Grace Takes a Stand in Sanford, Florida

If I did nothing more in this column than point readers to this video, in which a group of pastors from Sanford, Florida speaks in mid-April of reconciliation and healing after the Trayvon Martin killing, it would probably be enough.

The press opportunity was arranged by Steve Strang of Charisma, whose offices are less than three miles from the site of the incident. He writes about the press conference that he had no idea if it would get attendance and he was surprised when so many media representatives showed up. He also says this: "I was more amazed at how the Holy Spirit seemed to guide each speaker."

Watching the video, I was equally amazed. It is as if God had a special "word" for each of the pastors to deliver: words about healing, hope, reconciliation, mercy, unity, compassion, and love. Strang may have had a premonition that this event would be one of such grace. He says this about the meetings in the days leading up to it (emphasis added):

The topic of Trayvon's killing came up, but both black and white pastors spoke of wanting reconciliation and healing—not marches and protests. They talked about how Sanford has been prayed over and even prophecies have been given about how revival would come out of Sanford. It was a very different sentiment than what I was hearing in the news media, which was quoting the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defence as calling for racial violence if they didn't feel justice was done.

Then on April 6 I joined about 60 local pastors who met for a specially called Good Friday prayer service at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Sanford. Both black and white pastors gave wonderful talks and prayed prayers asking for God's mercy and forgiveness and healing.

But even he was unprepared for the spiritual power of the press conference. I was unprepared for it as well. I've written a couple of times about expecting a better response to Trayvon's tragic death than the news media are depicting, and I was vectored onto the Charisma-sponsored press conference by the information that Bishop Harry Jackson, leader of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches, was in Florida praying with dozens of local pastors for healing and mercy (see here as well). So I did expect to hear good news. But in characterizing my reaction to the video, I have to say that—to use the slang expression—it just blew me away. It seems God still has a few tricks up His sleeve.

Two particular things occur to me about this. One is prompted by Timothy Dalrymple's lovely remembrance of a prison-ministry event in a Philosophical Fragments post commemorating Charles Colson's death. Tim says:

Chuck Colson . . . had sinned on a massive scale. He was brought from the loftiest of heights to the most profound depths. And in the midst of his humiliation, he found a community of believers who had nowhere else to go but to the gospel. When I think of Chuck Colson's legacy, I will think of a living parable of how Christ's grace redeems even those the world called unredeemable.

The most common thing in the world is for us to have to be brought low in order to learn humility and understand our need to listen quietly for God. There is nothing as noisy as pride. Pride is like carrying a rafter-rattling cacophony around in your head drowning out everything you don't want to hear. It takes brokenness to mute the cacophony, to plunge us into silence, and to enable us to hear the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:11-13). It takes brokenness to make us want to hear it.

But the result is abundant life, freedom inside—not just freedom inside four walls, but freedom inside us - and spiritual legs that may at times be weak but "will run and not grow weary, walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31; all citations NIV). Chuck Colson demonstrated the power of that promise with the second half of his remarkable life.

And a group of pastors in Florida has prophesied that America will demonstrate it with our emergence, stronger and better, from the Trayvon Martin killing. Political "solutions" have failed us, a reality that is obvious for all to see. Politicizing every kind of human interaction is nothing but a gigantic spectacle of pride-saturated brokenness. But the solutions of God—mercy and grace—will do more than restore us. They will make us better than we were.