Along with Psalm 74, these were remarks I shared in worship on July 10, 2016 after the death of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and five officers in Dallas. I stand by these words still in the wake of news from Tulsa and Charlotte.
This week, I was at the courthouse as we were closing a chapter on an act of violence in our own community. As I talked with our Commonwealth Attorney, we discussed the growing litany of violent news stories that keep us rattled. I told him that there is a certain fatigue that comes with trying to say something meaningful and holy in the aftermath of Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris, and the list goes on. It’s hard. Not hard like it is for so many whose lives are on the line or for the political, social, and community leaders in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas, but the words are difficult to come by. I’ll try anyway.
We’ve just finished looking at Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. He wanted a unified church. Our tendency is toward an “us vs. them” attitude. How sad that so many screaming at one another bear the title of Christian. The apostle Paul pounded home the point that it can’t be us vs them among the people of God. Whatever our differences by skin color or profession, our shared nature as humanity, individuals created in the image of God, and among us, as disciples of Jesus, we can’t allow the loss of life to make us turn against our brothers and sisters. The world needs the witness of a unified church.
Catchphrases and hashtags fill up our news and social media.
#blacklivesmatter #bluelivesmatter #alllivesmatter
Black lives do matter. Police lives do matter. And Satan would have us believe those two views are mutually exclusive, as if someone can’t hold both of these truths in one heart and mind. You see, I know you all. I know that in reality that black lives do matter to you. I’ve seen you worship, serve and share communion with our brothers and sisters from Rose Chapel. That matters. I know that the lives of law enforcement matter to you. I have a brother-in-law that wears a badge to work. You have people you love who put on a badge to go to work. Members of this faith family have taken an oath to protect and serve.
I’m an optimist. It’s a job hazard, and I believe that most people believe both black lives and blue lives matter. I don’t know all of the motivations or details behind the terrible news stories we’ve heard this week, but I don’t believe we need all the details in order to lament the loss of life. I do believe a few bad actors on either side want us to believe we have to choose just one hashtag. It appears that black lives matter protestors and Dallas law enforcement were getting along well, walking together on a difficult day. That’s just what our culture needed most after the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But one man couldn’t tolerate these two sides walking together when he believed they should stay divided and set against each other. What a satanic and evil act to turn a peaceful protest into a shooting gallery. He killed Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, and wounded several more.
Black lives do matter to us. Blue lives matter to us, and we can’t allow the political garbage that’s been attached to those phrases to obscure the truth. Neither statement should be hard to say for the disciples of Jesus. The Son of God boldly believes Samaritan lives matter, children’s lives matter, and lepers’ lives matter. I have come to believe it’s not wrong to say that specifically black lives matter and police lives matter, rather than a generic all lives matter. Those statements are only divisive if we allow them to be. It’s the black community and law enforcement community feeling the weight this week in a way that I can’t quite comprehend. I have several friends who are the parents of young black boys, and they are deeply concerned for their sons. My brother-in-law, Michael, was so little when I started dating his sister that he feels like my son at times, and in my mind and heart, I say a prayer for him every time I know he’s wearing his badge. It’s not easy to be black or to wear a badge right now.
As the world is hard at work driving wedges and building walls, the church must work just as hard build community. We are a counter-cultural revolution that sees the value in everyone because God made everyone in his image. The world needs our witness. So, I’m going to love my black neighbor and accept that I haven’t walked in their shoes. I’m going to love my law enforcement neighbor and accept that they have to do a hard and dangerous job.
I’m thankful for our local law enforcement. They know their neighbors. They do a hard job with integrity. We in Amherst County and Lynchburg ought to model for the world that we do not have to be divided. We can be proactive in the way we continue to build community. We can build up the kind of goodwill that can hold back the division that desperately wants to creep in.
How can we translate this desire into tangible action? I think it begins in simple ways. If you know someone in law enforcement, ask them about their concerns. Pray with them. I don’t mean say you will pray for them. Ask to pray with them. Hold their hand, and voice your prayers out loud. For your black friends and neighbors, ask them how they are experiencing the news that keeps coming at us. What are their fears? Pray for them, and again, not a passing statement that you will pray, but stop and pray with them.
We underestimate the power of prayer to change us and change the world. In the passage I intended to preach from today, “we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Paul assured the church of his prayers for them, praying for their continual progress in their discipleship. What a word to pray for one another! Along with praying for their peace and protection, perhaps we pray for black and blue neighbors to continue to grow in their knowledge and love for the ways of Jesus, knowing the good fruit of that will come of it, knowing that they will be “made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and…be prepared to endure everything with patience.”
Lord you are light when it is dark. You are peace in the midst of war. You are our firm resting place. He come to you with sad hearts and confused minds. We’re seeking to make sense of the news around us.
After Cain killed Abel, he chafed at even the reminder of his existence. (Russell Moore) So, we will not allow these to the nameless lost. We lift up to you O Lord, the families and friends of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa. On behalf of them and their loved ones, we claim your promise to walk with your people through the valley of the shadow of death. We lament their losses Lord.
Lamb of God You take away the sins of the world Have mercy on us. Grant us peace.
For the unbearable toil of our sinful world, We plead for remission. For the terror of absence from our beloved, We plead for your comfort. For the scandalous presence of death in your Creation, We plead for the resurrection.
Lamb of God You take away the sins of the world Have mercy on us. Grant us peace. (www.commonprayer.net)
Your son said “Blessed are those who mourn. They will be comforted.” Let them experience you’re the holy comfort of your Spirit. Let them be comforted by your church Lord.