A sermon for the third Sunday after Pentecost, June 21, 2020
Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Five years ago this week, a young man, who described himself as a white supremacist, shot and killed nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Sunday following was Fathers’ Day, as today is. Five years ago, I ended up rewriting the sermon that I had mostly already written when the news broke about the murders in Charleston. That time was not unlike our time today. It has been five years and more and this country is filled with racist acting-out. And the vocation of fathers is the same as it was then—living up to the challenge of doing the right thing to nurture and protect children.
Here’s a bit of what I said in my sermon five years ago. I told a little story about a storm coming up when we were fishing on a lake when I was a little kid, and my Dad struggling to start the motor on the boat before it filled with water.
On this Father’s Day, I remember my own father, who died 15 years ago this month. For him, being a father was about loving and enjoying children and giving them a model of dignity and respect. When there was any sort of emergency or crisis, his first response was to protect the children—even though some people might not recognize that was what he was doing when he was focusing on getting that cranky outboard motor to start in that thunderstorm.
Likewise, the witness of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has always been to foster the dignity, respect and well being of the African-American community in South Carolina. The Reverend Clementa Pinckney and his companions were not the first members of that congregation who suffered and died, witnessing for the Gospel and the dignity of every human being. He was a father to two daughters, as well as serving and caring for Mother Emanuel AME Church. His ministry included being a state senator, because there is much work to be done in that state for legislation to protect the dignity and safety of all people. On this Father’s Day, let us remember that it is the vocation of fathers, as well as all of the rest of us, to have the courage to do the right thing, to stand up to protect those who are vulnerable, particularly when we have reason to be afraid ourselves.
In our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning, he says:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We live in a world filled with death. And death doesn’t come just for bad or violent people; violence doesn’t just come for violent or bad people. And we know that violence came for Jesus. He faced up to it for us all – his death came as he stood up for us. And St. Paul is saying that in our baptism, we participate in that: in Christ’s courageous compassion for his children, even unto death. That is the baptism that we participate in. It can be hard to think about, in a real world where there are truly frightening things happening. That is the real world that Christ came into. But it was in his compassion and courage, even unto death, that he brought us life and truth. God raised him from the dead because that life of his could not be contained by the powers of death. That is the life that he brings to us, the resurrection from the dead—abundant life in a life of generous courage, of caring for the children and the weak, of living compassionately not for ourselves, but for God’s Children.
Hear once again, the words of Jesus:
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.