Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was the familiar story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:4-11, 19-23 and 32-49, but the message was changed because of the shooting at Emmanuel AME in Charleston:
I dislike weeks like this past one. First there was the strange story of the
NAACP in Spokane, Washington, and who knew Spokane needed an NAACP chapter? Then there was the announcement by Pizza Hut
that they were releasing a pizza that had 21 mini hotdogs baked into the crust,
because that’s exactly what we all need.
And finally Donald Trump declared that he was going to be running for
president, and every comedian rejoiced.
For a normal week that would be enough and unfortunately, these stories sort
of typify certain aspects of American culture.
But then there was the news that we all woke up to on Thursday morning
of the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, which sadly is also a
part of American culture. As a pastor I
know that such tragedies need to be addressed, but as a preacher I’m never
quite sure what to do. Do I stay with
what I was originally going to say, or do I change it all up in order to
address these issues?
I had a good sermon about David and Goliath all planned out
that I was going to try and somehow connect to Fathers’ Day. And while I wasn’t really struggling with
that message, it wasn’t exactly coming together either, and so Linda asked if
perhaps I needed to stop working on that message and instead talk about what
happened in Charleston. And yet the
story of David and Goliath I think also has a lot to say to us about this very
issue because of two things that are easily overlooked.
But let me start by saying what might be the
most important thing and that is that God did not cause this event to happen,
or allow it to happen, as some part of God’s master plan. Because if that is true, then God is not on
the side of the victims, but instead on the side of the perpetrators. But what we see time and time again is that
God sides with the victims and with the least, the last and the lost, and that
takes part in the story of David and Goliath as well.
This passage can be seen as a story of violence and yet it’s
also a story against violence. Goliath
calls to the Israelites and asks for one person to come forward and fight him. This is known as single combat, and the
purpose was to try and eliminate the largescale death and destruction of war, by
having only two people fight. Sometimes
the people doing battle would be the best soldiers, and other times it would be
the respective leaders who fought each other.
Perhaps this should be something we should think about as it would certainly
greatly limit the saber rattling of our politicians if they knew that instead
of sending others off to fight for them that they themselves would be
After 40 days of no one being willing to meet Goliath’s
challenge, David shows up on the scene, but he doesn’t go with the normal
weapons of war. And this is one of the
crucial points because David says to Goliath that he has come out “so that all
the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly
may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear.” The Lord does not save by sword and
spear. Indeed, in the words of the prophets
Isaiah and Micah, in the kingdom of God we will turn our swords into
plowshares, nation will no longer take up sword against nation, and we will
study war no more. Or as Jesus says as
he is being arrested, whoever takes the sword will die by the sword, which is
exactly what happens to Goliath.
I believe we take the violence in our culture, in all
aspects of our culture, too much for granted, and worse, we believe that there
is nothing we can do about it. And while
for the white community, violence
striking the church seems alien and something we can’t understand, for the
African-American community, and especially for the black church, this is just
one more in a series of incidents going way, way back. In 1787, St. George’s Methodist Episcopal
Church in Philadelphia was remodeled, which was paid for by both the black and
white members of the church, but after the work was done, the white trustees
ordered the black members out of the main church and told them they could only
be seated in the balconies, because the Bible was very clear on the mixing of
And so Rev. Richard Allen, who was born a slave but later
freed, and who was ordained at the founding conference of the Methodist Church
in America, led the black members out of the church and founded his own
congregation. In 1816, Rev. Allen
brought together other African American congregations to form the African
Methodist Episcopal church, and in the same year Emmanuel AME in Charleston was
founded, as a result of a white church constructing a building on top of the
church’s black burial ground. But
forming their own churches did not mean they would be left alone.
In 1818, South Carolina passed laws greatly limiting the
ability of black congregations to meet, including limiting them to only meeting
during the day and needing to have a majority of white people present, leading
to the continual arrest and even beating and whipping of Emmanuel’s members and
especially its leaders. In 1822, a white
mob burned Emmanuel AME to the ground when Denmark Vesey and five other members
of the church were accused of trying to lead a slave revolt, because, as you
know the Bible is quite clear. In 1834,
South Carolina made it illegal for any all black churches to gather anywhere,
Emmanuel AME continued to meet in secret when they could
throughout these years until after the Civil War when they reformed publically
and built their own building, and their pastor, Rev. Richard Cain was first
elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, and later to the US
House of Representatives, starting a tradition of Emmanuel’s pastors being
involved in political life, which was continued by Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who
was among those executed on Wednesday.
But even though they faced continued violence and even death, Emmanuel
AME continued addressing the issues facing the community. In 1969, some 900 members, including the
pastor, were arrested for facing off against bayonet wielding members of the National
Guard to help support a strike as part of the civil rights movement.
Wednesday was not a new or a unique event for Emmanuel or
its members, or really for the black church.
Instead it was a continuation of centuries of persecution and violence
carried out simple because of the color of their skin, but as those who were
doing the persecuting and killing would be quite willing to tell you, the Bible
is quite clear on the issue, and God was on their side. And it’s not just this church, of course
there was the bombing of the 16th street Baptist church in 1963 which killed
four girls and injured 22 others, and there were the 30 black churches that
were burned to the ground by arsonists in the 1990s. Even in the United Methodist Church, until
1972, just 43 years ago, we still had in place separate conferences for black
and white churches and clergy, because as you know the Bible is quite clear and
white churches would never tolerate scripture being violated by welcoming in a
black preacher. This might be shocking for us, but for the African-American
community, for the Hispanic community, for the Native American community, this
is all too common.
And sometimes these attacks are even more subtle than direct
violence. In our summary of Annual
Conference a few weeks ago, John Foley talked about the messages that we heard
from Rev. Dr. Kabamba Kibobo, who was the first women to be ordained in the
Congo. She told us that we needed to
truly understand that we were made in the image of God, and the accept
everything that goes along with that understanding, part of which is to
understand that everyone else is also made in the image of God and to see them
and to treat them as such. That means
she said, that we need to decolonize our theology. Growing up, she said, every image they saw of
God was of an old white man, and Jesus was a white man with blue eyes, and
guess the color, or skin pigment, of satan?
That’s right, he was black. And
it’s not like this has gone away. When
the Bible miniseries was made a couple of years ago, what color was Satan in
that series? Black. This is the reality we put forth, and we need
to move beyond it because when we don’t we reap that effects of it in all
aspects of society.
There is a theory known as the six degrees of
separation. It says that anyone in the
world can be connected to anyone else in the world in six or fewer steps. This is Ethel Lee Lance, one of those who
were killed on Wednesday. Her daughter,
Rev. Sharon Risher, attended seminary with Rev. Adrienne Coleman who is the
United Methodist pastor in Raton. That
means that I am two degrees of separation away from Ethel Lee Lance, and you
are now only three degrees of separation.
So this is not just some tragedy, some random event, that happened
somewhere else, that affected some people that we never met on the other side
of the country, which we can watch from a distance, because we are only
separated at most by three people from knowing every one of these people. This is our tragedy, this is our community,
this is our neighborhood, and this is our church. These are not strangers, these are our
neighbors, you know the same ones that Jesus told us we had to love, just as we
love God, because first God has loved us.
I don’t know what the answer is to stop these tragedies, but
I do wonder how long we can keep going and continuing to let them happen while
simultaneously acting as if there is nothing that can be done? Because here is the truth: If we don’t do
anything, they will continue to happen. But,
what I also know is that what some have tried to do, or perhaps what they were
told they had to do, has not been effective.
So perhaps we need to look at something different, of doing something
different, because that is how David approaches his battle with Goliath.
David is the youngest of eight sons, and is just a young boy
when he encounters Goliath. He holds no
real importance in his family, and no one takes him seriously. But David does two really amazing
things. The first is that he is really
the only one to talk about God in the midst of what’s going on, and second is
that he rejects the standard answer to who he has to be and what he has to
do. Saul tries to talk David out of it,
or really he tells him that he can’t do it, and so David tells him his story of
fighting wild animals to keep his sheep safe, but notice what David actually
says to Saul.
Instead of saying that it is all his work, David says that
it is God who has delivered him from the paws of the lion, from paws of the
bear and it is God who will deliver him from the hand of Goliath. A nice little play on words. But then Saul tries to put his armor on
David, and it’s like a little boy dressing up in his father’s clothes. They are just too big. David says he can’t walk in them, but worse
is that if had he gone out to fight Goliath in the armor, if he had gone
following all the rules, if he had gone out to fight Goliath as Goliath
expected, what would have happened? He
would have been killed, and probably rather quickly.
The Lord does not save by sword and spear David says, and so
instead, he did what no one, especially Goliath, expected, and because of that
he wins. When we battle giants, when we
take on those things that seem way too big for us to even begin to tackle, if
we try and battle them the way everyone thinks they should be fought, we will
lose. But when we look for different
ways, different ideas, different means to tackle the issue, then we have the
possibility of being successful.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lost his life standing up to
another, but similar, form of hatred, said “Silence in the face of evil is
itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to
act is to act.” Can we continue to remain
silent and choose to ignore these events and simply allow them to happen time
and time again? If not, what are we
going to do? How are we going to
respond? As I already said, I don’t know
the answer, but here is what I do know and what I propose.
I think the first step is to begin to treat every one of
these tragedies not as if they happened to some strangers that we can be upset
about for a moment but then return to our regular scheduled programs. Instead we need to treat them as if they
happened to our neighbors, our families, people we know and care about. Jesus says that we are to love our neighbors
as ourselves and that we will be known as his disciples because of the love we
show to the world.
Second, we need to stop drawing dividing lines and we
especially need to stop using the Bible to say who is in and who is out, to say
we are loved and you are hated. Instead
we need to see each and every single person as a beloved child of God, just as
we are, to see them as a brother and sister, and stop worrying so much about
the splinter in their eye, while ignoring the log in our own. We need to start seeing every act of violence
not as something that is done to someone else, but as something that is done to
all of us, and that affects all of us.
Let’s stop remaining silent and start standing up and saying this is not
And since this is fathers’ day, I think the next step starts
with us guys, because let’s face it the vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated
by men, and often it is so that they can prove how manly they are. The majority of victims of violent crimes are
also men. It’s time for us to begin to
work to end that violence, and much of that has to do with redefining what it
means to be a man and how men live and work in the world.
But it’s also about more than just us men, because all too
often we dismiss comments that are derogatory and destructive of others when
they are said by someone we like, while attacking the same type of comments by
people we don’t like. Instead we need to
call out all forms of violence, and that includes verbal violence because the
truth is words hurt and words cause damage and words matter. Dylan Roof didn’t just miraculously become a
racist, it was something he was taught.
He didn’t just happen to support apartheid, because he wasn’t even alive
when it existed. He was taught that
hatred by someone else, and then he acted out on it. We need to address hatred and evil in all
their forms, including in the language we use, especially language that seeks to
separate and divide, to create boundaries and divisions, to make groups of us
and them, acceptable and unacceptable, loved and unloved, good and bad.
And finally I think we need to start looking at new and
different ways to try and tackle the problem of violence in this country,
because violence is as much a part of our culture as blowhards who want to run
for president and pizza crusts stuffed with hotdogs, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember when smoking and drunk driving and
getting people to wear seatbelts were things that no one knew how to take on?
That no one thought were solvable? And
where are we now?
I don’t know what the answers are, but here is what I do
know. I know that we are smart enough to
try and figure it out, and we have to stop sitting on the sidelines and
pretending either that we can’t do anything about it, or that it doesn’t apply
to us, because it does. “Not to speak is
to speak. Not to act is to act.” Or as
Rev. Desmond Tutu said, “If you see an elephant standing on the tail of a mouse
and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your
The victims of these events are not strangers. They are our neighbors. They are fathers and mothers, sons and
daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers, they are our brothers and sisters and
we need to stand up and say enough is enough.
But here is what I also know. We
cannot overcome evil with evil, hatred with hatred or violence with
violence. Instead we overcome evil with
love and hatred with understanding and violence with peace because we are
called to love our neighbor as ourselves and to turn our swords into
plowshares. And I know that these events pain God, and just as God was with
David as he did the impossible in battling his giant, so too will God be with
us as we do the impossible and stand up to battle out giants because God can
lead us to victory because love, not hate, is the most powerful force in the