On the road to my grandparents' house was an Old Testament prophet. Or so he thought.
We could not see the prophet's actual house on that two-lane stretch of trees, but we could see the signs. Scripture verses removed from context and blown up to super-sized fonts for passers-by to read. Calls to repentance and threats of damnation.
This was not the kind of fear-based evangelism that I wanted to practice. This was not the kind of prophetic preacher I wanted to be. I found much "wrong" with the unseen, self-proclaimed prophet. I even wrote a blog post about my frustrations with his (or her?) signs.
Yet, as I watched events unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, with the rest of the nation last weekend, my mind returned to an image of three words on that stretch of Highway 27.
On the liturgical calendar, August 15 is the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, and the psalter reading for that day is Psalm 34. I read the passage as I often read Scripture these days: with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Alongside photographs of hate-filled, desperate eyes lit only by cheap torches, of the evil of racism turned to hatred, the Highway 27 Prophet's sign expanded into the larger song of David, written at a desperate time in his life:
So often we mistake "departing" or "turning away" from evil as an excuse to be silent. To ignore what is evil. But alongside the turning away is the action of doing good, the action of peacemaking, the action of pursuing peace with an exclamation point of conviction at the end.
Many of us watched the chaos and heartache of Charlottesville and wondered: what kind of action can we take? How do we do good? What does it mean to seek peace when peace seems like a distant dream?
This is the moment where I could list some concrete options of what to do, and there are many. Participate in a unity service. Plan dialogues with people of different faiths and cultures and races. Sign online petitions for change. There are plenty of ideas circulating on social media and in churches and among conversations of how to do good and to see peace.
But let us not forget that in order to complete the psalmist's cry of goodness and peace, we must turn away from evil. We must heed the three words of the prophet to depart from that evil.
We must continually repent of our prejudices.
We must continually repent of our own racism.
We must continually turn away from the way of thinking that one group is better than another.
We must continually examine our hearts as individuals and as congregations.
After all, if we are the body of Christ, then we have a heart. That heart will only pump love if we turn away the hate that tries to poison it.
Over the weekend, as I walked through town, praying and pondering and wondering how to respond as I prepared to lead worship, I stopped at a yard filled with adornments and furniture and signs. Then I froze in the dichotomy in front of me. One sign read, "Thank you, Jesus." Next to it was a Confederate flag.
All around us are signs of our need to repent and to change: not to avoid hell but rather to experience heaven on earth as God's children. The time is now to recognize when symbols have become idolatry. The time is now to name mindsets that are evil. The time is now to act on behalf of those who are oppressed. The time is now to love life by loving the lives that God created all around us.
Let us not align the name of Jesus with a specific culture or history of divisiveness. Let us instead lift high the name that unites us across cultures, histories, and races.
Will you join me in this prayer of confession? And will you watch for, and respond to, the signs of the time in the love of Christ Jesus our Lord?
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace.
Come into the brokenness of our lives and our land with your healing love.
Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance,
And to bow to one another in real forgiveness.
By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts
And consume the pride and prejudice which separate us.
Fill us, O Lord, with your perfect love, which casts out our fear,
And bind us together in that unity
Which you share with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Cecil Kerr, Northern Ireland, 20th Century, The United Methodist Book of Worship, Prayer of Confession, 482)
all good things to each of you,