Summary: This sermon reflects on the response of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC to the killings that took place June 17. It shows the power of grace and forgiveness.

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The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

There is a church in Charleston, SC that is worshiping this morning. They are missing their Senior Pastor Clementa Pinckney, two associate pastors – Sharonda Singleton and Daniel Simmons, and members Cynthia Hurd, Suzy Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, and Myra Thompson. These nine followers of Christ were concluding a Bible study when they were gunned down by a late-comer who had joined them for the study. He had traveled from Columbia, SC to carry out his carefully planned action. Through research he had chosen that particular church in that particular city. He believed his evil action in such a significant African-American church in a southern city would ignite a racial war. With the growing tension in our country over the controversial deaths of African-American men by police officers, such a ghastly deed would be sure to setoff black violence. There had been, after all, the incident of an officer shooting an unarmed black man in the back just three months earlier. Surely violence would ignite further violence. Surely monstrous hate would be met with reciprocating hate. The evil that this young white man believed existed in the hearts of black people would pour out when he unleashed his murderous assault.

He was successful in carrying out his plan, but only with great effort. Indeed, he almost failed. No, it was not the church’s security system. It was not because he was suspected and the church ministers and members were put on guard. It was their love that almost undid him. If he had walked in and immediately begun shooting, the mission would have been easy. But the Bible study group warmly welcomed him, even though he was a stranger and clearly out of place. So he sat down and joined in the study for an hour. He was treated so nicely that he almost changed his mind about them. It was only as the study was wrapping up that he collected himself and carried out his evil plan.

He did it! He completed his violent mission. Now he would see the wide-spread violence he desired. But something went wrong – dreadfully wrong. No violence, no riots, no hatred spilling over, no racial war. As Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley observed, “This hateful person came into this community with some crazy idea he would be able to divide, and all he did was make us more united and love each other even more.”

But how? Dylann Storm Roof may have been crazy, but his idea was logical. Tensions in our nation are growing, not diminishing. Perhaps the idea of a war was over-blown, but surely it was expected that some kind of violence would occur.

The Scripture text of the Bible study that this young killer sat in on gives the answer. The group was studying Mark 4:14-20, the parable of sowing seed on the four soils. In their text, Jesus explained that the seed represented the “word,” i.e. the word of God. Some seed fall on hard soil, some on rocky soil, and some on soil choked with thorns. The result in all three is that the seed of God’s word does not flourish and comes to nothing. But other seed fall on good, rich soil, where the word of God takes strong root and grows into flourishing plants yielding fruit well beyond what is ordinary.

The point of the story is that just as seed needs the right soil in which to flourish, so the word of God flourishes only in the heart that has good soil. We can hear the word, but we cannot benefit from it if our hearts remain hardened or filled w fears, lusts, and hatred.

Dylann Roof had walked into a church of good soil filled with followers of Jesus Christ who had heard the gospel word, had accepted it, and was bearing the fruit of the gospel. The killer thought he had chosen the right church; he thought he understood why it had become the significant church that it is. But if he had bothered to look at the church’s home page on its website, he did not understand the significance of the quote by Sister Jean German Ortiz on that page:

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