“Speak What We Feel”
A Pastoral Message of Grief, Courage and Hope
First United Methodist Church
Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. (Shakespeare, King Lear)
In the past week we have seen three horrific expressions of the violence and hatred that have slithered out from the dark underbelly of our American culture. The terrorist bombs that were sent to CNN and to political leaders who practice the freedom of speech enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the murder of two Black men at a Kroger store in Kentucky, and the deadly attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh are painful demonstrations of the racism, hatred, political polarization and sheer meanness that infects our contemporary culture.
With fewer headlines, this week also saw Matthew Shepherd’s ashes interred at the National Cathedral, twenty years after he was brutally tortured and left to die tied to a fence simply because he was gay.
If we speak what we feel, we must begin with the prophet, Jeremiah:
My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick…
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there? (Jeremiah 8:18-22)
Just as Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, we weep over the city of Pittsburgh and we weep over a nation that does not know the things that make for peace. (Luke 19:42)
May we never become so desensitized to the horror of mass murders that occur with disturbing regularity or the suffering that results from racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism that we are no longer moved to tears for every life that is lost and every injury inflicted on innocent people because of their race, religion, ethnic background, political convictions or sexual orientation.
But weeping is not enough. The prophet Isaiah heard the Lord say:
Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
desiring knowledge of my ways
like a nation that acted righteously,
that didn’t abandon their God. (Isaiah 58:1-2)
If we speak what we feel, we are called to stand courageously in opposition to anything that is inconsistent with the redeeming grace and saving love of God; anything that contradicts the coming of the Kingdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ; anything that undermines the promise of “liberty and justice for all” and that prevents us from becoming “a more perfect union.”
It’s not enough to blame these acts of violence on deranged individuals. We must also acknowledge the toxic brew of bigotry, division and resentment that encourage these acts of violence along with a gun culture that provides radicalized individuals with the instruments of mass murder.
The epistle of James reminds us:
Even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly… A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire…It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell. (James 3:4-6)
Words matter. Even as the Word of God became flesh in Jesus, our human words eventually become a reality for good or evil. The fire of racial hatred is fueled by vicious political rhetoric and spreads like wildfire in the furnace of social media.
We call upon leaders throughout our community and our nation even as we remind ourselves to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20) Followers of Christ are called to speak the truth in love and to grow up into the likeness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:15-16) The epistle of James challenges us:
Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth… For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forthose who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
Finally, if we speak what we feel, we must also speak a word of hope. Isaiah heard the Lord say:
Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion,
because the holy one of Israel is great among you. (Isaiah 12:6)
We live now in the promise of that day when God’s Kingdom will indeed come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Pittsburgh Mayor, Bill Peduto, called the attack the “darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history” but he went on to say, “We know that we as a society are better than this. We know that hatred will never win out, that those that try to divide us because of the way we pray, or where our families are from around the world, will lose.”
The massive response to the synagogue attack is a sign of hope that we can yet become that “city on a hill” that the Pilgrims envisioned. As your pastors, we recommit ourselves to be a finite expression of the love, peace and hope revealed in Jesus Christ that we might be a tangible witness to the Kingdom of God.
Grace and peace,
The Rev. Dr. James A. Harnish
The Rev. Emily Edwards
The Rev. Shelly Denmark
The Rev. Dr. Bob Bushong