Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
February 21, 2021
Sermon Sunday 21 February 2021
Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
Psalm 25: 1 - 10
Several weeks ago when I preached, I talked about unclean spirits, and an unclean spirit showed up in our Zoom Annual Meeting. So today I want to be sure to talk about wonderful spirits, holy spirits, spirits that come from above and maybe world peace!
I bring this lovely statue today because she resides in the center of my prayer area. She has graced this space for many years. Her hands are lifted up just like in ancient times when they raised their hands to the Holy One in an attitude, a posture of prayer and petition. Today’s psalm offers a vision of hands and prayers stretched upward imploring God for protection, direction, forgiveness, and covenant.
When we extend our hands out to one another, we show we are willing to receive and connect, to be in relationship with, and perhaps to entertain interdependency. During this past year, sharing our lives became more challenging. We have been somewhat sequestered. We’ve had to isolate ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors to remain healthy and, we still do so today.
Our stories and our sorrows from these days are painful. From Netflix to novels, balancing to baking, exercising to eating, panicking and praying, we have similar stories of being lulled throughout the lockdown. In our country we have lived with a level of being locked out, too. Step back and out with me as we explore a wider act of separation. Through political explosions over the past several administrations some have leaned away from family and friends. Many have worked diligently to trust in a history of love, praying that love between those who hold disparate views will save their relationship. The separation perpetrated by a virus and by viral bipartisanship has built walls and habits of distance. And now an odd juggling of accountability and moving forward haunts our country in the aftermath of the impeachment trials. I admit confusion here. The former Vice President and Speaker of the House, from different political parties, were threatened in the January insurgence on the Capitol. I ask that we take time and pray for them, for their families, and for the inevitable trauma that sits in their bones. More walls of separation have been built. More walls of separation are being built.
As we examine another layer, another circle of our lives, take an additional step. Let’s hear the psalmist: “Make me know your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me. Lead me in humble ways, in what is right. Teach me to be humble.” One commentary written by a seminary classmate of mine states that Psalm 25:1-10 likely was likely composed as a broad, inclusive statement of faith. It expresses some of the most central theological themes: dependence on God for protection from enemies; request for God to direct and teach; confession of sin and cries for forgiveness; and confidence in God’s abiding presence and faithfulness.
As we continue branching out in thought, all of us - particularly we who are white - must open ourselves in humility allowing the Spirit to teach us… open our hands to God and allow the Spirit to teach us. Our statement of faith must include the practice of humility before we can explore the inequities within our social structure and society.
For our viral Civil Rights History Trip this year, one of the suggested movies was a film called “13th.” This movie details how enslaving people, and being people who were complicit about slavery, has fostered the current day racial inequity. I cannot begin to do justice to this film and unfold it as they laid it forth in the movie. I encourage each person to watch it and to take notes.
Now remember the text when the psalmist asks not to be put to shame, but to lead to a right way of life. They are asking God not to remember the sins of my youth or transgressions. Remember me in accordance with God’s steadfast love. Repentance - turning away from practicing sinful actions - leads us to forgiveness and wholeness.
Years ago, I was at the Franklinton Center at Bricks in North Carolina, a holy site that was transformed from a place where enslaved people were broken, to a place where freedom and education was fostered. One of my elder clergy colleagues, a black man, a strong and gentle prophet, whipped around when he heard a group of white people struggling with the legacy of slavery. He began the conversation with the idea of “white” being “right.” He took us all on a journey through his eyes and experience. He clearly exemplified the Racial Justice Training program that Rev. DaVita McAllister created and that we hosted here several times. We all breath the idea of white being right or white being in charge. Even in our local courthouses, or in our Spencer House hallway– the large portraits are of white, in-charge men. Now listen carefully, I am not calling anyone a Neo-Nazi white supremacist. That horrific practice is very different than our culture being built on whiteness, but it does foster and lead into it. Our culture has drunk the water of white supremacy, white “in-charge-ness.” If we want to change our culture and walk humbly with God who made all people in God’s image and worthy to be loved, we need to change who sits at the table.
Preparing for our Civil Rights History Trip I discovered another movie that helps me think about these things, that offers insight to all of us. It is called “Burden.” A little more than 20 years ago, a rural South Carolina town was the place where the Ku Klux Klan took over an old theater and made it the Redneck Shop, a racist emporium and a Ku Klux Klan Museum. Neo-Nazis and supremacists displayed swastikas and Confederate flags. The Klan leader nurtured and indoctrinated hate into a poor young white boy to whom he eventually gave the deed of the Museum. Now after the gift of that deed, the leader asked and expected the kid who had grown into a young man, Michael Burden, to reciprocate by killing the local black pastor, Rev. Kennedy. Rev. Kennedy had been protesting outside the museum. Meanwhile, Michael falls in love with a poor white woman, Judy and loves her son, as well. She and her son are friends with their black neighbors. She convinces Michael to leave the Klan. They are both fired and evicted from their residence when he does. He is beaten and battered. No white people would help them, and black people wanted to help Judy, but not Michael. Judy knew and respected Rev. Kennedy, whom Michael almost murdered, so she went to him for help. He took them into his own home. He gave them shelter. He fed them and helped them find jobs.
For a moment let that sink in.
Hear now part of that psalm again:
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or transgressions. According to your steadfast love, remember me for your goodness sake, O Lord. Good and upright is God; therefore, God instructs us in ways and leads the humble to do what is right and teaches the humble God’s ways. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast and faithful for those who keep the covenant and decrees.
Rev. Kennedy exemplifies this psalm, and God’s love through his actions. As the story unfolds the minister baptizes Michael. Before a group of all-black parishioners, and Michael’s family, his girlfriend and her son, he confesses the sins of the youth. He confesses that even severely beat one of the men in the congregation.
Rev. Kennedy changed this man’s life. Michael’s family still needed money and Rev. Kennedy still wanted to close down the museum, so they began a conversation. Michael sold the deed to the New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church… sold the deed to the KKK Museum to the New Beginning (Black) Missionary Baptist Church. How much do I love this story! The Black Church took over the Klan Shop.
Now in 2018 this story was highlighted at the Sundance Film Festival. In December of this past year renovations finally began and, just so you know, we can still contribute.
As we ponder the pandemic, politics and prejudice, we find ourselves in the period of Lenten reflection and confession and Black History Month. As we hold the psalm in our hearts and follow the steps of Christ to the cross, the cross we take faithfully. We take faithful, faithful actions. Perhaps we contribute to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), or we help repair and cleanse this property in South Carolina. Rev. David Kennedy fought to clear this town of hate, fill a building full of love. His great-great-uncle was lynched in this very town. He says this about the former place of hate: “We are hoping the Echo Project will become a place where every race can be respected, a place where diversity is, not only just talked about, but is celebrated through action. We hope we can turn it into a building of love.”
In just a moment Bill will sing a song about places of quiet peace and how they are shattered sometimes with the dreaded noise of war. Our homes, our cities, our towns should be places of quiet, not of war. However, most of us are bruised, some battered. We need God’s healing help and hope. We need mending. May we take the example of David Kennedy. May we lift our hands, confess our sins, say to God: remove my shame. Do not let it hinder me from moving forward. Make me to know your ways and trust in God’s abiding presence. and teach me your paths O God of love and grace. Amen.