Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost University Lutheran Church
Luke 12:13-21, Eccl 1:2,12-14,2:18-23 Ps 49:1-12, Col 3:1-11, Jon Heiliger
Year C August 4, 2019
This has been quite the week, and that was before the tragedies of El Paso and Dayton.
Pastor Josh came in the office on Monday morning and began drinking from a fire hose. A couple years back when we were planning for the transition of Campus Pastors, Pastor Chris and I thought that a two to three month overlap might be ideal to pass along Pastor Chris’ learnings from 26 years of experience here at Clemson. Then last year as we prepared for the call process, the wisdom from the Bishop’s office based on their guidance of dozens and dozens of congregations in transition between pastors was to plan on four to six weeks overlap. And then as we actually completed the call process, the pastor the Call Committee unanimously discerned to be our next campus pastor, who the Council and then congregation unanimously voted to call as our Campus Pastor, Josh, due to the timing of his existing call allowed for three days overlap. So, instead of a 2-3 month passing of the baton, Pastor Josh had the cram course. And he did great.
Then, in what I can only call the timing of the Holy Spirit the South Carolina Synod Task Force on Campus Ministry held a two day training workshop Friday and Saturday on Board Development and Effectiveness. The Chairperson of our Lutheran Campus Ministry Directing Committee, Nick Willis, Pastor Josh, Committee Members Jim Reneke, Cindy Sanders, Patty Smith and I were all able to participate. Part of that training was outlining the respective roles of the campus pastor, Directing Committee and the student leadership team. We discussed the tremendous strengths of the ministry, the resources of enthusiastic student leaders, the financial support provided by you, the SC Synod and the ELCA, alumni and friends who have seen how this ministry has lovingly impacted and nurtured college students through the decades and how we want that to continue in the decades to come. Jim Reneke commented on how the college years are such a pivotal time in one’s life. How fragile the moments can be as most of the young adults have left their homes for the first time, they are searching for answers for many of life’s big questions (spoiler alert: most of those are never fully answered), they are developing a new identity, seeking out new friendships and trying to find places where they are loved and can belong. And when we can play a role in embracing all kinds of people into a community of faith we can play an incredibly powerful role in a young person’s life. It was a wonderful retreat and I will be unpacking its ramifications for months to come.
When we got back to the church late yesterday afternoon, I finished formatting my sermon, went home, turned on the TV and was once again faced with the horror of another mass shooting, this time in El Paso. To quote a Washington Post article from this morning, “While investigations are ongoing into a motive, the attack ‘has a nexus to a hate crime,’ El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said. Authorities think the gunman posted a manifesto online listing ‘the Hispanic invasion of Texas’ as one of several motivations for the massacre.” I heard retired FBI agent Clint Watts interviewed and he said that the massacre does have many of the markings of a white supremacist motivated hate crime. Domestic Terrorism that FBI Director Wray had spoken of to Congress recently.
The author of Colossians wrote, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
At the Campus Ministry retreat was at least one member from the ELCA church in Columbia where the killer of the Emanuel 9 in Charleston had been baptized and confirmed. Their love and support when he was a child was not enough to prevent his baptismal identity in Christ from being overcome by the hatred spewed online that neighbors who are black or brown are of less worth than neighbors who are white. The ideology of white supremacy that motivated him to gun down nine people in a Bible Study, the ideology that apparently played a role in the murder of the twenty children, women and men in the Walmart in El Paso is woven into the fabric of our nation and unless we speak that truth, and confront that truth, we who identify as white cannot repent of that truth.
If you were like me, this was not included in the history classes we were taught growing up. Whether it was blacks being defined as 3/5 ths of a person in our country’s founding documents, the genocide of Native Americans in the pursuit of Manifest Destiny – – “How the West Was Won” was how it was framed in my youth–, hundreds of years and generations of enslavement of Africans, followed by the intentional demolition of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the rise of the Klan and lynchings, including the lynching of Willie Earlie who is buried here at Abel Baptist Church in Clemson, Jim Crow laws and voter suppression, whiteness has far too often superceded a desire for Christ-likeness. That needs to change if we are to help further God’s beloved community where all are welcome: Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, black, white, brown, gay and straight. God’s love is for all, and we who seek to follow Jesus are called to extend that agape love.
About 90 years ago a teenage mom, Antonia Guzman with her oldest son Armando crossed from Juarez, Mexico into El Paso Texas. She had been raped when she was 11 years old. Later she had given birth to twins who did not survive. In El Paso Texas, Antonia Guzman married Julio Rodriguez Sr. and had two more children, one also named Julio. Later in life, Julio the younger married Dorothy and they had three children: Robin, Renee who became my wife, and Paul. Antonia, or Nana as her grandchildren called her, went on to open a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, and be recognized by the mayor for her contribution to the city with her great food and by her employing dozens and dozens of people through her thirty plus years as a small business woman. Nana loved everybody…and everybody loved Nana.
Earlier this week, our Council President Marion Fisher and I completed our training with the Clemson Area Pledge to End Racism group. We have met six times for two hour sessions to learn a fuller picture of our SC History regarding race, how we can be better equipped to listen, and to stop racism from spreading through racist comments and jokes or through unconscious bias. We got to share stories about our experiences with race and listen to our neighbors’ stories of their life experiences. That was both eye opening and heart breaking.
In those conversations I learned that one of Marion’s grandmothers had been enslaved. That was not that long ago. We also heard how many of our neighbors who are black or LatinX face discrimination and acts of humiliation on a daily basis. We, as followers of Jesus, can share God’s love by standing with our neighbors. By being kind and respectful; by loving others as we ourselves would like to be loved. We who identify as white can listen to our black and brown sisters and brothers in Christ and join with them following our common baptismal call to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
I know this has been a lot to take in. This was not the sermon I had put to bed at 5:30 PM yesterday. These are the thoughts and feelings that jolted me awake at 4 AM this morning. I give credit to the Holy Spirit for any good that may come of this sermon, and look forward to having conversations with you at your house, or in my office or out for a cup of coffee (I’ll have a diet soda) for any things I have shared that may have caused you distress. God loves you. And in the Spirit of Christ, I love you too. Amen.