Delivering hard words that can become good news

July 24, 2018 by Joe Small

Suggestion for August reading:

Some sermons are like easy listening music on the FM dial – smooth, comforting, in one ear and out the other. Other sermons are unsettling – more like a challenging piece from a contemporary composer on the classical music station. Michael Eric Dyson’s sermon is not easy listening; like modern symphonic music it is bold, taxing, thought-provoking.

Michael Eric Dyson is a Baptist minister, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, contributing writer for The New York Times and The New Republic, and a frequent commentator on radio and television. The combination makes for a passionate, learned, relevant voice in the difficult discourse on race in America.

Tears We Cannot Stop is organized as a worship service – “Call to Worship, Hymns of Praise, Invocation, Scripture Reading, Sermon, Benediction.” Dyson is the pastor, and white America is the congregation. The heart of the service is the sermon, but all other elements in the liturgy are essential. Throughout, the tone is personal, addressed to “my dear white friends, my beloved comrades of faith and country.” And throughout, the pastor’s plea is for metanoia, repentance, turning away from “the way things are” toward how things can and should be.

Dyson wants white America – no, each white American – to know what it is to be black in America. It is essential because, he says in the sermon, “many of you, beloved – honestly, it may be most of you – pretend not to know any of this. It may be that you don’t know many of us. You’ve got one, two, three really good black friends. Maybe you’re not pretending. Maybe you don’t know because you don’t want to know. Maybe it’s worse. You don’t have to know. Your life hasn’t depended, like ours has, on knowing what the ‘other’ likes or dislikes.” With searing honesty, Dyson requires white Americans to “know all of this.”

Think for a minute about the book’s title, Tears We Cannot Stop. Dyson wants white America to know the anguish of black America. He insists that we who are white understand the experience of those who are black. Sermons are an odd form of communication in which one person speaks while everyone else listens. Congregations are required to hear a message that is not of their choosing, and the hope is that they will be transformed by the experience. Reading Tears We Cannot Stop is listening to a sermon preached by someone who cares enough about us to deliver hard words that can become good news.

Prepare for your August sermons

We are offering a new service to pastors: a lectionary preview written and prepared by a PC(USA) minister. The preview looks at the month’s scripture with an eye for opportunities to discuss stewardship. Find this month’s blog post, Bread of Life, by Rev. Thia Reggio.

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