Sermon: The First Anniversary of Charlottesville

Charlottesville. Charlottesville. Charlottesville.

The 12th Sunday after Pentecost

August 12th, 2018

Grace The Plains Episcopal Church

The Plains, Virginia

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

May I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I love my wife Stephanie, and one of our more recent hobbies has been to fall asleep listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on our Google Home. Audiobooks are best when read in a British accent. As we neared the book’s completion one night (which we’re still not done because Stephanie falls asleep and we have to start over) I was taken aback by a particular line I hadn’t read since grade-school. After the great fight between Lord Voldemort, the antagonist who took the form of a professor, Harry, the orphan, lightening scarred protagonist asks the headmaster Professor Dumbledore why Voldemort couldn’t touch Harry Potter. Dumbledore replies, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin… It was agony for [Voldemort] to touch a person marked by something so good.” Hold onto that as we move throughout today’s sermon, we’ll get back to it.

With events in history, you don’t really recognize its significance until you reflect and remember the circumstances of such an event. August 12th 0f 2017 started out like a day for me that I could get excited about. I was officiating the wedding of two dear friends, Marcus and Taylor. I arrived at the venue early, put my stole and robes on, and sat with Marcus and his groomsmen and listened to them tell stories. That’s when the news flashed across the screen of my phone: “Charlottesville, Charlottesville, Charlottesville” I knew I had a wedding to do, I knew I had a job to perform, this couple were close friends and deserved my full attention. Whatever was happening in Charlottesville would have to wait until after the ceremony.

If you’re like any good American, you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot, when Martin King was assassinated, when the Challenger exploded, when the Twin Towers came crashing down, when the stock market recessed, when Dylan Roof shot 9 black worshipper at Emanuel AME, and dare I say—we all remember when Charlottesville happened. These events are engrained in our memories as much as they are into the fabric of our collective nature. We cannot undo these horrors, but we can remember, we can reflect, we can recollect, and we can risk the horrific nature of these events for a better tomorrow.

Today we hear words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and John’s Gospel. Now if you’re like me you find Paul problematic sometimes, but I found the words to the church at Ephesus particularly striking in light of today’s anniversary. Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” Paul continues later in the 5th chapter that we heard in our hearing, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Recently I was having dinner with another pastor and this particular pastor doesn’t agree with how I handle things from the pulpit. This pastor said that I should be more principled and less partisan, less ready to engage in the politics of today to protect my reputation. Well that pastor is wrong. We need Christians willing to be engaged in the politic of today.

Now before you get up and leave, hear me out. I’m not endorsing a candidate for political office, I’m not saying you should have voted for Hillary or Trump, what I am saying is that to shy away from the fact that a rally of hate is happening one hour from here in Washington DC is to neglect the very good news and Gospel of Jesus Christ. You see we have this image of Jesus in a bubble. He’s super white, he has flowing brown hair, and he’s standing at the door waiting for you to open it for him. But I came by today to say that particular Jesus is an image created in the name of an American god. One that values the 2nd amendment over children’s lives. One that values oil production and transport of that oil over the care of our climate. One that values white lives and all lives over black life itself.

Jesus was inherently political. The bread you take, the wine you drink is the body and blood of a person who died as an enemy of an Empire, at the hands of capital punishment for the sake of his crimes against said government. Jesus cared about children, about life, about beauty, he was a Palestinian Jew who wondered if life could be better if love was more triumphant than an empire. Empires fall, love does not. Charlottesville happens, but the response of love can be resounding over the hatred of white supremacy and zealous nationalism.

Now I can hear it your head that love is nice, but it doesn’t work against members of the Klan. But let me sync our definitions of love for the sake of today and the significance that it holds. Love is not flowery, it is not a romantic romp through a field of flowers. If you’re anything like me the things and people I love most in this world are people who love me back enough to call me out on where I fall short, to love me back enough to challenge me, to love me back enough to know when to embrace and when to refrain from embracing to borrow from Ecclesiastes.

You see that type of love can change the world. That type of love is found in John’s Gospel as we see that the bread of life is both then and there and here and now. Love personified for we of the Christian faith, made whole in the oneness of the Eucharist. That type of love, can leave a mark. Ahh, Church, do you see where I am going with this? You see in the past year I’ve met Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who died last year in Charlottesville. And from what Susan has told me of Heather, Heather was an incredible lady trying to make a difference in this world, and though evil took her and countless others in our march toward equity and justice it was agony for evil, and evil will not win the war.

Let me, if you will, re-write the Harry Potter line for today’s anniversary of Charlottesville:

“Christ died to save you. If there is one thing evil in this world cannot understand, it is love. Evil didn’t realize that love as powerful as Christ’s leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone from sight, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin… It was agony for evil to touch a person marked by something so good.”

“Though the world seems oft so wrong, God is the ruler yet” the old hymn goes. Though we are here feebly struggling, Heather, Martin, Malcolm, those affected by white supremacy through the ages are free from their bonds and their oppression in a land across the Jordan. So now, we must make heaven come to earth. We must bring the Kingdom and reign of God to this place and this plain for the sake of our future. Because the world is literally on fire and we need a God who can fix this mess, and by God we are all that’s left to help make that kingdom realized.

When I was at the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation in High School, Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a famed theologian taught me about realized eschatology. It would take me going to seminary to understand what he meant. He meant that we are the people, the very hands and feet that help bring about God’s reign here on earth. We are the people, we are the change, we are the voices that stand up to the bullies and evil of Charlottesville because we have something they don’t: love. They will know we are Christians by our love. Let that love leave its mark like it did with Harry Potter, let that love die to save you. Let that love be consumed in Holy Communion and sent out into the world that Christ died to save.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

3 thoughts on “Sermon: The First Anniversary of Charlottesville

  1. Dear Rev. Rob:

    I have been following your career since you spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus in 2016.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blend of the literary with the biblical, the modern with the antiquated.

    Thank your for your honesty.

    Dr. Uraina Pack

    Liked by 1 person

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