When I was in high school, my parents brought us to the large black church on the north side of the city in Michigan where we lived. The pastor was a well-known community leader, and the beautiful Gospel music, congregational participation, vast choir, and vibrant energy of that place amazed and inspired me. As a young white woman who was accustomed to quiet music and relatively inexpressive faces at church, my eyes were opened to a new way to worship and to preach. When the pastor began his sermon in a low, lilting voice, he said, “I’ve got my notes, and I’ve got my outline, but I neee-eeed somethin’ extra.” The congregation chimed in: “Amen. Praise the Lord. Somethin’ extra.” He said it again, raising his voice a little, and almost singing this time: “I’ve got my notes, and I’ve got my outline, but I neee-eeed somethin’ extra!” Several more repetitions, and he was ready to preach. And a more gifted, more mesmerizing preacher I have never heard.
I have thought about the way that pastor introduced his sermon many times over the years, but especially recently in the wake of the massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina. I heard a recording of Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was killed along with eight members of his congregation, and the tenor and authority of his voice reminded me of the pastor I’d heard so many years ago. But more than that, I have thought about what “somethin’ extra” means in a world where massacres happen at peaceful spiritual gatherings, and then survivors say to the killer: “May God have mercy on your soul. We forgive you.”
Our Old Testament reading this week is from the book of 2 Chronicles. King Jehoshaphat is standing with his people at the temple, praying and explaining to God that Israel is facing invaders who will surely conquer them:
“Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronincles 20:12
Jehoshaphat is saying that there is no human solution to this threat. It is only with God’s help, with somethin’ extra, that Israel will be able to defeat this enemy.
When I heard the statements that the Emanuel family members made to the man who killed their loved ones, I was at first incredulous. Why would they not express the bitterness and anger that they surely felt towards him? What was wrong with them to be so kind and forgiving? And then I remembered that as believers in Christ they have somethin’ extra. They have the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Just as the pastor I heard in high school needed God’s guidance, and not only his notes and outline, to preach his sermon, and just as King Jehoshaphat and his people needed God’s intervention in their impossible situation, the Emanuel survivors understand that they need a supernatural response to this violence if it is ever going to end. That does not mean that they sit idle and deny their grief. That does not mean that they avoid difficult political conversations, or that they don’t seek justice. It means only that they are a stunning example of people whose eyes are on God and who recognize that God’s help and guidance are essential to both their everyday lives and their response to this particular tragedy.
Where in your life are you struggling to keep your eyes on God? It could be any situation, where your own wisdom and understanding have been exhausted, and you just don’t know what to do. Where have your notes and outline come up short? Think for a moment of what it is that you need to place before the Lord, and ask him for the strength that you do not have. Where are you in need of somethin’ extra?