Tag Archive: Genocide


Sermon from July 12 at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

These texts today about Israel losing God’s favor and Herod beheading John the Baptist are not exactly pick me ups.  They’re the kind of texts where you respond to “the Word of the Lord” with “Thanks be to God?!”  What on earth does this have to say to us? Where is the good news? However, these are stories that, oddly enough, have to do with our every day lives.

In Rwanda, one of the first places we visited was the genocide memorial in Nyamata.  It was a Catholic Church that had been the site of the killing of 10,000 people in 4 days.  There, on display, within the walls of this church were the skulls of some of the victims.  I was horrified.  And yet, I knew I had to be there.  I had to learn from what I saw before me.  When we had time to walk around, I found myself in front of those skulls, praying that I would never forget what I had seen.  I asked God that I might know what lesson I was to take away from that place.  The answer came in the form of a question: how many times have I hurt others or caused death in their lives with my words or deeds?

Staring at that gruesome scene, I realized that the truth of the matter is that we all have the potential to do harm to one another.  Maybe not in such stark ways, but in a thousand different ways each and every day.  The potential is there and the temptation to power and force always beckoning.  As the famous Lord Acton quote goes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Herod and his wife succumbed to power.  John’s words of truth spoken against them stung and eventually, they proved to be too threatening to the established power.  Herod’s wife Herodias wanted John dead and Herod, for the sake of an oath and to save face among his contemporaries, would not refuse her.

The established court priest and prophet Amaziah didn’t like that the farmer prophet Amos was speaking on his turf – in the king’s sanctuary at Bethel – and saying such negative things about Israel and the king! So Amaziah tried to get Amos to leave, but Amos was following a higher calling.

Jesus and his disciples set out, preaching and teaching, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near and that all people should turn once more toward God.  But this proved threatening to the established religious leaders, to Rome and to those who wanted to put themselves first, rather than God.  Jesus would be crucified and many of his first followers martyred for speaking of God’s kingdom and against the powers that wanted to coerce and manipulate.

We are often threatened by words of truth – they have power – they challenge us, shake us out of our comfort zones and complacency, cause us to reconsider what we thought we had figured out, and make us squirm.  Sometimes we become frustrated or angry because we know that what has been said is something that is really too close for comfort.  Words can make us angry because they pull back the masks we present to the world and ourselves, and we cannot hide the truth from ourselves or anyone else anymore.  Words can cut to the heart and we see revealed, all too clearly, that with which we are struggling.

These words can be read or heard in Scripture, preached from the pulpit, heard in a song, from people we know and love, or even from strangers.  I know that I hate it when someone else speaks that kind of uncomfortable truth to me.  They say something and it’s absolutely irritating because I know in my heart of hearts that the other person is right, but I don’t want to admit it or deal with it.  And now that whatever I was conveniently trying to ignore is out in the open, I have to deal with it.  Has anyone else experienced this?

As much as this can be incredibly uncomfortable, challenging and even painful, it is one of ways I know I learn.  And I give thanks for the people in my life who are patient and wise guides, able to shepherd me through this learning process.  Those who speak truth and gently urge me to give up the power and control I think I have in favor for the forgiveness and healing of Christ.  We all need people and communities that can hold us accountable and call us to be the people God is calling us to be.

Because that’s the paradox of the Gospel.  Real power – power that isn’t coercive or manipulative – springs forth from the cross of Christ.  It was through Christ’s weakness and vulnerability that salvation came about.  It is through death that we are able to experience new life.  It’s through letting go of the things we want to hold so tightly – being right, important, intelligent, rich, or even our mistakes – that we discover true freedom and the power of Christ’s love to heal and redeem.  And without being in touch with those places where we have sinned or fallen short, the good news remains something that sounds good, but stays at arm’s length and cannot change our lives.

The cross, and following Christ, bid us to die to ourselves.  Being a disciple is hard.  Following Christ will cause us to examine our lives and let go of things we thought important in order to follow God.  It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is profoundly good.  And the Holy Spirit is always guiding and strengthening us to follow.  Following God frees us to become more open to what God is doing in the world – to see things through the lens of the cross and resurrection, and to work on behalf of God’s kingdom.

It’s like a scene from A League of Their Own, about the women’s baseball league started during World War II.  In that scene, coach Jimmy Duggan, speaks passionately about baseball to Dottie, an amazing player, who is leaving the league now that her husband is back from war.  Jimmy says, “Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.” When Dottie says, “It just got too hard,” Jimmy responds:  “It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great!”

Trying to follow God is hard.  I’m sure Amos, who was a simple farmer, called to be a prophet by God, had his moments of thinking, “this is an awful gig – I don’t want to do this.”  But he knew he had to.  And John the Baptist, as wild and unconventional as he was, probably knew that speaking the truth to the king and to all people would end up getting him in trouble, but he pressed on, knowing he was called to proclaim God’s truth.  Jesus sent out the disciples knowing that they would encounter those who wouldn’t want to listen.  And we, too, are called to listen to what God is proclaiming to us and to share that news with the world.  It is hard, but in doing so we experience new life and resurrection.  And the good news is that God never ceases trying to reach us, calling us to be transformed by God’s grace, and to share the good news with the world.

Words, especially words of truth, can catch us off guard and frustrate, irritate, or challenge us.  But they can also help us to turn once more toward God.  As the Psalmist says “I will listen to what the LORD God is saying.”  Are we listening? What is God saying to us today? Are there things God is calling you to reexamine in your life?

Maybe what you hear is that God is calling you to step out of your comfort zone to follow God into a new place or a new task.  Amos was a simple farmer when God called him to be a prophet.  How might God be calling you?

The stories of Amos and John the Baptist remind us that we need God’s word and other people to speak truth to us, even if it’s hard to hear.  We need that help to remove the masks we wear, to challenge us to examine our sins, to encourage us to seek forgiveness, and to live in God’s grace.  Thanks be to God for the prophets old and new who point toward God and call us to follow.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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Sermon from June 28 at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

Imana ishyimwe! Praise God! Our mission trip to Rwanda was a incredibly eye-opening and moving journey. On the one hand, I learned up close about the depth of human hatred and depravity. On the other, I left feeling like I had never encountered such a depth of joy in all my travels. How could both of these things be present in the same place and even among the same people? As I reflect and try to understand, I can only think that it is because we were able to glimpse both death and resurrection.

During the genocide in 1994, men were both disproportionately the perpetrators and victims. Afterward, some 70 percent of the country was women. Many of whom had been abused, raped, wounded, and widowed. Or whose families had perpetrated crimes against others and were now in prison. How would they be able to go on after such a horrific tragedy? Men had been breadwinners and now the world had been shaken to the core. Those who were left were hurting, sick, suffering from PTSD, dealing with poverty, and finding it nearly impossible to build trust or community.

I think about the woman in the lesson this morning. She had suffered with hemorrhages for twelve agonizing years. No one could help her. And because of her disease, she was unclean and isolated from society. She must have felt so completely cut off from everything she once knew and enjoyed. Perhaps she had once loved life in her village, but now it was a place of isolation, loneliness, hurt and distrust. How could there be hope for a future?

After the woman in the Gospel quietly touches Jesus’ clothes to receive healing, she is unable to hide any longer. She tells him her whole story about all the doctors, the years of suffering, the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and shame, and how she knew she would be better if she could only touch even his clothes. Jesus looks at her and says gently, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

I hear this story and I think about those Rwandan women after the genocide, and what they must have gone through. They, too, struggled to find hope and a future. They, too, must have felt relegated to the land of the dead as opposed to the land of the living. They, too, must have felt shame for what they suffered or what they or others had done.

But slowly, things began to change. Women began to realize that in order to move forward, they needed to work together. They gathered to talk and weave. Hutu and Tutsi women began sitting together, side-by-side, weaving peace baskets, which nest to show how intricate and how long a process the road to peace and reconciliation is. All over Rwanda, co-ops have formed. People have come together across ethnic lines to begin building, or weaving, a future for their country and for their children.

We were blessed to experience this healing and resurrection in many places on our trip, but particularly in the villages of Gitarama and Nyange. In Gitarama, we participated in Azizi Life, an experience shadowing Rwandan women for the day, learning about their lives, and having the amazing opportunity to share cross-culturally.

While there, we helped prepare lunch, we harvested and planted sweet potatoes, we collected water by walking to the spring with jerry cans, we cut elephant grass and balanced it on our heads to take to the cow, we ate lunch together, prayed, sang and danced, and learned how to make earrings and bracelets from banana leaves. It was incredible. Together, these women have a co-op and they make beautiful handicrafts to sell around the world. They receive a fair wage and are able to support themselves and their families.

Sitting on Our Host's Front Porch Making Jewelry (Azizi Life)

Sitting on Our Host’s Front Porch Making Jewelry (Azizi Life)

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With Pauline who Taught Me (Errr… tried to teach me!) How to Make Banana Leaf Earrings and a Bracelet

I found myself sitting on the front porch of our host’s home filled with joy – not wanting the moment to end. We had been so warmly embraced by these women. Their smiles and laughter made me overflow with joy. So much so that when I went to say goodbye and thank you to our host, I found myself tearing up with gratitude. How could this come from the unfathomable depth of suffering of the genocide?

In Nyange, we sat with the village elders with whom Pr. John, Robin’s husband, has been working. They are rebuilding their community by working together to decide what is important for them as a whole. Together, they have decided that they are most in need of new roofs. And in the process, Pr. John has been coaching and encouraging them so that they can put together an action plan, hold meetings, make presentations to government officials, and reflect on their project and its effectiveness. I asked them what has changed as a result of this and one woman said, “We used to not even want to wash our clothes. We were ashamed and we didn’t want to interact with one another. Now we want to take care of ourselves. We are even discussing family planning. We can make presentations to people without being afraid.” Each one of them mentioned how their confidence had increased – how they are once again able to look others in the eye.

Meeting with the Community at Nyange

Meeting with the Community at Nyange

Meeting with the Community in Nyange

Meeting with the Community in Nyange

I hear in that an echo of the woman from the Gospel. She was healed and able to tell her story of her movement from death to life. These communities have been healed, by the grace of God at work in the world and by their faith that there could be a future. And now they are able to tell their stories – to share the joy of their resurrection with us. To point to what God can do – crossing all walls and boundaries and bringing resurrection from the darkest depths of hatred and death.

The day after our Azizi Life experience we heard about the shooting in Charleston. I was sad. I was angry. We had just visited a church in Rwanda that was the site of the killing of 10,000 people. Now here was a shooting in a church in our own backyard. Why? Why do we continue to hurt one another? Our sin runs deep. Racism, lack of compassion for those who are different, hard hearts unwilling to learn and grow and change… We have an opportunity at this moment to begin to discuss what has happened and to work together across races and ethnicities to build a better future for all people. I know that Christ can bring life out of this hurt and death – I know that more deeply after visiting Rwanda. But are we open to his working in us to do so?

Christ healed a woman on the fringes of society and brought her back into her community. He is at work in Rwanda through women and men working together to rebuild their communities. And he is at work even now, starting conversations and reconciliation among Americans in communities across the country. Might we, like the disciples, be overcome with amazement at what God is able to do. Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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