Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Beacon of Light as We Wait for Justice

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
October 6, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently…
 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not be provoked; it leads on’ly to evil.”

Psalm 37 7-8

If there was ever a time for American Christians to call out with the apostles, “Increase our faith.” Now might just be the time. If there was ever a time for American Christians to stand troubled with Habakkuk, “Strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” Now might just be the time.

Now is the time for Christians to trust with the Psalmist, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently. Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not be provoked; it leads on’ly to evil.”

Now is the time for Christians to stand with Habakkuk at the watchpost and keep watch to see what G-d will say and what the Lord will answer concerning our complaint.

Now is the time for Christians to serve humbly, do as we ought, to wait on the Lord and refrain from anger and seek justice and peace.

If to refrain from anger you have turned off the evening news, if to refrain from anger you have stopped reading the newspaper, I cannot say I blame you. No matter which side of the aisle you are on (and by aisle I mean the political aisle) the news will only make you sad or angry and call out for justice. Justice will seem elusive because we all wait on justice that looks different and tests our patience with one another. So if you have turned off the news, I cannot say I blame you. But if you turned off the news last week, you missed the story that unveils the mystery of waiting on G-d with hope and with faith. Do not fret if you have missed the story of Brandt Jean and Amanda Guyger. I will help you catch up.

Texas police officer Amanda Guyger shot and killed Brandt Jean’s brother Botham last year. It was one of a series of incidents involving police officers shooting and killing unarmed civilians, many of the cases with racial implications. Two movements grew out of these incidents Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Both movements seek justice. Both movements wait for justice, but they wait separately. 

The initial police investigation did not recommend charges, deeming the incident a tragic accident. Amanda Guyger's and Botham Jean's apartments were one over on top of one another, different floors in the same building. Officer Guyger walked into Mr. Jean’s apartment thinking that it was her own and thinking she was looking at an intruder. A grand jury had a different opinion and sent charges to the prosecutor's office. A year later (last week) the trial happened. I watched the case waiting for I didn’t know what. What does justice look like for these two people and their families and their supporters and their common community? The prosecutor’s office even left the decision of the charges up to the jury. What does justice look like when the prosecutor passes that responsibility along to others? The jury got to say whether it was manslaughter or murder or something else. 

We wait on justice. We decry the violence. It does not matter how you pair it: men on women, white v. black, criminals against law enforcement. By the way, this same week a Sikh officer was killed on duty in Texas. Again, it does not matter how you pair it: criminals against law enforcement, law enforcement against the innocent. It does not matter. In all cases we decry the violence. We wait for justice. With tears Amanda Guyger testified in her own defense. The jury convicted her and sentencing began. 

And as part of the sentencing procedings Botham’s brother Brandt took the stand and gave his testimony. This is my own transcription. He spoke slowly, with drawn out pauses with such deep emotion that I can only acknowledge but never recreate.

“I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time what you’ve or how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that. But I just…I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all of the the bad things you may have done in the past. If you truly are story. I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you and if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. 

I love you just like anyone else and I'm not going to say I hope you rot and die," Brandt Jean told Guyger. "I personally want the best for you. I wasn't going to say this in front of my family, or anyone; I don't even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that's exactly what Botham would want for you. And the best would be give your life to Christ. I am not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want for you. Again I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad to you. I don’t know if this is possible but can I give her a hug please, please.”

The video shows the full length of their hug. As he reaches out to embrace her, you can see the judge wiping tears from her eyes. Judge Kemp will also embrace Ms. Guyger before she leaves to start serving her sentence and give her the Bible off of her bench, the one she has used everyday. 

Now, after this moment a few activists warned Christians like myself to responsibly approach this powerful moment of forgiveness. I will share one set of comments from Jemar Tisby, a Christian activist and author.

Black forgiveness is costly. It requires us to absorb wrongdoing even as we continue to work for justice. Black forgiveness becomes cheapened when we take it for granted. Black forgiveness is admirable when it is freely given and not demanded or expected. And the best response to black forgiveness is to prevent the harm that makes it necessary in the first place.

I offer my closing words now. Brandt Jean’s words of mercy, forgiveness, and their embrace is not a substitute for justice. But he offers us in his Christian testimony a beacon of light, a glimmer of hope, a moment of reconciliation in a world the remains divided and longing for justice. His Christian trust offers a beacon and a hope and a moment of reconciliation as we wait upon the Lord, or as we say increase my faith. He gives a light and a hope as we serve the Lord and strive to build up the unity of the Church in the name of Christ who saves us.

I speak for myself. I stand here for the sake of the world and wait upon the Lord with a heart that longs for justice not of my own choosing, but a divine justice that holds precious all life.