Lord, how long will I call for help and you not listen? I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us.
Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish so that devastation and violence are before me?
Devastation and violence are continually before us. Even in the best of times - when the violence is far away, and we feel relatively secure in our own communities - the proliferation of media means that images of devastation still reach us instantly and constantly from places we've never known.
Many have said that the steady spectacle of violence will desensitize us, that our hearts will be hardened by constant exposure. Yet, today, as our community mourns the loss of Sheriff's Deputy Bill Myers I do not feel a hardened heart within me, nor see hardened hearts around me. My heart feels rubbed raw. I see a community acutely aware of the horror of such violence, and I see people lamenting every time another strand of our social trust is severed. I see fear; I see anger; I see grief. I do not see a people who are numb.
If we were numb, we would not want to cry out. But we do. We cry out even though we are not sure we know what to say, and even though we are not sure what difference our words will make. We cry out even though we fear the devastation will not stop, because if we stopped crying out it would mean that the violence had won and hardened our hearts. We do not have enough words to undo the evils in the world, but we hope our words at least have the power to show that our hearts are unconquered. We need something to say.
As a scriptural people, when we need something to say, we look to the words that God has inspired and used to guide us from our earliest days. In the scriptures we find that we are not the first people to cry out. At various times, the singers in the Psalms, the preachers of the prophetic books, and the saints of Revelation have all cried out "How Long?"
When we shout "how long" we confess that the world has always been full of violence, and evil - and we confess that it will not always be that way.
And then [will come] the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end. It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end.
1 Corinthians 15:25-27
Christ still has enemies. Death is Christ's enemy. Death revolts against the kingdom of God. But one day, even this last enemy shall be conquered. And we are waiting for that day "when Christ comes in final victory" (to use the words of our communion prayer). We know where the world is headed, and so we are impatient with the way the world is. We find ourselves shouting "how long?"
If you are feeling today that we will never rid ourselves of violence, then that is a true and holy confession; Christ is the one who will conquer our enemies. But that has does not mean we are powerless. We still have voice to cry out. When the world around us wonders what we can say in the face of evil, we do not "rise above" as if the things of this world cannot touch us. We add our voices to those who mourn and remind them that they are not alone. We practice compassion - literally, we "suffer with" - and we cry out right alongside all who are shouting that "this is not right."
In God's providence, it turns out that this week's worship is focused upon our church's core value of compassion. But today I am praying we will not wait until Sunday to give witness that we are "suffering with" those who suffer. For all our law enforcement officers and their families, let us join the prayers they are offering for safety, for peace, and for an assurance that evil will not have the last word. Let us offer them words of assurance and compassion - if we cannot answer the cries of their heart, let them at least be sure they do not cry out alone. We are commanded also to pray for enemies, and so let us pray that God will send intervening and preventing grace into the lives of all who seek to inflict violence, and repentance to all who have lived by violence.
When we cry out "How long" we become the place where the brokenness of the world joins the voice of the saints in heaven. And we give witness that our hearts are not overcome.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by thy help I'm come/And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" - Robert Robinson