By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
Pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church
President, North Carolina Conference, NAACP
Gracious eternal and all wise God. Thou who formed what is out of nothing, and called us into being to serve you. You, oh Lord, who weighs every nation in the balance of your own standards. Today, we acknowledge how great Thou art, the marvelous mystery of your mercy and exalt the excellence of your name.
Because your Holy Spirit brings all things to remembrance, breathe on us now, that we might remember how gracious you have been to this nation we call America. As a nation, we have our faith and frailties, strengths and shortcomings, yet you have allowed grace to be shed upon us. When we have honored your ways and when we have fallen short you have been a merciful God. Remind us that the history of this nation is more about your grace than about our greatness. When we are not where we should be, let us hear and follow what you said to Solomon, 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will I forgive their sin, and will I heal their land.”
In our land we need healing, for a land so blessed by grace there is too much poverty, too much sickness, too many children dying, and too much war. We need a healing. Michael Bell and five others in Jena, or the three year unjust lock down of James Johnson in Wilson are but symbols of a justice system that needs healing. Katrina was more than a flood. It was a failure to protect the vulnerable and a metaphor of the wave of disenfranchise that flows in too many communities. We need a healing.
In your word you have said, he who rules the nation must be just and if we are to please you we must learn to do justice, care for the fatherless, support the widow, loose the bands of wickedness, pay people what they deserve, care for the sick, the homeless, and the hungry. To please you it must be said of us, “For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
Trouble the soul of this nation as you did in the days of Amos so that no one is at ease in Zion. Use our prophetic words and our prophetic actions to remind those in the seats of power that they are not God. Trouble this nation with the voice of concern and the voice of compassion. Make us mindful of the thousands without paths to the pursuit of happiness…
Shake the foundations of our conscious until we cannot help, but change our course. Move on us to study war no more. Cause us to live our lives to serve others. Teach us that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness requires justice and hope and help and caring. Expand our morality beyond the narrowness of personal piety into the broadness of public policy. Give us the strength to challenge racism, classicism, poverty, and uncheck militarism. Empower us with your Spirit that we might be a nation unto God, not unto fear; show us again that America is only here by your grace. Show us that grace carries responsibility. That a nation under grace must lead the world not merely police the world. A nation under grace must care, must remember her past so that she will not be arrogant in her present. A nation under grace must bring the world together and not tear it apart. A nation under grace cannot refer to people as aliens when we all were created with one blood. A nation under grace cannot leave cities decaying and flood victims barely surviving. Grace demands something better than that.
So Lord as you stirred up dry bones in the valley, stir up hope, and stir up righteousness. Restore the Prophets and the prophetic voices to the land. Revive the spirit of Medgar, Martin, Malcolm, Corretta, Harriet, Rosa, Cinque, Douglass, Dubois, Sojourner, Jordan, Wilkins and Bethune. Hold and sustain the Congressional Black Caucus whose seats are dipped in the blood of martyrs and were raised to be the conscience of this nation. Call us and challenge us again. Teach even this nation that even with all our power and all our resources we will still have to stand before your judgment one day. Give us leaders who understand that the purpose of power and influence is to help someone. Grant us a citizenry determine to be yoked together in common humanity. Let us know the only way to a more perfect union is for our laws and policies to reflect your kind of love. Let faith be a conviction not a convenience. Help us, Oh God, to smooth out every wrinkle in the flag of our community life until we are one nation under God, with one justice system for all, with living wages for all, with quality education for all. Finally, oh Lord we pray that the mind of the psalmist will be ours:
Psalm 66: 1-7
1 Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:
2 Sing forth the honor of his name: make his praise glorious.
3 Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.
4 All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.
5 Come and see the works of God: He is terrible in His doing toward the children of men.
6 He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in Him.
7 He ruleth by His power for ever; His eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah.
We thank you God that your eyes still behold the nation. We thank you God that you still see injustice, you still see poverty and because you can still see it, these things don't have the last word. We thank you God that you still see America. You still see our leadership. You know how to bring down the high and lift up the humble. O God we bless your name, we lift up every voice, we declare and rejoice that you are still the God of our weary years, the God who is able to bring life out of death. Help us to know like our foreparents sung, ‘Time is filled with swift transition, naught of earth unmoved can stand, Build your hope on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.” In the name of the Father who sticketh closer than a brother, watches us like a mother, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. AMEN.