Two phrases keep pounding in my ears this morning: The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8.26) and “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” One I learned in The Church, the other I hear repeatedly in recent, and very troubling, news reports from New York City.
Trying to reconcile the biblical verse with the desperate plea of a dying man makes my head hurt – and my heart ache. How can we make sense of the frustrations and anger and feelings of helplessness that accompany each new report of another life unnecessarily lost?
Perhaps you feel the same? I know lots of people have doubts and questions about a world where these things can occur. And do occur – over and over. So I offer these thoughts. I wish they were solutions. But all I have are thoughts, ponderings, and a struggle to understand – on those difficult days when it’s hard to sigh; when you can’t breathe.
Perhaps this is more real to me because, just two week ago, our oldest son and I stood right in the heart of Times Square – right where the protestors were protesting last night. It was his 18th birthday celebration – a mother/son trip to NYC. So as we watched the news last night, we saw all the lights, all the glitz and glamor of where we had just enjoyed the time of our lives – but there was no celebration going on last night.
The bright lights were still there, but this time the folks in the glow were not wide-eyed tourists, but people marching. They marched for justice. They marched for truth. They marched in solidarity. They marched, because, honestly, what else was there for them to do?
Last Sunday, I preached about the Cry of Panic, and I preached about Advent Hope. In that sermon I said,
“One of the short videos we watched in the 9/11 museum included a time-lapsed segment of the rebuilding of the destructed site. People and machinery scurrying around for days, months, years until destruction turned into something beautiful brand new right before our very eyes. The new tower will open soon. They are just now putting the finishing touches on it. It stands as a reminder of Hope in the face of Panic.”
“That is our job, people of God – we Hope in the face of Panic. We do not add to the Panic. We Hope.”
I am painfully aware, however, that this was a sermon for my very particular congregation. A sermon for a predominantly white, middle-upper middle class group who needed that particular word. Don’t be afraid to go to the other side of town. Don’t be afraid when minorities rise up in extreme frustration. Don’t be afraid of every stranger that looks different from you. Don’t be afraid of Ebola. Don’t be afraid that your child’s school will be destroyed by a shooter. Do. Not. Be. Afraid. It’s the Gospel message if I’ve ever heard it.
But what if?
What if my congregation were filled with young black men? What if the pews this past Sunday had been filled with a multi-colored, multi-racial, multi-cultural diversity who might have laughed in my face? A black man standing on the street corner for any reason, for no reason, should be afraid. And when the police approach, he should be even more afraid. Be on guard. Keep awake. Keep alert. Watch out. It seems like he can’t catch a break and the world is against him. Yes, audience matters. The consistent word from God is Do not be afraid but in a world filled with chaos, brokenness, injustice, and rage the words of Advent Hope, Peace, Joy and Love seem distant some days.
The question I find myself asking is this: If this had happened two weeks ago while in NYC with my son, what would we have done? Would we have marched or would we have been too afraid? (Wasn’t I the one that just preached “Fear Not” “Do not be afraid”?) And if we had marched, what good would it have done? What change would we have made?
Standing in solidarity matters. I believe that. Even when we are afraid.
I hope and pray that we would have marched for justice and truth. I hope we would have let our voices be heard in the steps we took. But since we weren’t there to march last night, I write this – The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words; even in a world where “I can’t breathe.”
May it be so.