(THERE MAY YET BE HOPE) A REFLECTION ON THE CHARLESTON MASSACRE

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Nate Hosler

[Read 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27]

There are different ways of learning to do a new task and similarly there are different ways of learning from the Bible. Think of learning to hammer a nail. Would you read a book? Study a history of the design of hammers? While there were many nails hammered at my home one experience is well embedded in my memory. It was of building a tree fort and trying to hammer a thin finish nail through well dried oak plank. (Oak is a very hard). I remember clearly the nail going part way and then stopping and then bending in an almost perfect circle on the surface on the board. I didn’t really need more fact based knowledge…other than perhaps that wasn’t the right kind of nail but I needed to spend time—often frustrating time trying to figure out how to complete the project.

This passage in 2 Samuel was a lament—a poetic crying out in grief. I will also read another similar passage in a few minutes. This is also a lament. These laments take time for grief. They teach us, by demonstration, about grief. Poetry is a funny thing. I think it is one of the genres of literature that I probably spend the least amount of time with. In a time which we think ourselves busy and scurry this way and that way trying to be ever more efficient, poetry may feel like a luxury we can’t afford. It simultaneously uses few words to say something that would take twice as many “regular” words and uses multitudes of words to describe beyond what seems necessary. In our case, these two passages are poetic crying out in grief. They teach us to grieve.

In the face of tragedy we often do one of two things. First, we may seek to manage the grief. Make it go away or do something in an effort to get us through it to the other side as quickly as possible. Or secondly we simply try to forget about it. The media moves on and our attention drifts elsewhere—to another tragedy; perhaps to inane debate or celebrity spectacle.

Over the past few weeks we have been in various stages of a visioning process here at Washington City. Seeking to follow the Spirit and discern who we are as community and what God is calling us to. There were several weeks of discussions and now we have picked up several main themes and are engaging them in sermons. Jeff on the environment. Jenn on love.

But then there was a disruption. A few days before last week’s sermon by Jeff the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME church happened—and Jeff’s plans were rightly interrupted.

In the face of such events many often rush to activism, or to explain and analyze what happened, or even cynicism. Thinking “this is just what happens when racists have guns,” or assuming that if we get the confederate flag taken down we have done all that what we need to do (this is of course an important act), or analyzing the shooter’s past saying “if only we had….”

Action is critical—racism is woven through the system and will not be undone by waiting but there is also deeper soul-work to do. This is where we will start this morning. Of course none of these can really be separate. Grief and mourning must lead to action and action can be a form of mourning.

The poetry of lament found in 2 Samuel is such a space. This and a passage from Lamentations were two of the lectionary texts this week—which means that many congregations will be reading these as they continue with their own laments. These are the texts that Ebenezer United Methodist Church down the block will be using and likely what Mother Emmanuel would have been or is using.

It seems apt that when some of our attention may be drifting to another tragedy or simply the busyness of life we now have a lament two Sundays after the shooting in Charleston. While some of us begin to “get on with” life we are brought back and forced to linger in the grief. Poetry of lament creates a space and facilitates a process for living with grief. The author could have described how sad David was with the death of Saul and Jonathan but instead we see this grief on rich display in the words of David. Walter Breuggemann in a commentary on this passage writes, “When there are no longer real words, but only clichés and slogans, life is much more diminished” (Breuggemann, 217). Both a literal description of David’s sorrow or a cliché don’t take us the same place this poetry does.

Breuggemann also notes that, “It is striking the dead ones are named so often. The naming is itself an act if grief and resolution” (Breuggemann, 216).

In intentional participation in lament I am going to read the names of those killed one by one with a brief silence in between. We do this to remember these particular victims but also for the many others who have suffered in ongoing patterns and systems of racism, exploitation, and oppression. I will then read from the book of Lamentations as a continued participation in mourning. The passage is written in first person. As we read it let us hear it as the prayer of those who suffer. While too much commentary may dull the words I feel it important to make two notations before reading. We will read this as a form of mourning and lament. The writer is crying out in sorrow and we join in. There are a number of challenging points of theology embedded in this text which relate to both historical context and theology at that moment. Additionally, later in the passage the writer qualifies what is stated. In reading this we join in grieving but in no way, as the writer of Lamenation sometimes suggests, imply that this violence is God’s punishment. Secondly, the title of the sermon is from the latter half of this text and the parenthesis around it are found there as well (at least in the NRSV translation). I take this to be hopeful but tentatively so.

The naming of those killed:

Tywanza Sanders

[silence]

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

[silence]

Sen. Clementa Pinckney

[silence]

Cynthia Hurd

[silence]

Myra Thompson

[silence]

Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor

[silence]

Susie Jackson

[silence]

Ethel Lance

[silence]

Rev. Daniel Simmon Sr.

[silence]

From the book of Lamentations:

3 I am one who has seen affliction
under the rod of God’s[a] wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
again and again, all day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has put heavy chains on me;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he led me off my way and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a mark for his arrow.

13 He shot into my vitals
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all my people,
the object of their taunt-songs all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

[silence]

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,[b]
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for one to bear
the yoke in youth,
28 to sit alone in silence
when the Lord has imposed it,
29 to put one’s mouth to the dust
(there may yet be hope),
30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
reject forever.
32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.

[silence]

How much should lament, in general, and relating to Charleston, be discussed? Describing or analyzing such an activity seems to in some way undercut such lament. So, though it difficult I am going no further in description or in such analysis.

Lament is critical. We don’t, however, want to stay in what could easily be our own consolation but instead begin to think towards how we minister to our community. Having received how do we give? How do we embody love and challenge injustice?

In particular I would like to tie this into the visioning process of this congregation. As we met as a group how did we observe the Spirit moving in our past and guiding us into the future?

One such theme was relationships.

Last week after our service here Jenn and I along with Micah and Faith went to be with Ebenezer United Methodist Church just down 4th street. Ebenezer is an historic African-American congregation on Capitol Hill.

This was not a particularly notable or creative action. We didn’t break systems of racism or anything like that. We didn’t really do much while there other than worship with and bring an expression of love and solidarity. Additionally, there were no action plans or partnerships voted on. There was no Memorandum of Understanding signed between their pastoral staff and ours. It was, however, and important step. I had met with their pastor earlier this year and we had hoped to reconnect to think about ministry together. While meeting we had walked around our respective buildings discussing both our dreams for the congregations and the challenges of old buildings. We talked of potential collaboration but until this point no action had been taken. But on Thursday, the day after the shooting, as I thought about what had happened—I thought—we should go worship with Ebenezer.

I don’t tell this because I think it particularly impressive but because it was not—but was none-the-less what we needed to do. There are certainly times when we need big strategic plans and budgets and decisions on programs but in this case we needed a simple act of following the Spirit. When we think about ministry and the future of the church we, at times, over complicate it. Perhaps most of the time simple acts of love done while following the Spirit are all we need. How else will we be a community where the presence of God is experienced?

Amen.

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