God's Gift in the Midst of Violence
What a week. Last week started with July 4th, Independence Day, a day we celebrate liberty and justice for all…but before the week was out we mourned the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and for Dallas Police Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa. Less than a month ago I sat with my young daughter on a sidewalk in Third Ward watching the Juneteenth Parade go by to celebrate emancipation and the way that it liberates all of us. In that same month, our new reels were filled with scenes from the gay nightclub in Orlando. We lost so so so many. In the past year, we united in the face of terror to proclaim, “WE ARE PARIS!” The same brutal hate took the lives of our siblings in Istanbul’s airport and in the streets of Baghdad.
I’ve read so so so many articles on what happened and why. I’ve stayed up until far too late scrolling through the memes, the cartoons, and the comments threads that offer both truth and vitriolic snark. I’ve watched the videos because it is my responsibility to witness the suffering of my neighbor. I have witnessed the utter fear and grief on the faces of people pleading for the very lives our people. As Christians, all people are OUR people, and our call is especially to advocate for the oppressed.
I’m overwhelmed by all there is to take in. I’m exhausted because I feel like I shouldn’t have to reiterate people’s humanity over and over again. I am breathless. I am speechless. What is left to say? I know that God is with us in this mess, but where are the promises being fulfilled? Where is the glimpse of hope when the curtain of violence shields it from our view? I long for a gospel that is more than silver-linings in the midst of tragedy. The image of peaceful protestors and law enforcement hugging one another is a powerful one, but I don’t want mere eye candy. We are promised more than that. We are promised transformation. Personal transformation, relational transformation, societal transformation…a new creation.
Romans 8:18 -27
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We follow God who is still creating. God is still speaking. God speaks up on behalf of both children and tax collectors, for the oppressed and for the oppressor…to proclaim their humanity and to reconcile them once again to each other. God says their names. God says our name. God claims us, sighs with us, and groans with us.
Romans 8:31- 39
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[i] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are not alone in our grief, nor in our hope. We don’t have to rely on our own strength to get through the day and toward tomorrow. We come together to be reminded of this. We come together to live into the love of God – to hear it poured out over us and to pour it out over others. We pray together and we work together to reflect God’s light into dark places. Last night for WOR(K)SHIP we put our prayer into action as we worked with Montrose Grace Place to organize their closet so that it can be a joyful experience to the homeless LGBTQ youth that come each week. Many hands made light work as both homeless and housed, first-time visitors and community leaders, people of all colors came together to live into our gospel promise. Throughout our daily life we continue to show up for one another, speak up for one another, educate ourselves on the challenges we face together, call our representatives and vote for the sake of one another. We are not alone in this. We are not alone in our grief, nor our hope. We pray together:
The world trembles out of control. The violence builds, some by terrorism, some by state greed dressed up as policy, violence on every side. You, in the midst of the out-of control violence. We confess you steadfast, loyal, reliable, but we wonder if you yourself are engaged in brutality. We confess you to be governor and ruler, but we wonder if you manage.
We in the midst of out-of-control violence, we in great faith, we in deep vocational call, we in our several anxieties. We — alongside you — in the trembling. This day we pray for freedom to move beyond fear to caring, beyond self to neighbor, beyond protection to growth. That we may be a sign of the steadfastness, that anxiety may not win the day. You are the one who said, “Do not be anxious.” And now we submit to you. Amen.
- "God's Gift in the Midst of Violence" by Walter Brueggemann