Dorothy Zellner knew Mississippi would be bad in the summer of 1964. It was a Southern state known for oppressive injustice against Black citizens, but her need to help reverse the problem was unrelenting. Thus, with one thousand other college students, she signed up with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, joining Black activists in the South to carry out voting-rights campaigns during “Freedom Summer.” Too soon, however, the battle turned deadly. Three SNCC volunteers were ambushed by Klansmen and killed. As FBI agents searched swamps for their bodies, the remains of eight other Black males, apparently murdered, also were found.
Over the summer, dozens of SNCC workers were beaten. Scores of Black churches and homes were bombed or burned. Zellner, in an American Experience episode, described her dismay: “I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t dream for a minute that people would be killed. But it was always in the back of everybody’s mind that something—bad things—were going to happen. So, it was terrifying.”* How, then, did young volunteers respond? Many called on God.
Elijah did the same when Jezebel threatened his life. Fleeing for his life, Elijah “went on alone into the wilderness . . . sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died’” (NLT).
Such lament can seem pitiful and weak. Or, we can remember the strength in what Elijah and countless civil rights workers did. In their woe, they called on God. In a battle, it’s a powerful first step.
Inspire us, Lord, to call first on you. Amen.
The fact that we trust in God does not guarantee that life will be easy. Believers suffer discouragement as well. Elijah is a powerful prophet of God who faces profound discouragement. He looks around and sees faithlessness and desolation, as does the psalmist wrestling with his own sense of despair. In both cases the person’s spirit is revived—by divine visitation to Elijah and by the psalmist’s self-talk about the truth of God’s faithfulness. The New Testament readings take us in a different direction. Paul speaks of the freedom we have when we are in Christ, heirs to all of God’s promises. The Gospel writer tells of another kind of freedom, the freedom experienced by a man delivered from demon possession.
Read 1 Kings 19:1-15a. Recall a time you ran to a silent place. How did God send you back into the world?
Read Psalm 42. The author asks us to imagine the words of this psalm coming from the mouth of Elijah and the Gerasene man. Consider how these words might be yours as well.
Read Galatians 3:23-29. How does your faith in Christ help you to realize that there is freedom in unity rather than to flee in fear?
Read Luke 8:26-39. What true story do you have to tell to the world of what Jesus has done for you?
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