When God’s People Cry Out, We Will Respond With Love
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by Rev. Erin Counihan on Sunday 8/9/15 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO.

Texts:
FIRST READING EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2
SECOND READING 2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33


“Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year when he had it trimmed, the trimmings alone tipped the scales at three and a half pounds. For another thing, his father, King David, was always either spoiling him rotten or reading him the riot act. This did not promote stability of character. He murdered his lecherous brother Amnon for fooling around with their sister, Tamar, and when the old war-horse Joab wouldn’t help him patch things up with David afterward, he set fire to his hay field. All Israel found this kind of derring-do irresistible, of course, and when he eventually led a revolt against his father, a lot of them joined up.

On the eve of the crucial battle, David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was the thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and before the fighting started, he told the chiefs of staff till they were sick of hearing it that, if Absalom fell into their clutches, they must promise to go easy on him for his father’s sake. Remembering what had happened to his hay field, old Joab kept his fingers crossed, and when he found Absalom caught in the branches of an oak tree by his beautiful hair, he ran him through without blinking an eye. When they broke the news to David, it broke his heart, just as simple as that, and he cried out in words that have echoed down the centuries ever since. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son,” he said. “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33).

He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes the King himself.”[1]

 

These words from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner paint the portrait our lectionary text only outlines today. Buechner fills in the missing parts of the story, but I think he also shades in the pain, the loss and the weeping of a grieving father.

This week, another grieving father painted a similar portrait of sadness, of crying out, when he spoke with CNN’s Moni Basu as the anniversary of his son’s death approached. With all of the political conversation, the differing viewpoints, the protests and marches, the vandalism, the organizing and the tweeting; with all of the controversy and turmoil in our city over the past year, the one thing that can and does get lost in the conversation is a family’s grief.  Basu explains…

He had stood waiting, numb, about half a mile from here on Canfield Drive, with his wife of three weeks, Calvina. He rushed there after the police called him and his son’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. They all stood before a body covered by a sheet, surrounded by police cars, flashing lights, yellow crime scene tape and a crowd that grew larger by the minute.

He was there for four hours and 32 minutes before the sheet was lifted and he saw his son, and what he did not want to believe was confirmed. His 18-year-old boy, named after him, had been shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson.

One year later, Brown utters the same words he uttered then: “I should have been there to protect him.”

From the afternoon of August 9 to the funeral of “Mike Mike” 16 days later, Brown felt as though he were in a trance. On the funeral program, he wrote:

“I think of you day and night and just wish I was there to save you from harm. I always told you I would never let anything happen to you. And that’s why it hurts sooooo much. I will never let you die in my heart.”[2]

 

I stood in that same spot this morning, just as the sun was rising, on that street in Ferguson, in a circle, holding hands with more than 100 clergy, to acknowledge those tears of a grieving father. To witness to that pain and emptiness. To remember that this isn’t just about statistics and hashtags, this is about a father’s lost son. A mother’s lost daughter. A sister, a brother, a niece, a nephew, a friend. And each day there is another new name to mourn. 705 names added just this year.[3] And every time a new name is added to the list, each time a new hashtag is trending, another parent is crying out: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! O my son Mike Mike, O my daughter Renisha, O my son Tamir, O my son Walter, O my daughter Tanesha, my child, my child!

This morning, in that circle of faith, as we wept for and with the parents of lost children, as we prayed for God to protect all our children, one mother in the circle lamented that she could do nothing to take away that grief, to stop the tears of grieving parents, to but that she could work and pray that God might make something holy come from those tears.

Because that’s what we do, that’s all we can do when people are grieving, when our neighbors are weeping. We show up with love. God’s people show up with love. Usually with love and casseroles, but always with love. As imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us, God’s people show up at the worst of times, still, to witness to God’s love.

So, yes, sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of a frozen meal and a tray of cookies, and but also, at other times we show up with God’s love in our voices proclaiming, “That’s enough violence! Not one more!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love as flowers and condolence cards, and other times it’s with letters drafted to our elected officials saying, “We need better schools, more jobs, programs to keep kids off the streets and out of prisons and in school, we need opportunities for all!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of an embrace and a prayer, and other times it’s holding hands, marching down the street, promising not to forget, to keep asking the hard questions, and demand answers and changes.

God calls us to show up with love.

O Church-   fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, family and friends are weeping. Right now. More and more of them every day.

How might we show up with love? How will we witness to God’s love?

Amen.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

[1] “Absalom” by Frederick Buechner as posted to http://frederickbuechner.com/content/absalom-0 and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[2] Interview from “Michael Brown’s Father: ‘I think of him every single day’” as posted at http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/07/us/michael-brown-sr-interview-ferguson/ and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[3] As documented by http://killedbypolice.net/ on 8/9/2015.

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