A Pentecost Sunday to Ponder: The Church Finds its Breath to Lament, Grieve, Repent

Editor’s Note: As Missio Alliance is firmly committed to standing against racial injustice and encouraging the church toward reconciliation and healing, we want to offer voices and content during this time that align with our convictions. In a nation collectively reeling from and protesting yet another set of recent tragedies involving the continuing unjust murders of black men and women, most recently George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the church has yet another unique opportunity and responsibility to be prophetic beacons of truth, lament, and repentance. We reached out to leaders in the Missio Alliance community to ask, “How did you or your church respond this week to recent events?” Yesterday, we published a sermon by Montague Williams; today, we are sharing a collection of sermon and article excerpts, liturgies, and resources that we hope will minister to you as you continue to lead and shepherd your own congregations through this challenging time.

An Excerpt from “Jesus’ Cross and the Lynching of Black Bodies
by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Make no mistake, our children are watching and when the world around them doesn’t make sense, they begin crafting their own stories to make sense of it all. Perhaps they start to believe the lies that their lives do not matter. Perhaps they will decide on this day that violence is the answer, because innocent and nonviolent black people are regularly murdered by the state with impunity too. Perhaps they will decide to chart another course, but will lack the confidence to do so because they do not have the tools. Perhaps we can use this moment as an opportunity to confess, lament, and tell the children and ourselves the truth. We need to do this in the country, and we also must do it in the white American and evangelical church…

So just as black bodies lift their hands up and stretch their fingertips to the sky while yelling, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Jesus stretched his arms wide, and said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)

In the same way that we say, “I Can’t Breathe;” Jesus said, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30)

In the same way that Jesus asked his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46), my friend’s black son, and so many black and brown people like him are asking God to make this suffering stop!

Jesus knows what it’s like to be falsely accused, and criminally charged for something that you did not do.

Jesus understands the character and smear campaign.

Jesus experienced murder by the state and had his body exposed for all to see.

Jesus knows what it’s like to stand against the oppressive kingdoms of this world, because his kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus understands that the legacy of his eternal kingdom will include humans from every tribe, language, nation, and people group. And those that God has invited in, no one can keep out!

So, we march for this kingdom. We cry, lament, and long for this kingdom. We must preach and proclaim this kingdom. This kingdom is at war; it is in conflict with the established kingdoms, principalities and powers of this world. It is in conflict with anyone and anything that does not submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ. This is the kingdom where we must pledge our alliance to, because only this kingdom will stand.

An Excerpt from A Time to Lament Liturgy
By David Swanson,
New Community Covenant Church, Bronzeville, IL

Leader: Cry aloud before the Lord, O walls of beautiful Jerusalem! Let your tears flow like a river day and night. Give yourselves no rest; give your eyes no relief. (Lam. 2:18) 

People: We lament the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. We grieve with their families and friends. We are grieved, enraged, and fatigued by a society that refuses to see some of us as image-bearers of God. 

Leader: Lift up your hands to him in prayer, pleading for your children, for in every street they are faint with hunger. (Lam. 2:19b) 

People: We lament the wicked realities being revealed by the pandemic. We lament the rise in anti-Asian and Asian American racism. We grieve how Latino and Latina immigrants and migrants have been scapegoated, harassed, detained, and separated from family members. 

Leader: Your prophets have said so many foolish things, false to the core. They did not save you from exile by pointing out your sins. Instead, they painted false pictures, filling you with false hope. (Lam. 2:14) 

People: We lament corrupt leaders who care more for personal gain and for their own reputations than for those they have been elected to serve. We lament churches that turn away from injustice and suffering. We lament those who claim to follow Jesus while plugging their ears to the cries of the oppressed.

An Excerpt from Pentecost Sunday Sermon on John 19:20-23
By Juliet Liu, Life on the Vine, Long Grove, IL

There is a truth-telling, grace-giving job we’ve been given, Church.

And there is a Spirit inside us, energizing us for that job. There is a truth-telling, grace-giving job we’ve been given, Church. And there is a Spirit inside us, energizing us for that job. Click To Tweet

John 3:16 says:  For God so loved the world that he sent His One and Only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.

But now I say to you:  For God so loves the world, that he sends you.

For God so loves the students and teachers in your school, that he sends you…

For God so loves the people you serve coffee with at Starbucks, 

and the people you work with at Clearbrook, that he sends you…

For God so loves your neighborhood, and the village of Grayslake, and Palatine, and Mundelein, and Park Ridge, and Elgin, Highwood, and the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, that he sends us, Life on the Vine.

So that whoever believes in the One who lives within us would not be stuck forever in a world of death, injustice, violence, sickness, and racism, but would be free to experience new and everlasting life.

The Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis to birth a new world,

The Spirit that put the life of Jesus into Mary’s womb so that heaven might be born on earth.

The Spirit that restored breath to Jesus’ lungs, bringing him to life on Easter morning,

That Spirit of Pentecost that empowered people from different languages and cultures to understand one another … is creating a new world.  

A world where there is no more sickness.

A world where there’s no place for injustice.

And we get to help him build that world

Every day we have breath inside our lungs.

That Spirit of Creation lives within us.

In a world of Ahmaud Arberys, and Breonna Taylors, and George Floyds,

And Philando Castiles, and Trayvon Martins, and Sandra Blands, and Eric Garners

And too many others who have lost their lives or their children or their fathers to injustice…

this good news cannot be kept hidden, Amen?

The Spirit of new creation has been unleashed, church!

And in a world battling sickness … where hundreds are still dying from covid 19 each day

And homes are stuck in cycles of domestic abuse

This good news cannot be kept hidden, Amen?

The Spirit of creation lives within us.

And it will take some creativity – some God-given, Spirit-inspired creativity

To leave the old world behind and witness a new one become a reality.

It will take some creativity for us to live

Not as we always have

But as we were meant to.

Creativity is not just a celebration of what God did in Genesis.

It’s a celebration that He’s still doing it.

He’s still crafting, architecting, and stitching, and painting, and constructing

Through the work of his Holy Spirit in this world

And through us.

“A Community Defined by Mercy”: Sermon Excerpt on James 2

By Glenn Packiam, New Life Church Downtown, Colorado Springs, CO

My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. (Jas 2:1)

Favoritism is a contradiction to faith in Jesus. It goes against the faithfulness of the one who died for the sinner, the outcast, the enemy!

What does favoritism look like? Favoritism looks like giving preferential treatment to a person in a position of power in order to gain from their status. Greek word literally means ‘receiving the face’. It looks to be a word invented by NT writers to convey the meaning of a Hebrew word for partiality. The people’s in James’s day were cozying up to the the powerful because they wanted to gain from their power.

But the opposite of favoritism is not neutrality. Throughout the Bible– from Deuteronomy (10:17-18) to the Psalms, from Mary’s song (Luke 1:51-53) to Jesus’s sermons (Luke 4 and Luke 6)– God shows a special favor toward the poor, the widow, the immigrant– the powerless and the marginalized. In an ideal world, we can treat everyone the same; but in a fallen world, you have to favor the poor and the powerless. The Bible’s problem with favoritism is not that it is an uneven distribution of attention. It is that it favors the wrong people: those with power.

When we speak up for justice, when we call attention to the mistreatment of minorities, that’s not being divisive; that’s being united to the heart of God. It’s not being political; it’s being biblical.

James reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of glory– true glory; the glory found in serving and self-giving. If we want to be where Jesus is, He is over on what we think are the margins. And when Jesus goes to the margins, the margin becomes the middle.

Watch Glenn’s full sermon here. When we speak up for justice, when we call attention to the mistreatment of minorities, that’s not being divisive; that’s being united to the heart of God. It’s not being political; it’s being biblical. Click To Tweet

Resources for the Church
By Juliet Liu and Ty Grigg, Life on the Vine

It needs to be said each time this happens: these acts of unjust violence grieve the heart of our God, and stand in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God. Racism rooted in white supremacy has no place in the new world God is making through Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, standing in solidarity with the oppressed and working toward justice is central to our discipleship and calling. This is not a side issue or an “elective” course for believers. It stands at the center of what God is doing to reconcile us to himself, to one another, and to all of creation.

So we look for ways to cooperate with what God is already up to. Here are some pathways for entering into the work God is doing:
  • Listen, Learn, Lament, Lift up in prayer
    • Let us not turn away but follow the Spirit into the places of pain – it’s there we see Christ is present. Remember those 4 L’s that guide us away from the privileged reactiveness of “how can I avoid this?” or “how can I fix this?” These “L” words help us to enter into the holy work of justice with humble hearts that are willing to grieve and learn from those who have been at this for far longer.
    • Listen and Learn. Here is a curated list the pastors have been cultivating at Life on the Vine over the past several years where you can listen to and hear from a wide variety of teachers and sojourners. You’ll find suggestions for books, short articles, videos, podcasts, and resources for kids and youth.
    • Lament and Lift: Trinity International University has invited churches in the area to practice an hour of lament with them this Wednesday at 10AM, and we will join them. While Trinity’s faculty and staff will meet virtually to lament together, we’ll gather in our own LOV Zoom Room to make space to grieve over the injustice, to invite repentance in our own lives, and pray for God’s will to be done in us and the world. Look for another email with details. I also recognize this is an odd hour to gather and may conflict with many work schedules, so if you’d like to lead another time of lament, reach out to us and let us know, and we can also record our session.
  • Support change in your local community: Write a brief email or letter to your local police department and mayor to voice support for the kind of training and culture shifts that must happen to decrease police violence against citizens of color. The Chief of Police and Mayor is often named with contact information on your village website. If you’d find it helpful, here is a template you may use for your communication that voices support for anti-bias and violence de-escalation training.
  • Support protestors and on-the-ground workers: Donate to already-established groups working toward justice in this area or to a community bail fund which provide bail and legal defense fees for individuals arrested while risking their lives to protest police violence against the black community. Below are some examples, but feel free to research on your own as well:

A Pentecost Prayer
By Peri Zahnd, 
Word of Life Church, St. Joseph, MO

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
By what we have done, and by what we have left undone
We have not loved you with our whole hearts,
and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.

We repent of the sin of racism that has so permeated our culture for the past 400 years. We repent of the sin of white supremacy that has deeper roots than we want to acknowledge. We repent of the murder of so many black men—these are our brothers, our sons, our fathers.

George Floyd
Ahmaud Arbery
Trayvon Martin
Eric Garner
Michael Brown
Philando Castile
And countless others.

God, bring justice to our land. Bring reconciliation. Heal our land. Heal us. God, bring justice to our land. Bring reconciliation. Heal our land. Heal us. Click To Tweet

I pray that the church that was born on Pentecost would be born again on this Pentecost Sunday, once again preaching the full gospel of Jesus Christ, that loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength will always lead us to loving our neighbor as ourselves. Help us to know and acknowledge that we are all your children, called to truly love one another. Help us to forever renounce violence, which never solves the problems we have.

We continue to pray for the end of the Coronavirus pandemic, as we grieve the 100,000 Americans who have died.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

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