We serve a God whose Word is eternally relevant. But when I sat down at our monthly team meeting, I did not expect God to talk about Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. I didn't expect Him to address Eric Garner and Daniel Palenteo. But He did.
Joshua 5:13-14, says "when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and he saw a man with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "are you for us or for our enemies." He responded, "Neither, but as the commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." Joshua then fell facedown to the ground in reverence and asked him, "what message does my Lord have for His servant."
My mind was blown twice in this passage. First, I am bewildered by Joshua's reaction to meeting the Commanders of the Army of the Lord - who some commentaries say is Jesus.
He stops, worships and then asks His Master, what would you have me to do?
When I found out about the Eric Garner decision, I did not know how to respond. But my first instinct was not to stop. It was to go and do something. And I surely didn't pause to find my favorite worship song or let alone ask, "Lord, what would you have me to do?"
But what if that was our first response!?!? And, we stopped, worshiped, waited for God to speak AND then did what He said.
Ask God what to do.
Wait for Him to respond.
Do what He says.
What if that was our posture towards the next Michael Brown and Darren Wilson? What if that was our posture towards thousands of children flooding across our border? What if that was our posture when someone homeless approached our car window or entered our subway car?
What if instead of drawing battle lines to protect MY money, MY comfort, MY stuff, MY time, MY security or whatever illusion of possessiveness we have chosen to believe our response was praise to Our Good, Righteous, Just and Mighty God? What if we stopped to worship the God of the Bible who is Our Rock, Salvation, Provider and Sovereign King? The God who split open the Red Sea, turned water into wine and touched lepers to make them clean. What if we put down the god of prosperity and personal wealth that we have made for ourselves and picked up the Cross of Christ and embraced Him as Lord, Savior and Friend?
And then we asked, "Lord, I am your servant, what would you have me do?" And then, we waited.
What if we held our suggestions, thoughts and comments back and waited? And we didn't wait for just a day or just one quiet time? What if we didn't just wait for our three day fast or until the end of Lent? No, what if we waited until we heard from the commander of the Lord's Army?
And then -- we did what He said! What if we didn't compromise, edit, accommodate or just make it a little more convenient? What if we just obeyed?
How different would the world be if followers of Jesus were willing to stop, worship, ask, listen, and obey!
Joshua did this! He heard from God and went to the great walled city, Jericho. Without a bullet or a bomb, or even a push, those famous walls came crashing down. To some, Joshua's commands probably made no sense. Marching around a wall seven times probably seemed preposterous. And the trumpets were not part of any battle plan that the soldiers envisioned. But because Joshua worshiped, waited, listened to God and obeyed - the city was given over to the Israelites.
The second element that stood out to me was one word, neither. Joshua asked the Commander of the Lord's Army, "Are you for us, or for our enemies? and "neither" was the first word of His answer.
"Are you for the police or for the protesters?"
"Do you think the NYPD is racist or not?"
"Michael Brown was a robber, he's in hell. Right?"
"Do you think white privilege is real or not?
We live in a land of black and white, where lines are drawn in the sand by people in chains that still hold hands, hearts, minds and an entire country to a fencepost of pride in ourselves at the expense of the other.
You are either for the police or against them. Either for black people or against them. Either for the protesters or against them. Either for the 1% or against them. Either for socialism or against it.
Caught up in the false dichotomies we wage war against our brothers and sisters. Our country is bleeding out on the bathroom floor of the world, numb to the pain of one another.
I believe we must be willing to be "Neither". We must be FOR the Kingdom of God and the flourishing of all creation. We must be FOR justice for all and against justice for some, because that it no justice at all.
As I marched with thousands of protesters out of Washington Square Park, I stood and stepped solely for His Kingdom and His Glory as our small band prayed before the protest.
Racist is not spelled N-Y-P-D.
Black American males are not "thugs".
Police officers are not "pigs".
Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not demons and neither "got what was coming to them".
George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, and Daniel Palenteo are not white devils.
White privilege and systemic racism are alive and well; and so is personal accountability for our actions.
All of these persons are made in the image of God with the mandate to flourish, work, rule and create and ensure the same for all other people and creation. That is true for Darren Wilson and his new wife. And that's also true for Eric Garner's widow and his 6 children. The kingdom of God is big enough for both of them, yet it seems our sound bites, soap boxes, and pundit booths are not.
God help us to grow up. To mature in Christ and become people willing to stand with the protesters and enter into the complexity of their struggle with grief, humility, compassion, patience and sacrificial love.
AND to be people who stand with the police and the powerful and enter into the complexity of their pain with grief, humility, compassion, patience and sacrificial love.
Victoria Safford said, “Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (our people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of ‘Everything is gonna be all right,’ but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle — and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.”
We live in a divided state of america, in a united state of amnesia, captive to our history and indifferent to the need of a future with room enough for everyone. We shout subtle obscenities in capital letters on social media and evening newscasts at whomever we deem to be the other - not knowing that we have crushed the image of God in our brothers and sisters and hushed His image within ourselves. We want to be right, more than we want to be righteous.
Would God make us people like Joshua and shape us into people who have the character and capacity to respond "neither" in the face of such division, strife and turmoil because we know who we are, who Our God is, and the Gospel He has entrusted us with.
I close with this prayer; Father, forgive us for not stopping to worship before we jumped onto our bandwagons and off of yours. Forgive us for going on Facebook and Twitter to respond to the injustices around us before consulting with You, our commander so that we had something nourishing to share. Forgive us for protesting and counter-protesting before meeting with You. Forgive us for taking Your name in vain and using our privilege, power and authority to destroy, denigrate, discourage and condemn. Help us to stop and stand in awe of Your Goodness so that this world can be put into perspective and we might see ourselves and all people as You see them. Help us to wait for Your clear direction, however long that may be. And help us to obey Your command to love our neighbors as ourselves in the way that You command. We ask these things in the strong, beautiful, freeing name of Jesus. Amen!