Devotions for Sunday 23rd August
Welcome to the Devotions sheet for this Sunday. Please take some time to read, pray and imagine your way through what’s here. May you find grace and strength and connection with God from your time reading and reflecting.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of our land, and pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. We honour their care of the land and acknowledge that as Second Peoples, we have benefitted from their dispossession. So we commit ourselves to reconciliation and justice as First and Second Peoples together, and to learn from them to care for each other and the land.
Dear God, I give thanks for these devotions, that show I’m not forgotten by our church. Thanks for the writer, the printers and the deliverers. Thanks for the church’s role in helping me connect with you. But even more, I give thanks for your Spirit that lives within me, who connects me with you constantly, whether I’m aware of it or not. I take this time to switch On from Standby, to bring you to consciousness, to light up my heart and mind and inner ears, to hear your quiet voice and recognise and feel your unseen presence. In this service, power me up for my part in service of you and your world, in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen
Last week we began a new series looking at some implications of the gospel in and towards some contemporary and perhaps controversial movements in our world. Last week we looked for a deeper meaning to the phrase ‘God is Good’. This week we are going to look at Black Lives Matter.
Take a moment to name to yourself at least three things from your last week where you would say ‘Yes! God is Good!’ (And bonus points if you can name one of them that wouldn’t be thought of as an easy or comfortable thing.) (Sorry, no, this is not about points. God is all about grace). Say a brief prayer for these things- ‘God, I saw your goodness there. I give you thanks!’
Black Lives Matter
#Black lives matter is a campaign begun in 2013 that’s gone worldwide, especially since the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota USA in May this year. It is a movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people. It has broadened out to be a call to end personal and institutional racism world-wide.
George Floyd was an African-American man who had been pulled over by the police to be questioned. They made him lie on the ground and a police office knelt on his neck. George Floyd was calling out ‘I can’t breathe!’. This went on for over 8 minutes and George Floyd died. This sparked riots in parts of USA and demonstrations all around the world.
In Australia it has been taken up as well- highlighting that over 450 Australian First Nations people have died in police custody or prisons even since the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody in 1991. First Nations’ prison rates in some states and the Northern Territory are some of the highest in the world per head of population. This is a fault with the system. It is not just a fault with the individual First Nations people concerned.
The #Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Australia were controversial because they occurred during the Covid-19 restrictions, though organisers were careful to follow Covid-19 safety procedures.
But don’t All Lives Matter?
Of course they do! But the point of #Black Lives Matter is that among all lives, black lives are treated as if they matter less. Racism is not just a personal vice held by individual people, but is entrenched in the way societies operate. #Black Lives Matter is about ensuring they are treated equally.
So what’s it got to do with the gospel? This was a Facebook post I received:
Here’s the reading in full: Luke 15: 1-7
15 One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, 2 the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!” 3 So Jesus told them this parable:
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. 5 When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders 6 and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.
I have recently been Facebook friended by a young Christian man from Liberia. (I was a bit sceptical at first when he sought me out- is this going to be a scammer?) Anyhow I’ve got to know him a little and like him and we have had some interesting message exchanges. I told him we were going to be talking about #Black Lives Matter at church this week and asked what he thought as a young African man. He said he’d do some research and get back to me. Here is his reply: “Here are the kinds of comments we hear in our circles. The church should not get involved in politics. We agree black lives matter, but so do blue lives, so do all lives. We agree social justice matters, but we should not confuse social justice with the gospel. We agree that discrimination and oppression are wrong, but should recognize that contemporary social justice movements are wedded to a Neo-Marxist worldview. We are opposed to racism and sexism, but we cannot support these movements because their agendas embrace other policies such as LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, an expansive welfare state and so on.”
Pause for a moment to consider your feelings about what he’s said.
I thanked him and here’s my reply: “For me, reading the scriptures I see the prophets and Jesus challenging unjust systems all the time, so for me, social justice is an important part of the gospel. Jesus and the scriptures aren’t just on about people going to heaven, but also about creating a world of care and fair sharing here, so all people can live life ‘abundantly’. For me, my care about social justice is from the bible not from a neo-Marxist viewpoint and each movement is evaluated and supported based on how it lines up with Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. It also means we can get involved in and help shape the direction of movements like #Black Lives Matter, #Me too etc. All lives do matter, but I believe God calls us to support and advocate for those who are treated badly. I don’t mean to argue with you, but this is how I understand it.” He said he appreciated my reply.
I have been reading some more challenging things about ingrained racism- things that as a person who sees myself as not racist and certainly don’t want to be- that are still there, personally, and loom large for Black People and People of Colour in how society works, that I wasn’t aware of. These are things like White Privilege (where we don’t realise how easier it is for us to make our way in the world), White Fragility (where many white people quickly get upset and angry when challenged about racism- think of the angry way some people talk about ‘political correctness’), Tone Policing (where we expect Black People and People of Colour, if they do speak about their painful experiences of racism, to do it gently without expressing emotion). The book is called ‘Me and White Supremacy’ by Layla F Saad.
First off as Christians we can say ALL people are created in the image of God.
Second, based on the scriptures we can say God has a special care for people who are oppressed, marginalised and discriminated against, and wants change to create equality for all.
But thirdly, something really significant as Christians we can bring to the public debate- and sadly, polarisation- about movements such as #Black Lives Matter, is the grace of God. Here is a Affirmation of Faith we’ve used in church before:
We affirm: The good news from Jesus, that we want our community to know,
is that we don’t have to be afraid of our past, we don’t need to lie about it, deny it,
cover it up, or find others to blame; and we don’t have to run or hide from God
(or convince ourselves God doesn’t exist); for fear of being judged.
The past can’t be changed,
and whatever was wrong is forgiven when it is acknowledged and we resolve to do better.
We can be free of our regrets.
Because of this we can admit our personal and our nations’ failures and safely say sorry.
We are connected to each other, and our futures are intertwined and bound up together.
So even if I may not have been involved personally, we are all caught up in the wrongs and mistakes of the past, and are responsible for now and the future, with the power and influence we have- large or small.
Through Christ it is safe, and helpful to confess our wrongs on behalf of ourselves and others.
It is safe to say that things we thought were right at the time, were wrong.
And largely we see this grace also in our First Peoples when we listen to them.
The Luke 15 parable ended with the celebration in heaven over the person that repents. God is joyful when changes happen in peoples’ attitudes- and they see things God’s way. It’s not easy but it’s a better life being part of God’s movement rather than the resistance to the Spirit!
Prayers for ourselves, others and the world
Dear God, you don’t let up do you! In your love for the world, and in your love for all people you are always needling, whispering, provoking us to unity and wholeness as individuals, society and the creation. We like the idea, but it is hard. There is resistance from those who hold power in the world. There is resistance in family and friends that is hard to challenge, and there is resistance within myself. When I think I’ve made progress, you show me there’s a way more to go.
In these prayers, let’s say the easy ones first:
We pray for everyone affected by Covid 19- those who are sick, health workers, politicians and researchers; those stuck in nursing homes; those struggling with isolation; those who have lost work, customers or investment income; students, teachers and parents struggling with learning at home; those who are bereaved; those who are stranded away from loved ones and where closed borders make life difficult- all throughout the world. We name people who come to mind . . . Bless them with hope and inner strength and all they need.
We pray for all whom we love- our families, our friends, our church and local communities. We bring their needs before you . . . Bless them with love, healing, connection and any help they need.
I pray for myself. You know what I need, but you want me to name those needs, desires and yearnings in prayer. I thank you for your leading and answered prayers in the past, and so ask now in faith . . .
So, to the hard ones. God of salvation- may your Spirit do what it takes to rescue the world from ourselves. With issues like climate change and environmental destruction we have proved that we can’t save ourselves- even with our wonders of technology. Thank you for the vision of Jesus, and the prophets that show us the issues and the way forward. Help us make the changes that need to be made that we can as individuals, and as a church; and speak strongly to those with power to make the big changes.
I pray for the on-going development and success of the Black Lives Matter movement and an end to racism.
And I join with your people all round the world and through time in the prayer Jesus taught:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil; for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen
Thanks for using these devotions. If you ever want to talk with me about anything. Please feel welcome to call me on 0407 349 578 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Geoff Barker
May God bless us daily with the wisdom to sort out and act on:
What we’ve got to have, what we should have, and what we want to have,
What we’ve got to do, what we should do, and what we want to do,
What we’ve got to be, what we should be, and what we want to be.
In the Spirit, wisdom and love and grace of Christ. Amen