victims, all of them black, before killing them, witnesses told the police.

In a matter of unforeseen moments, the future of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and its 350 active members would be changed forever. Church leaders were lost, along with worshipers young and middle­-aged. Children were left motherless. A girls’ track team lost its coach; a university its admissions coordinator. And residents of all races in Charleston, a city that places such value on its houses of worship that it calls itself the Holy City, recoiled in horror as one of its most storied buildings was desecrated by intolerant rage and transformed, if briefly, into a charnel house. (“A Hectic Day at Church, and Then a Hellish Visitor,” The New York Times, by Richard Fausset, John Eligon, Jason Horowitz, and Frances Robles, June 20, 2015).

And yet, in a paradox that even Paul could not have imagined, the people of Emanuel AME are bringing good out of evil.  In a courtroom on Friday, one after another looked into the expressionless face of the young man charged with making them motherless, snuffing out the life of a promising son, taking away a loving wife for good, bringing a grandmother’s life to a horrific end.  And answered him with forgiveness.

“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” (“In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting,” The New York Times, by Nikita Stewart and Richard Perez-Pena, June 19, 2015)

Today we are humbled by the amazing and authentic faith of the people of Emanuel AME, and give thanks for the fruitful lives and faithful witness of Rev. Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and Myra Thompson.

Which brings us home to our third congregation, Central United Methodist Church, here in Skokie. We are thankful to be an interracial, multicultural congregation of Christians from around the world. What a marvelous opportunity – an opportunity that not all congregations have – to talk to each other about these issues of race and especially racial violence, that are escalating to great anguish in our country.

Emily Scott is the pastor at St. Lydia’s, a church in Brooklyn. This week her Blog was entitled, “Preaching While White: This Sunday’s Lectionary and Emanuel AME.

“I need you to talk to the people who look like you,” Rozella Haydée White, an clergy colleague who is African American recently told me. This year, I’ve heard this call, or a version of it, from Black colleagues around the country. You have to talk to your people. To your context. To your congregation. 

Why? Because this hate crime, committed against nine Black Christians engaged in prayer, in the house of God, is set against the background of the last twelve months, in which the murder of and brutality against Black people (including children) by the police has set off a season of resistance in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. We have seen the images of Michael Brown, left dead in the street, of Eric Garner, the life choked out of him for selling cigarettes, of Freddie Gray crying out in pain, and of Dajerria Becton, face shoved into the ground while a cop pulled a gun on her teenage friends, for attending a pool party.

Racism is an illness of our country, and we are all sick with the virus. The awareness of racism, the understanding of racism, the uncomfortable confronting of our own racism, and the finally, the dismantling of racist structures all begins on the local level. In congregations, it starts with us. (Emily Scott, “Preaching While White: This Sunday’s Lectionary and Emanuel AME.”)

Another woman, Alisha Lola Jones, wrote:

“I need my NON-BLACK ALLIES to turn their outrage about police brutality and resident vigilantism into some ACTION… It is open season on black folk in their own CHURCHES, neighborshoods, and homes.  If you love me and mine, fight for me. If you are unwilling to fight for me, clearly there is no way we can walk together. My life is already on the line.” (Alisha Lola Jones, quoted by Rev. Denise Anderson, ‘Allies,’ the Time for Your Silence Has Expired,” The Huffington Post, 6/18/2015.)

“How Long, Not Long” is the popular name given to the public speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after the successful completion of the Selma to Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. In it, the names could be changed, but the questions and answers are the same:

“I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”

“I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”

How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow. . .”

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

How long? Not long . . . (“How Long, Not Long?”, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/our-god-marching)

No wonder the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians so long ago: “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” And so, no matter how hard it is, no matter how long it takes, let us continue what others have done, because now is the time.

“Here is the church and here is the steeple;

Open the doors and see all the people;

Red and yellow, black and white,

They are precious in his sight.

Amen.

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