Mother Emanuel

This is a time for lament. Please stand and, with a reading of their names, let us honor the lives of our brothers and sisters who were murdered on Wednesday:

Rev. Clementa Carlos Pinckney, 41, was the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and a member of the South Carolina Senate.

Cynthia Hurd, 54, served as the manager of the St. Andrews branch of the county library, a job she loved because it brought her closer to people.

DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, was the mother of four daughters – the youngest is in junior high school and the oldest is in college.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, was a coach for the girls’ track and field team and a speech therapist at Goose Creek High School. She was also on the church staff.

Tywanza Sanders, 26, had graduated from Allen University last year.

Ethel Lee Lance, 70, was a sexton at the church and had worked there for more than three decades.

Ethel’s cousin, Susie Jackson, was a longtime church member and died along with her; she was 87 years old.

Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr. was a retired pastor who attended Emanuel A.M.E. every Sunday for services and Wednesdays for Bible study.

Myra Thompson, 59, was teaching Bible study when she was killed.

This is a time for lament. This is not a time for rushing on to whatever is next in this age of constant distraction but for sitting still for a while. This is a time for mourning. This is a time for helping each other bear the burden of anger and rage, of helplessness and hopelessness and speechlessness. This is a time for lament.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,

but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!”

but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Destruction and violence are before me;

there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous,

so that justice is perverted.[1]

Three themes have kept playing in my heart and mind these past few days.

One – In April, a young man in South Carolina got a .45 from his dad for his twenty-first birthday, and today, on Father’s Day, we are still struggling with what to call the man who shot and killed nine black men and women: a racist mass murderer or a troubled young man or a white supremacist terrorist?

Two – For some of us, Charleston, along with Ferguson and Baltimore, Birmingham and Little Rock and Memphis, now has become short-hand for the deadly consequences of the deeply entrenched racism in this country, a wound that just won’t heal, but for others the violent events those city names represent are only slightly troubling and soon forgotten episodes in a drama that can’t keep our attention because other things are more important.

Three – The flag of the United States and the South Carolina state flag are flying at half-mast at South Carolina government facilities while that cursed war flag is still there and still flying high on the grounds of the State Capitol in Columbia – for some of us the thought alone is unbearable, for others it’s no surprise or no big deal or a matter of pride. The mess we’re in is deep. The violent mess we have inherited and to whose continuance we contribute, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally – the mess we’re in is deep. Please turn to the insert in your bulletin where you will find the words of Psalm 130, and let’s say the psalm together responsively.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,

Lord, hear my voice!

O let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my pleading.

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,

Lord, who could stand?

But with you is found forgiveness:

for this we revere you.

My soul is waiting for you, Lord.

In your word is my hope.

My soul is waiting for the Lord

more than watchmen for daybreak;

more than watchmen for daybreak.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,

for with the Lord there is mercy

and fullness of redemption.

The Lord will redeem Israel

from all its iniquity.

We are in the depths and we cry to God and we wait for daybreak. This was not the first time a place of worship and those who gather in it became the target of terrorist violence. African-American churches in particular have been burned and bombed by white men across the South ever since such churches existed, and racially motivated murder is hardly a new thing. We truly are in the depths.

More than fifty years ago, on September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded under the entrance to the 16th Street Baptist Church, in Birmingham, Alabama; four girls were killed in the blast, Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carol Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14). They had a stained glass window in the sanctuary at 16th Street, a pretty window with Jesus in it, and in the explosion the window was barely damaged, except for the face of Jesus, which was blown out. I wish they had kept the window as it was and not restored it as a reminder that we are made in the image of God and that whatever we do to each other, we do to Jesus. That bombing was over fifty years ago, and there’s a memorial for the four girls at the church, and there’s a civil rights museum across the street, and yes, so much has changed since then, but, Lord help us, so much has not changed at all. Survivors of the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. church tell us that the shooter said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

On September 16, 1963, the day following the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, a young white lawyer named Charles Morgan, Jr. spoke at a meeting of Birmingham businessmen. “Who did it?” he asked, “We all did it! The ‘who’ is every little individual who talks about the ‘niggers’ and spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son ... And who is really guilty? Each of us. Each citizen who has not consciously attempted to bring about peaceful compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, every citizen who has ever said ‘they ought to kill that nigger,’ every citizen who votes for the candidate with the bloody flag, every citizen and every school board member and schoolteacher and principal and businessman and judge and lawyer [and parent and grandparent] who has corrupted the minds of our youth; every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”[2]

Who did it? After the murders in Charleston it took the police only 14 hours before they arrested the suspect, and South Carolina is a death penalty state, so we know what to expect. But what about us? What about our role in perpetuating systems that privilege white folk and marginalize black and brown folk? What about the myth that killing the perpetrator will bring about justice, when all it does is perpetuate the deadly illusion that ridding the world of bad guys will somehow make it better, the very logic of exclusion and elimination that motivated the murderer? What about a culture of violence where a .45 is just the right birthday present for a young man? What about Sandy Hook? What about our amnesia?

More than fifty years ago, on September 18, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a eulogy at the funeral for three of the four girls killed in the bombing. He said, “These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. (…) They have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. (…) They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”[3]

The epistle reading for this Sunday contains Paul’s urgent plea for the Corinthians and for all to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation is about the restoration of broken relationships, the end of hostility and enmity, and the overcoming of alienation. Reconciliation in Christian terms is about God’s initiative through Jesus to restore us to our full humanity through forgiveness and healing mercy. And reconciliation in Christian terms is about our courageous participation in the divine mission of redemption as members in the body of Christ.

“Our heart is wide open to you,” wrote Paul to the Corinthians in response to some painful difficulties they were having, and then urged them, “open wide your hearts also.”[4] This vulnerability of love, this frankness of speech that is unafraid of honesty in hearing and in speaking, this courage to risk embracing the other for the sake of wholeness and fullness of life is the heart of reconciliation.

I invite you to turn again to the insert in the bulletin, and to look at the picture of Jesus. It’s a stained-glass window given by the people of Wales to 16th Street Baptist Church in 1964. Here we see the vulnerability of God’s love that welcomes sinners. We see the arms that embrace us all for the sake of wholeness and fullness of life. We see the face of God.

Mother Emanuel, its pastors and its people, its prayer and its hospitality, its witness in word and deed and even in death, faithfully embodied this vision of life that has room for all, to the glory of God. The nine who were murdered have something to say to each of us in their death: “Our heart is wide open to you; open wide your hearts also.”


[1] Habakkuk 1:1-4

[2] See Additions in brackets are mine.

[3] See

[4] 2 Cor 6:11,13