Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thoughts on the Philando Castile Verdict

The Philando Castile verdict is the latest chapter in a horrible ongoing feature of our national life in America. Millions of Americans are daily aggrieved because they feel they are denied justice owing to the color of their skin. It's hard to argue otherwise.

I pray that God will prompt us all to remember the words God spoke to all the world through the prophet Micah: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

If this were our way of life, Philando Castile might still be living today.

Earlier this week, we were awed by and thankful for the actions of the US Capitol Police and others in law enforcement in saving lives threatened by a gunman assaulting members and staffers of Congress. Their heroism was inspiring. They represented the thousands of women and men in blue who keep their communities safe each day.

But we are also aware of the issue of recurring police violence visited, with inordinate frequency, on people in the African-American community.

Irrespective of the specific merits of the Castile case, it is clear that all Americans--white, black, brown, red, yellow--need to find ways to live with the justice, mercy, and humility that God commands.

We can't possibly live with these attributes as our hallmarks on our own, apart from the help and empowerment of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. That's because, as Jesus tells us, "Apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Left to our own devices, we cannot rise above our own sins: sins like racism, fear of those who are different from ourselves, the notion that the powerless are always threats to the powerful, and so on.

No matter how often we resolve to end injustice or treat others with love, we will fail in that resolve absent a humble repentance for our past sins and a humble surrender to the God Who came into our world in Jesus, then submitted to unjust execution for our sins and rose to give new, everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

If things like violence and bigotry are to be defeated in this country, it will not be because we've all decided to be nice.

Nor will it come because of sterner laws or sensitivity training, important as such things might be.

It will only come when we turn to Christ.

It will only come when we, seeking to follow Jesus, begin, by His grace and power to reflect His presence in us.

That's what happens: You walk with Jesus daily and He will begin to change you from the inside out.

To those who keep trusting in Jesus, turning daily away from their sins, and daily following where Jesus leads, our thoughts, actions, and motivations start to change, "for it is God at work in you, enabling you both to will and work for [God's] good pleasure" (Colossians 1:13).

In Phlippians 2, the first century apostle Paul, issues this command: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus..."

We can only have the mindset of Jesus when we believe in Him, when, through Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and God's powerful Word, the Holy Spirit is unleashed in us to help us live out the life of love, justice, and mercy God has always meant for us to live.

I, a white man, am the servant of my neighbors who are black. And Christian honesty compels me to say that their families too often suffer the summary justice of officers who may be afraid, may be untried, may be racist. I pray in the name of Christ, that things can change.

And I always pray for those who do the difficult task of law enforcement, that God would keep them safe also. And I pray that God will give us all wisdom.

And I pray that the scourge of racism will finally be exorcised from our souls as we follow Jesus Christ, the Savior and God Who alone can transform us from God's enemies to God's friends.

None of this is a political statement. 

It's a plea for all of us to turn from sin and the myth of human self-sufficiency and, instead, to invite Jesus into the center of our lives, as individuals and as Americans.

When we do that daily, Jesus takes up residence in repentant and believers; they, in turn, begin to think differently, live differently, engage with society differently.

Believers in Jesus realize that they cannot (I cannot) be Christians on the strength of our own will power. Like millions of others Christians, I confess each week that, "...we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors ourselves." This what we say when we ask God to forgive us and help us to live as God calls human beings to live, in Micah and others places in the Bible, and to provide us the help of God's Holy Spirit in doing so.

The Christian knows with the apostle Paul that: " is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8-10)

It's difficult to imagine a better work we could do as Americans than to follow Christ and invoke His power in living with the kind of humility, love, and mercy that could bring racial justice fully into being and consistent respect for all people, including police officers, into being. But we must begin with Christ! (There is no other way, John 14:6).

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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