An all too familiar story

It is a story that sounds all too familiar. Those who were assigned to keep the peace. Those whose job it was to enforce law and order. Those who had power, position and authority, they saw a man. But they didn’t actually see a man, what they saw was a thug. They didn’t need to know the whole story. They didn’t need to know everything that had led up to that moment. All they saw was a thug and so with justice deferred and an unrighteous act, an innocent man is killed. Killed by those who are in charge. Killed by those with power. An innocent man executed by state sponsored violence. His crimes did not warrant a death sentence and yet innocent blood was shed.

A story that sounds too familiar.

From the very beginning he was profiled. Not just him, but his kinfolks as well. Anyone who looked like him was seen as a threat. And so even as a baby, this one who would be called a thug would be profiled. Because of the family he came from. Because of the town he lived in. This is how folks saw him and treated him. He was a target in his own country – a land that never fully belonged to him and his people. From the very beginning his life was at risk. Everything was stacked against him.

A story that sounds too familiar.

This thug, this one who was innocent and killed was the Christ.

Around this time of year it is easy to get caught up in the twinkling lights, the majesty of the story, everything being beautiful, where memories are forged and memories recalled. We gather together. We want to join in Mary’s praise and pondering. We want to be in the magical, mystical moment of Christmas.

But we are drawn always, even when we look to the manger, we are drawn to the cross. We are brought to that place of suffering and pain. Of a world that could not understand the good news of Jesus.

The cross comes, even in our Christmastide, compelling us to not look away. This is not a time to ignore the violence and brokenness. This is not a time to wish away injustice. We cannot just live in a candy cane fantasy. We must see the whole story. We see the places where Christ is crucified again and again by racism, nationalism, nihilism.

We cannot turn away because in the midst of the pain, we find the triumph. There are healers in our midst. There are those that can overcome divisions. There are messengers among us uniting communities. There are prophets today striving for justice. There are glimpses of hope even when it looks like a losing cause. Peace comes to a violent world. These are the places where we witness Emmanuel, God with us.

It is in reconciliation we see God and it is in reparations. It is in grace that we feel God’s presence and in the act of forgiving and being forgiven that Christ is born anew. It is the light in the darkness, it is the city on the hill, it is salt and light, it is shepherds and fishermen. It is not the glory of the extraordinary but the humble and the meek. It is in everyday folk and everyday acts where the walls that divide get chipped away. Where the systems that kill are dismantled. Where a new world is possible

This good news comes to us; as sure as the choir of angels proclaims it.

But we need to place ourselves in the presence of the revelation. And so even on Christmas we are drawn to the cross. Even in this holiday of Joy to the World, we see how desperately the world is hurting and need that joy. We proclaim Christ crucified.

The cross it makes no sense to non-believers. It makes no sense to the world. It makes no sense to glorify this act of violence.

But when we know, when we know how Jesus came, how he has torn down the walls between us. When we see that Jesus has brought us close – those that were near and those that were far off. When we see the healing he has brought and that by his stripes we are healed. When we see that he came to fulfill the Law and establish divine justice. When we praise the Prince of Peace. THEN, then the story of the cross makes sense. Then we can revel in the glory of the death and resurrection, of life and life everlasting.

It sounds so familiar.

And then we know. We know why the twinkling lights are so important. We know why the gospel we have heard year after year still rings true for us and gives us a new message. It is what allows us to go into a cold and unloving world full of violence, profiling, injustice, division and brokenness to say there is one who traveled this path already.

There is one who has bore the sin of a fallen world.

There is one who has come to redeem all the broken places of the world and of our lives.

There is one being born among us over and over and over.

His name is Emmanuel. God is with us.

It is so familiar.

And it is our good news.

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The Call For White Clergy to Preach “Black Lives Matter.”

Of course we are all saddened. Of course we will all pray. The sanctity of a sanctuary has been broken. Fellow workers in the kingdom have been killed. The events in Charleston grieve our hearts.

But beyond grief and prayers, I believe this is a moment to help our congregation connect the dots. If you’ve never uttered “Black Lives Matter” from the pulpit, this is your Sunday. If you’ve wanted to but have been afraid that those words will put up more barriers than bridges, this is your Sunday. If you’ve felt uncomfortable with that phrase because it feels exclusive to white people, this is your Sunday.

In the blood of martyrs are the seeds of faith.

Charleston has martyrs. We don’t have information on the shooting or the shooter right now. But good faithful people and a righteous pastor were killed because they were at church. That church is a historic black church. A congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal tradition. Martyrs killed because their faith told them it was good to study the word together. And for that they lost their lives.

If it never did before in your congregation – or in your heart – be transformed by this with the renewing of your mind:

Black Lives Matter.

These martyrs, their black lives matter.

And if you can claim the power to speak that in the midst of this tragedy, then perhaps our congregations can begin to see events that are twisted by the media not as isolated incidents but as patterns of violence. The names and the hashtags – Trayvon, Mike, Eric, Rekia, Aiyanna, Darius, Dontre – they are a great cloud. To what do they bear witness?

If you are afraid, remember the Lord did not give you spirit of fear but power. Say Black Lives Matter.

If you are unsure of the good news and gospel that would bring to your context, pray on it that God would give you a spirit of revelation and wisdom.

I write this not as a “should.” I see this not as “Law.” Rather in the spirit of exhortation and encouragement I am sharing what God has put on my heart. 

In Peace and Power.

Esther 4:14