New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday
Waiting is one of the hardest things we human beings do. Even saying that feels like an understatement, especially when it comes to waiting for justice. We don’t want to wait. Sometimes we can hardly contain ourselves. We don’t want to sit on our hands. We want to act and to act decisively, for an outcome that will satisfy, that will give us catharsis and redemption. And we want it NOW. What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! That’s what we say when we protest but that’s not the catharsis we’re looking for.
Oftentimes what we want for justice is for the perpetrator, the oppressor to feel the pain that they have inflicted. In our powerlessness, we reach for violence and power over those who cause such pain and devastation. And we also use power and violence to control those we see as less than, as other. That’s what pitchforks and torches were for, and scapegoats and witch hunts and separating children from their families and rape and lynching are for.
One of the other texts for this Sunday is Psalm 137, infamous for its strong voice of grief and lament and violent desire for revenge. Even though it is part of the prayer book of the Bible, even though we can say anything in prayer, close to never do we read it in worship because it connects us with a side of ourselves we’d rather not acknowledge. We may sometimes dismiss the Bible as an ancient set of books with no understanding of science or use of modern reason but it is timeless when it comes to human nature. The reading from the prophet Habakkuk sounds like a voice from today’s news.
When we cry “Help! Murder! Police!” we expect justice. We expect the one who committed the crime to be brought to trial and to be found guilty. We expect the punishment to be just but not harsh and we leave forgiveness for later. So when Amber Guyger was found guilty we said, “Finally there will be justice for black and brown lives”. When the sentence of 10 years in prison was given, Botham Jean’s family was shocked. It is justice but it is hamstrung by white privilege and racism, by a system designed by white people for white people. And when Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt hugged Guyger and forgave her, not everyone felt a sense of catharsis or experienced redemption.
Rev. Cornell William Brooks had this to say on NPR: “This country and police departments in particular should be asking the question, why are black people being called upon to forgive serially? In other words, we commend black people for being moral heroes while we decline to treat them as human beings. And so police departments will commend the victim while continuing to victimize and refusing to apologize, repent, demonstrate accountability, or change the way we police.”
Poet Hana Malik describes forgiveness as “taking the knife out your own back and not using it to hurt anyone else no matter how they hurt you”. This is a really helpful image when one is ready to heal and move on. And yet if you are repeatedly, systemically stabbed in the back with the same weapon because of who you are, and you are expected to forgive, forgiveness can feel more like yet another burden to carry rather than a source of catharsis and redemption. The expectation of forgiveness becomes another means of control and oppression.
Which is why waiting for God to act feels like a cop-out. We want justice, we want accountability, we want change, and we want it now, because now is late. Much as we’d like it, there is no supernatural justice-maker on its way to avenge victims and survivors. Even though Deuteronomy tells us that vengeance belongs to God, that God will repay, it’s human beings that engage in that behavior time and again, convinced that we are in the right; that the wrongs committed against us justify our actions.
So what does it mean to wait for God?
Waiting for God means not acting out of rage or fear or grief.
Waiting for God means expressing those emotions but not against the object of those emotions.
Waiting for God means remembering than even our enemies are human beings with people who love them.
Waiting for God means not isolating ourselves, asking for help, finding our tribe.
Waiting for God means taking a deep breath, in and out, and repeating as necessary.
Waiting for God means gifting ourselves with serenity; it means recognizing the courage and wisdom within us and around us.
Waiting for God means not that we are okay with the way things are but rather we are worthy of serenity, no matter how we were hurt.
Waiting for God means holding accountable those who oppress and victimize and criminalize, who benefit from that system.
Waiting for God means trusting that there are others working for justice, for change, for wholeness, and that this work is an evolution in progress.
Waiting for God means acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers.
Waiting for God means doing what we can, to the best of our ability, and letting go of the rest.
|my god by rupi kaur|
Waiting for God is hard work. Jesus knew that, especially that last night with his disciples, especially the next day when it all went bad. It is at this Table that we can lay down our rage and fear and grief for a time and have a taste of that much-needed catharsis and redemption. It is at this Table that we remember Jesus in the lives of those who still wait for justice and how all our lives and our liberation are bound together. It is at this Table that we wait expectantly, eagerly for God and trust that what is needed will be revealed.
May it be so.
Benediction – enfleshed.com
As you go, may the gifts of God be revealed within you.
May they be nourished.
May they be protected.
And may they be shared generously for the sake of the common good.
Remember that God is alive in you,
and in all your neighbors too.
Whatever troubles may come our way,
God goes with us.