Grace and peace in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.
Today I was going to continue a sermon series on 2 Corinthians, “Hearts of Reconciliation.” I was going to focus my preaching today on “Eager Generosity.” Paul invites the Corinthians to show generosity in a campaign to collect funds for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. Paul refers (in another part of the letter) to the Christians in Macedonia, how have given with much generosity, even in the midst of suffering and affliction.
I was planning to preach a sermon on stewardship and generosity. It would be especially important here at San Lucas, when we’ve waited for years and years for the benevolence of the synod and churches of the North instead of completely developing our own capacity to give. Because of bureaucratic problems in the ELCA, our denomination, we had not received all of our support funds for a few months. They finally came yesterday. But here at San Lucas eventually we need to have our own stewardship campaign. We need to open our hearts. We need to think about our own generosity. But today I will preach on something different. I will leave these stewardship and generosity questions for another day to focus on what is happening in the world.
Even though we have more expenses than income at San Lucas, there’s something more important. Even though they cut off the water at the church and our van insurance while we waited for checks to clear, there’s something more urgent. Even though I haven’t received a paycheck since April, there is something even more pressing: The injustice, violence, and racism of our country. I’ll say it again: The injustice, violence, and racism of our country.
This week our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton invited each congregation of the ELCA, our denomination, to recognize a day of repentance and mourning to mark the death of nine African American persons murdered at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week.
We lament bloody violence. We lament racism. We lament injustice. We pray for the families of the victims. We pray for the alleged assassin, for his family, and for his Lutheran congregation. We await transformation. We seek reconciliation.
Even though it is a day of repentance and mourning…Even though there is much sadness…Even though there is much pain, there is also reason to celebrate. There were victories on the side of justice this week.
In the midst of racist violence and in the midst of pain, there were good conversations about removing the Confederate flag—a symbol of racism and a sign of oppression. It’s one step on the path toward justice.
The Supreme Court decided about health insurance—Obamacare. It will be easier for families to receive health care and to have healthier communities.
And also on Friday, the Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage equality, across the whole country. Love has no boundaries. Our friends and family members who are homosexual can now get married. It’s a sign of human dignity and a sign of civil rights. It’s a sign of inclusion and diversity.
All of these things can confuse us. They can surprise. One thing that never changes is God’s ability to change and transform God’s world. I’ll say it again. One thing that never changes is God’s ability to change and transform God’s world.
This week I was invited by a group of LGBTQ people here in Eagle Pass to pray a benediction at their gathering in Plaza San Juan [downtown] to mark this historic day. For me, it was a work of solidarity and an opportunity to have a ministry of presence with some people who have probably been rejected by other churches. I wanted to show that there are non-homophobic Christians in Eagle Pass, and that God’s love is for all.
I prayed for couples of every type and for families of every form, as they affirm their promises and recognize their love. I prayed for a spirit of grace, fidelity, mercy, and patience. I prayed for encouragement in the community to continue in the struggle for liberty for everybody.
Even though there is marriage equality, there is still injustice. There is still no employment nor housing protection. These things greatly affect poor people and people of color. It’s still difficult for immigrants. There’s still discrimination. There’s still suffering. We still await the Reign of God.
As a white male, as someone heterosexual and educated, I sweat privilege. I don’t know discrimination. I don’t know racism. But I’m a child of God, and together we are community. Together we are God’s great village. When one person suffers, we all suffer. When one person has injustice, we all have injustice.
This week, there was conflict in the White House. During an event, Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented transgender Mexican woman, interrupted President Obama. “I am a transgender woman,” she shouted. “No more deportations.” She wanted to announce the injustice in the detention system. She wanted to stop discrimination, but she was removed from the room. “Not in my house,” Obama said.
Upon thinking of this confrontation, I remembered a story from my family. When my dad was a teen, in the 1950s, President Harry Truman visited our town in Iowa, but began his speech saying, “It’s good to be here in the state of Illinois.” My dad and his buddies shouted, “Harry (using his first name, lacking much respect), you’re in Iowa, not Illinois.” The President said to them, “Young men, if you are not going to respect the President, you must still respect the Presidency.” Afterwards, my grandparents (strong Republicans and not fans of the Democratic President) punished my dad and took away his motorbike for a month.
I believe firmly that each person deserves respect—President or prisoner. But I also believe in the responsibility of leadership. There is a gigantic difference between the juvenile joking of my dad and the prophetic agitation of Jennicet Gutiérrez. There is a difference between teasing and a call to justice. Sometimes we need to speak truth to power. Sometimes the comfortable need to be uncomfortable.
Jennicet Gutiérrez reminds me greatly of the woman in today’s Gospel (Mark 5:21-43) that touches Jesus’ clothes. These two women have both suffered much. One must say that Barack Obama isn’t Jesus, but these two women come near to a man with power, looking for transformation, seeking justice, seeking an answer.
With faith, valor and hope, this unnamed woman had an encounter with Jesus. To be close was sufficient. To be in his presence was tremendous. Jesus says, “Daughter, you faith has healed you.” Jesus recognizes her dignity. Jesus recognizes her humanity. In Jesus, someone oppressed finds new live. In Jesus, a rejected person searches for inclusion. In Jesus, someone without a name has an identity.
And it’s the same with us. With Jesus, we have a God of new possibilities. With Jesus, we are strengthened to keep on goin’. With Jesus, there’s healing. There’s tranquility. There’s grace.
We probably aren’t always going to agree with President Obama on everything, but this week he did give us a tremendous word of grace. Even though he’s shown his power in various forms, he’s shown his love and compassion. This week he preached at the funeral for Pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston martyrs, who was also a state senator. You can see the sermon on Youtube. With compassion and mercy, the President brought comfort and consolation. I watched the video on the Internet, and I cried on hearing promises of hope. Obama said that “by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace. We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway.” )
In this, Obama is 100 percent correct. His message seems so Lutheran. It is Lutheran. God gives us grace even though we are sinners. Even though we are part of a fallen, sinful, and racist world, God forgives us. God transforms us. God give us grace.
And upon finishing his speech, or rather sermon, our Commander in Chief becomes our Cantor in Chief, leading the assembly in a hymn that crosses borders and a song that inspires with emotion and hope:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see.
And Obama continued: Clementa Pinckney found that grace…
… Cynthia Hurd found that grace…
… Susie Jackson found that grace…
… Ethel Lance found that grace…
… DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace…
… Tywanza Sanders found that grace…
… Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace…
… Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace…
.. Myra Thompson found that grace…
With the power of Jesus, with the love of God, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we find that grace. In baptismal waters, we find that grace. In bread and wine, we find that grace. In prayer and song and community, we find that grace.
With Obama, we hope. With Charleston, we hope. With Jennicet Gutiérrez, we hope. With our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we hope. With the woman touching the clothes of Jesus, we hope.
We hope for God’s grace—the grace that transforms us and the grace that rescues us. We hope for the justice of Jesus—the justice that will liberate everyone and the justice that reminds us of love. We hope for the movement of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit that is present here in this place and the Spirit that is moving in the world. We hope for grace. And let the Church say: Amen.
[Originally preached in Spanish at Iglesia Luterana San Lucas in Eagle Pass, Texas, on June 28, 2015 by Rev. Paul Bailie]
I was invited by the Eagle Pass/Maverick County LGBTQ group to give a prayer for the “Glitter Gathering,” at Plaza San Juan in downtown Eagle Pass, commemorating the historic marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court. I considered it an act of solidarity and ministry of presence to share the day with the local group. Here’s what I prayed:
We give you thanks for the blessings of this day.
You are God of justice, God of welcome, God of victory, God of reconciliation.
You are always on the side of those who are repressed, rejected and marginalized.
You have created all of your children in your image:
Of every race, of every language, of every sexual orientation, and every gender identity.
We celebrate your fabulous diversity.
We celebrate your spirit of transformation.
We celebrate with our all of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning brothers and sisters.
We pray for couples of every type, for families of every form, as they affirm their promises and recognize their love.
Pour out your grace, your faithfulness, your mercy, and your patience.
Renew our community of Eagle Pass with a spirit of friendship and human dignity, so that we may walk together in solidarity.
We lament discrimination and injustice, especially that done by the government and by the church.
We lament oppression that still continues.
We remember those who have suffered.
We ask your presence: your strength, your blessing.
Give us encouragement to continue in the struggle of freedom for all.
Give us wisdom to live with love and compassion.
And give us incredible and tremendous joy as we celebrate with fervor and hope.
All this we pray in your holy name. Amen.
Te damos gracias por las bendiciones de este día.
Tú eres Dios de justicia, Dios de bienvenida, Dios de victoria, Dios de reconciliación.
Siempre estás con los reprimidos, los rechazados, y los marginados.
Tú has creado a todos tus hijos e hijas en tu imagen:
De cada raíz, de cada idioma, de cada orientación sexual, de cada identidad de genero.
Celebramos tu diversidad fabulosa.
Celebramos tu espíritu de transformación.
Celebramos con todos nuestros hermanos e hermanas gay, lesbiana, bisexual, y transgenero.
Oramos por parejas de cada tipo, por familias de cada forma, al afirmar su compromiso, al reconocer su amor.
Derrama tu gracia, tu fidelidad, tu bondad, y tu paciencia.
Renueva a nuestra comunidad de Eagle Pass con espíritu de amistad y dignidad humana, para que podamos caminar juntos en solidaridad.
Lamentamos discriminación e injusticia, especialmente hecho por el gobierno y por las iglesias.
Lamentamos la opresión que todavía continua.
Recordamos los que han sufrido.
Pedimos tu presencia, oh Dios: tu fortaleza y tu bendición.
Danos ánimo para continuar en la lucha de libertad por todos.
Danos sabiduría para vivir con amor y compasión.
Y danos alegría increíble y gozo tremendo para celebrar con fervor y esperanza.
Oramos todo en tu santísimo nombre. Amen.