This week, a racially motivated terrorist attack took the lives of nine sisters and brothers.
The murders occurred in a church known to work for respite and reconciliation for two centuries.
Two of the fallen graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, my seminary, at the hands of a member of my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Wives and husbands, children and parents, friends and loved ones, sisters and brothers in the Lord, members of Christ's body at work in this world, died this week.
Tomorrow, say something about them. If you're preaching, say something about their lives. Speak about the brokenness that led to their deaths. Name the pervasive prejudice that still shapes our culture and twists the minds of humanity toward hate and violence.
Name the evils of racism and terrorism.
Lift up the incredible words of forgiveness spoken by family members during Dylann Roof's bond hearing. Join in their prayers for his own repentance, for God to offer forgiveness even as the courts to work justice. Pray for those families and the church family of Emanuel AME.
Lift up the names of the fallen: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson.
Pray for the Roof family and all those shocked at the violence committed by someone they knew and loved.
Pray for justice, mercy, repentance, and restoration.
If you're preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, each passage tomorrow speaks of God's faithfulness through the storms of life, both real and allegorical. The Bible once again helps us to name both the suffering in the world and God's presence amidst that suffering, so say something.
If you've prepared a sermon where you can't appropriately tie in this example, there's an entire worship service of prayers and songs, of lament and of praise where you may name, at multiple junctures, that we need God to break this cycle of violence, of hatred, of racism and terror. Or the Spirit may compel you to change the sermon altogether.
People will enter churches tomorrow wondering what they might hear about God in the midst of this tragedy. Congregants will bring with them a deep desire to meet the Gospel at work in our world.
Whatever you do tomorrow, don't stay silent about this. Don't ignore this because, in your mind, it doesn't relate to your congregation. Sisters and brothers in Christ are dead. This relates to your congregation. One of God's creations killed nine others. This relates to your congregation. Whether racially diverse or culturally monolithic, this reality relates to everyone in every congregation.
Part of the call as preachers is to stand here, to speak God's word of promise into a world that desperately needs that Gospel, not in an abstract way, but in specific places to specific people. Surely after this week, we must know that we all desperately need that Gospel.
So say something.