“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Eight days ago, George Floyd, an unarmed 46 year old African American man, died in the custody of a white Minneapolis police officer while three other officers stood by, assisting or watching, but not intervening. The horrendous details of this event captured on video turn my stomach and bring tears to my eyes. What has followed are protests, some peaceful and some not, in Minneapolis and across the nation.
I feel compelled to write about this in today’s devotion—not to repeat what is already too familiar, not to accuse or defend, and not to explain what is happening. I want to do three things: to name the virus in our nation (I don’t mean COVID-19), to reflect on what Jesus tells us to do when relationships are broken, and to pray to God for wisdom about how we can be reconciled.
I am old enough to remember “the 60s” and the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. Not too many years ago I was still naïve enough to think that we were moving ever so slowly toward the dream powerfully articulated by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today the reality and pervasiveness of racism toward black and brown people overwhelm my heart and mind and soul. I acknowledge without question my white privilege and accept the grief, anger, and despair of my black siblings—without pretending to understand what it feels like to walk in their shoes. I do not use the word sin often or lightly, but the racism that has infected us is nothing but sin.
When I read that Jesus said if your brother or sister has something against you, I think of people of color who have every right to have something against those of us who are white. We have not listened or taken seriously enough their experiences of discrimination, overt and hateful, covert and structural. We have not challenged or changed the systems that perpetuate their lower wages, greater exposure to environmental toxins, more violence at the hands of police, and poorer health outcomes, including a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths (to name just a few of the disparities that exist), when compared to whites. To us, Jesus says, “Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” That is his command: first be reconciled.
Be reconciled. I confess. I don’t know how to do that. I know it will be complicated and take a long time. But it is urgent. And so, I offer to God a prayer for a contrite heart, an open mind, a listening ear, and a courageous spirit. Only with God’s help will I be able to do what I am called to do. Only with God’s help will we the church be able to do what we are called to do.
Rev. Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing
Prayer Focus: Reconciliation
Loving God: You created all people and willed them to live together in harmony. Forgive us for allowing the sin of racism to persist through the centuries. Forgive us for the deep and lasting harm it has caused. Fill us with the power of your love. Show us the way to reconcile person to person, group to group, community to community, until all people live together with justice and peace, according to your holy will. Amen.