Editor's Note: Listen to the audio recording of this sermon HERE.
Lord, I believe. Help, Thou, my unbelief. Make these words more than words and give us all the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
How many hours, Lord?
How many hours
Will he lay out in the sun
Under the gaze, Lord,
Under the gaze
Of Darren Wilson's gun?
Is four hours long enough
For Michael Brown
To lay out in the sun?
It has been a year.
A year since Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.
A year since Ferguson erupted.
And they aren’t done yet.
Students from the Pacific School of Religion and American Baptist Seminary of the West are there now with students from Eden Seminary studying with activists and theologians asking the same question that many in this country are asking, “Do black and brown lives matter as much as others?”
They are standing in the streets chanting with the crowds gathered there, “Tell me what a family looks like; this is what a family looks like.”
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Tell me what a family looks like.
This is what a family looks like.
From Baltimore to Berkeley, people are asking the question. Do black lives matter? It has been a year and we cannot seem to find an answer to the question. “Of course they do” some people state. “Then why is it so hard for so many to be black or brown in this country?” is the question that follows.
"Maybe if they just pulled their pants up and turned the music down,” is a common enough retort. Then, as I hope you can see, we’re back where we started.
A young man walks into Mother Emmanuel AME Church and nine lives come to a tragic end. The “politics of respectability” cannot save black and brown lives either. You can be a respected member of the state government, a pastor, a grandmother, and none of that will matter. You can be president of the United States of America and it won’t matter. Your race will be a strike against you.
You fail to signal when changing lanes.
You turn your music up too loudly.
You dress like a young punk because you are a young punk...
You talk back.
You exercise your right to speak your mind and …
… nowhere. It gets you nowhere. It gets you killed. And you despair.
How many years, Lord
How many years
Has the freedom song been sung
Under the gaze, Lord
Under the gaze,
Of a white man with a gun?
Four hundred years...
Four hundred years...
Four hundred years is long enough
Under the gaze
Under the gaze
Of a white man with a gun.
But it doesn’t end there, either. No, the reach of this thing is larger. This violence, this greed, this fear knows no bounds of race, color, creed, gender…
Zachary Hammond, an unarmed white 19-year-old, was killed in a drug bust in a Hardee’s parking lot where his friend was found in possession of 10 grams of marijuana. No one said a word except for the #BlackLivesMatter movement social media community. There was no outrage from the white community (whatever that is) about the death of one of our own. The #AllLivesMatter community said nothing. Nothing. Why is that?
The media, too, was silent. The only stories published in major news outlets were about how there were no stories published in major news outlets.
We do know what sells column inches and website clicks, don’t we?
What do we think is normal?
What have we become accustomed to?
What do we think is necessary to maintain an orderly society?
What do we think is just and fair?
What do we believe is Beautiful, Good, and True?
Does an orderly society necessitate the deaths of its young women and men?
This is our sad truth.
“O my daughter, O my son! Would that it were me …”
No, our voices are silent.
Or we're fearfully sitting at home grateful that it is not us, it is not our son.
The power of empire is seductive. King David strove for it. His son, Absalom, longed for it. In a tale that rivals Game of Thrones in its chaotic violence, rape, incest, fratricide, and plain old murder, the kingdom is in an uproar. There is no one innocent and good in this tale. There is no helpless victim here.
Yet, Absalom hangs from a tree, executed by those whom King David charged with Absalom’s safety have taken it upon themselves to execute him. Guilty or not, insurrectionist or not, they took power into their own hands and executed Absalom. They lynched him.
After all the clamoring for power, lives are destroyed. Heartbroken, the king wails.
“O Absalom, my son, my son. Would I had died in stead of you!”
But he didn’t. And his rule continued.
I've been pondering the death of Absalom, David's hubris, and the brokenness of systems this week. What if we looked to the death of each and every victim of violence as our son, our daughter, the person with whom we would readily change places if we could?
The body hanging lifeless from the tree is your child. Weep, for your soul has been crushed and your future is uncertain. You have broken covenant with God.
Weep. Wail. It is your daughter dead in the jail cell. It is your son's body lying in the street. “How many hours, Lord, how many hours ...”
To live in the covenant is always a choice. It is a choice we frequently avoid.
Our national story is not a new one. Our predicament is not unusual, nor are the choices we are making.
People of the Christian faith especially should recognize what is afoot in all of this. Those of us who gather week after week and hear the story of a man executed by the power of the status quo should find none of this surprising.
Jesus wanted us to see past the false promises of the power of empire in all its social forms: political or religious. Instead, he wanted us to broaden our vision. Empires demand the deaths of their young people to keep order.
“I am the bread of life,” is an invitation to see a larger world than what empire can promise us. It is a world where hunger is satisfied and thirst is quenched.
This is the covenant that Jesus envisions. This is the fruit of your baptism. To live into this covenant is a choice we all must make every moment of our lives. Will we live into this covenant or won't we? Do we have the strength today?
There are people in the streets begging us to choose to live into the covenant.
They are begging us to live into the life Christ proclaimed.
They are begging us to live in love.
They are begging us to live in truth.
They are begging us to create a life where black lives matter as much as white lives and where empire is not the last word.
They are begging us to speak out.
They are begging us to rise.
Church, arise! Be resurrected!
Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.
Punks and prostitutes followed him, people who likely had 10 grams of something in their pockets while their pants hung down too low, followed him. They played their music too loudly. They marched. They caused trouble. But so did he.
He was accused of false teaching.
He was accused of public disruption.
He was accused of insurrection.
They marched and sang.
He was executed.
His body hung from a tree.
And yet he rose.
The stone was rolled away,
and he rose.
Friends of God, take, eat.
Live in love.
This is the bread of life.
This is God’s insurrection.