Sunday, July 10, 2016

“It’s okay Momma. I am with you.”

 “It’s okay Momma. I am with you.”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
July 10, 2016

“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that God may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

The words of the 77th Psalm speak to us this morning.

This weekend across America millions gather in mosques, temples, synagogues and churches seeking to be comforted. I imagine many preachers, rabbis, imams, and other clerics seeking diligently to string words together in an attempt to say something that matters, something that comforts, something that helps those who gather to find meaning in the horrors of the last week.

Perhaps many will be more successful than I because as David lamented in the Psalm, my soul refuses to be comforted…how then can I comfort the souls of others?

A lot of people find themselves in the comforting business this weekend. The President was expected to say something to help his nation through the darkness. He tried as others tried. Despite his heartfelt eloquence, we find little comfort.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of days like these. “They have treated my people's brokenness superficially, claiming, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.” Or as another translation puts it, “They offer only superficial help for the harm my people have suffered. They say, 'Everything will be all right!' But everything is not all right!”

Our souls are not comforted because we know this is not the end of the violence. You might think that the horrors we saw this week…two men killed by policemen in two cities separated hundreds of miles apart and all on video cameras so that all the world could watch and then the ambush killing of five policemen in yet a third city might shock us into stopping the violence …sort of like fighting an oil well fire using dynamite to create a shockwave. The dynamite extinguishes the oxygen long enough that the fire stops breathing and therefore stops burning.  

One would think that violence could reach the point where it sends that same kind of shockwave through our culture and that it would blow itself out. But violence doesn’t work like burning oil. Violence is its own oxygen. Violence begats more violence.

It is not at all clear that the violence that plagues us is controllable.  It is deep in American culture. In his book, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America, Richard Slotkin says there is something in this culture that believes that there is no problem so severe that it wouldn’t improve if we could just shoot someone.

If only the Rev. Martin Luther King were with us today. He’d remind us that, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact,” he said, “violence merely increases hate.

“So it goes,” King continued, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Only love can end the violence? Really? Who believes that? Who is naive enough to believe that love can end the violence? Well, Jesus of Nazareth believed it.

Theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan teach us that this was in fact the purpose with which Jesus entered the world. He came to give us a choice between the view of the Roman Empire, which seems to have been inherited by our culture, that peace can be achieved through violence or a new paradigm that says peace can only be achieved through love and justice.

2000 years later and how many of us still believe the Empire rather than Jesus? As a result more will die. We will see more cell phone videos of black men being killed by policemen and we will witness more policemen being killed for revenge.  Lasting peace has never been achieved through violence. As Dr. King told us just before he himself was murdered, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

But Christians must not feel hopeless or helpless. Jesus taught us better. If we believe him rather than the culture, it is we who can help our nation stop “adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

Neither for King nor for Jesus was love an ephemeral concept. For them, loving your neighbor includes giving your neighbor the justice he or she deserves as a part of their humanity.  Paul Tillich was a German American Christian philosopher and Lutheran theologian, widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. Tillich compared love without justice to 'a body without backbone', suggesting that justice is an element inherent in love.

Reinhold Niebuhr (Neebwer), the American theologian and ethicist, believed justice is love's best possible expression in what he called a 'sin-soaked world'. In other words, in the complex and imperfect situations in which we find ourselves, it is love that motivates the distribution of justice.

The cycle of violence in which our beloved country finds itself will not end, violence will begat more violence until and unless we choose love over revenge and express that love by demanding justice. If Jesus ever needed disciples, it is now

This morning remember the words of the Psalmist. “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that God may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

And so let us cry aloud to God, and stretch out our hands without wearying, and refuse to allow our souls to be comforted until the love of God is expressed through justice.

We can get there as a people by doing what we say we believe, being who we say we are…as disciples of Jesus who is with us, Jesus who taught us to love one another. We heard his reassuring voice this week. We heard it in the voice of a four-year-old girl’s voice as Philando Castile is dying and his girl friend becomes hysterical and the little girl can be heard saying, “It’s okay Momma. I am with you.”

It’s okay friends. We can do this. God is with us.

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