Sermon Archives

Sunday, September 5, 2021
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18 (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Memorials to our Sin and Brokenness

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It seems an innocuous thing – a simple sign memorializing the tragic and heinous death of a 14 year-old boy.  Yet, over the last decade and a half since the first sign was erected, historical markers remembering Emmett Till’s life and death have, regularly, been vandalized and destroyed.  Cut down and laying in the dirt, riddled with bullets, or mysteriously disappearing into the night, the violence these signs have endured are a shocking reminder of the violence black men and women have experienced through the years in America – “where all men (sic) are created equal.”  Only yesterday, another sign was found missing (though it was also subsequently returned).

It is a hard thing, of course, to read a sign that reminds us of our brokenness and imperfection.  It is hard to face into the reality of our humanity – either collectively as a community or individually as a person.  Those signs, be they historic markers alongside the road or the faces of our loved ones whom we have let down, or the quiet memories of our heart’s imperfection, bring with them a sadness and shame we often, desperately, try to ignore.

And so, it is understandable, in a limited sense …. that these signs of our collective sin as an American society will bring out our shame and resistance, such that some will try to erase them from our collective memory.  Yet, want as we may to avoid the feelings of guilt and sorrow for a history that is ours as a society, these signs are essential to our story.  These signs remind us our history and heritage – a history and heritage for which we, as a people, still yearn for restoration and reconciliation.  They remind us of who we can, tragically be.  They remind us, too, of suffering too many have experienced as they simply strive “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The courage to tell the broken story, the imperfect story, the gut-wrenching and heart-shaming, story of ourselves, is also the foundation of our growth and transformation.  It is there, in the broken soil of our imperfect humanity that the seeds of our unfulfilled imago dei are planted.   There, when we honestly and resolutely face our failings that we begin to turn to our potential as children of God. 

Its for this reason that I so love this morning’s lesson.  It’s not the most flattering of stories about Jesus.  Confronted by a gentile woman from Tyre and Sidon, Jesus initially ignores her with the both the racial and patriarchal natural to Jewish men of his day – “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Where else do we see Jesus turn his back on another?  Where else do we see Jesus insult and dismiss another who has come to him? 

Like those memorial signs commemorating the life of Emmett Till, we wouldn’t be surprised if Christians through the years tried to hide this story from our eyes.  We wouldn’t be surprise if the Evangelists themselves simply “forgot” to include this encounter in their text, or if the first apostles failed to retell the story themselves, of if the early Christian community simply thought the stories “didn’t belong” alongside the beautiful stories of “righteous Jesus.”

And yet, the story remains.  It remains here for us to face into – a stark reminder that the society of Jesus and our society still today was plagued by inequality and prejudice … inequality and prejudice so powerful and pernicious that they found their way even into the life of Jesus.

And like those memorial signs reminding us the tragic death of Emmett Till, these stories remind us that we, too, must face into the inequalities and prejudices that find their way into our life – here at Christ Church, here within Grosse Pointe and Detroit, or simply within the day-to-day encounters of our lives.

There’s a temptation within us all, the turn the page or cover the sign of shame.  And yet Saint Mark reminds us, that the pathway to the kindom of God is found not through avoidance and denial, but through heart-breaking truth and life-giving reconciliation.