Lament for Justice
Prayer Response to Chauvin Trial Verdict, by Pastor Matthew R. St. John, Senior Pastor of New Hope Church EFCA
This prayer was delivered April 20 as clergy gathered to pray at Shiloh Temple in Minneapolis
OUR GREAT GOD AND KING, A PRAYER OF LAMENT AND RENEWAL. Today the verdict has been handed down by the jury in the trial for Derek Chauvin, and yet, regardless of this verdict no one wins. George Floyd is still dead, there are legitimate questions regarding policing that reasonable people—even those noble men and women within law enforcement—know must be addressed, we have hard-working businesspeople whose livelihoods are in tatters because of rioting and looting, we have communities overwhelmed with anxiety, we have political leaders struggling to find helpful strategies, and, significantly, a yawning chasm remains, ostensibly impossible to close between black and brown communities and those who are in the majority culture.
One verdict in one trial—however promising it is, and even with the eyes of the world upon it—will not be enough to assuage the cries of broken hearts, failed systems, and fearful souls.
God of Heaven, the right response, right now, demands we genuinely lament these realities. We must weep, mourn, and wail these truths. The pain is widespread. One verdict in one trial—however promising it is, and even with the eyes of the world upon it—will not be enough to assuage the cries of broken hearts, failed systems, and fearful souls. One verdict in one trial—however promising it is, and even with the eyes of the world upon it—will not be enough to assuage the cries of broken hearts, failed systems, and fearful souls. Regarding these things we should be a people who, with the psalmist of old, cry out, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4). We should have within our spirits the urgency of King David, who, in the face of crisis, exclaimed, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Thankfully, O God, no matter how deep the lament, its resolution is always found in you. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
Additionally, Eternal God, we must acknowledge that the failed intentions found along all the stops of the political spectrum will remain failed without genuine surrender to your wisdom regarding justice. Justice is your rightness made manifest within all the souls, spaces, and structures of life. Foundational Hebrew wisdom, embodied by your only-begotten Son, Jesus, affirms this has both corporate and individual implications, and is at the same time impartial, remedial and visionary. We must submit to you, the eternal God, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. You set the prisoners free; you open the eyes of the blind. You lift up those who are bowed down; you love the righteous. You watch over the sojourners; you uphold the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked you bring to ruin. You, O Lord, will reign forever (Psalm 146:7-10).
This full-bodied gospel is rooted in none other than the person and work of Jesus, with his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension…assuring all of the created order that shame, fear, pain, division, injustice, sin, death, and the devil no longer have the final word
Additionally, Eternal God, to embrace your rightness we have to celebrate a robust gospel, from your hand, that justifies sinners and sets “at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). We have to recognize that the gospel bears good news in that it brings repentant sinners around to your original design whereby we stand clean, honored, empowered, and peaceful before you, O God, and one another. The good news is that in Jesus sinners “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). Beautifully, it is also that you, who are seated on the throne of Heaven, are “making all things new,” wherein for the redeemed you “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:3-4). This full-bodied gospel is rooted in none other than the person and work of Jesus, with his suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and current session at your right hand assuring all of the created order that shame, fear, pain, division, injustice, sin, death, and the devil no longer have the final word.
Lastly, O Mighty Father, we the Church, and particular we Christians in the majority culture, must repent of the ways in which we have either willingly or naively contributed to these conditions of our time. Our great sin of omission is willingly decrying a multitude of evils perpetuated by humanity, and rightly so, while too easily turning a blind eye to the gargantuan trauma of ethnic and cultural marginalization. Indeed, when called upon to acknowledge this generations-long calamity, we often dig in our heels, deny, blame, and eviscerate any accusers within our midst or beyond.
This, naturally, gives way to our great sin of commission, which finds us striving to preserve the platforms and powers we have for so long enjoyed, often built on the backs of cultures we, even in your name, deemed as less than. Traditionally, Father, we have vigorously proclaimed your promise found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, in which you declare, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” We put a tight grip on this promise with regard to society’s ills, often mindful of the so-called “others” and their evil ways.
But now is the time, O God, as we stand here on this sacred ground, within this city upon which the eyes of a watching world have been set, for us followers of Jesus to take hold of this promise for our own evil ways, and perhaps none more than that which perpetuates our dominance at the expense of those toward whom for too long we have shown gross partiality.
Now is the time for us to repent…for us to deeply repudiate our own sins of omission and commission…and humble ourselves before you, O God, and a watching world
Forgive us, O Eternal God. Now is the time for us to repent. Now is the time for us to deeply repudiate our own sins of omission and commission, our own sense of self-superiority, however intended or not, and humble ourselves before you, O God, and a watching world, particularly those perpetually “othered” by our posture. Now is the time to stand down as a church marked by worldly acumen and Romanesque strength. Rather, now is the time to stand up as a church covered in the blood of your blessed Son, humbled by his own violent suffering, who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for the many.
And then, Eternal God, having so humbled ourselves before you and our neighbor, we put ourselves forward as contrite peacemakers—repentant learners who recognize the way in which generations of pain have given rise to mistrust and trauma. We put ourselves forward as those who, upon learning, lean into the challenges of our time with the Holy Spirit’s quiet wisdom, discerning together with people of good will how your rightness might be made manifest in all the spaces of life. We put ourselves forward, O God, as those bringing together the wisdom of your holy Word with the proven tenets of common grace. We put ourselves forward as those who have come to serve and not be served, to give and not to take, and to honor and not be honored. In the end, we put ourselves forward as those who love our neighbors fully and without guile, like the Samaritan of old. And this, O God, on this momentous day, we do for your glory, both now and forevermore, and for the good of all with whom you have us live.
OUR GREAT GOD AND KING, THIS IS OUR PRAYER OF LAMENT AND RENEWAL.
In the name of Jesus, our Savior and King of Glory, Amen.
Dr. Matthew R. St. John is Senior Pastor of New Hope Church EFCA. This prayer was delivered at a concert of prayer convened by PrayforMN after the verdict was read in Derek Chauvin’s trial. Pastor St. John is an active leader in Transform Minnesota, and helped to convene the PrayforMN initiative seeking peace, unity, integrity and protection throughout the trial.
You can watch the full concert of prayer on the PrayforMN Facebook page