What an extraordinary week this has been for our country! The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth liked to admonish the church that it must read both the Bible and the newspaper, because we Christians live in the world.
And what a week of news it was! There were two historic Supreme Court decisions that will change our national life in significant, and in my opinion, profoundly positive, ways.
On Thursday, by a 6-3 decision, the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which makes health care available to all Americans.
And on Friday, by a 5-4 decision, Marriage Equality became the law of the land.
The reason I am here before you instead of our pastor Brent Damrow is that he is in Cleveland at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, representing the Massachusetts Conference. I am sure he will have stories to tell about the celebrations taking place there, as our national church has been a long and tireless advocate for equal rights for the LGBT community and a supporter of marriage equality.
I believe that these two historic Supreme Court decisions share a common idea, and that is the idea of “inclusion.”
And a third extraordinary event in our national life also happened on Friday. President Obama climbed into the bully pulpit in Charleston, South Carolina to give the eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Emmanuel AME Church who, along with eight of his congregants, was murdered by a gunman while attending a Bible study at the church on June 17.
President Obama gave a stirring eulogy for Pastor Pinkney, but he was addressing not only those present, but also the nation. I’d like to share with you some excerpts of his eulogy:
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston . . . .the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.
Blinded by hatred, he (the alleged murderer) failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace . . .
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace . . .
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
Martha and I were driving to Onota Lake in Pittsfield for a walk on Friday when the President’s eulogy came on the radio. We got to the parking lot at the boat ramp, but we didn’t get out of the car. We sat in the car until it was over, and when it was over I had tears streaming from my eyes.
The President was addressing the painful facts of racial relations in today’s America. He mentioned that in response to the massacre at the church the Confederate flag had been taken down in the South Carolina capitol and elsewhere. That flag, he said, was a symbol of our nation’s “original sin,” slavery.
The president had both the Bible and the newspaper in mind as he gave this incandescent speech. I don’t know of such a theologically astute presidential address since Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural.
And once again I would argue that inclusion is the big idea that binds all these events together. Inclusion.
I believe in the power of ideas to shape societies, and, as my teacher, mentor and friend, Max Stackhouse taught me, to examine where they come from and what they mean. So I want to do a little bit of that with you today about the idea of inclusion. Continue reading