Have you found our Bible reading this past week providentially appropriate? This passage from Psalm 119, for example, is one I could read on most days and think nothing of it. This week, however, I read it and my mind easily substituted police for princes. I never think of the police as persecuting me without a cause. I’ve gotten a few tickets, including one that was unjust. In that case I believe the officer exaggerated my speed because he wanted to give me a ticket after seeing me accelerate through a yellow stoplight. But I still didn’t feel persecuted.
Can my African American brothers and sisters say the same thing? This scripture is about someone unjustly mistreated by a powerful authority. So when I heard about what happened with George Floyd I couldn’t help but see him in this verse.
Once again I was grieved for someone who lost his life to a policeman using excessive force. But to those who’ve been taught by their families and experience to fear the police, it’s more than just another tragedy. My own parents taught me to fear the police, to give them the utmost respect, but that’s not what I’m talking about. My parents never taught me to fear that the police would treat me unjustly. There was no reason for them to. But that’s not true for those whose race has been victimized by racial hatred and violence throughout the history of this country. The death of George Floyd is going to feel like a direct threat to many of them. In 1 Corinthians 2 Paul asks, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” So I don’t know what that policeman was thinking as he knelt on George’s neck. Was it because of racial hatred? Was it because his pride was rebelling against the bystanders telling him to get off? Was it because he didn’t believe that any harm would actually come to George? God knows, but I can only take my best guess. When you’ve seen it happen over and over again to men of your own skin color though, it probably becomes personal and difficult to think it’s not racial.
It was personal for David. He wasn’t hated because he was of a particular race. He was hated because he was anointed and chosen by God. The threat to David was as sharp and as deep as the spear embedded in the wall beside him. Had he not had the reflexes to dodge it, he would have been killed. And it wasn’t a one-off. Saul came after him again and again. But David fixed his eyes on God. “I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure.” In the midst of his persecution, David turned to God and found treasure. Oh Lord, lead us to that treasure today!
God’s word is a treasure trove filled with promises of His love, His mercy, His assurance of an eternity that cannot be shaken by our sufferings in this fleeting lifetime. It’s a treasure chest filled with wisdom for how to keep our peace in anxious times, how to love even our enemies, how to forgive the unpardonable, how to rise above the breaking waves of the storm that sinks a thousand ships. It’s a bank vault with its door swung open wide for us to enter and plunder at will! He not only permits it, He not only welcomes it, He invites and encourages it!
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27
With everything we’re going through right now — threats of Covid-19, economic devastation, riots, inflamed racial divisions, international upheaval, internal political polarization — it’s nice to know that we are in the world but not of it. It’s nice to remember that we have the peace of Jesus, given to us as a gift, fully capable of countering the tribulation we will face in this life. We have the option to not give our hearts permission to be troubled just because there’s trouble all around us. We can choose to be filled with joy because Jesus has overcome the world.
We just finished reading the gospel of John, which recounts a significant discourse from Jesus to His disciples when He knew they were about to undergo the greatest their test. They were about to have their dreams — dreams they couldn’t even have imagined until Jesus called them three years prior — dashed as He was arrested, tried and crucified. This final teaching from Jesus tenderly prepared them with assurance, hope and promise. And we got to read it within days of watching our country go up in flames around us. It’s as encouraging and comforting today as it was back then. In fact, more so because we know about the crucifixion and resurrection.
Not every police officer is racist. Not every young man is a criminal. Not every moment of silence is an act of respect. But every Christian is called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And every act of compassion is recorded in heaven. And every day, God’s Word waits to fill us with everything we need for life and godliness.
The day is coming when Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But until that day we will cry. Sometimes with joy, sometimes with sorrow. Sometimes we will grieve with those who grieve and sometimes it will be others grieving with us. But through it all the body of Christ will love one another even when the world hates us. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us the blood of Christ that unites us with believers from every tribe and tongue.
Thank You for a Church where “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” is excluded from the love and promises of God. Amen.