Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (8:00 a.m. Morning Prayer)

Matthew 19:23-30

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,[a] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

I need to beg forgiveness from Brother Mike Wamsley.  You see he was very adamant that we keep this Morning Prayer service as consistent as possible week to week.  We as a church family are undergoing change now as we search for a new Rector and are a bit fearful of what changes a new Rector will bring.  Mike wanted to keep our Morning Prayer Service the same every week to minimize any change, to serve as a stable foundation until we find our new Rector.  Mike asked that we not do a sermon during Morning Prayer when we established the customary the Officiants are to use each week and I was going to honor his request, until the story of this last Wednesday evening unfolded.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern United States and is referred to as Mother Emanuel.   Mother Emanuel is no stranger to hate.

The church was founded in 1816 by African American members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, who left the church because of a dispute over burial grounds. The white churches were increasingly discriminating against with the final insult happening when a hearse house was built on top of the black cemetery.

State and city ordinances at the time limited worship services by black people to daylight hours only, demanded that a majority of congregants in a given church be white, and prohibited black literacy. In 1818, Charleston officials arrested 140 black church members, simply for attending an all-black church and sentenced eight church leaders to fines and lashes.   Lashes for attending church!

In 1822, Denmark Vesey, one of the church's founders, was implicated in a slave revolt plot. Vesey and five other alleged organizers were executed on July 2 of that same year after a secret trial closed to the public, and during the hysteria of the white population of Charleston, due to the threat of a slave revolt, the original church was burned down.  That church building was soon rebuilt.  However, in 1834 all-black churches were outlawed in Charleston, and the congregation met in secret until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

After an earthquake demolished that building in 1886,  President Grover Cleveland donated ten dollars to the church to aid its rebuilding efforts, noting that he was "very glad to contribute something for so worthy a cause." However at the same time he also donated 20 dollars to the Confederate Home, in Charleston, noting that it was a “haven for white widows."

The current church building was constructed in 1891.  The location of the new church building is on the north side of what is known today as Calhoun Street.  In 1891 when the new church was built blacks were not welcome on the south side of what was then known as Boundary Street.

Coretta Scott King led a 1969 march of some 1,500 demonstrators to the church in support of striking hospital workers in Charleston.  At the church, they faced bayonet-wielding members of the South Carolina National Guard; the church's pastor and 900 demonstrators were arrested.

Did you know they still today the Confederate flag is displayed on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capital building?

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof drove to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and spent about an hour with parishioners attending a prayer service inside. He then pulled out a concealed handgun and began shooting, killing nine parishioners. A police document says he stood over a survivor and made racially inflammatory remarks, before fleeing the church.  There are three survivors from that evening in the church.  Two of them were a Grandmother who had brought her 9 year old granddaughter to a prayer service in a house of God, not much different than the prayer service we are having right here, right now. And by the end of that evening, one that had started as a promise of worship and fellowship, the Grandmother was holding her Granddaughter down on the floor begging her to “be quiet” and to “play dead” so the white gunman would not point his gun at them and pull the trigger.

The pro-gun and anti-gun rhetoric was already in full swing before the echoes of those gun shots fired in that church faded away.  But this story is not about gun rights.  It is about the old story of hate; it is about those who would place themselves first over others who they place last.  It is about those white people who put themselves first over black people, or brown people, or yellow people, or red people.  It is about the rich who put themselves first over the poor.  It is about a man putting himself first over a woman.  It is about a heterosexual putting themselves first over a homosexual.  It is a story of Christians putting themselves first over Muslims, or over Jews, or over non-believers.   It is the same old story of those in power putting themselves ahead the powerless. It is a story of ignorance and of hate, of those who put themselves first over those who are last.  It is a story that has happened in the past, is happening now and I am very saddened to say will happen again and again and again in the future.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tells us “the first will be last, and the last will be first.”  One of the guiding principles of the Episcopal Church is to respect the dignity of every human life.  Until we can do that as one creation we will continue to be putting ourselves first over someone else. We have told, and know all too well, the old story of hate. It is time we tell a new story.  A new story of respect, of love, of a common understanding that we are all created by God in His image, and that He is Love, and no one is truly first over anyone else.

And All of God’s Creation say---Amen.