Remembering the Deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and of Dallas Police Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa

A Prayer for Reconciliation and Healing

(Adapted from the Reverend Canon Gregory A. Jacobs, “A Prayer for Reconciliation and Healing, July 16, 2013, The Episcopal Diocese of Newark, http://www.dioceseofnewark. org/canons-blog/prayer-reconciliation-and-healing)

O God of peace and healing,
 we come before you feeling powerless to stop the hatred that divides races and nations.

We come before you saddened and angered by the television images that we have seen this week, broadcast from Dallas and Baton Rouge and Minneapolis.

We come before you with wounds deep in our hearts that we long to have healed.

We come before you with struggles in our personal lives that will not go way.

And we pray Lord, How long?
 How long to peace?

And we hear, “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

How long for racial justice?  “Not long, because no lie can live forever.”

How long for our wounded hearts?  Not long, for I call you by name;  you are with me; you are mine.

How long for our struggles?  Not long, for my grace is sufficient.  I hold you in my everlasting arms beneath which you cannot fall.

How long for the healing of what is broken inside and all around us?

Not long, for together we shall overcome, black people and white people together in partnership, human holy partnership, together we shall overcome.

Amen.


Remembering the Deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and of Dallas Police Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa

(A sermon, adapted from Stephen M. Crotts’ sermon, “A Show of Hands,” based on the Common Revised Lectionary Reading of Luke 10:25-37 for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, in SermonStudio, CSS Publishing)

One of the most interesting things about the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10:25-37 is that it was scheduled as today’s Lectionary reading a long time ago.  Indeed, this scripture passage is the assigned reading for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year “C.”  The Revised Common Lectionary runs on a three-year cycle, and this is Year “C,” and today is the eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year “C.”

Indeed, the Revised Common Lectionary was designed in 1983, or 1974, or 1969, or much earlier than those dates, depending on how you look at its history.  How did those who created it that long ago know that we would need this particular story today?

It is a story about Compassion and neighborly love.  Christ’s definition of these terms does not come in abstract theological sayings, but it comes in the form of a practical application of human concern.  “What is compassion?  What is love for one’s neighbor?,” we ask Jesus.

And Jesus responds with a story:  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.”

Now, “by chance a priest was going down that same road;  and when he saw the man lying there he passed by on the other side.”

A second man passed by and did not stop.  He was a Levite.  He too, saw the victim.  And he too hurried along.

Perhaps the Levite had gone nearer to the man before passing on.  Perhaps his heart had immediately gone out to the man.  His first reaction was to stop and help.  But then he had second thoughts.  Bandits were in the habit of using decoys and working in groups.  Perhaps one of them would act the part of a wounded man.  Then when some unsuspecting traveler stopped to help him, the others would rush upon him.  The Levite may have thought of all this.  Involvement was risky business.

It’s the same way today.  Helping someone can get us into trouble.  We can be taken advantage of.  And many people simply stuff their hands into their pockets and quietly walk away.

Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, characterizes modern society.  In it Vladimir nervously asks, “Well?  What do we do?”  His friend Estragon hangs his head and mumbles, “Don’t let’s do anything;  it’s safer.”  And so we fold our hands, or we stuff them in our pockets, and we pass by on the opposite side. It’s safer.

And then Jesus tells us about a Samaritan he calls good.  After the robbers, after the priest and the Levite, a Samaritan came to where the victim was.  “And when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and used his hands to bind up his wounds, he poured on oil and wine;  and then he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”

Here was a Samaritan, helping a man who was probably Jewish.  Jews had no dealings with Samaritans;  Samaritans were social outcasts.  So here we find a man who has borne the brunt of lifelong prejudice, helping a member of a society that has oppressed him.

The Good Samaritan met the victim’s needs.  He didn’t just pray for the man and walk away.  Nor did he give advice.  Instead, he gave of his time and his physical energies;  he gave the injured man his donkey (while he walked);  and he gave his money, and got the victim to an inn.  There he saw to it that the victim was nursed back to health.

So how does all this apply to us—to you and me, today?

When someone is injured or killed, our first reaction is shock and horror.  We are outraged.  Maybe that was the reaction of the priest and the Levite when they saw the man lying there–but they walked away.  Maybe that was the reaction of those listening to Jesus when he talked about an upstanding man, presumably a Jew, getting robbed and beaten.  Shock and horror.  It’s simply outrageous!

But Jesus’s story asks us other questions:  When there is violence, when someone is attacked, what does compassion look like?  Who avoided the beaten man?  Who walked by on the other side of the street?  Who didn’t want to get involved?  Who was afraid that if they tried to help, they might be the next victims?

And who was the neighbor who stopped and rendered aid?  In Jesus story it was a Samaritan — a member of an ostracized race.

This past week a series of horrible events took place in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas.  The senseless deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile left us shocked and horrified.  We were outraged.

And then we were shocked and horrified and outraged again by the deaths of Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, as well as by the injuries sustained by other Dallas officers.

And I want to ask those same questions that Jesus’ story posed:  What does compassion look like, in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas?  What does neighborly love look like in those places?

Who avoided getting involved?  Who was afraid to get involved?  I must tell you, I was.  Me.

Watching CNN and viewing the raw pictures out of Dallas the other night, I was sure glad I wasn’t there–in what has been described as a killing zone on the streets in downtown Dallas.  Two thoughts were dominant in my mind as I viewed those scenes with fascinated horror:  First, how terrified I would have been if I were standing there, being fired upon;  and second, how courageous those police personnel were.  I mean, while all hell was breaking loose, those officers were acting as human shields, protecting the public by putting themselves in between the shooter and any unfortunate person who happened to get caught in the crossfire–standing there at the wrong time and in the wrong place.  I would not have done that.  I would not have been that courageous.

And I must tell you that earlier in the week, when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed, the thought crossed my mind more than once, that I was sure glad that through no merit or special accomplishment of my own, I was born white.  I know that that’s an ugly sentiment.  There’s something really wrong with my admitting that, but that’s how I felt!  I was thankful that I was born white.

So in Jesus’ story, I’m pretty sure that I would have been one of those who walked on by.

If you were to ask me, “Chris, are you a racist?,” I would love to say, “Heck no!”  I would love to deny it.  And as a liberal, I would be offended or insulted by such an insinuation.  But the more truthful answer is that yes, because of my white privilege, in subtle and overt ways, consciously and unconsciously, I am a racist—even though I don’t want to be one.

Feel free to criticize me for saying that–and I will readily agree with your criticism!  You see I’m really not trying to be provocative, or to shock you, or to make anyone feel guilty.  And I don’t mean to be race-baiting.  It’s just that, I’m asking myself, and I’m asking you, how does this passage about the Good Samaritan, how does it’s message of compassion and being a true neighbor, apply to me, and to you, and to the events of this past week?

May God forgive me for my cowardice, my fear, and my hesitation.  May God help all of us to answer the questions posed by Jesus’ story for ourselves.  And may God be present in a very powerful way, in Baton Rouge and in Minneapolis, and in Dallas in the coming days.  May God comfort all those who have lost loved ones this past week.

And Jesus said, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

And the man answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  Amen.


A Prayer for Hope and Healing

(Adapted from Dan Schatz (Unitarian-Univeralist minister), “Selma, Race and Racism—a Prayer for Hope and Healing,” March 7, 2015, The Song and the Sigh blog, https:// songandthesigh.com/2015/03/07/selma-race-and-racism-a-prayer-for-hope-and-healing/)

God of love and justice,
 we cry out in hope and grief,
 mourning the hard realization
that violence and racial strife have again bloodied our land and shattered our illusions of peace.  We confess that our nation has not yet fully come 
to live out the ideals of justice and equality, 
of hoping and working for the justice that is to come.

We cry for our lost heroes in Dallas, and also for our lost brothers, sons, and husbands in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis.  We pray for their families and loved ones and friends.

Help us to heal.  And as we heal, help us not to forget or become complacent;  help us rather to resolve to work even harder for justice and for peace.

Help us to remember the spirit of love, 
that fierce and urgent kind of love
 that accepts no falsehoods or easy answers, 
but calls us onward,
 that gives us the strength to face what we do not wish to see, 
and to hear what we do not wish to be told.

Finally, help us to reach out to one another, 
and beyond our personal circles, 
so that we as a nation may come to greater understanding.  Where we see injustice, 
may we find the courage to lift our voices and to engage our hands and move our bodies for what we believe in,
 reaching out and reaching forward 
in hope and healing.  Amen.


 

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Chris Xenakis

Chris Xenakis is a pastor, an adjunct lecturer in political science, an old school black and white photographer, and a sometime amateur actor.

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