Isaiah 64:1-3, Mark 13:24-37 Our kids each had their unique style of crying. I’ve asked their permission to share this with you. Our daughter didn’t really cry, she… snorted. If you caught her in time, fed her, or changed her, she wouldn’t gear up into a full wail at all. One of our sons had a way of wining that could wear anybody down. He was also accomplished in the temper tantrum area. One day he was in the middle of a tantrum while I was cooking dinner. I told him that if he was going to cry like that he would have to go into the other room. He put his tantrum on pause, pointed to the dining room and asked, “In there?” I said, “Yes, in there.” He took his little feet in there and let it rip again. He had great control and technique when it came to the temper tantrum. Our other son had only two cry settings, off and high. His screams pierced your soul, and there was nothing you could do to stop them until it all came out. I say all this with the greatest respect for my children, because I was a colicie baby, crying from 5 to 11 pm every night. I figure I’m lucky to be here.
There’s been crying night and day across this country. These have been very dark days. I’m sure your heart is heavy like mine as we’ve witnessed the pain and despair in Ferguson, Missouri. The truth is, we all live in Ferguson. What happened in Ferguson and what happens to persons of color right here is not God’s will. There is deep anguish, systemic racism and injustice across this nation and right here.
There’s been a lot of crying, screaming in the dark, here. We could have written the words from Mark 13:24: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.” Sometimes all we can do is scream in the dark. When has it been so dark, so painful, or frightening in your life that all you could do was scream? When in your life has the darkness immobilized you, left you with only a searing or silent scream? It’s the kind of guttural cry that Psalm 130 describes: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O God.”
What do we do when the scream subsides but the pain persists? What do we do when darkness envelops our personal lives and the world? That’s the question the Gospel of Mark addresses in this passage. The words Mark uses about times of darkness echo ancient images from the books of Daniel and Isaiah, but they are written for first century Christians during a time of persecution and war, during or immediately following the war between Jews and Romans, 66-73 CE. Earlier in the chapter Mark warns the Christian community: “Look out for yourselves! They will turn you over to courts and beat you with whips in their meeting places.” Oppression doesn’t change much through the centuries.
What do we do in the dark? Mark tells us to pay attention, to stay awake. That’s not easy when things are really dark. It takes time for our eyes and our hearts to adjust in the dark. When it’s really scary and dark, first we see nothing but our own fear, anger or pain. Then, as our eyes start to adjust, we begin to see shadows, maybe monsters, all around us. We fear we are not alone in the dark. We’re not. Joshua 1:5 “I will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Psalm 139 declares that there is no place we can go, no way we can be, where God is not with us. “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (vs. 12)
During one of the hardest times in my life I felt like I fell into a dark pit. I couldn’t see, but in some mysterious way I can’t fully explain, I sensed that I wasn’t alone, that everyone who suffers was there with me. We are surrounded, not by monsters, but by members of one family. We share the darkness with God and with everyone who suffers. We all live in Ferguson. We need to stay awake to the pain in Ferguson, the pain of others right here.
Let me say, that I will never know what it’s really like to experience the systemic aggression of racism as a person of color. But you and I are called to pay attention and take that pervasive assault to a person’s dignity seriously. We really are in this darkness together.
The pain of injustice will always circle back to all of us. I read this quote this week. “As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption. The question now, is whether America is prepared to do something massively, affirmatively and forthrightly about the great problem we face in the area of race and the problem which can bring the curtain of doom down on American civilization if it is not solved.” (“The Other America” Speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Grosse Pointe High School – March 14, 1968) Did you recognize those works spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968?
We need to stay awake and stay together. We need to listen and respect the experience of those who face a very different reality each day than I do. Like the African American mother who told Rev. Karen Oliveto that every time her young adult son goes out the door, she hugs him, tells him she loves him and tells him goodbye, because she’s not sure she will see him again. In 2011, black males ages 15-34 were 10 times more likely to die of murder than whites of the same age group. (From CDC and http://www.politifact.com)
There are members of our church family, this church community who have been followed, stopped and written off because of their race. Pastor Leonce Crump, leader of Renovation Church in Atlanta, was a guest on the Georgia radio program, “All Things Considered.” He was asked, What is the role of the faith community in what’s happening in Ferguson? He said, “Well, I think the role of the faith community is primarily to see the injustice and connect this injustice to the gospel, and realize that every word that Jesus spoke and even the actions that he did when he walked this earth were not just to get us to heaven, but to give us a preview of the reality that should be. The reality that should be is never one where a teenager can be gunned down in the street despite what he did.” We can find our way through the dark – but only if we stay awake and stay together, guiding each other – moving against the darkness of injustice, poverty and oppression in all forms.
Mario’s family was planning to go camping for the first time on their family vacation to Yellowstone National Park. He acted tough but he was not excited about sleeping in a tent outside in the dark even before his friends told him that they had heard that lots of people had been attacked by bears in Yellowstone. When he casually mentioned it to his parents, they told him that it was more likely that he’d be struck by lightning. With alarm he asked, “Why? Is there a storm coming?!” They said, “No, no. Don’t worry it will be cool.” The first night they all set up their tents and went to bed when it got dark, really dark. In the middle of the night Mario woke from a deep sleep to the sound of rustling. He opened the flap of his tent and barely made out the shape of a four-legged creature coming in his direction. Then it stood up on its hind legs. With his heart thumping he grabbed his flashlight and shined it right into the eyes — of his sister, Francesca who had crawled out of her tent to find a restroom. She never let him live it down.
There are siblings all around us. We are never alone in the dark. Psalm 69:33 lights a candle of hope and power: “The Lord hears the cries of the poor and never abandons those who are bound up.” Stay awake to the liberating call of those around you, the call of the Gospel. We can find our way through the dark to the light – but only together. Amen.