Speaking Love in a Storm of Hate
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at
the Episcopal Church in Okatie, South Carolina on June 21, 2015
Speaking Love in a Storm of Hatred
Hate requires nurturing.
Hate needs tending.
Hate must be fed.
No baby is born hating. An infant may be fussy at times, but hatred is something one learns. Hatred is taught or caught and then fed.
We bear witness this week to the damage that results when to the cost of nurturing hatred in the aftermath of a hate crime. A gunman martyred nine people at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston this week because of the color of their skin. I can not begin to fathom the hatred required to sit with a group of people for nearly an hour studying the Bible before spewing hatred and killing. Witnesses say the gunman first listened, then he began to argue, next he started ranting against black people, and finally, fatally he stood up, pulled out a gun and started shooting, reloading as many as five times. That kind of hatred must be fed.
The killer arrived late to the regular Wednesday Bible Study. The group studied Mark 4:16-20, a passage from Jesus’ Parable of the Sower who sows seed on a rocky path on thorns and on good soil. In his court appearance by video link, the gunman said that he almost didn’t go through with the shooting after sitting with the group. Rocky, thorny soil and yet the seeds of love almost broke through. Almost. But he had fed the hatred too much to let go on his plan to launch an attack that would spark a race war. The gunman wanted his hatred to spread. He failed.
When tragedy strikes, the question is often asked, “Where was God?” The question is not a new one. When her brother Lazarus died, Martha of Bethany told her friend Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Clearly, she is showing faith in Jesus the healer and yet she really wants to know why Jesus wasn’t there to prevent Lazarus’ death.
In our Gospel reading, we get another version of this question as the disciples wonder at God’s inaction in time of need, exclaiming, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The group is on the Sea of Galilee when “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Yet, Jesus who gets so little rest in the years of his ministry sleeps in the as the storm rages. The disciples wake Jesus. He rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceases. There ss a dead calm. Jesus says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” his disciples asked.
Martha of Bethany said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Where is Jesus we ask. And in every act of hate, I find the constant is with every dark cloud of evil we see a luminous silver lining of love. In the great tragedy of September 11, we saw it in the first responders who walked into the burning towers to save lives only to lose their own. At Virginia Tech, a professor stepped in front of the gunman to save his students. In an Amish schoolhouse a 13-year old girl tells the killer to kill her first, hoping to buy time for her classmates. And this past Wednesday, Tywanza Sanders died trying to protect his aunt Susie Jackson. When evil looms large, we also find love present.
Where is God when tragedy strikes? First, God is in the very heart of the tragedy, speaking peace to the storm. Jesus is present with those who die and trying to get through to those who kill. Jesus never leaves us or forsakes, and is with us in the storms of life. No, he does not break into human history with blinding light and an audible voice. Instead our loving God works in the hearts of those who will listen, giving them the strength to face the tragedy with faith rather than fear.
These would just be the empty words of a preacher, if we did not hear so frequently a different story of how ordinary people find the courage to do extraordinary things even in the swirling storm of hatred. In this year when news of racial tension has rightly incited passions we have needed our Lord who stilled the wind with a word and silenced the sea with a rebuke to speak peace into the storm swirling through our land. We sowed seeds of racial division in this country for decade after decade piling into more than two centuries of abuse and oppression. We fed and nurtured that division. And as one privileged by my own race and gender, I can ignore the problem easier than most, yet I know the roots of racial discrimination were planted in me as well. I feel those old messages rise within me from time to time, though I think I have rooted out that sin. Understand, I am not telling you about you, I am talking about me. My Dad’s people are from Edgefield, South Carolina. I started out my life in Montgomery, Alabama, and have spent most of my life in Georgia. As I become increasingly aware of its many faces, I recognize the sin of racism in more and more places. As much as I want to deny the problem, the seeds we sowed in this nation continue to bear much fruit.
And yet, this week we have heard the Word of the Lord in the midst of this storm. For in this intended act of White Supremacist terrorism, hatred did not beget hatred, but forgiveness. No sermon preached by even the greatest of preachers this week will offer a better testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ and the faith nurtured at Mother Emmanuel AME than the heart breaking words forgiveness we heard from the families of those martyred this Wednesday as they studied the Bible. The seed of the Word clearly fell on good soil.
We have seen the news and anyone can hear the raw pain in Nadine Collier’s voice as she spoke in a bond hearing the day after the attack. Nadine is the daughter of 70 year old Ethel Lance. She said, “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Tywanza Sanders’ mother, Felicia, said, “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know” and then went on to ask for God’s mercy. Yes, they called him into account. Yes, he needs to repent and seek forgiveness. Yes, he will need God’s mercy. But where the gunman spewed hatred, those most wounded by his violence, spoke love.
I don’t know about you, but I heard their words in wonder. I am humbled. Could I offer forgiveness to someone who killed my daughter? Really? Could I do so the day after the attack? I don’t know that I have it in me. And yet their words seem so very like Jesus. I don’t have to ask where Jesus is in this storm. I heard him speak through the families of the fallen.
We bear witness this week to the grace that results when love is fed as the Bible Study opened their arms to a troubled young man and so touched him in that study that in less than an hour, he had almost decided not to carry out his plan. And we saw the power of the love of God shining through the anguished words of forgiveness offered by the families of the slain. I can not begin to fathom the love of God that permits person after person to look the killer in the eye and offer forgiveness. That kind of love takes nurturing. And that is what draws me back to the altar, to hear the word of God and to receive Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. For there is a storm in the world and we must be ready to speak love to the hate. This sort of love is grace, a gift from God. And yet there is work to be done. For:
Love must be fed.
Love needs tending.
Love requires nurturing.