Speaking Truth

Part of being a leader is being willing to take risks and speak the truth. Being truthful, to oneself and to others, is probably the most difficult action a person in the ministry can take.  Recently, Len Ripley, a friend of mine and fellow Duke Alumni from the UMC Course of Study program offered this sermon after the shooting in Az. Though the sermon as a whole is very moving, I find his reflection and reasoning for taking the risk of preaching the sermon the most powerful section of the sermon. He offers  for motivation his own experience as a young person looking for guidance from his pastor at a time when he was struggling to come to terms with the injustice of our society.  Len writes:

The Sunday after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, I was in church with my parents and sister. I went with a heavy heart, expecting my pastor to help make sense of the tragedy. You see, I was a young person who really listened to Scripture, preaching, and [was] already sensing a call to representative ministry. I also had become good friends with a teammate on my high school basketball team whose dad had just died in Vietnam. He happened to be African American. What hurt me was the fact that he was not welcome at the soda fountain at Port City Drugstore like the rest of us. Even though his father died for this nation! That changed me! I began to understand Martin King and why he said and did the things he did. …

…Well, on that terrible morning at NCUMC [North Charleston UMC], my minister rose to preach. I held my breath. But he said nothing of the events in Memphis. He preached as if nothing had happened.

I left church that day confused. I left that morning disgusted because my pastor did not have the courage to speak what needed to be said and heard.

Len choose not to model his behavior upon his childhood pastor and instead boldly reflects and calls his congregation into reflection and action.  He writes:

At their best, American pulpits are not about taking sides and blaming. Those pulpits should be places to reflect on theology and life, on the Word and our words.

I hope my sermon this morning will go beyond expressions of sympathy or even calls for civility and niceness. Right now, we need some sustained spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans and as Christians–how much we’ve allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we’ve allowed our discourse to become, how little we’ve listened, how much we’ve dehumanized public servants, how much we love to hate.

Boldness, seeking justice and mercy, and looking for and offering compassion and convection. These are signs of a good minister.

Thanks, Len, for being courageous.    And thanks for letting me post your sermon here. 🙂

Dr. Mel

~ by sideseat on January 13, 2011.

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