“Listen”

Lord, listen to your children praying,
Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
Lord, listen to your children praying,
Send us love, send us power, send us grace.[1]

My friends, I am certain that many of you are disturbed and dismayed by the recent events surrounding the brutal killing of an African-American man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis. Our TVs and other electronic devices brought us video of that killing on Memorial Day. 

  • In the days that followed, we witnessed demonstrations in dozens of cities with tens of thousands of people protesting police brutality and the systemic racism that infects our criminal justice system and our society. 
  • Most of the demonstrations have been peaceful but in some places, small numbers of agitators have looted stores, destroyed businesses and public buildings, and attacked law enforcement officers. 
  • And in other places, police and demonstrators have marched together, prayed together, and acknowledged together the accumulated pain of generations of racial discrimination and injustice suffered by African-Americans and people of color. They have done this, together, in the hope that our communities, and our nation, can work together to bring about a more just society.

In my message on Sunday, I observed that as we celebrated the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we remember that the Spirit is sent from God to be our advocate, guide, and comforter. But the Spirit can also be a holy dis-comforter in a time of injustice. 

After watching the tragic and historic events of the past week, my heart is breaking, and I am discomforted by the Spirit.

I am discomforted by the first violence, the violence done to George Floyd by those four police officers. It is clear they did not follow proper procedures in the arrest. What’s worse, they did not see him as a human being, someone worthy of God’s love. Everyone is created in God’s image and is worthy of human dignity and divine love. Not all police officers are abusive. But Mr. Floyd is only the latest in a long line of African-Americans who have lost their lives to police brutality and a system that incarcerates Black Americans at rates far higher than their representation in the population. 

By the way, in case you want to know who George Floyd was, click on this link to an article from Christianity Today. He was raised in Houston, Texas, where he was admired as a community leader, Christian ministry organizer, and mentor to young people who encouraged them to “put guns down and have Jesus instead of the streets.”

I am also discomforted by the violence and criminal activity that has followed the killing of George Floyd. There is no justification for the looting and assaults on law enforcement officers, who are trying to protect lives and properties while upholding the rights of peaceful protestors to have their voices heard.

There is a holy discomfort in the land, and a holy discomfort in my soul. How can we respond in faith to the events around us? Let me offer the following as places to start:

We can begin with prayer, but we can’t stop there. Prayer is good as we pray for healing the wounds inflicted on people and on communities who live the reality of racial discrimination and inequality on a daily basis. Prayer is good as we pray for peace; but the peace we pray for must be accompanied by justice for our African-American brothers and sisters, and others who experience racism and inequality. Yes, let us pray: God, in your mercy, bring healing to our land through equal justice, equally applied, that all may live in the shalom/peace that you desire for all.

We must name sin, but we can’t stop there. The sin is racism. It is often referred to as America’s original sin. It was built into our social, economic and governing systems from the start. Despite fighting a war to put an end to slavery, racism continued under different guises (“Jim-Crow” that segregated the races, economic policies that prejudiced Blacks, and White supremacy groups that preach racial inferiority). Racism is a sin of the human heart. Yes, let us pray: God, in your mercy, help us to end the sin of racism wherever we find it: in our institutions, in our workplaces, in our churches, in our homes, and in us. Help us to see all people as you see them—beloved children of God.

We must listen to the voices of the oppressed, and then…. There’s an old saying that goes: “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” That’s hardly possible for we who were born into the privileged majority of White America because we cannot change the color of our skin. What we can do is to listen to the stories of our African-American brothers and sisters. Hear them describe what life is like a black man or woman living in America today. I am educating myself in this area now. One of the books I am reading is called Tears We Cannot Stop, A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson. Mr. Dyson is an African-American Baptist preacher. His book is organized like a worship service. His prose is pointed and powerful in its descriptions of discrimination and inequality. And we need to hear his voice, and the voices of others. Yes, let us pray: God, in your mercy, give us ears to hear and eyes to see the pain of our brothers and sisters, so that we may learn and come to understand their hurt, change our ways, and together, work to end systemic racism and bring about the just you world you envision for all peoples.

Despite all we see taking place in our world today, I remain a person of hope—and I pray you do too. That’s because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. As God’s Resurrection people, I pray we can be part of the hard work of healing that can only come through justice and reconciliation. 

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good,” wrote the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

“Lord, listen to your children praying…Send us love, send us power, send us grace.”

Agape,
Pastor Bob


[1] “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying,” lyrics by Ken Medema, Hope Publishing Company, 1973.

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