“As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you…” (Matthew 10:13)
These words from Matthew’s Gospel do not speak precisely to where my heart is today, but they come close. For throughout this piece of Matthew we hear Jesus sending his disciples out. Even as he sends us all out. Into places of potential danger, to be sure. And we are told that the only thing we are to carry with us is our ‘peace.’ Peace given and received. Peace shared. Peace which is surely the only thing that matters.
As I shared with you all a week ago, last Saturday I participated in a demonstration in the community where I serve. Better than 300 people joined together that afternoon, beginning with eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence: the amount of time a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, choking the life out of him. And then we walked together, chanted together, held signs aloft together. While I didn’t stay long for I am so wary of the virus which has not let go of its death grip on our community, it was a wonder still to stand with others with all our varied backgrounds and experiences, gifts and hopes and dreams — and to speak and shout and sing a common call for change in this world. For peace.
All that week before, along with you, I had watched with dismay and horror the news from Minneapolis which began with the gruesome death of one who represents so many more, and then as an entire city seemed to rise up in righteous rage.
I remember stepping outside on one of those beautiful nights in late May. I walked down my quiet street with my head turned up to take in the wondrous sight of an almost full moon against a cloudless sky. And I thought to myself how far removed I felt from all those images playing across my television screen.
And then we came together to join our voices with millions of others.
And then the next day some of that same rage erupted here.
And I watched with sadness and some measure of fear the video showing young people in our community breaking the windows of a liquor store. I saw the police car pull up and heard the voice of a treasured friend, an African American pastor, a leader in our community calling out to them to stop. His voice was amplified by a megaphone, shouting the words, “This is not the way. I agree with you, no justice, no peace, but this is not the way. Someone is going to get killed. Please stop. This is not the way. This is not the way.”
And then social media started blowing up. Indeed, so did my telephone as rumors started to fly about gangs of looters making their way across town, heading my way.
And suddenly it didn’t seem so far away.
And even though, for the most part, those rumors were almost entirely unfounded, they awakened a kind of fear in me that helped me realize again that any peace I feel is a fragile one, so easily disrupted and destroyed in a world where such peace is not rooted in justice. Not even here. No, not here in this often quiet Midwestern town.
On Wednesday I attended another demonstration on the courthouse lawn. I went with colleagues, all dressed in clerics so as to be a visible presence to those who came together. To be some kind of sign of a God of justice. And love. And peace.
The crowd again was huge and as diverse as it had been a few days before. This time those leading us asked us not only to pause for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, but to kneel for that seemingly interminable length of time.
And so we did. And so I did.
It was 90 degrees. We were all wearing masks. I was not dressed for kneeling and I have to say, my knees are not what they used to be, but still I found my way to the ground.
Eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a really long time.
- Part of that time my head was bowed in prayer.
- Part of the time I looked around, taking measure of those around me, noting that police officers had joined us on their knees as well.
- Part of the time I held the image of George Floyd in my mind.
- Part of that time I let the grief of all of this that has gone on for far, far too long just wash over me.
- And yes, part of the time I just wished for that eight minutes and forty six seconds to be over.
If you haven’t yet, I invite you to do the same. If you cannot physically kneel, sit quietly for that amount of time.
You won’t be the same.
Once we got to our feet once more, we were reminded again that this was a peaceful demonstration. We were given instructions on where we would be walking.
And again we walked and chanted and held our signs high.
And yet now, these several days later I find I am still on my knees.
As are we all. Or at least as should we all, it seems to me.
And there is no peace today. Not yet. Not in my community and not in yours. And not even at times, I have to say, within reach within my own heart.
But there is this. In the midst of the turmoil of the time in which Jesus lived and in the midst of the time in which you and I live, Jesus sends us out. With nothing BUT peace. With nothing but peace.
And while I expect we will not know that peace in nearly all of its fullness until we hear and respond and seek to build a world where justice reigns, even so we are still sent with it now.
And maybe that peace which we have been given to share is only truly ‘ours’ to receive when we actually step out of our comfortable places and spaces and give it away.
- By walking to the ‘household’ of one whose life experiences and opportunities are vastly different from ours solely because of the color of their skin.
- Or by knocking on the door of one whose heart has not yet been awakened to the pain of this world as yours has been and inviting them into a conversation about where God is calling us next.
Indeed, I am still on my knees. I am waking each day wondering where and when and how God is calling me, calling us to be bearers of peace, workers for justice in this broken world.
It is downright overwhelming, to be sure. And without a doubt there are huge systems in need of dismantling and reform. This is difficult and important unquestionably necessary work which we are all called to be a part of. Indeed, surely it is ours to do the painstaking, honest, soul searching work of bearing peace wherever God has put us, with whomever God has put us.
Not the uneasy peace of a clear night in late May where the struggle seems so far a way, only to be broken a few nights later.
No, not that at all.
Rather, the sort of peace which has us on our knees on the sacred ground of repentance for all that we knew and ignored or never took the time to know; for all that we did or didn’t do or from which we turned our eyes, our hearts away.
The sort of peace which has us not retreating from, but stepping into the pain — of one another and yes, our own.
The peace that Jesus brought in his living, and his healing, in his teaching, and his suffering and yes, his dying ‘under the knee,’ if you will, of an oppressive system which was fueled and aided by our sin.
Peace to you, my beloved ones.
Peace to us all.
And may we who have received this precious peace, be among those who share it.
From our knees, perhaps.
And always from our hearts.
- How have you found yourself ‘on your knees’ this week? Are you uncomfortable, discouraged, hopeful, angry?
- How do you hear Jesus’ words today to take nothing with you on this peace-sharing journey except for ‘peace’ itself? What would it look like for you to hear and respond to his command? Today? This week?
- What would it mean for you to take eight minutes and forty six seconds each day from here on out working to more deeply understand the meaning of ‘no justice, no peace.’ What might you read or watch or talk over with a trusted ‘other?’ How might you pray?
I have wondered in these days what it would do for our own self understanding and strengthening for this all important work of ‘peace-sharing’ to write our own ‘autobiographies’ of race and to start at the beginning:
- What did you learn at home, in your childhood neighborhood and school, in places where you have worked, gone to school, done your shopping about race?
- Who have you known a little and who have you known well and who has taught you to think differently?
- And on and on… What might we each learn by doing so? What new understandings of ourselves might we come to? What new questions might be raised to help direct us on our way?
- What do you think? Might this just be worth our time and effort? Might God just use this humbling work in remarkable ways?
- Indeed, what might it mean if we were to do this ‘on our knees?’