Sermon for June 28, 2020

Rev. Deborah Dawson
Pentecost 4A


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and redeemer.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

 

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6: 23)

 

There are times in US history that become pivotal moments in which change is marked with cultural, social and even legislative change that serves to improve the quality of life for our fellow neighbors. 2020 is one of those years when we are examining the long-term effects of systemic racism and the variety of ways that justice has been denied to our fellow Americans.
Before this year, and it wasn’t in my history book when I went to school, was the story of a young man, Emmett Till, a name I had recently heard of, but knew little about until I watched a documentary on his life.

 

Like Isaac, Emmet was an only son, beloved and living his life in Chicago with his mother and grandmother raising him. His father had served in WWII and Emmett’s mother raised him alone. Emmett was loved and cherished by his immediate and extended family.

 

Isaac was the only son of Sarah, and the second son of Abraham. God promised both of them that Issac would become the leader of nations and many would come to follow him. The future of all of humanity lay with Isaac. Abraham’s faith and steadfast obedience to God was unwavering and he didn’t question God when he was told to take his son and worship on the
mountain. Abraham was told that Issacs was to become the very offering for God; proof of Abraham’s faithfulness. That faithfulness went as far as Abrahams arm holding the knife over Isaac as the final blow before God stopped the act of death. A suitable offering appeared, and Issacs was saved. We see this as a foretelling of Christ’s life as a sacrifice on the cross, yet later, the act will be completed and then we see the sacrifice as an act of love on the part of God. For most of us, it is difficult, if not impossible to see Abraham’s actions prior to his dropping the knife as loving toward Isaac. Isaac was a child, likely no more than 13 or 14 years old, and I am sure, being a child, quite fearful and at the same time didn’t understand what was happening or why he was being treated the way he was. Yet, it was in trust and in love for his Father, he was obedient to his Father, just as Abraham was obedient to God.

 

Emmet Till had family, uncles and a grandfather living in Mississippi that wanted to get to know their grandson and nephew better. He had lived his whole life in the North and had little contact with his Father’s family. It was to be like a summer vacation, he rode a bus to MS to visit, a trip of a lifetime, to a state, a country, actually a culture a world away from where he was raised. Emmet didn’t know anything about Jim Crow laws. But he could read. It was 1955, and Emmett was 14 years old. It was a huge deal a child that young would take a trip that far away. Emmett figured out real quick he had to sit at the back of the bus, used certain drinking, fountains and restrooms, and go to certain stores. What he didn’t know was some of the unwritten social skills that Jim Crow demanded like answering, yes sir, no sir, or no direct eye contact with a white person, or never to touch the skin of a white person.


On Emmett’s third day in MS, he and a couple of cousins went to the local store to purchase some penny candy. The store-keepers daughter, 16 years old, waited on them, and Emmett held his hand out and touched her, looking directly at her as she gave him the change. Outside the store, the boys were goofing around and she heard a whistle. Those three seemingly infractions of the law were enough to report to her father.

 

Later that evening, several cars went to the house where 14-year-old Emmett was staying and after searching the home, took Emmett, to ‘teach him the ways of the South.’ The rest of Emmett’s family was so scared and so outnumbered that they couldn’t do anything. You see, part of the group that came to pick up Emmett was the local Sheriff and members of the local community leadership. The same people who Emmett’s family worked for; in their homes, out in their fields, taking care of their businesses, they had to let Emmett go, he would just come back a little beat up, but he would learn his lesson.

 

Emmett didn’t come back. He become a 14 year- old sacrifice. Those that killed him did not hear the voice of God telling them to stop and see Emmett as a human being. All the years many of them had gone to church, and they had not heard the words of Jesus. Emmett was tortured, beaten, killed and his body was thrown in the Tallahatchie River. It was found later, and the family identified those that came and took Emmet that night. They were arrested and tried on kidnapping and death by lynching charges. At their trial, they pled not guilty before an all-white male jury. The family left before the verdict came back, they already knew it would be not guilty.

 

Emmett’s murder sparked the Civil Rights movement that eventually lead to the civil right legislation of 1962. Protests and riots, very similar to what has been happening now started happening after Emmett’s death. It was more than the fact that it was a 14-year-old child was killed. Emmett’s mother demanded that the casket be opened and everyone view the mutilated and tortured body of her Son. It was a crucifixion, the death of her only son, on display for the whole world that moved people enough to do something about the injustice that existed for the Black community. Jesus’ death motivates us to do something for our fellow brothers and sisters. Emmett’s death did that, and now I believe George Floyds also has evoked the same thing beyond Minneapolis and our country, into a world-wide awareness. So as, God’s people, we are being called to faithfulness again, like Abraham, stop the hand that holds the knife, listen to God and do as Jesus commands when he says: “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Matthew 10:42 It is time to give all the Emmett Till’s and George Floyds of the world a cup of water. Amen

Sermon from June 21st, 2020

Rev. Deborah Dawson

Pentecost 3A, Father’s Day

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and redeemer.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

In our series of lectionary readings, this summer, we are going to use the alternate Old testament readings instead of the usual ones from the Prophets. I like these because like today’s reading, they are portions of Old Testament narratives, stories about real people, in situations they might find themselves asking the same kinds of questions that we too might ask ourselves and God.

Abraham and Sarah have a son, Isaac; promised by God to the couple after many years of waiting and hoping. But those years were long and difficult, and Sarah had given up hope and one point and to speed things along, she sent her slave, Haggar to sleep with Abraham so they would have a son, even though he would be a half-son to Sarah. By the way, Abraham did not object, he pretty much does everything Sarah tells him to do. Sarah’s plan worked and Ishmael was born. God tells Abraham that he still plans on giving him a Son and after he a Sarah share a good laugh about it, 90 yr. old Sarah conceives and has a son they name Isaac, that means ‘he laughs.’ The boys grow up together and one day Sarah is watching them both play and she realizes that Ismael, being older is entitled to be the first one to inherit from his father, putting Issacs, the true son as second heir. Abraham loves both sons, but he can’t live with a wife who is consumed with jealousy. The only way to solve the problem is to send Haggar and Ismael away. He gives them bread and water, a minimal amount of supplies; not enough to reach any sort of destination and send them out. He knows that a woman and a child won’t last long in the desert with such a small amount of provisions. After all, they are slaves and not really as valuable as full, true heirs would be.

Bishop Jon has encouraged the rostered ministered of SW MN Synod to learn as much as we can about the history of African American in our country and how white supremacy has been embedded into our culture. Books, film, videos, interviews and discussions and sharing is part of our continuing ed emphasis this summer and likely will be part of our Bishops theological continuing-ed. In our Constitution, slaves were considered to be 3/5 of a human being. Slaves have always been thought of as property, even when fathered by a free person. To Sarah, Hagar was replaceable, and Ismael was an inconvenience.

I wonder if Abraham felt any guilt over his actions? Or did he ever feel like what was doing was somehow making amends to Sarah? Maybe he felt his actions were making an apology for he and Haggar’s relationship and somehow sending her away was righting a wrong. We can only guess. But perhaps the bigger question is. When have we done something, we thought would fix a problem, that maybe in the end ended up hurting or maybe not be such a wise or prudent decision. Sometimes the things we do, the choices we make, thinking we are doing the best for others, end up not being so good. Then what? 

Haggar and Ismael start to wander and they run out of water. Haggar put her child under a tree in the shade, and goes far enough away not her hear his cries as he dies. She weeps. But God hears. God hears her and he hears the boy. He speaks and tells he that he remembers his promise to make Ismael a great nation, and he will protect her and the boy. He shows Haggar where water is and she is saved through the nourishment of water. Refreshed and renewed, she finds a new life waiting for her in a new land, a place where eventually Ismael will come to lead a nation of his own.

I have to wonder about this time in history. God’s people are crying out. There are tears of mourning for those who have been lost. There are protests seeking justice for the poor, the weak, the forgotten. People want to be heard and recognized. And something is happening. We do not know how our culture, our society, our future will be changed. We pray that God hears our prayers, and calms our fears, and reassures us that he holds us now as he did the day, he held us in the water of our baptism.

God speaks to us again as he did Haggar that day. It is right there is the gospel lesson. Three times, if you aren’t careful, you might miss it, vs. 26; Have no fear, vs. 28 Do not fear, and vs. 31 Do not fear. People of God; Like Abraham, we sin when we mean to fix those things, we have done wrong and when life doesn’t always turn out the way we had hoped it would. But we have a loving God, God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and full of abounding love. We also have a God who hears us when we weep, when we cry out and when we are afraid, and through the promise of our baptism, we are promised new life. Thanks be to God. Amen