How Long? Not Long

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Psalm 13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who strengths us to endure the trials and tribulations of this world. Amen.

“How long, O Lord?” the psalmist asks.

It’s the cry of the elect throughout the ages.

“How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

How long, wondered Sarah and Abraham, must we wait for God to fulfill the promise to give us a son?

How long, Hagar pleaded, will I live under such a cruel mistress?

How long, Isaac thought, will my hands be bound? How long until the ropes are cut? Shall my last sight be the knife in my father’s hand?

Shut up in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage,” did Hezekiah, David’s heir, plead with the Lord, “How long?”

How long, O Lord?

Sitting in the garden early on the first day of the week, did Mary Magdalene ask, “How long will my heart break for my crucified Rabbi and Lord?”

Racing to the tomb, did Simon Peter wonder how long until they would find Jesus’ body?

How long, we might imagine Saint Paul asked, must I endure these chains and this thorn in my flesh?

How long, Saint John the Divine may have implored on Patmos, will I live in this exile?

How long, O Lord?

Tied to a post with archers drawing their bows at him, arrows piercing his flesh, how many times did Saint Sebastian implore, “How long, O Lord, until you release me from this torment?”

Deposed and cast out of the city, did John Chrysostom ponder how long the Church would oppress the poor?

“How long,” Martin Luther must have wondered, “will I be shut up in the Wartburg, shut off from the people?”

How long, O Lord?

How long will we have to stay home to stay safe, to wear masks, to forego hugs and handshakes, to visit grandparents through the window? How long must we postpone our reopening, until we can gather together again in person to worship the Triune God?

How long will death prowl the world as a roaring lion? How long will we sit beside hospital beds, praying that the chemo works?

How long, O Lord, will abusive parents maintain custody because the wheels of justice spin slowly while the attorney’s bills come quickly?

How long, O Lord, will we endure videos of police violence against our kindred of color? How long until black men can breathe free?

How long must we confront the powers and principalities of this  world?

We are caught up in a battle against the fallen powers and principalities of this world. And while this fight may leave us breathless, even bloodied, while we cry out, “How long?” we endure because we know that our victory is assured.

We ask, “How long?” even as we strive against sin and death, trusting that God has given us the grace to endure. We ask, “How long?” even as we strive to be an in-breaking of the Kingdom, strengthened for the hard work of God’s justice and peace.

“How long,” Martin Luther King asked on the steps of State Capitol Building in Montgomery.

A month earlier, civil rights worker and Baptist deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being shot and beaten by the police.

To call attention to this heinous murder and continued persecution of black Americans, John Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams led protesters on a march from Brown Chapel AME Church towards Montgomery. They had not made it even a mile, just across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when state troopers, police, and the sheriff’s posse attacked the crowds with clubs and tear gas.

Dr. King called on white clergy to join the protest, and the Rev. James Reeb travelled to Selma to join in the protests. Less than twenty-four hours after arriving, a mob – all members of the sheriff’s posse – attacked Reeb and two other pastors. Reeb was beaten so severely that he died from his injuries.

On March 21st, two weeks after the first march was met with such brutal violence, on their third attempt to leave the city, protesters made it over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and began the long walk to Montgomery.

And so it came to pass that on March 25th, after traveling a road wet with the blood of martyrs, standing on the same steps where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of a confederacy founded upon the enslavement of black men and women, the same steps where George Wallace had just years earlier vowed “segregation now, and segregation forever,” Rev. King took to the podium and asked, “How long, O Lord?”

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”

How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.”

How long? Not long:
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

How long? Not long, because:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat.
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory, hallelujah!
Glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

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