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Proclaiming our Faith in Hard Times

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Jun 19

Text: Responsive Psalm 46

INTRODUCTION

Dan: In lieu of a traditional sermon for today, and given recent headlines, we’ve prepared a series of acknowledgements and affirmations that speak to what is going on in our country right now. You’ll remember that last year in June there was an extraordinary confluence of events, with a heart-wrenching shooting in a Charleston church followed just 10 days later by the historic Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.

This year as well, we find our hearts and minds full of milestones and current events. Today is Fathers Day. It’s also Juneteenth, or Emancipation day, celebrated in many parts of the country as the day when the last slave was declared free. Today is a year and two days after that Charleston shooting. It’s a week after the Orlando shooting. Meanwhile, gun violence continues its ugly scourge in the streets of Boston and around the country. And, we are living through what has to be the most excruciatingly divisive presidential election in US history as we wrestle with what are the values that define who we are as a nation.

We want to offer some space to sit with and hold these events and burdens in prayer, in silence, and in faith.

We offer this as a time for us to ‘be still and know’ that God is with us, to proclaim that ‘God is in the midst of our city’ and our country, that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’

Indeed, proclamation is one thing that people of faith do when facing hard times. We proclaim the gospel. We proclaim hope. We proclaim justice. We proclaim mercy. We proclaim God’s abiding love and we sing God’s amazing grace.

We’ve put together several such proclamations related to the events I just named, some formal and other less so. Let’s listen to them and let God’s Spirit work in and us and through as we lift our hearts and voices. First,

FOR OUR FATHERS

Kate: 106 years ago today, on June 19, 1910, a Fathers Day celebration was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington, by Sonora Smart Dodd. Ms. Dodd’s father was a civil war veteran, William Jackson Smart. He was a single parent who raised his six children in Spokane. After hearing a sermon about Mothers Day, after hearing the story of the original Mothers Day Proclamation for Peace which decried the violence of the civil war and its impact on families, Ms. Dodd told her pastor that fathers should have a holiday, too.

Today, we celebrate the strength and compassion of fathers and father figures everywhere. And, we share these timely excerpts from the Proclamation for Peace which inspired both Mothers and Fathers Day: In the word of Julia Ward Howe, written in 1870:

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

In this silence, we pray for our fathers and for fathers everywhere…

Silence (30 seconds)

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers!

FOR JUNETEENTH

Sarah: Today, we also celebrate Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, a holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South. On June 19, and while standing on a balcony in Galveston, Texas, Union General Gordon Granger proclaimed the contents of “General Order No. 3”, announcing the total emancipation of slaves:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The original Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared that…

all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that these words, along with the Declaration of Independence, were an “imperishable” contribution to civilization, that ”All tyrants, past, present and future, are powerless to bury the truths in these declarations.”

He also lamented that despite a history where the United States “proudly professed the basic principles inherent in both documents,” it “sadly practiced the antithesis of these principles.” King concluded, “There is but one way to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation. That is to make its declarations of freedom real; to reach back to the origins of our nation when our message of equality electrified an unfree world, and reaffirm democracy by deeds as bold and daring as the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

And now, O God, in silence we pray. Remind us of our origins. Let your message of equality electrify our as yet unfree world. Help us to make these declarations of freedom real.

Silence (30 seconds)

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers!

FOR CHARLESTON, FOR BOSTON, FOR CHICAGO

Jean Dany: One year ago this past Friday, on June 17, 2016, nine people were shot dead while they praying together inside of “Mother Emanuel” Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The President sang Amazing Grace at the funeral service. We recall those well-practiced, deeply faith-filled instincts to forgive, to forgive but not forget. We celebrate resilience and amazing grace in the face of unspeakable trauma.
Dan: One week ago Thursday, just after 1 pm, a 17-year-old high school student, Raekwon Brown, was shot dead outside the Jeremiah Burke School in Dorchester, with three others wounded. We celebrate the fact that the Burke High persisted in holding its graduation ceremony the very next day. The Burke, once deemed the most underperforming school in the city, proved to be Boston’s first turn-around success story. Headmaster Linda McIntyre, who opened the graduation ceremony, held a moment of silence for Brown and reminded students of their agency in the face of violence and trauma. “While we grieve the loss of our young warrior, we rise. We rise to the hope of a brighter future,” she said. “We know that tomorrow is not promised. Thus . . . we commit to defeating poverty, defeating anguish, defeating violence, defeating bigotry, and claiming equity and equality for everybody.”

This past Monday night, 29 people were shot in Chicago. This year alone in Chicago, 273 people have been shot and killed, while 1501 people have been shot and wounded, their lives, families and communities impacted forever.

Jean Dany: On Wednesday, despite the almost assured intractability of Congress, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut staged an almost 15 hour Senate Filibuster calling for increased gun control. He proclaimed:

"I can't tell you how hard it is to look into the eyes of the families of those little boys and girls who were killed in Sandy Hook and tell them that almost four years later, we have done nothing — nothing at all — to reduce the likelihood that that will happen again to another family … This isn't new to me, but I am at my wit's end. I have had enough. I have had enough of the ongoing slaughter of innocents, and I have had enough of inaction in this body."

In silence, we pray for a disruption of the “unholy trinity of fear, greed and profit” that has created our gun violence epidemic. O God, we pray for peace in our streets, and in our sanctuaries be they schools, gay bars, mosques or churches. We pray, O God, restore our nation to sanity and disarm us of our fears and our guns!

Silence (30 seconds)

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers!

FOR ORLANDO

Kate: One week ago today, 50 people were shot dead at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, the largest mass shooting in American History. There is the shock, anger and grief we carry. There are the cares for loved ones and ourselves who may now be all the more afraid of what can happen to them for being who they and we are. This national event has been enormously complicated, an almost surreal confluence of the realities of gun violence, terrorism, homophobia, Islamophobia, immigration.

In an article entitled Our Own Private Orlando, Michael Andor Brodeur speaks about the ways that so many of us aren’t necessarily “scared” so much as he and we are all “sick with fear.” He repeats the line often. “I am sick with fear.” “He was sick with fear.” “We are sick with fear.” Hear an excerpt from his proclamation:

The first day after the shooting, my friends cried at their desks. In bathroom stalls. At gay bars. They cried to fill the silence offered by friends and family and co-workers. Maybe friends and family and co-workers didn’t know what to say. Maybe they knew how they felt but wouldn’t say it. Maybe they weren’t sure why 102 LGBT people and their friends being shot in a gay bar was suddenly “a gay thing.’’ Maybe some of them wanted to say “maybe they had it coming’’ but couldn’t. Maybe they’re planning to say it with a vote instead of a voice. Maybe they were scared to speak. Or too scared to stand up. Maybe they are homophobic, which doesn’t mean they are scared of gay people. It means they are sick with fear.

After referencing a Frank O’Hara poem, he ends with this:

“It’s my high, wispy voice. It’s your deep, dark voice. We don’t know each other’s names. We must ask before our time is up. We are restless, so restless, but we are not scared. We are sick of fear.”

Today, and last week and throughout this month, we celebrate pride! And we celebrate the strength and resilience and amazing grace in the face of unspeakable trauma, God. In this silence, God, by your grace, relieve our fears….all of them. Help us to be still and know that you are God!

FOR OUR COUNTRY

Dan: There is one more segment, and though it comes at the end, I hope it serves as an introduction. I’ve been meeting for some time with a group of 12 interfaith leaders from across Boston—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, Black, Brown and White. We are clergy from Bethel AME Church, Old South Church, Temple Israel, Roxbury Presbyterian, the Islamic Center of Boston, First Church. Together we have been pondering what can be our shared witness, what can be our proclamation, and what can be our pledge to one another in these deeply divisive and violent times. In the coming weeks, over social media especially and leading up to July 4 and the conventions, we will be tweeting, posting, and sending and speaking out the following brief statements. Especially as we approach July 4, we hope they will give us each Declarations of our Interdependence. They will be made available to each of you soon and we hope you will join us in spreading these words.

Dan: In a time of sorrow & contentious public speech, we are saying:

Sarah: Fear is cunning—pitting us against each other (Left v Right, immigrant v citizen, Jew v Muslim, Black v White, Christian v Atheist, Gay v Straight). Let’s transform our fear: pledge allegiance to the common good; respect the other; stop the hate; love more. This is the way forward. We are in this together.

Dan: As communities of faith, together we are asking for tolerance….

Jean Dany: The coarseness of this election season is deeply troubling. Our nation’s very soul is in peril. Let’s pledge allegiance: to civility in public discourse; constructive debate on matters of grave consequence; fidelity to the common good over party loyalty. This is the way forward. We are in this together.

Dan: Together, we are acknowledging fear and saying no to its hostile rhetoric.

Kate: We get it. There is a lot of fear out there and the temptation to disparage each other is great. Civility is greater. Let’s pledge allegiance: to constructive discourse; genuine embrace of pluralism; respect for the other, including those across the aisle. This is the way forward. We are in this together.

Dan: Together, we can restore our civic life and duty. We declare our interdependence!

Sarah: The election season is disheartening and embarrassing. How did the aisle become so wide that no one crosses it anymore? Cross the damn aisle! We pledge allegiance: to civil public discourse; genuine embrace of pluralism; respect for the other; the common good over party loyalty. This is the way forward. We are in this together.

Dan: Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Kate: And now we close with this resounding proclamation of our faith from our sacred scripture. From Paul’s letter to the Romans, the eighth chapter.

“As for me, I consider the sufferings of the present time hardly worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…
Meanwhile, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know the right way to pray, but that same Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what the Spirit knows; for the Spirit intercedes with God’s own in obedience to God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who were created, called, forgiven, and formed in the likeness of Jesus, the firstborn Son, and adopted into God’s family, to share in God’s glory. So then what should we say about our present suffering? If God is for us, who can be against us? God, who did not withhold the only beloved Son, but gave him up for us all—won’t God give us everything else as well? …
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ..
No, I tell you. In all these things we are more than conquerors, through Christ who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Dan: Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers

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