Cathy Cox

August 27, 2023
Isaiah 51:1-6, Psalm 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
After the racially motivated shooting murders at Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida,

I had another message prepared for today, but the murder of three black people in a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida yesterday, made me decide to rewrite it.

There are no real questions about the motive of the young man who so hated Black people that he wrote several vicious manifestos online about wanting to kill before entering that store with an AR. He made his intention very clear.

He left messages for federal law enforcement about his hatred.
He even texted his dad at 1:20 to look on his computer. And his parents called the police as soon as they saw that message.

But before going to Dollar General, he was seen hanging around Edward Waters University, a small historically Black university, but he left the campus and moved on to then store when a security guard asked him to identify himself. Campus security unsuccessfully tried to catch the man who was seen in his car putting on a tactical vest, mask and gloves.

This young man, so far unidentified, had a violent past, which included a domestic violence attack on his family that ended with no arrests, but an involuntary institutionalization in 2017 – when he was still a teenager.
His parents did all they could, and it seems teachers, psychologists and therapists did, too.

It isn’t that no one knew. Or tried to stop him. They did.
But by the time the 911 call was made from Dollar General, it was too late.
Three Black persons died. And then, coward that he was, he killed himself.

Governor DeSantis said, “He was targeting people based on their race. That is totally unacceptable…We condemn what happened in the strongest possible terms.”

What he didn’t say was, that attacks on Blacks, Jews, gay persons, immigrants, anybody that young men decide to hate, are fueled by easy access to weapons of war –
or that they occur within a country, and in a national atmosphere, where violent language is too often the political norm, which too often leads to real violence.

What DeSantis didn’t do was to condemn white supremacy, or to acknowledge and confess his own defense of political speech that underlies, supports and motivates people to move from violent words to violent action.
How can the worship we do today make any difference? Is there any word we have to say that might turn the tide away from violence in our country, when so often it is Christians who have quietly supported those who encourage it? Voted for them? Decided it is reasonable to hate one group or another?
What do we do in this moment?

Is it enough to lament – again?
To condemn the violence again and then move on? To wring our hands, again? To say again that “guns don’t kill people, people do?”
To wait for the next mass shooting? To urge that more be done to finance mental health services? To blame parents?

Perhaps you read in the news earlier this week that across the country Evangelical pastors are frustrated and discouraged that many of their parishioners are openly rejecting the words of Jesus about love, peace, forgiveness, the Beatitudes – openly saying, “that stuff doesn’t work anymore.”

It seems shocking to those men, but it shouldn’t surprise anybody.

It’s time to listen again to today’s Gospel reading.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“But who do you say that I am?”

If we agree with Simon Peter, we will answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

But there are consequences to that profession.
If Jesus, the Lord, really is “the king of Israel”, the Messiah of God; if He is the Incarnation of the coming kingdom of God; if He represents the mind of God; then following him means identifying with His words, his attitudes, his resistance to the kingdoms of this world.

It means standing firm against any system, religious or political, social or psychological, that claims to have authority greater than His. It means staking our claim on Love – on joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, self-control and above all, on hope. It means speaking up and speaking out, and putting our reputations and our own privilege at risk.

It means accepting controversy, hard conversations, difficult choices, rejection.

Some of the pastors who were quoted in the article admitted that they had tried to stay out of politics to focus on issues of individual salvation, individual morality and – of course – abortion. But now it has come back to bite them.

And they admitted that part of what that means now is that they find themselves servants of the right wing political agenda, not servants of Jesus the Lord – and it was not what they had expected. It was not what they intended. But here we are. More and more the church is seen as irrelevant to the overwhelming problems facing our world, or actually hostile – And they don’t know what to do.

I urge you – and I urge us all – to take Jesus more seriously than perhaps we have. I urge you not to take his words as if they were optional and unimportant in our post-modern world. I urge you to move forward by stepping back into the Gospels – to read then yourselves at home: to ponder his words, his stories, the parables.
I urge you to pay attention to the scandal of his actions, his resistance to power and privilege and to the social expectations of his own time. Listen to him.
Jesus stood in the direct line of the prophets of Israel – as I said last week. He was not a comfortable sort of person to have around. And although his burden is easy, following him leads straight to the cross –
And because we have been given the Spirit of Jesus, been baptized into the body of Christ, given the gifts of the Spirit – his life is also ours. And these words of Paul are for us right now, too: because this is the most important thing you can do right now, even before we share the bread and wine that are the body and blood of Christ – his very life:

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.“

Let’s do it. For real. Whatever it costs is worth the price. Amen.



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