The following readings and liturgies offer a #BlackLivesMatter reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary texts for this coming Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B).
CALL TO WORSHIP (Psalm 34:1-8, adapted)
One: I will bless the LORD at all times; God’s praise will be ever in my mouth.
Many: My soul will find its confidence in the LORD; I will be humble and glad.
One: I will look to God and shine! This is the One who hears and answers my cries.
Many: This is the One whose angels encamp around those in need of refuge.
One: I will seek the LORD in times of trouble;
Many: I will taste and know the LORD’s goodness. I will trust my life to God.
CONTINUING TESTAMENT (2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33, adapted)
This is the story of 2 Samuel 18, as it is told in the ancient scriptures and is still unfolding today: Now King David ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying to them, “Deal gently for my sake with young Absalom, my son who has ousted me from the throne and named himself king.” All the people heard David as he gave these orders to his commanders concerning the safety of Absalom.
So the army went out into the field against Israel, for all of Jerusalem had been persuaded to follow Absalom as its king. The battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim, and the men of Israel were defeated soundly by the servants of David. The slaughter of the battle was great on that day — twenty thousand men — and as the battle was fought all across the countryside, the forest claimed more victims than the sword.
Absalom, the son of David, happened to cross paths in battle with the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth while the mule that was under him went on without him. Ten young men who were Joab’s armor-bearers saw it happen, and they surrounded Absalom as he hung in the tree and they struck him. Joab himself took three spears and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak.
And still today, David’s beloved son is mocked and beaten, hung and killed:
In Mississippi, they pulled him from a buggy while he was giving his horse its evening exercise, and when he was on the ground, they choked him. For thirty minutes he lay face down, hands behind his back, unable to breathe.
In Michigan and again in Los Angeles, she was shot to death on the porch of a home where she was seeking help.
Without mercy they put a knee in her back — on a sidewalk in Cleveland and alongside a road in Waller County. She died in a prison in New York and Alabama, in Charleston and in Cleveland Heights.
From trees and from horses, on streets and on playgrounds, they worked together to kill them. And Absalom was left dead in the oak.
After this happened, the Cushite came to King David and said, “Good news for the king! The LORD has vindicated you on this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”
But David asked, “What of the young man Absalom? How did he fair in battle?”
The Cushite answered, “May all the enemies of the king, and all who would do you harm, meet a fate like that young man.”
David was deeply grieved and went to the chamber over the gate, and there he wept: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son! O my daughters, my daughters Kindra and Sandra, Ralkina and Renisha! O my sons Jonathan and Tamir, Eric and Freddie! O my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you — my son, my daughter, my son!”
CONTINUING TESTAMENT (1 Kings 19:4-8, adapted)
This is the story of 1 Kings 19, as it is told in the ancient scriptures and is still unfolding today: Many years after King David, when King Ahab ruled Israel and worshiped Baal, Elijah was the prophet of the LORD. When Elijah defeated the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel threatened his life. So Elijah fled — first to Beersheba and then an extra day’s journey into the wilderness.
Weary in body and soul, he sat down under a single broom tree and asked God to let him die. “It is enough,” Elijah prayed. “Now, O LORD, please take away my life, for I am no more than the dust of my ancestors.
“I have fought long enough, O God. Give me my rest. I cannot bear the heartache anymore of those who do not love your people. Let me sleep. My tongue is heavy from retelling the story; my feet are sore from marching in protest; my eyes are red from crying; my ears are bleeding with each new name, each new hashtag; even my grief is weary of grieving.
“And still they come: those priests of power who worship fear and who cloak the work of death.
“And still they come: the spectators and allies who want a piece of God’s fire for themselves but who do not work to replenish the land from its long drought.
“And still they come: with threats and violence, with appeals for peace and a wasteland of silence.
“It is enough, O God. Give me my rest. Let me set down this work at last.”
Then Elijah lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on the hot stones of the wilderness, and there was a jar of clear water. He ate, he drank, he slept again, and again the angel of the LORD came, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you. Rest will be given when the work is done, but until then I will feed you: with bread and water, with Spirit and strength. I will feed you with the courage of youth who have been unbowed by teargas and arrest. I will feed you with the songs of ancestors, with the support of community, and with the indignation of God Herself. Get up and eat.”
Elijah got up. He ate and drank. Then with the strength of that food, he carried on for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, which is the mountain of God.
SENDING (Ephesians 4:25-5:2, adapted)
One: So then, because we are part of one another and all members of Christ’s body, let us tell the truth about one another and about these times in which we are living.
Many: Do not be angry toward one another, but throw your energy into building up the community that is hurting.
One: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, as if She is lost or held captive; seek Her out in the grace you extend to one another.
Many: Be kind and generous to one another;
One: And be imitators of God, who knows you and loves you.
Many: Live in love as Christ lived in love: with your feet, with your voice, with your hands together for the sake of God’s realm.
Names of Black persons killed, listed in order of their stories above in 2 Samuel 18: Jonathan Sanders (Mississippi), Renisha McBride (Michigan), Deshawnda Sanchez (Los Angeles), Tanesha Anderson (Cleveland), Sandra Bland (Waller County, TX), Raynetta Turner (New York), Kindra Chapman (Alabama), Joyce Curnell (Charleston), Ralkina Jones (Cleveland Heights, OH), Tamir Rice (Cleveland), Eric Garner (New York), Freddie Gray (Baltimore)