North Austin Medical Center Sermon "Be Held -Racial Injustice," from Isaiah 49:14-17, produced virtually on June 14, 2020.
NAMC Be Held -Racial Injustice Sermon
June 14, 2020
I don’t know what you’ve been feeling, but I have been sort of overwhelmed – at least in thoughts – since the murder of George Floyd and the aftermath. We had crisis in the hospital that is commonplace, and then the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, but we were all seemingly united… though some of us were dealing with the pandemic crisis up close and personal. This racial tension, struggle, and backstory that has spilt over is divisive and hits some of us where it hurts and fills us with sadness, and perhaps outrage at the people, the system, or the country that allows issues like George Floyd’s murder, or the murder of retired Captain David Dorn to happen and get no true justice (at least in some of our eyes).
George Floyd and the Aftermath
You all by now have heard at least a portion of the tragedy that involves the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020. The facts are – at least to some – clear. The store owner thought a large, African American or black male had a an alleged counterfeit 20 dollar bill that he used in the store Cup Foods to buy cigarettes and called the police. The police came, the black male – George Floyd - did not like being arrested, and then a lengthy scuffle occurred. Then, what we all saw or believed we saw: the white officer Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd while he was handcuffed on the ground, with his face in the pavement. Other officers were around, either assisting or keeping people back. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Officer Chauvin stayed there, after George Floyd and people around the interaction were saying he couldn’t breathe. And we all watched George Floyd die helpless, at that time defenseless, and we were helpless, too, watching it. It was a sad, painful, hurt and loss that the whole country felt – some greater than others.
Protests of a kind not seen since the 1960’s ensued all over the country and the world. In the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death, there has been backlash, including the death of someone who is trying to protect property and a business. Capt. Dorn was a former police commander in St. Louis, that was hired as security to protect a friend’s pawn shop, Lee’s Pawn and Jewelry. He was found dead at 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2020, after a night of peaceful protest turned to looting, destruction, and – unfortunately – death. Capt. Dorn was a black gentleman, and stood up to protect the building and store’s contents, only to be killed by looters that ransacked the store. The person charged with killing David is also an African American.
It is said of David Dorn: “David Dorn was a man of great character who dedicated his life to helping others and protecting his neighborhood,” U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley said in a statement. “His life of honor and dedication reminds us of the vital service the good men and women of law enforcement render to our communities every day. We depend on them, people like David Dorn.”
What do you say when the facts are hard to believe as we go through them together? And what do you say when every version of the facts is given through different lenses. I have talked to young, old, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, refugees, co-workers, patients, friends, and family. The facts are still being sorted out (both on the ground and in my head), and the perspectives and emotion are vastly different depending on what facts you choose, what lenses you see the even from, and your background. Yet I cannot separate them from the emotion in me that says we are all hurting, have loss, and the oppression that some feel is palpable.
I am a WASP (a white, anglo-saxon, protestant) that has held the stage for much of this country’s past, and the last person that should – I believe – say anything at this point. We need to hear from other voices – minority voices. But I can’t stay silent, either. Everyone needs a place at the proverbial table if we are going to unify; and for my black friends out there, I stand with you for racial justice.
Friends that want and need to be heard – know that I am sorry for the “white man’s” part in the larger story and currently, where there exists racism, bigotry, and eliteness that sickens my stomach. I am here to listen, view the facts from a different lens than I have, and work together for justice, love, and – in my view – the “kingdom of God” – or as much as can be had in this time and place - in this place.
Gandhi and the Salt March
Mahatma Gandhi, who lived from 1869-1948, was the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement against British rule, but had a far-reaching influence. He was educated in Britain and spent some time in South Africa. He grew up worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu and following Jainism, a morally rigorous ancient Indian religion that espoused non-violence, fasting, meditation and vegetarianism. He said later in life “Let me explain what I mean by religion. It is not the Hindu religion which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one's very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies.”
Everywhere he went he was considered a saint by some and a rebel by others. Born in Porbandar, India, Gandhi studied law and organized boycotts against British institutions in peaceful forms of civil disobedience. He was killed by a fanatic in 1948.
One story of Mahatma (which means “Great Soul”) Gandhi’s life seems a slight on the larger story of Gandhi and the meaning he had across the world, motivating leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. If you have not looked into his life, I highly recommend it.
The story from Gandhi’s life is “The Salt March.” In 1930 in India, – at 61 - Gandhi returned to active politics to protest Britain’s Salt Acts, which not only prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt—a dietary staple—but imposed a heavy tax that hit the country’s poorest particularly hard. He planned a new Satyagraha campaign, The Salt March, that was a 390-kilometer/240-mile march to the Arabian Sea, where he would collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly.
“My ambition is no less than to convert the British people through non-violence and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India,” he wrote days before the march to the British viceroy, Lord Irwin.
Wearing a homespun white shawl and sandals and carrying a walking stick, Gandhi set out from his religious retreat in Sabarmati on March 12, 1930, with a few dozen followers. By the time he arrived 24 days later in the coastal town of Dandi, the ranks of the marchers swelled, and Gandhi broke the law by making salt from evaporated seawater.
The Salt March sparked similar protests, and mass civil disobedience swept across India. Approximately 60,000 Indians were jailed for breaking the Salt Acts, including Gandhi, who was imprisoned in May 1930. The protests against the Salt Acts elevated Gandhi into a transcendent figure around the world. He was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1930.
Satyagraha is a noun which means a policy of passive political resistance.
I don’t know about you, but it seems at times like these when I’m overwhelmed, or in deep sorrow, I need to know that someone loves me, and it’s eventually going to be alright. I (hopefully) have family, friends, teammates, co-workers, church-goers (we call them “the body of Christ” in my faith), or faith that answers that call and soothes me. So, as often times I do, I look to stories of people in dark or dismal times, and the hope they clung to when it seemed so dark on the horizon.
The Bible has lots of relationship words like love, covenant, sacrifice, and children – just to name a few – in the Old Testament and New Testament. But the Bible says more than that – it is more than a relationship, though it is that. God holds you in His hands and will help you in your time of need.
Isaiah 41:9-13 says:
Isaiah 41:9-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.” [Bold added]
There are at least 10 other instances in the Bible where God is holding our right hand or holding us in His hands. What does that mean for you, especially in this time of uncertainty, chaos, or uncomfortable days ahead? Does that apply to you? How? Does God have your back?
The Kingdom of Israel
Did you know that the nation of Israel was kicked out of the Promised Land for their transgressions against the Lord of Hosts, YHWH. The Lord did it in two events because the Israelites had begun the tear-down themselves, splitting the Kingdom that had once been ruled by David and Solomon to the Southern Kingdom – Judah, and the Northern Kingdom – Israel. In God’s divine judgment, Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah later was attacked and conquered by Babylon in 586 B.C. (after Babylon conquered Assyria).
The doom of then-Israel and the happenings today are not analogous. I am in no way saying that the situation is similar on those fronts, although one could make an argument that the United States is having the wrath of God for its racial injustices. I will leave that to other preachers and leaders. But the situation of the Lord and being there for the marginalized groups, holding them in YHWH’s hands, and helping them is analogous. In fact, my faith says it’s the Lord who is with us throughout this, if we seek justice according to the will of the Lord.
The Prophet Isaiah and the Book of Isaiah
The Prophet Isaiah’s time was in the 8th Century B.C., and he was prophesying to Judah’s kings Ahaz and Hezekiah. In the middle of the book Isaiah, he is talking to the exiled Israelites, in Babylon in the 6th century (in other words, after his death). In this section, Isaiah (or a writer using Isaiah’s name) is telling the exiled Israelites of the restoration of Israel – hope in a strange land with Gentile leaders, and no YHWH to worship, and a minority.
Isaiah 49 has Zion (the people of Isreal) saying the Lord has forsaken me, which was appropriate for them to think. The Lord had thrown them out of YHWH’s land, the Temple had been destroyed, and they were away from him (or so they thought). Listen to the Lord’s words, though:
Isaiah 49:14-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;[a]
your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
Isaiah 49:17 Dead Sea Scroll; Masoretic Text Your children make haste
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The Lord was like a woman who had a nursing child (Zion). YHWH would not forget them; He had engraved them on the palms of the Lord Almighty’s hand. And YHWH would restore them someday to fruition. And the Lord will not forget you, too.
Just Be Held
In the song you just heard, called “Just Be Held,” by Casting Crowns, it is taken partially from the New Testament. The Gospel according to Matthew, Matthew 11:28-30 says:
Matthew 11:28-30 English Standard Version (ESV)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Mark Hall, lead singer and a youth pastor for over 20 years at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church, had this quote from Jesus as one of the Scriptures that gave rise to Just Be Held. He wrote it with Matthew West (of Grace Wins and Strong Enough). But there is more. More because after singing it on tour, he came home and got the news that he had cancer on his right kidney and the kidney needed to come out. The youth pastor who was taking care of others had to question himself and his trust in God. The transparent singer was scared, and hid this cancer from his kids, his youth group, and his fans. Then, he came to the realization that the song Just Be Held was for him – even though he had written it 18 months before he found out about the cancer.
He prayed “God, thank You that You aren’t anxious. I know I’m anxious, but just because I don’t see where this is going. You do. I’m thankful that I can rest in what You know instead of what I know.”
Now, he tells the story behind the song Just Be Held at concerts, and the audience knows that Mark Hall has been there and see the fellowship of suffering.
The chorus goes like this:
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held
May we all have some of the fellowship of suffering – or at least see it when we listen to people who have suffered– in this time. And when the facts are so that answers seem so far away, just be held by God and embrace help from above in your mind and heart. God suffers, too – with you on your walk.
In the Old Testament (or the Hebrew Bible), another prophet Amos lived a little before the time of Isaiah. He was from a little town in Judah, but denounced the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who was at their peak of national prominence. However, the gain of territory and recognition came at a cost for Israel: there were gross inequities between elites and the poor. God was displeased and sent Amos to prophesy to the King of Israel about it. God was speaking through Amos, and He said:
Amos 5:21-24 English Standard Version (ESV)
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The prophet was telling the King that God despised worship to God, when injustice was in the streets and hearts of His people.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
This was used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from the Birmingham County Jail. He was imprisoned in 1963 for participating in non-violent demonstrations to protest racial injustices, and his letter was to fellow clergyman that thought his activities were “unwise and untimely.” Dr. King used Amos – and others people in history that were labeled as “extremists” that the pastors had called Dr. King, and quoted verse 24. “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Dr. King also said the following:
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro... [H]e is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency towards the promised land of racial justice. Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out ln these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expression of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history.
But Dr. King promoted a different way of getting the truth out. Listen to his words, almost 57 years ago:
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: (1) Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive. (2) Negotiation. (3) Self-purification and (4) Direct Action.
Is oppression still around in 2020? Looking around the country and the world, yes it is, even if our daily lives don’t reflect it. The people that think so rise up in protest and sometimes violence against their would-be oppressors. I think violence in this context is wrong. But at times like these – even for a few moments – remember that God loves you, holds you, and is helping make the world new (even if it is a little at a time). Rest, and let the peace that comes in chaos flood over you. Then, do something about it. It is different for each of us, but we cannot stand by and let injustice happen, or something like this divide us, our community, and our nation.
So, let us do something. Let us listen, do some self-reflection, and then as Dr. King said in his letter, work together to seek and then deliver justice in all we do. Let us see Satyagraha or protests – non-violent protests or demonstrations – as a proverbial crying out for us to take a look at the system and laws which govern us – and to make them better or make new ones. In unity, in relationship, in fellowship, and in community. Healing – in my opinion – is walking with someone, letting them express what they are feeling, stand with them (even if you don’t agree with them entirely), and in unity (where you have more in common than differences) celebrating your diverse perspectives make a better world.