Friday, March 25, 2016

The Evil of Good Friday

Holy God, we call this day Good, but there is not much good about it.  On this day we remember how Jesus was tried and convicted by the sham courts of priests and then Romans.  We remember how he was beaten and whipped and mocked and spit upon.  We remember how he was forced to carry his own cross up Golgotha where he was crucified.  We remember that his crucifixion was gruesome and grim.  We remember it all.  So there is not much good to remember on this Good Friday because of the evil that was done.

You call us to look upon this evil, and to look upon the evil in our communities and in the world.   Every day we are faced with bad news – the evil of the slave trade around the world; the bombings not just in Brussels, but across the Asian and African continents; the ugliness of our current political race; the racism that is still present in our own country and around the world; the violence that is all over the news.

The list goes on and on, seemingly without end.  We confess, O God, that sometimes we feel the pain of the evil in your world, but that at other times, we put on our blinders and board up our hearts because it is just too much.

Yet you, O God, are always present, even in the face of evil.  You look upon it, and experience pain.  You know our pain when we are confronted with it.  You stand with us in the midst of all that is evil and terrifying and dismal.  You dare evil to try and overcome good.  You stare it in the face, knowing that your power is greater than the greatest evil in the creation.  

Help us, O God, to confront the evil we experience and see.  Help us to not be afraid, but to know our own strength through the power of your Spirit; strength to not look away and ignore that which threatens to overwhelm us.  Help us to live lives filled with power and grace, lives in which evil holds no power over us.  And help us to confront the evil of the world, whenever and however we can, in your name.

Because evil does not have the last word.  Tony Campolo says  “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”    On Friday, Jesus made a spectacle of evil; he showed the hatred we are capable of.  But he triumphed over that evil with love.   Your love, which is greater than anything else, triumphs over evil in all its forms. Your love tramples hatred until it is subdued.  Your love and grace will have the last word.  

We trust in your love, O God, even as we sit in the darkness of Good Friday.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Not Far from the Kingdom of God

A sermon preached at Andrews Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 6, 2016

Love God and love your neighbor.  It sounds easy, doesn’t it, but we all know it’s not. 
Nora Gallagher, an Episcopal layperson and writer, tells a story about her experience in a soup kitchen her church ran.  (“Our Vulnerability, Born in a Manger,”  Initially, the church handed out the soup through a little window in the church kitchen.  But soon the summer turned to fall and the rainy season, and volunteers began asking why the homeless couldn’t come in.  There weren’t really any good reasons not to invite them in, so they did.  The men were quiet and orderly, eating and thanking the volunteers before they left.
She continued her work there, making and distributing soup, eating with the other volunteers before they opened.  Then one day, she looked up and saw a table with four homeless men, and a volunteer, who was eating with the men.  The next week, she decided with fear and trembling to do the same.  She awkwardly approached a table and sat down, and began an awkward conversation with the men sitting there. 
She was happy to have a conversation starter, and confidently asked these homeless men if that had seen the game the night before.  There was a long silence, and then someone asked what game she was talking about.  The world series game she replied, less confidently. 
Again there was a long silence, and one of them said, “I don’t really watch tv.  I prefer reading.”
“Or I watch PBS,” another said.  “There’s a great series on German Expressionism on right now.”
Over the days and weeks, Nora continued to sit with these men, getting to know them.  Alan was a Vietnam vet, and swept the floors every day after the meal was finished.  Greg had mental illness, and helped wash dishes each day.
One day, she arrived dirty after working at home, disheveled and in sweats, and without checking in, got in line with the others.  When she got her soup, the woman serving her looked at her with pity in her eyes.  She started to explain, then changed her mind, and sat down with her friends.
The boundaries has ceased to matter for Nora Gallagher.
When the scribe asked Jesus about the commandments, he wasn’t trying to trip Jesus up; he was genuinely curious.  When Jesus answers, he responds in a curious way: by commending Jesus and reciting Torah and Midrash that support what Jesus says. 
He recognizes that laws and ritual and purity and prejudices and class and ability do not come before the actual person.  This was unusual because the scribes had, in that day, lapsed into legalism – putting laws before people.  But this scribe, he knew the difference between legalism and love.
This is significant when Jesus observes the widow as she comes to the temple to make her offering.  Notice that Jesus does not commend her; he just observes her and remarks on what she’s doing.  In the eyes of the scribes, her act of giving all she has is laudable because she is keeping the law.  But Jesus observes that she has not only given all she has, but all she has to live on.  She now has no means for survival.
For Jesus, this is a tragedy.  She is not an example of what we should emulate.  Rather, she is a case where meeting the letter of the law has taken precedence over the needs of and care for the widow.  This is not in keeping with what the commandments say, for the scribes and treasurer have required death instead of mercy.
In his conversation with the scribe Jesus commends him by saying, “Truly you are not far from the Kingdom of God.”  But the other scribes he condemns. 
38…Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

When we sit down at the table with the those who have different views and befriend them and eat with them, when we welcome a stranger into our midst, particularly one who is different, we are not far from the Kingdom of God.  When love rules instead of law, when we speak against hate speech masquerading as politics, we are not far from the kingdom of God.  When traditions – “we’ve always” or “we’ve never” - take a back seat to caring for another, we are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Andy Stanley tells a story about his small (150-200 people!) church that is beautiful.  (
There was a five-month old baby in the church who was sick, who because he was on iv antibiotics, couldn’t leave the hospital.  He was going to have heart surgery, and his parents wanted to baptize him beforehand.  But he couldn’t leave the hospital.
Now that church, like here, has the congregation make promises to the family and the child during the baptismal liturgy, but the congregation obviously couldn’t all gather in the hospital room, and most wanted to be there.  So the pastor thought outside the box in the name of love.
Andy writes:
During worship this particular Sunday morning, the day before the planned heart surgery, our pastor put a picture of the baby up on the screen in front of the church. He asked everyone who could to take a picture of the picture with their cell phones.
After the picture was taken, our pastor read the traditional baptismal liturgy just as he would if the family and their child had been there in person.
When it came time for the congregation to respond we responded with our phones, texting the picture we had just taken to the child’s parents with 2 simple words attached.
“We promise.”
It was an incredibly holy moment where two worlds collided, the old and the new, to extend the hand of God to a family who needed His loving touch the most.
Truly, they were not far from the Kingdom of God in that moment.

When we come to this table, we come as Nora Gallagher learned to, to eat with those we might not have chosen to before.  We acknowledge that being part of the body of Christ means forgetting the boundaries that divide.
When we come to this font, we demonstrate, as Andy Stanley’s church did that love takes precedence over law, that our life together is shaped by love.
We when partake in the sacraments, we are recall that, in love, God has gifted us with ways to know him and to love him, both in liturgy and in life.
May we, in our, journey of faith learn to break down the walls that divide us one from another.
May we, as we practice our faith, learn to value justice over law.
May we, as we try to the best of our ability to keep the commandments, discover that we cannot do one without the other; that in loving God we cannot help but serve one another, and that in serving our neighbors, we cannot help but draw closer to God.
For then, truly, WE will not be far from the Kingdom of God, either.
May it be so.  Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A sermon preached at Andrews Presbyterian Church on Sunday, February 28, 2016.

Mark 12:13-17

I bet you think this sermon is going to be about money!  After all, this this text is often one used when preaching about giving, or stewardship.  And sermons about money are uncomfortable at best. 

Jerry Falwell (google images)
When I was in college at Tech, for a while I attended University Baptist Church.  They had a worship specifically for students, which I had never experienced before.  I really enjoyed it, though there were some things that made me uncomfortable.  My parents came for Parent’s Weekend, late in the fall, and went to church with me on Sunday morning.  Although I didn’t know it ahead of time, it happened to be stewardship Sunday, and the preacher preached a hellfire and brimstone sermon about how we should give to the church and therefore, to God.

Later that day, my mom remarked that I was lucky that my dad hadn’t gotten up and walked out.  Apparently, he’s not real fond of that kind of teaching.  We’ve never discussed it, but that made an impression on me, even at that young age.

Money is hard to talk about in church; in fact, it’s one of just a few subjects that we’re not supposed to talk about in church – money, sex, politics, and ????  Why are they so hard to talk about?  They’re very personal, we say.  The thing is, these things are really part of our everyday life, and therefore should be talked about.  Jesus didn’t shy away from talking about these subjects.  We’re just uncomfortable hearing what he has to say.

This sermon is about money, but only in the broadest sense.  It begins with the Pharisees and Herodians try to trip him up.  The Pharisees were religious leaders who were resentful of the Romans, and King Herod, though the didn’t actively opposed Herod.  The Herodians were those Jews who supported King Herod.  They were strange bedfellows, but they conspired to put Jesus in a bind.

They ask him whether they should pay the imperial tax to Caesar.  The imperial tax was one of many taxes.  However, it was a bit different in that it was a tax on those who were subject to Rome – those who were oppressed by the Romans!  The tax was supposed to be used for the upkeep and rebuilding of the Temple which had been destroyed, but instead was used for the upkeep of the pagan temple.  It was an affront to Jews.  Only those who had renounced Judaism could collect the tax for the Romans.  Now you understand why tax collectors were so despised.  In addition, the coin of the realm had the image of Caesar on it, the image of the god Caesar, which was considered idolatry. 

 They butter up Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”  They’re really asking who it is that ultimately receives Jesus’ loyalty – Caesar or God.

They think they’ve caught Jesus in a double bind.  There is no way satisfactory way to answer the question as they’ve asked it.  If Jesus says yes, he is consenting to the use of a coin bearing the image of an idol, and declaring his loyalty to Caesar.  If he says no, he is committing sedition – and the Roman authorities could arrest him for rejecting Roman authority even as he claims God.  What will Jesus do?

Jesus knows what they are up to, and beats them at their own game.  Rather than answer directly, he asks for a coin.  You know that he asks whose image is on it, and when they reply “Caesar’s,” he tells them to give Caesar what is his.  That coin which bears Caesar’s image, give it back to him.  He wants it, he can have it. 

BUT he says, give God what is God’s, as well.

Give Caesar that which is made in his image, and give God what is made in his image – yourself.  In the first chapter of Genesis it says,
“So God created humankind in his image, in theimage of God he created 
them; male and female he created them.
We are created in the image of God; therefore, we must give to God our very selves.

So while this isn’t a sermon about money, it is a sermon about stewardship.  Are you confused?  Many of us think of money when we hear the word stewardship.  But listen to what it means to be a steward.  A steward is:
a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.  (
A steward is a servant in the household of the the owner.

We talk about stewardship in the church.  We are God’s stewards.  We have been put in charge of God’s creation, all of it, money and creation and everything else.  We have become servants of God, with a special responsibility. 

It puts a whole different spin on things, doesn’t it?  Let’s not talk about money (we’d rather not, anyway).  Let’s talk about giving ourselves and that which we have back to God. Let’s talk about taking care of the things that have been put in our charge – our wealth, but also our hearts, our souls, our minds, our strength – that’s so much bigger than just giving money back to God.  If we are God’s stewards, we have a job to do and a responsibility to God to do it wholeheartedly. 

In the mid-90s, a woman named Ruth Coker Burks found herself doing something she could have never imagined.  In 1984, she found herself in a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She was visiting a friend who was ill, and as she visited, she noticed a door covered with a big red bag.  She watched the nurses draw lots to see who had to go in and check on the patient.  She knew what was going on; she had a cousin that was gay. 

The young man in the room suffered from what became known as AIDS.  One day she ignored all the warnings on the door, following what she calls “some higher power moving her,” and went into the room.  In the room she found a man who weighed less than 100 pounds.  He wanted to see his mother.  When she went to ask the nurses about calling, they laughed at her.  Nobody was coming, they said. 

When she finally wrangled a phone number from the nurses, the woman hung up the first time she called.  When Ruth Coker Burks called back, she told the woman that if she hung up, there would be an obituary for her son put in her local paper, and his cause of death would be listed.  The woman talked to her, and told Ruth her son was a sinner, and that he wasn’t their son anymore, and that they wouldn’t claim his body when he died.

Ruth went back into the young man’s room as she tried to figure out what to tell him.  She ended up sitting with him, holding his hand, putting damp washcloths on his face until he died 13 hours later. 

Glenwood Live Oaks (Google images)
Ruth’s mother had, years ago, given her a family cemetery that had 262 plots in it; the cemetery was acquired when her mother bought up every plot during a family feud.  Ruth says she always wondered what she would do with that cemetery.   Soon she knew.

Over the next years, rural hospitals started referring young men with AIDs to her.  She became a one woman AIDs ministry and hospice care.  She would do whatever she could – take them to appointments, pick up prescriptions, help them fill out paperwork, write wills.  As word spread, her work was paid for through donations, and young men in the gay community helped out.  Thousands came to her for help.  Forty-three of them are buried in the family cemetery.

As I hear stories like this, I am humbled.  So many do so much.  Some give all they have.  I feel so silly worrying about how much money I am to give to the government or God.  God wants so much more.  God wants the first to become last, and the last become first, to become servants of all.  “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”  (Mark 11:45)
Jesus seems not to be worried about what we give to Caesar, But he tells us that God wants something of great value from us – our very lives.
May we have the courage to make it so.  Amen.

Story about Ruth Coker Burks;

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When we are young, we are often asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  As a child or adolescent, we may have big dreams.  When I was young, one of my favorite book series was Cherry Ames: Student Nurse. I imagined being a nurse, and then as I grew older, a doctor.  By the time I graduated from high school, I had decided that I would purse a career in physical therapy or occupational therapy.  Somehow, nearly thirty-years later, I am ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

There's a story to be told about how I got there.

My parents are well educated.  Both were the first to go to college in their families.  My father pursued an engineering degree, ultimately receiving his PhD in Industrial Engineering.  My mom's original degree was in Home Economics, but she later got teacher certification in food services, and then a Master's degree in marketing education. She often teased my dad that she had accrued more credit hours than my dad earned with his PhD!  Not only are my parents well educated, they were also professional educators, my mother in secondary education, and my father at the university level.

I grew up knowing I would go to college. In fact, I would say I was groomed for it.
So when I was in 8th grade and, my church gave me the opportunity to go to a career counseling center, my parents were all for it.  A group of 8th graders went to the campus of Austin College, where we completed a seemingly endless array of personality, aptitude, and cognitive tests, all given with the purpose of helping us think about a career path.  I don't remember much about it except that I REALLY liked the campus of Austin College.  It was the first time I'd been on a college campus for a visit without a parent along - testing the waters, so to speak.

I was a good student.  I excelled in math and science, and loved English and history.  If I were a student today, I probably would be channeled into a STEM program.  I was headed in one direction, and one direction only - a career in medicine.  I never wanted to teach; it never even entered my mind.  I was going to be a nurse.......or a doctor.......or a physical therapist.........or an occupational therapist.....

Imagine my surprise when I received the results of the testing to discover that the two careers most fit my aptitudes and interests were  TEACHER and MINISTER.   I was dumbfounded. No way, I thought.  I absolutely was not going to be a teacher, and in the mid-1970s, I didn't even know women could be pastors.  I laughed it off, thinking the results were way off base.

Fast forward a few years.  I started college as an engineering major (not at Austin College, much to my dismay).  After a couple of bad semesters <ahem>, I changed my major to secondary education with teaching fields of Biology and English.  After all, I needed a degree that would get me a job, or so the parents said.  I graduated, intending to still pursue a career in occupational therapy after a few years of teaching.  I taught junior high life science for three years, and I really enjoyed it, but after three years, I was ready for graduate school.  I was accepted into a Masters' Degree program for Occupational Therapy.  As I was working my way through the coursework that year, I experienced a call to ministry.  Once again, I changed directions.

As the years have passed, I have had time to think about my journey.  The road had lots of twists and turns.  Ironically, it led me directly to the two career paths I rejected in adolescence.  What is it they say?  "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaBloPoMo - Huh?

NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month.  It's a month to encourage bloggers to post something every day.  If you count yourself among the readers of this blog (all twelve of you!), you'll know that I don't even post every week, or even every month, so writing a post for each day might be a stretch.

I love Anne Lamott's writing.  She makes me think.  She makes me see the beauty not just in the images described, but in the words themselves.  She teaching writing, and has written a book about writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  She give instruction and encouragement for writing on her Facebook page.  Her suggested method?  Just do it.  Put your fanny in a chair and put some words on a page.  You won't like, but you'll feel like you've accomplished something.  Do it every day.

Sounds a bit like practice, doesn't it?  We all know that practice is the only way to become proficient at something.  You have to do it over and over again.  Not only does practice improve your skills, it also develops a habit of practicing.  That's why I decided to participate in NaBloPoMo this year.  I need the practice.  I have always loved words and writing.  It's not a daily practice, but I would like it to be.  I'd like to loosen up some rusty writing muscles, and polish my skills. 

Those that know that I am a pastor may be wondering why I want to do this.  I write sermons every week, don't I?  Well, yes, sort of.  I mostly preach without a manuscript these days, which has advantages and disadvantages.  One of the disadvantages is that I seldom write in complete sentences in preparing for a sermon; I write notes.  And sermon writing is a different kind of writing than other writing.  So I want to practice writing, and I'd like to make my blog a "real" blog by posting more frequently.

Hence, the writing of a post each day (I hope...) during this month of NaBloPoMo.  The posts may not be particularly erudite.  They may be pretty boring.  There will be days that I use the suggested prompts because I just don't have anything myself, so things may get a little random.  But I'm going to try to write each day, and I hope you'll try to read each day.  Leave some gentle critiques, but don't be too tough.  You don't want me to quit, do you?!! <grin>

Sunday, June 21, 2015

With A Heavy Heart

Psalm 130
Psalm 40

This week I got the bulletin done early, and was well on my way to having a sermon completed early. Then on Wednesday night, it happened. The news of 9 people murdered and one left to tell and child who played dead, at a church, by one who had been welcomed in, hit the news.

And I wrestled. And I prayed. And I read. And I listened, and I prayed. And I worried that I will sound like a broken record and that you might be angry if I dare preach what I was afraid I was called to preach. And I prayed some more.

As I debated what to do – do I go with what I have, or do I start from scratch – I remembered something. We’re taught that preaching is contextual. After all, it was one of the consummate Reformed theologians, Karl Barth, who said one should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Our experience is to be interpreted in light of our faith. Our faith is to be interpreted in light of life. There are inexorable connections between life as we know it and the words of scripture. We cannot deny them. We cannot ignore them. We cannot claim those connections on the one hand, and dismiss them with the other. The Bible speaks to us in ways that comfort and in ways that discomfit. And so this week, with the news of people murdered in church in the name of evil, I changed direction.

We have been working through the psalms for a few weeks, a very brief visit to the psalms, but representative of the style and content of different psalms. Psalms speak directly to the circumstances of life. Sometimes it seems as if the psalmist took the words right out of our mouths. They contain all the emotions a person of faith, things that WE might and do experience as we seek meaning for the things that happen to us and in the world. There are psalms that praise exuberantly. There are psalms that are reflective and prayerful. There are psalms that acknowledge the reality of sin, our own and that of others. There are psalms of lament, and psalms of thanksgiving, psalms that quietly proclaim thanksgiving that God has heard our prayers.

This week, I have found myself thoroughly back in the throes of despair and lament. I feel I am crying from the depths, wanting God to hear, desperately hoping that God will hear my voice, OUR voices, our cries of pain. Voices that are tired of violence and hatred. Voices that cry at the reality and injustice of racism. Voices that are afraid to admit that we do indeed have a problem. Voices that wish things were different, that we could just see some sign of change, of progress.

Because the truth is, no matter how difficult it is to hear or how uncomfortable it is to admit it to ourselves, there is something wrong. There is an epidemic of hatred and shrill voices and racism and denial of racism that is flooding through our country. This sin is not only personal, but also corporate, systemic and REAL. And as people of faith, we must face the ugly truth. We have sinned. We have, consciously or unconsciously, contributed to the ways things are and have been.

The psalmist calls us to the same honesty that we see in the psalms. The same exuberant expressions of praise, and the heartfelt lament we feel and a deep acknowledgement of our sin.

“Let your ears be attentive to my cries for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?”

We call out to God not just about the evil and wrongs done TO us, but also those done BY us. Because psalms are all about honest communication with God. Psalms are all about laying our souls bare – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And so today, as people of faith, let’s do that. Let’s cry out about the evil done in Charleston this week and the lives lost and the shock and grief that overwhelm. Let’s cry out in weariness that we are again faced with violence, and the reality of racism. Let’s confess to our own denial, and ignorance, and reluctance to act. Let’s cry out about our unease and our discomfort. Let’s even cry out that we’re not sure we believe that racism and violence are endemic or that we are part of the problem.

Honesty is demanded. But lament isn’t just a benign acknowledgement of reality. It isn’t a “poor me” kind of prayer. A lament demands action from God – “out of the depths I cry to you.” A lament contains an expectation that God will act – “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits……I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning….” And when we demand action, and when we expect God to act, we have to KNOW that God calls us to be part of that action. We will be called to self examination. We will be called to confession. We expect that God will change us, and that God will change the world. It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. But it never is when God is making all things new.

I grew up here in Texas, in the heart of the south. We just celebrated Juneteenth on Friday. I always thought that Juneteenth was a celebration begun in the African American communities celebrating emancipation, two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and two months after the surrender at Appomattox, because they had not received word of it. But that’s not exactly what happened. It turns out that slave owners in Texas didn’t want to give up their slaves. June 19 is when the US Army took possession of Galveston Island, and began the months long battle, literally, to force slave owners to free their slaves. This battle took hundreds more lives, predominately those of black freedmen.

I remember a conversation I had when I lived in Kansas with two other pastors from Texas, one of whom might described as conservative and one a bit more moderate, who are about a generation older than I. We were talking about growing up in Texas and both of them talked about how racist Texas is. I was dumbfounded. At that time, in my early thirties, I didn’t believe that I had grown up in a racist place, at least not a racist as those other racist states. My parents never used racial epithets, and I don’t remember my grandparents doing it either. My great-aunt and uncle had a close relationship with the black community in east Texas, but one of those close relationships was with the woman who cleaned their homes and received food grown in the garden and hand-me-down clothes from them. I went to school with black kids. I had black friends. But schools in Bryan, where I grew up weren’t desegregated until shortly before we moved there as I began middle school.

I have in my house a wash stand that was my grandmother’s.   As we were packing up and clearing out her house after she died, her oldest friend came by. We had been wondering where the wash stand had come from.
We were told that it came from the slave quarters on the farm where she grew up. She didn’t live with slaves, but it is likely her parents and grandparents did. I have wondered why she kept it; it’s not really anything special – very rustic and obviously made with whatever materials could be gathered. Perhaps that stand not only reminded her of her family and heritage, but also of the people who made it, those who were slaves.

There are colloquialisms –“nigger rigged”, and subtle ways of thinking that are ingrained into me that have taken years to see and and to face and to change. Racism is woven like threads into the tapestry my life, in the state and nation I grew up in. It is woven through all of my experiences so well that I can only just now begin to separate those threads from the others.

It has become perfectly clear to me, as I have raised my children, both of whom are biracial, that racism is alive and well, even here in Andrews. The racism we have encountered here and in Roswell is overt sometimes – kids can be meant to one another – and sometimes more subtle – in the ways adults treat and respond to our children. I am ashamed and appalled when I witness these events. I am enraged that it happens to my children. I don’t understand what it feels like completely as I have never personally experienced it, but I see what it does to my children and my friends and my colleagues who are people of color.

It would be easy to be stuck in lament that is just a cry for help. It would be easy to give in to the apathy that says nothing is really ever going to change. But that’s not who God is. And if we are going to lament, and we do, then we must be ready for God to do something in us and among us. We need to be ready to listen to people of color and to hear their experience and pain. We must be ready to speak out against acts and words of racism we see. We must not ignore that it exists, or our part in it.
It may take a loooonnggg time.

                       The psalmist says “I waited and waited and waited for the Lord,                                                                       finally, he heard my cry and turned to me.”

It will require new understanding and change.
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have opened,
 burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 
 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. 
 I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

The good news is that our God is steadfast. Our God never leaves us – any of us. God has been present throughout the ages -when the Israelites were enslaved and when they were also the oppressors; as people have been enslaved throughout history; were in our own nation; as they continue to be through human trafficking and other means. God has not given up on us. God has not given up on providing justice for those who suffered and continue to suffer the ravages of racism. God leads us forward, God challenges us, God forces us to face our sin and shortcomings, but God never leaves us. God has not given up on us.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Blessed i
s the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
but my ears you have opened—
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
 I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”

 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, Lord,
as you know.
 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly.

The good news is that even as we lament, we are able to look to the future because we know the God who created all of us in his image. We know his steadfast love. We know just how much he loved us when we remember Jesus Christ and his love even for the least of these.

Paul writes in the 8th chapter of Romans:

 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the assurance we have – that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. That gives us courage and strength to live into our calling. May it be so. Amen.