The Sermon We Wish We Had Heard

This week, we observed MLK Day in the shadow of several egregious acts of violence inflicted upon Black bodies in our country—Jonathan Ferrell, Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown Jr., Yvette Smith and many others. It feels like the culmination of a previous year that was nothing shy of an emotional marathon.

The holiday also fell on the heels of the release of director Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a beautiful, TIMELY depiction of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. The movie left me empty, wading in a pool of tears shed from the reminder that we stand on the shoulders of GIANTS, brave Black women, men, and children who endured unthinkable hardships. Radicals. Agitators. Troublemakers who were fed up with the status quo. Forty-nine years after that “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, we carry on their legacy--marching, protesting, proclaiming that #BlackLivesMatter in Ferguson and beyond.

This wave of injustice and social unrest coincides with a period in me and Kellie’s relationship where, for the first time in our adult lives, we are searching for a church that we can call home. And for the first time, we are beginning to understand why so many people leave the Church.

The Church should be a place of refuge, particularly during times like these where our faith in humanity is waning, our hearts are grieving over the many lives lost, and our spirits are burdened with hopelessness that the day Glory will be ours and the war will be won is nowhere in sight.

Frankly, we are dying of thirst.

Our visits are always pleasant on the surface--warm smiles, handshakes and hugs, coffee (a new vice of mine), the chorus of laughter reminiscent of a family gathering. But instead of hope and restoration, we’ve exited the doors of these sanctuaries with broken spirits, discouraged over the business-as-usual, “dry as dust” religion that, in the words of Dr. King, “extol the glories of Heaven while ignoring the social conditions that cause men an earthly hell.”

In some churches, there was not so much as an utterance about the American streets littered with Black and Brown bodies, slain at the hands of law enforcement. On camera, no less! We heard ministers feign concern over the myth (see here or here) of “Black-on-Black crime,” which is never evoked from a place of sincerity but only to derail, to perpetuate the false notion that we must first be a perfect people before we can demand freedom from anti-Black racism. (And for goodness sake, just because you haven’t heard about community organizing around an issue, especially one that you don’t really care about, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.) In other churches, the message insisted that we stop protesting and continue to pray in CRUMBLING prayer closets, just waiting on God to bring justice.

These messages are as unbiblical as they are pitiful! From Genesis to Revelations, that is not the God I serve.

I once read someone som’n along the lines of: When dusk comes, what good does it do a man to complain about the house falling dark? That’s what happens when the sun goes down. He must ask himself, “Where is the light?” When meat begins to rot, what good does it do a man to complain about it going bad? That’s what happens when bacteria is left unchecked. He must ask himself, “Where is the salt?”

We sit in our church pews and criticize the world with an air of self-righteous dismay, ignoring the fact that we are called to be salt and light. Saved by grace for good works. And sadly, our church search has illuminated how much the body of Christ misses the mark on so many issues.

In his Letter From Birmingham Jail (which I would suggest reading in full!), Dr. King spoke of the voiceless church for which he wept:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.” He adds, “If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

King concludes, “But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.”

And that that is where stand. We, too, love the church; we love cadence of worship; we love how perfect strangers can become family through shared humanity and fellowship in Christ, who died, not because we did anything to "deserve" it, but because He loves us. And for that, we will keep looking, but determined to find a church whose presence is deeply felt beyond its four walls, whose congregants are not weighed down by comfort and complacency, caught up in false pretense and performance, attending just for the sake of attending. Because in the words of Richard Stearns, “A church that's lost its voice for justice is a church that's lost its relevance in the world.”

Please keep us in your prayers.

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