Stammering Awkwardly and Boldly on Race and Violence (Holy Spirit, Help!)

The following are my notes from Sunday’s message – which included receiving communion together (with instructions to sit, holding the bread and cup, quiet and still before God—bringing our anger, hurt, sorrow, and fear into God’s presence, asking God to soften our hearts).

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At the heart of the gospel is a table where men and women, young and old, rich and poor, native and foreigner, black and white… share a meal together.

Together as equals… sons and daughters of the King. Family. Kin.

In all our beautiful diversity. Every nation, tongue, tribe. Celebrating together. Sharing and laughing and crying together.

This is what Jesus did and what Jesus is still doing today: bringing people together.

This is a better and more beautiful way—the way of our Savior.

Last Sunday, in my message “When Doves Cry,” I said:

“All that trends toward death and destruction grieves the Holy Spirit.”

And, “All that leans toward life, all that contributes to the flourishing of life, all that brings and blesses life… the Spirit sings over this.”

I had a repeated line in the sermon… ” And God cried.”

I went through a brief history of events in our world that brought death and destruction, giving a date and brief statement of the violent, tragic event—each time ending with the statement, “And God cried.”

This week I needed to add a few more

  • On July 5, 2016 – Alton Sterling was shot and killed outside the convenience store where he had sold CD’s for the past four years… and God cried.
  • On July 6, 2016 – Philando Castile was shot inside his car, with his fiancé and her child looking on. There he bled and died… and God cried.
  • On July 7, 2016 – Five Dallas police officers were picked out of the crowd by a sniper on a rooftop, their lives snuffed out… and God cried.

Davis Dryer said:

“May we do the hard work of being softened by pain, not hardened by it. I mourn and am angered by the murders of civilian black men and those in the police force. No one deserves what has happened to them. Retributive and redemptive violence is a lethal myth we can no longer afford to buy into. Darkness cannot drive out darkness.”

And Author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote:

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

Something we don’t know enough about is this thing called LAMENT.

Of course, God gave us a book in the Bible full of laments. The book of Lamentations is basically a big ol’ mix tape of laments. And if you’ve ever read through the Psalms, you’d know a good portion of them are laments too.

To lament is to embrace the sorrow, grief, and anger…

Taking it to God in tears and shouts and sobs.

Today is not business as usual.

We are creating space to hold our sorrow, anger, fear, confusion, and pain in God’s presence. We must not ignore this or rush though this.

Jarrod McKenna says,

“Without lament, revenge, blame and scapegoating will replace grief. Let your tears be a prayer to disarm your heart and a nation.”

So we’re going to take some time in church today. Time to lament. Time to bring our brokenness and sorrow before the Lord.

Holding our pain and fear—as we sit in the presence of our Lord. Just as you hold the cup and the bread in your hands today… these very physical reminders of suffering and pain, of grief and loss, of the unjust death of an innocent victim.

We remember. We do not forget.

And as we hold them in our hands, let us quietly ask God to soften us. Let us ask God to bring life from death. Healing from the wound. New creation. Redemption.

We’re going to give a moment to be still and quiet before the Lord.

*     *     *

The series we’ve been in (UNTAMED) is all about the Holy Spirit of God. We’ve been taking a look at the metaphors used in Scripture to teach us about the Spirit.  Today, we’re exploring the concept of the Spirit as “helper.”

The title of the sermon is “Holy Spirit, Help!” This seems like an appropriate response in light of the week’s events.

Jesus said,

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you. — John 14.26

  • We are informed by the Holy Spirit (led, taught, moved, directed, prompted, nudged)
  • We are reminded by the Holy Spirit (of everything Jesus said and did)

Late Thursday night, my daughter came downstairs with tears & sat on my lap. I held her & asked what was wrong (she’s 15, & honestly, I thought it would be about a boy). She said,

“Our world is so messed up.”

I squeezed her tighter, brushed the hair from her face. No answers. No solutions. This daddy can’t fix anything. But I can be with her & share in the sorrow.

I spoke tentatively, slowly… “Yes, that’s right. It pretty much always has been. And we can’t change the whole world. But we can be the weird ones, the few who love & don’t hate—who aren’t violent & aren’t racist—who help bring people together.”

She nodded in agreement & we just sat there.

I love my weird, little family.

In the quintessential teaching of Jesus – we refer to it as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said…

God favors

the poor

the mourners

the meek, gentle

the hungry-for-justice

the merciful

the pure-hearted

the peace-makers

the persecuted

the mocked, insulted, slandered

This is what the Spirit reminds us of. And we need to be reminded.

We need this reminder now more than ever.

Spirit leads, prompts, reminds, nudges, directs, teaches us.


A divided world needs a united church, where people are not discriminated against or judged; but everyone is loved, accepted, and welcomed.

The most significant thing in life that can happen to our neighbor is his being taken seriously as a person… whether he is poor, sad, persecuted, or seeking justice.

God favors him. And her.

It’s time for us to take them seriously too.

Saint Dorotheos of Gaza said,

God is the creator of all human beings, with all their differences, their colors, their races, their religions. Be attentive: Every time you draw nearer to your neighbor, you draw nearer to God. Be attentive: Every time you go farther from your neighbor, you go farther from God.

This is particularly convicting in our day because we have become so damn gifted at villainizing the other side. Whether it’s the other political party, the other faith, the other quarterback, the other skin color, the other sexual orientation, the other…

It’s as if we’ve become so hyped-up on detailing all the reasons why the other is our enemy that we completely forgot Jesus’ command to love our enemies. And neighbors. And brothers. Everyone, really. The command is to love.

Isaac Pennington said,

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

And Tom Berlin said, “Being church means moving from the fortified position of I’m always right to the vulnerability of loving God and neighbor.”

One of the ways the Spirit helps us is in prayer…

For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. —Romans 8.26

Jonathan Martin is a preacher whom I enjoy (we have similar background, having grown up in the Pentecostal church with revival and camp meetings – Jonathan refers to himself as a “Hillbilly Pentecostal” – so I relate with him… except for the hillbilly part). Jonathan recently wrote about the Spirit’s help in our lives, saying:

“Don’t try to clarify everything. Reject the premise of the question, talk in tongues instead; bewilder the crowd, a little.”

“Some people don’t like poetry & speaking in tongues for much the same reasons–they are smart enough to know both are subversive speech.”

“So people attack what they find unintelligible. It doesn’t mean you are called to defend, much less clarify. Stammer awkwardly, boldly.”

“There is something of the Holy Spirit, in the sound of your own spirit. But it’s a primitive sound, a sound beneath ego.”

So here I am… stammering awkwardly, yet boldly.

And I have certainly felt that primitive sound in my spirit this week… the sighs and groans too deep for words. I love that the Spirit prays for us and with us and through us… on a level deeper than words.

When Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, he said:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you kill the prophets and stone to death those sent to you! How often I wanted to gather you together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… but you were not willing!” — Luke 13.34

“When Jerusalem came into view, Jesus looked intently at the city and began to weep, saying, ‘How I wish you had recognized the things that make for peace. But you can’t see.’” — Luke 19.41-42

Jesus cried over the city. He cried because they were so gifted at stoning people. The were talented at being violent. He wished they could see the things that make for peace—but they were blinded by rage.

And God cried.

Spirit reminds us… God favors the peace makers.

Shari and I had dinner with some friends on Friday. One of the topics that came up during our conversation was the safety of black men. Our friends have a young black son, and they were asking sincerely and specifically: do you think our son will be safe?

Something interesting happens when these types of discussions happen in our culture and in the church… people begin to tense-up. Rather than truly listening, we have a tendency to scurry back to our forts—that safe and comfortable place stockpiled with all our talking points and opinions.

There is a tensing-up that happens the moment one starts advocating for a particular person or type of person.

This happened in 2014 when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson Missouri – just 2 summers ago. I spoke about it in church. I prayed.

I affirmed Black Lives Matter. And everything got all crazy…

There was anger on faces, anger in e-mails, anger in meetings, and some people even left the church.

Tensing-up happened. Backs got stiff. Lines were drawn. It became an instant battle…

But, and I need the help of the Holy Spirit to say this…

Being for one life does not make you against another. That is not of the Kingdom. That is the way of the Empire but not Jesus. We follow Jesus, not Caesar.

We are for all that gives and blesses life. All that contributes to the flourishing of life. To that we say yes and amen. 

And we are equally against all that destroys and takes life. All that contributed to the destruction of life. To that we say hell, no.

So I pray, Spirit, help us. Spirit lead us, teach us, nudge us, move us, remind us.

Holy Spirit, help!

Move us toward life. Keep us from all that destroys, all that harms, all that diminishes life.

Help us to follow the teaching and example of our Savior…. The One who loves unconditionally, the One who forgives, the One who gathers, the One who shows us a better and more beautiful way, the One who embraces lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors and Samaritans.

Holy Spirit, help!

To conclude, I’d like to share the Prayer of Saint Francis…

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

1 Comment to Stammering Awkwardly and Boldly on Race and Violence (Holy Spirit, Help!)

  1. I think it’s just what was needed last Sunday. People need a place to be able to process together the awful events and ask the question about where God was in the midst of it, and what our response should be. Lament is the perfect category for that, and it’s a great reminder that Christians are called to an alternative way of life that doesn’t vilify the “other.”

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