April 25, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
1 John 3:16-24 and John 10:11-17
Let us begin with these words from @BlackLiturgies, by Cole Arthur Riley as our centering prayer. She wrote this following the verdict in the trial for justice for George Floyd. Let us pray:
God, remind us…we don’t owe the system our gratitude. True justice would be George Floyd’s breath back in his body… BUT… Let us breath for him. Inhale…Exhale. If we feel relief, feel it. Don’t suppress the hope of the moment. Joy and sorrow can coexist.
Surrounded by God’s loving Spirit let us inhale and tell ourselves: I will not feel guilty for hoping.
Now let us exhale, assuring ourselves: joy and sorrow can coexist. Amen.
“Thoughts and prayers.” It is the ole standby for people of faith when we hear of a difficulty in someone’s life, in our community, in the world. “I am holding you in my thoughts and prayers.” It is a beautiful connection, to let others know they are dwelling on our minds and in our hearts. Yet, in the last few years, that phrase—‘thoughts and prayers’—has taken on a different meaning than intended, a lesser meaning…even, a negative meaning. Mass shooting after mass shooting, lost life after lost life, acts of injustice and acts of hatred; and the response is again and again from our lawmakers and our leaders, let us hold them in our thoughts and prayers, we are holding them in thought and prayer. This has become code for, ‘let me appear as a good person as I make sure not to commit to doing anything.’
I have to confess I find myself a bit angry over the coopting of this traditional phrase. What am I supposed to say now? When a Facebook friend posts a need online, now I can’t say, ‘you’re in my thoughts and prayers.’ It sounds fake and bland. I find myself whining about it—at least to myself. I want that phrase back. I now find myself stretching for creative ways to basically say the exact same thing: “I’m wrapping you in the Spirit,” aka prayer. “I’m holding you in my heart,” aka thoughts. Sigh…it all sounds corny. And all the while that I am stewing over how to say ‘thoughts and prayers’ without saying ‘thoughts and prayers,’ I hover over the news and social media after each horrific report of mass shootings and excessive, deadly force waiting for the first politician to utter those safe, distancing words—‘thoughts and prayers.’
And then…and then! 1 John 3:16-24 marched in this week and held a mirror to my face. I was hoping it was just my imagination, but the author of a commentary with The Christian Century this week, Jessica Mesman, heard the same thing—darn it all. “…and we ought to lay down our lives for one another…Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The author, the elder, of 1 John just called us ALL out on that old standby of thoughts and prayers. “Little children,” what a way to put us in our place, calling us little children, but that is just what we are. “Little children, let us love—and of course we want to love—but not with words, not with speech, not with standing in front of a dozen cameras, with a pile of microphones in our faces, sending our ‘thoughts and prayers’ across the airways. Little children, let us love, but not with typed comments on a Facebook post, not in Twitter rants, not in Instagram pictures, that cleverly send thoughts and prayers without saying that exactly.
No…Little children, let us love in TRUTH and ACTION. TRUTH and ACTION! Ouch. Touché, elder of 1 John. Way to call it. Love is so much more than saying or typing ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Love is facing and naming truth. Love is acting.
Jessica Mesman, in her brief article, quoted the great Frederick Douglass: “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Yes, thoughts and prayers are a great start when we hear of tragedy and need and pain and loss, when we witness injustice and hatred and oppression. We start with thoughts and prayers. But to be followers of Jesus means we model our lives after the One who is our Good Shepherd, after the One who laid down his life willingly for us, in order that he could take it up again and show us the way of life abundant, life everlasting. To be disciples of Christ, we lay down our lives for one another—we put ourselves out there, take the risk, put legs on our thoughts and prayers. We love, not just with our words and our speech (and our typing and texting), but with truth and with action.
Truth—There have been 147 mass shootings in 2021, and we are in April! Four months (almost)! There have been 45 mass shootings in the last month, at least. This is according to the Gun Violence Archive in Washington DC. It is considered a mass shooting if four or more people were shot, excluding the gun person. Truth—112 people of color have been shot by police in the first three months of 2021. The total was 126 people of color for all of 2020, and 202 in all of 2019. Truth—There were 3,800 racist incidents against those of Asian descent in the past year, mostly against women. Truth—2021 is a record-breaking year for the number of legislative bills against transgender people across our nation, especially effecting trans minors. Truth—there are at least 2300 missing native women in our nation right now. Yet that number is most likely much higher as so few are paying attention and keeping count. Beloveds, as beautiful as our thoughts and prayers may be, they aren’t stopping the death and pain and anguish. More is needed. Action.
This is where it gets tricky. You see, the world prefers that we just ‘love’ in word and speech. The powers that be in our culture don’t want anyone to ‘rock the boat.’ Please just send your thoughts and prayers, and then let us get back to our business as usual, maintaining the status quo. When we consider truth and action, we find ourselves at a loss. What do we do? What makes a difference? What does action look like?
Action looks like Darnella Frazier, filming the death of George Floyd, refusing to look away, to turn away, or to turn off the camera on her phone, despite the pain and horror she was witnessing for the sake of a man’s life. Action looks like, on this Earth Day weekend, Xiuhtezeatl Roske-Martinez, who addressed the United Nations at 15 years of age, crying out for climate change, “what’s at stake right now is the existence of my generation!” He is one of the directors of Earth’s Guardians. Action looks like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Alex Wind, Jaclyn Corin, Cameron Kasky, all survivors of the Marjory Stoneman/Parkland, Florida school shooting. They organized the March for Our Lives event and continue to speak out for gun control in our nation. There is a common theme here—Darnella, Xiuhtezeatl, Emma, David, Alex, Jaclyn, and Cameron put legs to their vision, feet to their hopes, action with their prayers.
The question is, where is the church in all this? The author of 1 John addresses the church community in our reading today. Let us love in truth and action. Let us lay down our lives…LAY DOWN OUR LIVES for one another. Like our Good Shepherd, let us love in tangible, sacrificial ways. Regardless of this pandemic, regardless of the transitions we as a community are moving through, we are called to face and name truth. We are called to action. Let’s come together this week and organize our love for our community and our world. If you are ready, send me your amen—on Facebook, on the Friendship Pad, through email, through snail mail—whatever works for you. Let me know you are ready to join as a church to act in love for the sake of the world. Let’s love. Let’s LOVE!
Savior…like a shepherd, lead us!