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On Our Knees

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of kneeling.

Since the sickening video circulated of George Floyd having the life squeezed out of him, I’ve noticed the power of kneeling. Last Tuesday night a curfew was set for the town of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Protesters refused to leave as 7PM approached. The Police Chief spent 37 minutes after the stated beginning to the curfew, listening to protesters. He urged them to leave and go to a safe place rather than defy a mandate. One of the young protesters asked the officer to kneel with him. He did so. Then the front line of protesters asked that all the officers present, with shields and guns held in check, would kneel. The Chief did not honor that request. Kneeling puts you at risk. It places you where you can easily be kicked and attacked. The Police Chief couldn’t take the risk of having the whole brigade of law enforcers in a vulnerable position. Whether this was the final straw or some other unmet demand, the protesters refused to go home and the supervising officer, with great emotion, gave up the effort to bring peace without force.

I went into our sanctuary to pray this past week. I chose the front pew on the side of the lectern where we have kneelers. Praying in that position is very different than sitting in the pew. There’s a sense of subservience when we kneel. It takes physical strength and balance to kneel. I rested my elbows on the wooden support in front of me and thought of the officer who rested his whole body weight on Mr. Floyd, hands in pockets as if it were a comfortable pose. There’s a disconnect between those two actions: kneeling and a relaxed hands-in-pocket pose. Officer Chauvin used a typically subservient position as a means of domination. Rather than subjecting himself to a higher authority, as kneeling suggests, he held a disinterested facial expression for more than eight minutes to control a perceived threat. Unmoved, he refused to heed Floyd’s pleas for mercy.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of kneeling.

Most religions suggest the kneeling position for honoring their deity. The Bible is full of references to kneeling, first for the Jews of the Old Testament and then for the early Christian believers in the New Testament. Isaiah offers a vision of the captive Israelites making the arduous journey back to their beloved homeland through his prayer: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.” Have your knees ever given out on you when you’ve heard bad news? Have you learned how much we rely on the strength of our knees in the painful months that lead up to knee replacement surgery? Have you felt your knees tremble as you got down on one knee to propose marriage to your beloved, praying for a “Yes!” answer?

man kneel in front of woman
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Maybe you are familiar with the expression, “Well, the handwriting is on the wall…”? It comes from the prophetic book of Daniel, chapter 5. Starting at verse 5, we read: “Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.” When have you witnessed something that caused your knees to knock? Have they ever failed to support you?

grey steel grill
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In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. One man owes an enormous sum of money to his master, an amount he could never repay in a lifetime of active labor. When his master shows up, asking for payment, he throws himself down before the man, begging for mercy. The master has mercy on the man and forgives this huge debt that he owes. Jesus weaves the story carefully. As the man, light-hearted now, skips away from his debt, someone who owes him a very small amount of money crosses his path. The man who was newly released from his debt demands that this guy repay him immediately. Again, the debtor falls to his knees and begs for mercy. The newly forgiven man was grateful for his master’s mercy but his heart was not changed. Unyielding, he refused to release the man from his minor IOU and had him thrown into prison. Bystanders witnessed both moments of kneeling, two men begging for mercy. They saw the arrogance of the first man who stood over the second, perhaps hands in pocket. Like crowds with video footage of atrocities on their IPhones, the onlookers in Jesus’ story reported the first debtor’s hard-heartedness to the forgiving master. The grace extended initially was rescinded and the cruel debtor was thrown into prison where he would spend the rest of his life. He was granted but refused to offer mercy.

In Matthew 20 the mother of two of the disciples approaches Jesus and kneels before Him. She asks Jesus that her boys, James and John, would be given privileged positions in Jesus’ movement. Any of us who are parents understand how we seek the very best for our kids. But her kneeling was to promote a selfish act. In private she asked the CEO of her sons’ company to fast-track them to senior positions. Jesus let her know that they had misunderstood His movement then launched into a sermon about how they needed to lead in order to climb His corporate ladder: “..whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” No corner offices were cleared out for James and John. No signing bonuses were offered for new positions. They were told not to elevate themselves but to willingly step down to the bottom corporate rung. The mother’s kneeling was manipulative. It came from a selfish place and Jesus didn’t honor it.

There are many examples of people of faith kneeling to worship God. Our call to worship on Sunday came from Psalm 95. The psalms were used as the worship book for the Jews. Verse six gives us a glimpse into their form of worship: “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture…”

Before departing from the beloved members of the Ephesian congregation, Paul knelt and prayed with them. It was an emotional experience for all of them. It reads, “When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.” Can you imagine closing your family reunion on bended knee together, praying for God’s mutual blessing as you go your separate ways? What a beautiful image that is of our ancestors in the faith!

Finally, we witness Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying with such intensity that He sweat blood. This intimate time in God’s presence gave Him the strength He would need to endure the cross. What an amazing example of willing subservience Christ offers us!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of kneeling!

In a pre-season game in 2016, Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem. In subsequent games that season, he took a knee as a silent protest against racial injustice and police brutality in our country. This act became a call to action for the Black Lives Matter movement and it also cost him his career as a football player. It’s an act that has been revisited in the news the past few weeks with hurt feelings between teammates and friends. Four years later, in the heat of our current tensions, police officers are being asked by angry mobs to kneel with them to show their solidarity with African Americans. In some cases, this kneeling has led to healing moments of unity. In other escalated marches, violence has ensued in spite of the kneeling. Since Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, hijacking a symbol of worship for God with a worship for domination, kneeling has become a symbol with conflicting messages.

This is a heavy time for our nation as we sort through anger, hatred, and frustration that stem from systemic racism. We wonder how we can make a difference. We are already weary from the strain of the COVID-19 virus and increasingly wonder what the future holds for us. Before what God do we kneel? Do we submit to any manner of authority or do we lash out at our surrounding culture? How do we stay anchored when our world is in such a state of upheaval?

In 2 Chronicles King Solomon gathers his people to dedicate the beautiful temple he built early in his reign. He is overwhelmed with gratitude for the beauty of this sanctuary he constructed for God. Wanting to call his people to renewed faith, he offered a lengthy prayer that we read in chapter six. It says, “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord…he knelt on his knees in the presence of the whole assembly and spread out his hands toward heaven…” Solomon’s prayer was long. He took his time inviting God to guide him as a Sovereign King. He begged God to be the true leader of his people. He acknowledged the inevitability of their sin and entreated God to forgive them. He closed with an invitation for God to take up residence in this structure that would become so central to the worship of the Jews: “Now rise up, O Lord God, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, and let your faithful rejoice in your goodness. O Lord God, do not reject your anointed one. Remember your steadfast love for your servant David.”

A revered leader of our country placed himself at God’s mercy generations ago when racism was addressed at great cost to our nation. Abraham Lincoln confessed, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of kneeling.

We Christians need to reclaim kneeling for its intended purpose: to set ourselves before our God in willing subservience. We take a vulnerable stance before our community by putting ourselves at their feet. We kneel on our own and with our families offering whole-hearted devotion to the One who gave Jesus the strength to fight for justice for the least of these, the God who upheld Jesus even as He endured the cross. We are on our knees in this time of trial and there’s no other place we should begin. God have mercy upon us.

By preachinglife

My father was a military chaplain so I moved around quite a bit growing up. I have always gone to church! Even when we traveled we went somewhere to church. I met and married my husband, Garrett, at Chicago Theological Seminary where I earned a Masters of Divinity degree. He and I were ordained together at the First Church of Lombard, United Church of Christ in Lombard, Illinois on June 14, 1987. My first act as an ordained minister at the end of a tremendously hot ordination ceremony was to baptize my daughter, Lisa Marian! We added two sons and a daughter to the mix: James, Joseph and Maria. We have girls on either end and two boys one year apart in the middle. They range in age from 33 to almost 22. I love them!

I have been in the parish ministry for 35 years, serving at three different churches. I have joyfully served the people at the First Congregational Church of Rockford, United Church of Christ in Rockford, Michigan for 24 years.

We live on family land about 3 miles from the church. In random free moments I enjoy cooking good meals, reading, writing, gardening, traveling and spending time with my family. I am blessed!

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