“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
Around last evening's midnight hour the verdict was pronounced in the murder trial of George Zimmerman who was charged with killing 17 year old Trayvon Benjamin Martin during an altercation as Mr. Martin walked home from the convenience store. After months of protests, speculations, interviews, commentaries, and legal drama, last night the verdict came and Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty of any charges, leaving many concerned observers stunned and a country seemingly divided.
Let me say from the onset that my intent this morning is not to reargue the facts of the case or call into the question the verdict that was rendered. Nor is my intent to convince you of the guilt or innocence of anyone this morning. Rather my intention this morning as a herald of the good news of God is to speak to our collective pain and offer a word about how we might find a way to move into a brighter day.
No one present in this place knows exactly what happened on that rainy night in February 2012. No one here really knows why young Trayvon Benjamin Martin lost his life on that night. But what we do know is today there are those whose hearts are broken and others who are just plain mad as hell that no one will be criminally held accountable for the shooting of yet another young black male.
To be sure, there are those who say race had nothing to do with this trial. Some of these same people wonder why many black Americans are dismayed, disappointed, and distraught at last night’s verdict? Well, the reality is whether you believe George Zimmerman was innocent or guilty you have to admit that the pain of black Americans is not only understandable but altogether justified. Especially when you consider the shameful legal history of blacks in this country it should be apparent to everyone where the source of our pain proceeds. But just in case there’s someone here asking the question why so much pain, consider these facts…
In 1619 Maryland approved a segregationist policy that African-Americans be socially excluded.
In 1787, our country's lawmakers declared that blacks were only 3/5ths of a person.
In 1642 Virginia Fugitive Law authorized branding of an "R" in the face runaway slaves.
In 1660 Connecticut Military Law barred African-Americans from military service.
In 1686 Carolina Trade Law barred African-Americans from all trades.
In 1691 Virginia Marriage Law prescribed banishment for any white woman marrying an African-American man.
In 1705 New York Runaway Law prescribed execution for recaptured runaway slaves.
In 1705 Virginia Public Office Law prohibited African-Americans from holding or assuming any public office.
In 1723 Virgina Anti-Assembly Law impeded African-Americans from meeting or having a sense of community.
In 1723 Virgina Weapons Law forbade African-Americans from keeping weapons.
In 1740 South Carolina approved a slave act that forbade slaves from raising or owning farm animals.
In 1790 the first Naturalization Law of Congress declared United States a white nation.
In 1783 Virginia Migration Law forbade free African-Americans from entering the state.
In 1806 Louisiana Migration Law forbade immigration for free African-Americans males over 15 years old.
In 1809 Congressional Mail Law excluded African-Americans from carrying U.S. mail.
In 1810 Maryland Voting Law restricted voting rights to whites only.
In 1813 a Virginia Poll Tax exacted a $1.50 tax on African-Americans who were forbidden to vote.
In 1816 Louisiana Jury Law provided that no African-American could testify against a white person.
In 1819 Missouri Literacy Law forbade assembling or teaching slaves to read or write.
In 1827 Maryland Occupation Acts prohibited African-Americans from driving or owning hacks, carts, and drays.
In 1830 Mississippi Employment Law forbade African-Americans employment in printing and entertainment.
1831 Mississippi Preaching Law forbade free African-Americans to preach except with permission.
In 1835 Georgia Employment Law prohibited employing African-Americans in drug stores.
In 1836 the District of Columbia instituted a Business License Law that prohibited African-Americans from profit-making activities.
In 1841 South Carolina Observing Law forbade African-Americans and whites from looking out the same windows.
1844 the Maryland Occupation Act excluded African-Americans from the carpentry trade.
In 1845 Georgia Contracting Law prohibited contracts with African-American mechanics.
In 1857 the Dred Scott Decision of the U.S. Supreme Court declared African-Americans to be less than fully human.
In 1858 Maryland Recreation Law forbade free African-Americans and slaves from boating on the Potomac.
In 1868 Southern Black Codes deprived African-Americans of right to vote and hold public office.
And in 2013 the US Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act which in effect turned back the clock on voter suppression and discrimination laws in this country.
So if you're wondering why some feel the way they do this morning it’s because lady justice has not always been blind and the system has not always been fair. In fact, the reality is for the better part of our nation’s history white americans could be morally wrong but legally not guilty. This sad but true fact has led philosopher and social critic Cornel West to describe the plight of being black in America has one of being unsafe, unprotected and subject to random violence any time. And this sad but true fact leads many black parents and young people to wonder if there’s any true safety in these yet to be United States of America? And this sad but true fact causes many to wonder if we’ll ever live in an America that is as good as its promise?
So, today as we gather in this hallowed sanctuary a family is in pain over the tragic loss of their beloved Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Today, a man has to figure out how he’s going to move forward with his life after taking the life of another? Today, our country is torn yet again over what WEB Dubois called the intractable issue of the color line. Today, our community is in pain over the unatoned loss of another precious black life taken because of senseless violence. Indeed, today the collective pain and division is evident.
This reality should lead us as follows of Christ to ask the question, what does our faith say to the hurting? It should lead us to ask the question, is there truly in any balm in America for our weary souls?
In Psalm 20 verse 7, the psalmist three thousand years ago, looked at his world and concluded that some folks were placing their ultimate trust in human institutions such as military and government. He says some trust in chariots which represent the military and some trust in horses which represent national wealth. In response the psalmist says I trust God. In other words, during a time of communal distress many were tempted to place their trust in the works of human’s hands but the psalmist says I choose to place my trust in the rock that is higher than I.
Please understand beloved though we certainly need to respect the justice system and government that our country has produced we should never place our ultimate trust in them. Human institutions are prone to fail and disappoint us because they are the work our imperfect hands. Moreover, not only are our institutions prone to failure but so are we. That’s why W.H. Auden was correct when he said that “we’re all cracked vessels, trying to love our crooked neighbors with our crooked hearts.”
Therefore, on days like this we need not be surprised nor dismayed if we perceive the system we’ve created has let us down. The truth is all human institutions have their place but our ultimate trust cannot be placed in them or ourselves.
Instead as the psalmist declares, our trust must be in God!
Yes my friends, in painful collective times such as this we need to remember that we need God - not a feel-good type of God. But the unmovable, unshakable God, the abyss from which all things come, the ground of all being, the God beyond gods, the alpha and omega, the God who was & is & forever shall be, yes, the King of Kings & Lord of Lords. Oh yes, I’m talking about the one that the old saints called the lily in the valley, the bright and morning star, the wheel in wheel, the way out of no way and the bridge over troubled waters. Yes, I’m talking about our God. Somebody say yeah!
Only this God can bring the healing that we need. Only this God can turn our sorrow into joy. Only this God can help America. Only this God can (in the words of that contemporary lyricist Lil Wayne) “bless this Godless America.”
Oh yes, my brothers and sisters, I believe that when we truly seek God we’ll find the healing and answers that we need. In reality, when we place our trust in the true God we discover the divine power within because God lives within. In other words, when we trust God we empower ourselves to make a difference. We awaken ourselves to the sleeping giant that is us!
Just as the power of the USA is found in its citizens; as our forefathers put it, we are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The power of the community of faith is found in its faith filled members who according to the Apostle Paul have God’s power at work in us.
So today, I challenge you not to be sad, feel defeated, walk deflated or lose hope. Instead, stand. Sometimes after you’ve done all you can, there’s nothing left to do but stand. You may have to stand with tears in your eyes but stand. You may have to stand with a broken heart but stand. You may have to stand all by yourself but stand. You may be weary but stand. You may be mad as hell but stand. Yes, stand up knowing that when you get up your existential oppression disrupts.
Oh yes, it’s time to stand and be counted. And when you stand know that God stands with you in the good fight of faith. So let’s stand up and vote, let’s stand up and reform the justice system, let’s stand up and fight racism, let’s stand up and fight gun violence, let’s stand up and fight racial profiling, let’s stand up and mentor a young person, let’s stand up and fight black on black crime, let’s stand up and lift up our voice in the spirit of James Weldon Johnson!
So in closing I say to you today remember that….
Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet
come to the place
for which our fathers died?
We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past,
till now we stand at last
where the white gleam
of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
shadowed beneath thy hand,
may we forever STAND,
true to our God,
true to our God,
I said, true to
true to our God,
true to our native
Somebody say yeah!
(Prepared and preached live by Billy Michael Honor at New Life Presbyterian Church in South Atlanta)