Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from a sermon preached by the Rev. W. Antoni Sinkfield, Pastor of Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville, TN, on the Sunday after nine church members were murdered by a white supremacist while they sat in a midweek prayer service at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.
On Wednesday night, I left our Bible Study in the spiritual ecstasy of having enjoyed the presence, power, and anointing of the Spirit and our fellowship from feasting together on God’s Word only to find myself rocked and deeply anguished by a call from my son, Joshua, asking if I heard about the dastardly and demonic massacre of nine martyred children of God in the assumed safety and sanctum of their Bible study class at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As I turned on CNN and watched this manifested evil come to light, I found myself deeply saddened to my soul, despondent and angry.
And I asked myself: What am I to preach on Sunday when the depth of my own personal despair and disgust is so profound? What word is there from God to challenge and encourage me (and us) to stand on the wall and proclaim the love, grace, and forgiveness representing who we are as Christians when as my son Joshua said, “the sanctuary has been violated in the most brutal of ways?”
Well, I remembered that, the Beatles’ John Lennon, released a historically and socially-significant song entitled “Give Peace A Chance” which became the anthem of America’s anti-Vietnam War movement and was sung by half a million people in Washington, D.C. at the Vietnam Moratorium Day on October 15, 1969. In light of this song’s significance to America’s Peace Movement (and our need for peace and unity today), I’m borrowing this song to say, “All I am saying is give peace a chance.”
Now, the issues I’m raising are challenging me and all who are Christians to introspectively examine how we live our Christianity, for these issues challenge us to qualify the quality of our Christianity and are a dividing line between those who are only Christ-confessors and those who are actually Christ-possessors!
For the ways we handle those who seek to destroy us unmercifully, treat us treacherously, talk about us terribly, and walk with us wrongly says a lot more about our Christianity than our church attendance does. That’s why the Christian call to “turn the other cheek,” give up our coat, go the extra mile, lend to those in need, and love our enemies while praying for those who mistreat us is hard to practice when injustice and unrighteousness keeps being visited upon Americans who are darker-hued and of African-descent! For we keep seeing episodes like the excessive force of a McKinney, Texas policeman against our children; the choking death of Eric Garner while he was crying that he couldn’t breathe; the killing of a 12 year old boy playing in a Cleveland park; and the destruction of Charleston Christians in the midst of their Bible Study!
When we see how our world operates, we find that wholesale retaliation is the standard operating procedure. It’s rare to find folks who actually follow Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, freely give to those in need, and love and pray for their enemies! Far too often, we’ve got folks who, just like little children, have to get the last lick, the last word, the last cuss, or the last insult!We’ve not really embraced Jesus’ teachings and we miss the fact that all Jesus is saying to us in these hateful and heinous situations is hold fast to his will and “give peace a chance!”
For even as Jesus challenges us his followers to love, forgive, and pray, he’s also telling them to speak truth to power by standing up for righteousness (whether we’re Black or especially White Christians) and say no more to racial biases, stereotyping, and profiling! No more to the majority culture not acknowledging an unspoken sense of superiority and supremacy over all minority cultures! And no more to justifying the existence of symbols of division and derision in our country that say one group of people is better than any other group of people!
When Jesus says love, pray, and forgive, He isn’t saying let folks push us around and don’t defend ourselves, but he is saying that we should have an attitude of grace and a mindset of mercy. He’s saying that we shouldn’t possess a payback policy and a revenge response.Jesus wants us to see people as he sees them, love people as he loves them, and treat people as he treats them!
And so, He lifts this matter of revenge and retaliation in a graphic and comprehensive way. He says, “You’ve been taught all your lives to do to other folks whatever they do to you. But I’m telling you to do them right when they do you wrong; treat them well when they treat you foul; help them when they’re hurting you; and love them when they’re hating you!”
Jesus teaches us again (even through the tragic ugliness of Charleston and other such acts of hatred) that living a grudge-filled, revenge, and retaliation reality is misery! For the best way to deal with mean folks is be nice to them. The best way to deal with selfish folks is be generous with them. The best way to deal with hateful folks is be loving to them. And if you don’t think this can be done, remember Jesus never requires anything he doesn’t give us the power to do. “For you shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
We’ve got the power to overcome evil with good; to stand for right in the face of wrong; and to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, freely give what’s been taken, and love those who don’t love us. For when Jesus calls us to “give peace a chance,” he also empowers us to give peace a chance! Giving peace a chance shows our enemies we’re bigger than they are, shows the world that giving love is better than spewing hate, and empowers us to love even those who hate us.
And so, I asked God, “If you want me to preach and live in the aftermath of Charleston by giving peace a chance, show me how to deal with those nine lives taken prematurely!” And God showed me that diamonds can’t really sparkle with brilliance until they’re cut and polished! Stars don’t really shine brightly until the skies are darkest! Roses can’t really release their fragrance until they’re crushed and bruised! The brook wouldn’t really have its rhythm and song if the stones and barriers were all removed!
Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Paul said, For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1). God doesn’t want or will death for us, but life! And although God cannot shield us from death’s valley, his promises is that even if we’re left behind through the death of loved ones—we’re never left alone from God’s presence! “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—I’m not worried, concerned, or afraid! For God is with me! His rod and staff comfort me!” (Psalm 23). That’s why the hymnist said:
I’ve seen the lightning flashing;
I’ve heard the thunder roll;
I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing;
Trying to conquer my soul!
But I heard the voice of Jesus;
Bidding me still to fight on:
He promised never to leave me;
Never to leave me alone!
And so, God wants us to know we’re not the only ones mourning, grieving, hurting, and angry about what happened in Charleston, for God mourns the sudden, tragic deaths of his children too. But God answers our questions by pointing us to a hill on which somebody else he loved died early, too! God is pointing us to Jesus hanging on the cross–being killed by the world he was dying to save!
But even the cross isn’t God’s final answer to our questions, for he also leads us to a tomb three days later where in the bright dawning of the morning sun we meet a handful of mourning, frightened, and confused sisters. And it’s here that God gives us answers to the questions of our grieving, for it’s because of Jesus’ sudden death that our lives can be transformed, hope comes, justice arrives, peace shows up, and joy fills the scene. Andit’s because of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrectionthat we are assured in times like these that he’s with us at all times—even in our darkest hours. For when we’re groping in our grief’s darkness and loss, we know Jesus is always there guiding us as the One True Light that the world couldn’t extinguish!
And so, God is calling us to give peace a chance, for the darkest night is always followed by the brightest day, and the heaviest of burdens are always followed by the greatest of blessings! Give peace a chance because the most despairing circumstances are always followed by the most blessed accomplishments, and the most difficult trials are always followed by a most profound joy!
Give peace a chance, for God will separate the right from the wrong, the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats, and good from evil! God will make our enemies our footstool! God will prepare a table in the presence of our enemies! God will fix it so that “no weapon formed against us will prevail” (Isaiah 54:17). And so, just love them, bless them, pray for them, and give peace a chance!