Sermon from Psalm 146
You are a beautiful and beloved child of God. You are fearfully and wonderfully
made. And there is nothing that can separate you from the God who loves you
and has claimed you in Christ.
And thanks be to God that all of humanity, in its rich diversity of culture,
nationality, and language and skin tones, are beautiful and beloved children of
God. Indeed, we see just how wide the scope of God’s mercy is when we study
scripture. Our psalm this morning reveals the nature of God’s expansive love. It
reveals just what God cares about. We worship and serve a God who executes
justice for the oppressed, who lifts up those who are bowed down, who watches
over the foreigner and upholds the orphan and widow.
God comes to rescue those who are most vulnerable to
scapegoating, targeting, and hate.
The scriptures bear witness that
these people are not somehow second-class citizens,
or less worthy of care, or somehow lacking in dignity.
But each one of them are fearfully and wonderfully and intentionally made in the
image of their creator.
They too are beloved and claimed by God.
They too are elevated in the same dignity that we are.
Tragically there are those who don’t treat all people as the beautiful and beloved
people of God that they are.
They are treated as if their lives don’t matter as much.
They are treated as less than.
And as we honor Martin Luther King Jr this weekend, it’s good to reflect on the
ways our society and country has fallen short of honoring people, including
people of African descent, as the fully beautiful and beloved children of God that
Our readings from King this morning came from his famous ‘Letter from the
Birmingham Jail.’ The Birmingham campaign began in 1963 as the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference helped organize a number of sit-ins and non-
violent marches with local civil rights leaders in order to bring about racial justice.
King was arrested as part of these peaceful efforts. But not everyone was
supportive of these tactics. A group of moderate white clergy had written their
own letter titled ‘A Call to Unity.’ In this letter, they were critical of the means by
which the SCLC and King sought to bring about racial justice. They thought that
the efforts at ending segregation and achieving equality should be worked out
through the courts, rather than marching in the streets.
King’s frustration is evident as he speaks painfully of how little progress has been
made- through the courts or otherwise.
He is pained by those who paternalistically feel they can set the timetable for
another man’s freedom.
He is grieved by those who would tell the black activists to be patient and take it
slow, while the black community suffered from police brutality and segregation
King was a clergyman writing to other clergy, so the letter has a religious and
spiritual dimension to it. In particular is King’s grieved by the white moderate. He
is not writing about outright racists in this letter, but to people who tepidly
supported the civil rights for black people, those who thought he was moving to
fast. King expresses lament for those who agree to the goals of racial justice
in theory, but didn’t have the heart or the stomach to speak out clearly and
unequivocally against racism, or put their bodies out there with the
demonstrators who were putting their lives on the line for freedom. King saw the
clergy’s call for unity as a false unity that cared more about
keeping the status quo, than about seeing real systemic change take place.
And this letter speaks more to us now in our moment in history than ever before.
We see in the insurrection at the Capitol last week the ugliest manifestation of
white supremacy. There were confederate flags, and nooses, and T-shirts
displaying support of the holocaust. The naked displays of hate and violence were
But King’s letter calls us to be the counter-witness to that kind of hate and
violence. We offer ourselves as peacemakers- a witness to
the God of love. In this way we stand in deepest solidarity with those who be
targets of hate. We show displays of strength not through bullying or
intimidation, but through vulnerable love.
We love our enemies and
don’t bear hate in our own hearts toward them. But we call them to repentance
and point them to the path of life. But we stand up for our vulnerable friends so
they don’t have to bear the pain of bullying and targeting alone.
I know we are all going through a lot of pain. We are all hurting. We are all going
through some stuff. COVID still rages among us; there is a lot of uncertainty. We
are all feeling it. Right now, what we want is healing.
But I want to challenge us that it is the God who executes justice for the
lifts up those who are bowed down is the one who ultimately heals us.
Silence is not healing.
Refraining from speaking against systemic racism is not healing.
Refraining from acting to dismantle it, is not healing.
But the God who loves all of creation is the one who ultimately heals us although
it’s through an initially painful reckoning with the reality of racism.
Author and activist (E) Ibram X Kendi wrote of his harrowing stage 4 colon cancer
diagnosis in his book ‘How To Be An Antiracist.’ He said that racism is like cancer.
If we pretend like it doesn’t exist, it will destroy us. But he speaks of how the
healing process is painful. He likens it to the process of going through
chemotherapy. It means we have to go through some painful truth-telling and
reckoning before we can heal. He writes, “Pain is usually essential to healing.
When it comes to healing America of racism, we want to heal American without
pain, but without pain there is no progress.”
Jesus calls us to the hard way of discipleship. He calls us to bear our cross and
follow him. We should not be surprised at how hard this is, or how messy it is, or
how much resistance we face. If this were easy, everyone would be doing it, and
racism would’ve been wiped out a long time ago. But Jesus doesn’t call us to what
is easy, but to what is hard. He calls us to the hard path of love, of truth-telling
and solidarity and action. Moreover, we have his promised blessing with us, as he
states, “blessed are you when people revile you… and utter all kinds of evil
against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in
And so what if healing looks like gathering our courage and facing racism directly?
What if it’s being bold in our witness against white supremacy, because it is alive
and well in our communities?
What if healing is being in solidarity with the black community and others who are
Targeted by hate?
What if healing looks like letting others clearly know that Ascension Lutheran
Church is a safe place for them, that we don’t just passively welcome people of
color when it’s easy, but that we actively stand up to anyone who would treat our
neighbors as if they are anything less than a beautiful and beloved child of God?
We worship a God who executes justice for the oppressed; who lifts up those who
are bowed down. And this is a God who fiercely and tenderly loves you, beloved
in Christ, who would go to the ends of the earth to save you, who has indeed
done just that through the cross of Christ. Even if you were the only person in the
world, God in Christ would have travelled to the cross for your sake to save and
When we align our lives and trust in such a God as this, we see how deeply we are
loved. And in case I wasn’t clear enough, let me repeat, you are a beautiful and
beloved child of God. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. And there is
nothing that can separate you from the love of God who has claimed you in
And when we recognize how much God loves us, then we will realize how deeply
God loves all people too- the stranger, the orphan and the widow, those who are
bowed down or oppressed. Then we can’t help but speak out and lay our bodies
on the line, and do everything we can to defend the most vulnerable among us.
Because you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And happy are
those whose hope is in the Lord their God. Be bold and be strong. Amen.
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