If I were to preach a sermon today, here’s what it might sound like. It’s not perfect, but it’s what’s on my mind and what I feel called to communicate:
Today is the day when everyone and their brother, sister, aunt, uncle, ie the entire universe supposedly, is talking about the Grand Jury verdict in the Brown Case in Ferguson Missouri.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the officer is guilty or not. I’m not judging the rioters for what they are doing – they are angry because they didn’t get what they wanted in a way that they wanted it. Ok, maybe rioting is not the best route to take, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.
I get the notion of everyone wanting to jump on board the injustice express to point out how this or that shows that America is racist as ever. It’s a nice and easy example that seems so obvious. And when it’s portrayed, it’s done in a way that makes the conclusion so obvious that you’d have to be an idiot not to see it…supposedly.
And yet here we are – a nation supposedly divided by skin color. I’ve heard calls for peace, and silence. I’ve heard calls for more conversation about race. I’ve seen the pictures of the riots. I’ve heard people pissed off at the rioters. I’ve heard the cynicism that seems so easy to find in this situation.
I’ve read the tweets of statements of the family as they mourn the loss of their son. I know there is round the clock “news” coverage in Ferguson just waiting for that special story of someone doing something.
It’s the story of the cycle that consumes all else.
And yet, it feels as though something is missing. Maybe being out of the country allows for this space. I’m not sure what it is exactly. No one is talking about Ferguson here in Finland. Most people probably don’t have the faintest idea what the case is about or anything related to it. They have other concerns to keep their attention, like what’s Russia going to do next?
As a Lutheran seminarian we’re taught to preach with Law and Gospel in mind. These two ideas are in conflict, yet work together so well. The Law is oriented towards what humans are supposed to do. In the end, the Law convicts because we can’t keep the law. The Law is concerned with Justice. The Law is designed to make us run to God. Why? Because the Gospel is oriented towards what God has done for us. The Gospel is full of grace and mercy. The Gospel is God opening God’s arms to not only receive us as we run to God, but to scoop us up to God.
When I reflect on Ferguson, I see a great deal of Law in the form of being told what we have to, need to, and should do. If I’m not mistaken, I think we’ve tried that route for a really long time. It hasn’t worked out so well. We try, and try, over and over again. We even know this. I can recall people posting on the internet that they expected riots to happen in the Grand Jury ruled against going to trial. And guess what, the riots happened. The fact that so few are surprised by this, or by the ruling, or so many other things about this case tells me that we’re oh so familiar with this whole scenario.
But where is the Gospel in this? It’s difficult, I’ll admit it. Guess what – Gospel isn’t always about the sunny bright side of things. In fact, sometime the Gospel seems hidden from view. And when that happens, it’s easy to forget the Gospel and God. It’s easy to question God and where evil comes from. It’s easy to say that God is absent.
And yet, I don’t buy that. In times like this, I take a breath and pray for my eyes to be opened to seeing God at work in the midst of riots, chaos, anger, frustration, and so many other things.
I see and hear a lot of people with a great big gaping whole within them trying to fill it with various things. Some try to fill it with anger. Some try to fill it with violence. Some try to fill it with sympathy. Some try to fill it with empathy. Some try to fill it with other distractions. I’m sure there are many more ways.
The filler will wither, but the void will remain. There’s only one “thing” that can ever fill it. And as soon as we stop doing stuff in an effort to fill the void, then we might notice that the void is already filled with God – just in a way we don’t expect.
God is in the midst of those suffering in Ferguson today. God is not just a God of glory and bright sun shiny days. God is in the midst of pain and suffering. We’ve seen plenty of examples of this in the Bible. And that’s where we need God the most. It is in these times that God is so ever-present to the people who are suffering. God is there comforting, consoling, listening. God is there being who God is, in a hidden way to society, if we chose to see it that way. In an ever-present way for those who experience God with them.
At a time when we question God and say things like “God, where are you?” We can look around and see God in the midst of those suffering. God is suffering with us. And because of this, we can know that we’ll get through this – not by doing a bunch of stuff that others tell us to do. But by being who we are called to be at this time – human beings, children of God.