By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit
“Where can I count on finding hopeful news—every week? the answer is: ReadTheSpirit,” said author and peace activist Brenda Rosenberg in a meeting with our staff on Friday. “What you publish is so important! Don’t forget that!”
Over more than 10 years, ReadTheSpirit has published thousands of columns about religious and cultural diversity—and innovative approaches to peacemaking. Our online columns and published books come from a dozen different faith perspectives, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and many other global traditions.
So, as world events cascaded over the weekend, as Editor, I decided to share a powerful sermon I heard on Sunday morning (August 13, 2017) at Clarkston United Methodist Church north of Detroit. While the context here is specifically Christian—we offer this as an example of swift and inspiring response from religious leaders.
A BISHOP’S CALL TO PRAYER
This response began on Saturday with a Michigan-wide online letter from Bishop David Bard. As this coming week unfolds, many other statements from religious leaders are likely to cascade into the news—but Michigan’s Bard was swift enough to allow clergy preparing for Sunday worship to consider reading his message aloud.
That’s what happened during the Sunday morning sermon by Clarkston’s the Rev. Rick Dake. Here is the text that Bard released on Saturday, which then was read by Dake (and presumably other clergy) on Sunday:
This week, I invited Michigan United Methodists to join in prayer for our United Methodist Church during its season of discernment. The prayer I offered included a prayer for the world. God loves extravagantly in Jesus Christ.
The brokenness and woundedness of this world has become painfully evident during the week. Rising tensions between the United States and North Korea raise new concerns about war. Last night and today in Charlottesville, Virginia, virulent racism raised its ugly head as white supremacists marched in that city resulting in tragic violence and death.
Again, I invite us all to prayer, and in our praying to deepen our commitment to love, to justice and to building community for the common good. I think of the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I think of the words of the poet W. H. Auden, “All I have is a voice… We must love one another or die.”
Peace and Grace,
David A. Bard
A PASTOR’S CALL TO TELL OUR STORIES
In Clarkston, a large congregation in a suburban area north of Detroit, pastor Dake took that bishop’s letter and made it the centerpiece of a full-throated, prophetic call to action. But not to violent action. Rather, Dake’s entire message on Sunday morning was about countering the rampant stories of right-wing groups that demonize vulnerable minorities and incite violence.
Everyone can respond to this sermon. Yes, Dake framed his appeal in Christian terms. If you read this column, today, and you are one of our many readers from other faith groups—consider how this might sound within your own tradition.
Dake directly addressed threats of nuclear war traded between North Korea and President Trump—and also the right-wing violence in Charlottesville, VA, that led directly to one woman’s death, many serious injuries and a tragic helicopter accident that killed two more people.
“It is unthinkable today to gather in the name of Jesus Christ without condemning the principles of the Alt Right!” Dake declared as he began laying out his basic theme. “We must condemn these stories that seek to condemn others and that terrorize people. … Instead, we must proclaim stories that provide hope.” It is time, he said, “To stand up and declare which stories are right and which stories are wrong.”
Then, he read aloud the entire Bishop Bard letter from Saturday. Dake pointed out that Bard is encouraging each person of faith to lift a “voice.”
Why stand up and tell “our own stories” at this moment? Because, Dake told people, we are at a perilous moment in world history. He talked about the rage within the man behind the wheel of the car that plunged into the Virginia crowd. Dake continued, “And, this week, we are on the edge of nuclear madness. How do we make sense of these stories? What stories will save our world from such madness?”
He invited the congregation to take a moment and make notes about the first hopeful, personal stories that were coming to mind. He urged them to take these notes home and think, all this week, about what stories to share with others—relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers and anyone who happens to engage in conversation.
“Why does this matter?” Dake asked. “Because there are others out there telling other stories! In every town and village and small community there are stories being told that are dangerous.” He said he wonders what dark stories the Ohio man had been hearing that would prompt him to “drive his car, thinking he was righteous, into a group of protesters.”
Preaching as a Christian, he continued: “People need to know your story! And, many of them are not likely to be coming into the church to hear your story here. You need to be ready to share your story wherever it may help. … And, here’s the story that will stop Charlottesville and I believe this is the story that keeps us from nuclear holocaust: It is to put Jesus in our midst. It’s not to debate Jesus. It’s not to get Jesus to adopt your position or my position. It’s to put Christ in the middle.”
That story is a story of peace and compassion. “Tell that story,” he told the congregation.
“Why do I know that works? Why do I have hope in that story?” he asked. “Because there were those who told that story to me. Preachers and youth workers and neighbors and parents and friends who told me that story in word and in action. And that story makes all the difference. If you and I cannot be the ones to tell that story, who will?”
He grew more passionate as he preached. “I beg of you! The world begs of you to claim your story of faith! Focus on Christ. Focus on what is possible through Christ. There are those who need to know, to hear and for someone to explain this to them. If not you, if not me—then who?”
He began to sing an old hymn a capella, lines starting with “I love to tell the story of unseen things above. Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.”
Praying for Compassion
Following the sermon, the Rev. Megan Walther offered a prayer that men and women might consider lifting up in the week ahead:
“God of grace—our world needs healing. We look at the news and the world seems to be full of hatred and violence and anger.
- In Charlottesville, VA, where a woman was killed and many were injured.
- In Nairobi, Kenya, were protesters were killed while protesting election results.
- We lift up Venezuela, where people have been killed in ongoing conflicts.
- We pray for North Korea where a leader is threatening the world.
- And, we pray for Flint where there was just another gun death this week and where families continue to suffer the effects of toxic water.
“Lord we need your grace. Lord we need your healing. There is so much that is out of our control, whether it is the state of the world or it is closer to home, including worries for loved ones.
“Help us to be agents of your peace. Let us be faithful in even the smallest of acts, knowing that compassion and sacrificial love have immense power even in the face of hatred and violence. We reject the evil that is complacency and apathy in the face of need. … Do not let us wallow in despair. Do not let us nurture a sense of hopelessness. Do not let our hearts become hardened. …
“We are part of that work of your new creation. We confess that you are our savior, not any world leader. We promise to serve you, advocating for the vulnerable, and not settling for anything less than compassion and justice, and treating everyone we encounter with god-given dignity.
“We put our whole trust in your grace. Please heal all that is broken, among us, within us and in your world.”
So what is your story of hope?
We invite readers to email [email protected] if you care to respond directly to us at the magazine’s home office. More importantly, take the appeals of Bard, Dake and Walther to heart and tell your story of peace and compassion to someone you encounter this week.