Narrative Lectionary Reflection, Year 1
November 30, 2014 (First Sunday of Advent)
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. Habakkuk 1:2-4a
The events of this week provide a fresh, yet tragic and disturbing, lens through which to view this week’s lesson. On Monday, people across the United States and many parts of the world listened as the news came in that a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. In August, Wilson fired six shots that killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was caught on camera stealing some cigarillos from a local store. The details of eyewitnesses vary in exact detail. There was struggle. Twelve shots fired. At least six hits. One more young man joins a grim list of unarmed African Americans killed by white men, a list that includes Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Kimani Gray and many others unheralded in the national media and forgotten. Violence erupts, lines are drawn, venomous rhetoric flies, and it is clear that suffering, racism, and prejudice are alive and that human bonds are still very much broken along color lines in this nation.
“O Lord, how long,” cried the prophet Habakkuk as he watched his own people suffer, caught between the warring superpowers of Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. Today voices in the United States lift up the same words. “O Lord, how long?” On the same day as the grand jury announcement in St. Louis County, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, civil rights workers murdered 50 years ago in Mississippi–a bitter irony indeed.
On Sunday the liturgical calendar turns again to Advent, and we who mark our days and our worship accordingly will be called to watch, to be alert, and to wait for the return of our Lord. We are instructed to keep awake and to look for signs of the in-breaking of Christ’s reign and for the healing of our broken and suffering world. We are to be faithful in the midst of chaos, injustice, and the clamorous claims of empire. Dear preacher, this Sunday calls for a prophetic word. As you hold your iPad or newspaper in one hand and your Bible in the other, there is no clearer connection than I can imagine between word and world. Can we really afford not to speak out? Can we in good conscience simply gloss over current events, perhaps only lifting up prayer petitions? For me the answer is no.
We have an opportunity to speak the truth in love, to share the good news and our hope in Jesus, Emmanuel, who dwells among us and surely weeps at the injustices we heap upon one another. We have the chance to begin a conversation that might even lead to change. But this won’t happen if we remain silent and try to get on with life as usual because topics of racism, injustice, privilege, violence, and prejudice are difficult and uncomfortable. We are called, dear friends, to lament the pain and suffering our sisters and brothers are experiencing. White Americans are called to name our inherent privilege, not to self-flagellate for skin color we did not choose but to accept that because of that color our life is easier than that of our sisters and brothers of color. We are called to do something to change this culture and to make straight the paths as we announce the return of our Lord. We must, dear friends, open our mouths, use our hands and voices, and be a witness and catalyst for change. And in the midst of it all, like Habakkuk, we will rejoice in the Lord who is our strength and who gives us swift feet to work for justice and love and peace. This stubborn hope that Habakkuk proclaims and awaits is no mere Pollyanna response to the ills and angst of his age; it is instead the only response that leads to life, to wholeness, to justice, and to love.
Blessings on your faithful, prophetic teaching and preaching.
We have lost (or abandoned) the public lament in our worship. As we enter this season of Advent–an already but not yet season–we have reason to lament. We may lament the brokenness of our world, the hate that wounds our hearts and breaks our relationships, and the bitterness and fear that prevent us from entering into deeper relationship with our Creator. Honesty and transparency are needed if we are to be faithful disciples. Wrestling with difficult issues is part and parcel of the journey. Maybe this Sunday’s worship should include a time to lament and to acknowledge the reality of pain and suffering in the world. Where to begin? Here’s a good article from Reformed Worship Resources to get you started. You might also take a look at poet Ann Weems’ Psalms of Lament.
In light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, how does one talk with teens? One place to start is to look back to the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. A film you might want to consider is Spike Lee’s documentary Four Little Girls. This well-crafted documentary recounts the story of the Sunday morning Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were killed during the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The film will provide plenty of nuggets for discussion and comparison with current events. The PBS American Experience documentary The Murder of Emmett Till is another fine film to use. The story of Till’s murder is a tough one to watch and process, so be sure to be prepared before showing the film. The website does offer many good resources, including a teacher’s guide.
Focus on verses 3:17-19 from today’s lesson from Habakkuk. These verses provide plenty of good action opportunities children to act out this short passage. Consider using the Easy to Read version. Tell children that even when times are bad, when we are sad, or when things just aren’t going well at all, we can still turn to God and remember that with God we are made strong, we can be light of foot, and be able to climb mountains. With God we can always find something about which to rejoice. You might consider teaching the children a song like “My God is so Big.” Click here for a YouTube version. End with a simple prayer.
Photos: Nana B. Agyei, Akio Takemoto, and Stefano Montagner, Creative Commons. Thanks!