God who weeps for us and with us, please guide us this morning by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Micah 6:6-8 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Hymn “O God of Every Nation” by William W. Reid, Jr. (YouTube video with lyrics for in-home worship: https://youtu.be/NCMoqOjrDUo) O God of every nation, of every race and land, redeem the whole creation with your almighty hand. Where hate and fear divide us and bitter threats are hurled, in love and mercy guide us, and heal our strife-torn world. From search for wealth and power and scorn of truth and right, from trust in bombs that shower destruction through the night, from pride of race and station and blindness to your way, deliver every nation, eternal God, we pray! Lord, strengthen all who labor that we may find release from fear of rattling saber, from dread of war’s increase. When hope and courage falter, Lord, let your voice be heard; with faith that none can alter, your servants undergird. Keep bright in us the vision of days when war shall cease, when hatred and division give way to love and peace, till dawns the morning glorious when truth and justice reign, and Christ shall rule victorious o’er all the world's domain.
A picture can change the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that he had to get the nation’s attention if the Civil Rights Movement was going to go anywhere. So far, there had been pockets of impact, but nothing large-scale — certainly not on the level of congressional change. A catalyst was needed, something so egregious, so stirring that nobody in Washington or across the country could stay silent. King began to plan his marches in ways that he hoped would precipitate such a thing.
This was the Southern Leadership Conference’s main agenda for its 1963 campaign in Birmingham. Controversially, even among King’s leadership, the movement recruited students to join in the weekday march. First graders up through high schoolers staged a massive, organized walkout, only to be arrested by the hundreds and shipped off to jail in yellow school buses. Newsweek called it the Children’s Crusade. Other outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, made the march front-page news.
But, it was the photo of a stoic boy and a lunging dog that changed the world. Once the jails were full, Bull Connor — the city’s Commissioner of Public Safety — elected to use firehoses and police dogs, mostly German Shepherds, to keep protesters out of downtown. And then it happened. One of those dogs lunged at a passing teenager, Walter Gadsden, right when a photographer was taking a shot. The image is surreal. In the midst of a relative sea of calm, a snarling dog leaps at a boy who throws up his leg in an effort to protect himself. The officer even looks to be holding the dog back, trying to keep the animal away from Walter. But, the image told a story of racism, violence, and oppression that shocked our nation into action. President Kennedy sees it and is appalled. So are many in Congress, and the next year we get the Civil Rights Act.
George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 is far worse. For over ten minutes, Floyd, a middle-aged black man, is pinned to the ground by a white police officer with his knee to the back of Floyd’s neck. Eventually, Floyd suffocates to death. The video, taken by a bystander, is gut-wrenching.
I have struggled with how to respond to Mr. Floyd’s death. I still don’t know how. I am tired of words. I have offered words and laments and arguments many times over the past few years as we’ve watched racism and division suffocate our country and our world. I read Brian Tome’s post calling us to take a good, hard look at our actions and not just our internal thoughts and beliefs, and I found it powerful and humbling. I’ve read dozens, if not more, statements from churches and organizations and cities — including Wyoming — professing sorrow and anger over what has happened and pledging to work toward a better, more just tomorrow. I am glad for these, but I’ve read them before. What has changed?
I hope everything has changed. I hope George Floyd is today’s Walter Gadsden. This is why I support the peaceful protests that have spread across our nation and our world. They speak to a profound need for real action, for something beyond mere words, for something that will continue on even after the protests themselves have stopped. I’m not sure we as a people know what that real action should look like. It will probably be different in different places. But, I do know — with everything I’ve ever believed — that it must happen, not because it’s time but because it’s right and it’s good and it’s beautiful.
Micah 6:6-8 reminds us that justice, kindness, and humility are the essence of what it means to be the people of God — to be truly and fully human. That is what’s required of us. Justice and kindness and humility. Not worship. Not singing. Not preaching. We have spent a month — some of us three months — wondering about and planning for when we’re going to get to come back to church. Let us forget about all of that and focus on what matters most: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Prayers for Our World
This week, let us come together in unity by praying a prayer once prayed by Martin Luther King, Jr. It is as appropriate today as it was back in 1953 when he first wrote it.
Most Gracious and all wise God, before whose face the generations rise and fall, the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being — We thank you for all of your good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and the love of human nature. We come before you painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings; we realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love, and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie; we are forever offered the high road, and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins, O God, forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see you. O God, in these turbulent days, when fear and doubt are mounting high, give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and the power of endurance. Help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth, and for a brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends race or color. In the name and Spirit of Jesus, we pray. Amen.