It is nearly impossible to imagine attending a Wednesday evening prayer meeting where a young man, visiting the gathering, stands up, pulls a gun, and shoots and kills. What a horrible, tragic event that is most sadly very personal as those murdered are precious in every way. Racism has been called the “original sin” of our nation. While mental health care, violence by handgun, and other matters will rightly have our attention, let us be clear that whatever progress our nation has made in the area of racial equality, the weeds that have been pulled have not been by their roots. This is obvious as our recent years have shown racism within Seattle P.D. and other agencies entrusted with power around our country, as well as individual acts, like that in Charleston. Racism remains a prevalent evil in our land.
Engaged by the Bible, as we hear the voices of the prophets, we find that they are often speaking to the people of a nation. In doing so, we don’t find distance from one town or region to the next illustrated. We don’t hear words that allow geography to give excuse for separation of “us” and “them.” Instead, the people of that land are held together, recognizing that they are of one socio-political body. Among other things, this broadens our scope of the “we.” “We” are of Seattle, and “we” are of Charleston….and Ferguson, and Queens, and Arizona, and the rest of our nation. As God calls for the ushering in of the Reign of God where relationships are peaceful and just in the way of the Great Commandment, it is a call to each and all. It is a call that moves us to see that we, as a people connected by history, politics, economics, and culture within our nation, are hearing it, together, and we, all of us, are together in the reality and truth that we have an old, tenacious, horrifically evil and sinful problem – racism.
“There is a Balm in Gilead” is a well known spiritual of the African-American church tradition. It is a song of faith that responds to Jeremiah 8:22 – “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” It is a rhetorical question that has an obvious answer – “Yes, there is a balm, and it is God and the way of God.” However, people were not applying the balm. So, the next verse continues, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes fountains of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!”
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul
If you cannnot pray like Peter
If you cannot preach like Paul
Go home and tell your loved ones
He died to save us all
I wonder if that was planned to be the closing song at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Let us be God’s faithful people, giving ourselves to being and applying the Holy balm in the Gilead of our nation where there is such a great and saddening need.