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Truth Telling Encounters around Race

A transcript of the sermon from Sunday, September 6.  Written and delivered by Pastor Karen Brau in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the AME denomination, on a day of confession, repentance, prayer and commitment to end racism.

Truth Telling Encounters Around Race
Mark 7:24-37

Did you ever change your mind?
maybe moved easily – that makes sense
or you moved with difficulty from a place of mind made up.

Its a tough scene for Lutherans
with the “Here I stand!” declaration
of Martin Luther who stands as a statue right outside
I think Luther would reluctantly respond to the invitation
to say generously
“I changed my mind….”

Jesus teaching today is you can change your mind
and institutions can change their minds
when confronted with TRUTH…

In Mark 7
Jesus gets out of town and travels to a new place
where he hopes no one will know him –
he’s secretly in someone’s home….
but a foreigner
a woman
asserts herself —
she’s determined to get to Jesus on behalf of her child
she’s a woman with no name
just Syrian Phoenician woman
and she begs Jesus to drive a demon out of her daughter

Jesus response?
Essentially — NO WAY
I am here for the real children of God— the Hebrews,
in fact, you are a dog.

Now this woman is under stress
and this is a very stress filled encounter with Jesus,
the proclaimed healer
Her response? — fight, flight or flee?  Which?
She fights for an understanding of God
Her God-talk
Her theology
includes her child…

This woman proclaims fighting words
words of TRUTH!
My child is worthy…
these words agitate Jesus
he pauses to listen…to an unlikely TRUTH teller

And Jesus changes his mind
opens his heart to a more expansive purpose in ministry
and shifts his theology —God is bigger than Jesus thought!

This is an important story to consider
in our ongoing conversation around race.
And even if you are tired about hearing this from the pulpit
this is such a time, when conversations and actions around race and the ELCA are not going away…

Today, we are in solidarity
with our sisters and brothers
of the AME denomination.
They invited us to join with them, calling today
“Sept 6, 2015—
A Day of Confession, repentance, prayer
and commitment to end racism.”

Some of you here today are new to Luther Place —
This congregation brings gifts to the conversation around race and racism

In the present day —
We lament the ways black lives are devalued in our nation.

We confess the ways this congregation is a predominately white church where institutional racism resides, and is part of the ELCA that we learn in a new Pew Research study — has distinction of being the whitest of the white denominations.

We are having multiple courageous conversations on race —
And this congregation brings an historic gift…

This congregation was founded in 1873 when this area was the suburbs of DC.
The historic documents declare that this congregation would be a, “Memorial to the goodness of God
bringing peace to the nation and freedom to the enslaved…”

The first pastor, was The Rev. Dr. John Butler (1826-1909)
Pastor Butler was a known abolitionist
and a teacher at Howard Divinity School, at Howard University, An Historic Black College. Where in 1881, The Rev. Dr. Butler organized the Maryland Synod of the Lutheran Church to support the theological education of Daniel E Wiseman, a free black Lutheran from NYC.

Gettysburg Seminary, wanted Mr Wiseman to attend, but Dr Butler, organized Mr Wiseman to attend Howard, all expenses paid.

Rev. Dr. Butler was clearly committed to making sure the Lutherans engaged black clergy.

1884 Daniel Wiseman graduated with honors from Howard Divinity School

1885 Wiseman organized the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer as a Sunday school, across the street from Howard University.

And in 1886, Rev. Wiseman was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church, by his good friend, Rev. Butler.

Last Sunday, August 30, on vacation from here, Ed and I attended service and fellowship lunch at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer now located on Michigan Ave in NE, where The Rev. James Phillips serves as Pastor.

Last Sunday, Our Redeemer, DC’s only ELCA African American Lutheran Congregation, celebrated its 130th anniversary.

Rev James Phillips, from the pulpit announced,
“It’s appropriate that the Senior Pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church is here, because that’s where Our Redeemer had its beginning.”

Our story from Jesus is a gift of Good News
because it means change
of heart
of mind
of ministry
is part of our faith journey

Jesus’ change is in response to an agitation
by a woman
to consider that God
is bigger than he thought.

As Lutherans,
one of our primary ways of understanding
what it means to be Lutheran — is the theology of the cross,
that Jesus suffering on the cross
gives us the best picture of who Jesus Christ is,
and it informs where we find him today…

At the same time, Lutherans usually ignore the work of
American theologian James Cone
who correlates the Cross with the lynching tree —
lynchings, the result of slavery,
and slavery Cone would call this nations original sin…

So perhaps Lutherans,
who claim the theology of the cross
are challenged to change and expand what the cross means
as we get agitation from James Cone
and #blacklivesmatter.

So imagine with me for a bit…

Its 1865, Logan Circle was a refugee camp for freed slaves
General Logan — began the Civil War as a racist,
changes his mind and heart
and celebrates the freedom he fought for –
One night after the war ends— he makes a speech from the balcony of his home on Logan Circle —
he celebrates the freedom won by the war
and he welcomes 1000 black people into his home
to greet personally

1873, Luther Place founded and Rev. Dr. John Butler the first called pastor.

1884. Support of Lutheran Maryland Synod, Daniel Wiseman graduates with honors from Howard Divinity School

1885 Mr. Wiseman organizes the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer

and in 1886, Rev. Wiseman is ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church, by his good friend, The Rev. Dr. John Butler.

Imagine — What if Rev. Wiseman had stayed to be co-pastor here, at Luther Place?

What if over time, this congregation intentionally mixed race?

Would the gospel of JC be experienced differently here at LP?

Would the cross and the lynching tree be part of who we would become?

Would preaching from this pulpit receive “Amens” around –

police brutality
gun violence
inadequate schools
murder rates up
school to prison pipeline – new Jim Crow
systemic oppression
poverty rates

What TRUTH would be preached from this pulpit
about White Supremacy?

And would it all matter differently
because it was our bodies…our bodies
incarnated among us—
our sisters and brothers,
our children?

Good News?
Mark 7, Jesus changed —
because a syrophencian woman
preached at him some TRUTH!

TRUTH changed his mind
to match God
who would call him into a broadened ministry of love
and because of this love for all —
he ends up on Cross
the cross is real, and it is not the end,
Jesus rises from the dead!

God does the same for people of faith,
calls us into a love that is for all –
and as we sing, there is room at God’s table, for everyone,

This is a song Rev Butler might have sung in joy
linked arms with his with his friend Rev. Daniel Wiseman —
as the two bold men worked out a prophetic vision
of what it meant to be Lutheran…
sadly, a vision that was left behind.

There are so many places today
where suffering happens,
because of ongoing racism
in this nation

and as people of faith,
in our baptism, we are called to be there.

So today,
we stand in solidarity with sisters and brothers
at the foot of the cross


AME Denomination
Metropolitan AME across the circle
The Lutheran Church of our Redeemer
Amazing Grace Lutheran in Baltimore

Because we boldly take
Jesus’ words to the Syrian Phoenician woman
as a gift of grace

I imagine, Jesus saying
you, woman, I just called you a dog
I am sorry.
You, woman, for words that are prophetic and agitational
for words that make me uncomfortable and uneasy
for words that wake me up to the vastness of God
For TRUTH, the demon has left your daughter,
she is healed!

Good news,
God’s grace to us all
is that even today, Jesus Christ
changes minds and hearts
and lives

And with Jesus Christ’s
we deeply hope, and commit to living as if—
we are part of changing
this church
this nation—
so that the the demon of racism,
and we are healed.


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