I Can't Breathe (Sermon)
Updated: Jun 30
There are 3 words that have been indelibly etched into our minds: “I CAN’T BREATHE!”
The first time I heard these words were when Eric Garner uttered these words on July 17, 2014, prior to his death. His alleged crime, he may have sold some unregistered cigarettes. I don’t think that was what the surgeon general meant that cigarettes may be dangerous to your health.
Then again, these word “I CAN’T BREATHE!” were uttered by George Floyd on May 25, 2020, just moments before his death in an 8 minute and 46 second ordeal. His alleged crime may have been passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He was killed over a fake $20.00 bill?
The tragedy is that their lives ended at the hands of those who had taken an oath to protect and serve. That is what is so tragic about the moment is that it has occurred time and time again, and we in the black and brown communities know that along the road marked “I can’t breathe” there are 1,000’s of untold and unheard stories…in a myriad of harassment, ill treatment by those who are charged to protect and serve. And the really sad, sad thing is that the only reason there is action taken, is that it was a digital recording of these crimes. I know not every person in law enforcement is an abuser of peoples rights and respects basic human dignity, but what is being revealed is that in some places there has been perpetual environments that continue to breed these types of behaviors of police persons who feel empowered to oppress those they are sworn to protect and serve.
Even when you look at how black and brown folks are taken into custody. It’s like the whole swat team is assembled, whereas when known killers are arrested, they are treated with compassion and kindness.
I can’t breathe when:
black men and black women are killed at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve;
when black and brown people receive longer jail/prison sentences than their white counterparts for the same crimes/offenses;
when I see that the future prison beds are forecasted based upon the number of African-American boys in the 3rd grade;
when I see abortion clinics strategically planted in urban centers near black and brown populations;
when the percent of abortions are the highest in the African American community, who are only 14% of the population and yet represent 45% of all abortions;
when musical artists, rappers and hip hop artist defame black women calling them every “B” and “H” word in the book and I don’t mean the Green Stamp Book;
when I see Hollywood’s depiction of black men and women in the worst stereotypically roles that are broadcast around the world;
when black folk are relegated to substandard housing and communities that are food desserts, where junk food joints are most prevalent;
when there are major disputes in access to health care, and health care bias toward black and brown folks;
when COVID-19 spotlights that African Americans die at an extremely higher rates sometimes 2 and 3 times more than the percent they represent in the population;
when black folk sell their vote for a photo op and promises that never materialize;
when racism has been resuscitated and unashamedly given new life in America (an adrenaline shot);
when people judge African Americans by the color of their skin but also by their hair;
when George Floyd is murdered before our eyes, and not only can’t I breathe; and no-one will come to his aid as if there is a sacred blue-line;
when the thumb on the scale has been replaced by a knee on the neck;
I am a “Law and Order” kind of guy; but I can’t breathe, when I hear some shout “Rule of Law” as if it only applies to suppress the hurting and oppressed;
where was the cry for the “Rule of Law” for Trevone, for Erik, for Ahmaud, for Breonna, for George and for 1,000’s of others who we will never know their names!
I can’t breathe, and the truth is that all of America should be gasping for for a fresh breath to make this place a better world! When I look at the text today, I see that the psalmist has an “I Can’t Breathe” moment, and let us look at Psalm 77 and learn from the Psalmist’s “I Can’t Breathe” moment, and what we need to know in our “I Can’t Breathe Moments.”
Psalm 77:1–3 (ESV)—I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
Remember To Seek the Lord In Prayer (1-3)
When life comes at you so hard it makes you say, “Ouch!” When life makes you “shake my head” (SMH), when you see evil and injustice in the world, the psalmist directs us to seek the Lord in prayer!
And yes, there are times we may just find ourselves crying out to the Lord through our tears. I know over the last 4 weeks or so, I have found myself crying out to the Lord in prayer. When I look at all the stuff going on around us, from COVID-19, economy in shut down mode, schools shut down, work shut down, sports shut down, and racial tension in America amped up, and 24 hour opinionated news cycle—I have cried out to the Lord!
When you feel that life is crushing in on you—my friends take it to the Lord in prayer! The psalmist writes that “in the day of trouble” he seeks the Lord. My friends, in our days of trouble, and we will have days of trouble, seek the Lord! Even when day turns to night—seek the Lord!
Even if you are not comforted don’t stop seeking the Lord! The psalmist reminds me of the old deacon who would pray, “Father I stretch my hand to thee no other help I know…” when the psalmist writes “in the night my hand is stretched out to you.” When I was small as a boy, I could take my problems to Mom and Dad. But now as a big kid, Mom and Dad are gone, but I can take all of my problems, issues, frustrations, heartbreaks to the Lord!
Notice he makes reference to seeking the Lord both day and night—in that the Lord is available to you all day long and all night long! Whether we understand it or not, when we seek the Lord and call out to the Lord, have a conversation with the Lord, we know that He hears us! God is not hard of hearing, He can hear the faintest cry!
Now sometimes God may not answer us right a way. Verse 3 the psalmist tells us that sometimes when he seeks God, mediates on God’s word, but “my spirit faints.” He is saying that sometimes I keep pursuing God in prayer, but I don’t always get an answer or comfort right away!
Those of you who have some life mileage on you, you know that God may not come when you want Him, but we know, that God is always on time! If I could sing about now, I would break out and sing, “He’s an on-time God, yes He is…may not come when you want Him, but He will be there right on time. He’s right on time!” (Children of Israel, trapped by the Red Sea; from out of nowhere stepped right in and made a highway through the water; 5,000 hungry souls to be fed, 2 fish, 5 loaves of bread…get on God’s time.) Is there a witness, how many of you know that He’s an on-time God!
Our job is to seek the Lord in prayer, we make our petitions known to God, we call on Him, and His role is to respond according to His time and His plan and His schedule. God hears you, but He may not respond right away!
When life crushes up against you, breaks your heart, when you see injustice smack you in the face, and racism, that you cannot ignore it, take it to the Lord in prayer! Notice that after verse 3, there is the word “Selah” that word means to pause, to meditate. So, if we were not preaching today, we would read those 3 verses and then mediate on them, reflect on them, and think about what is it that I need to take to the Lord in prayer.
The key point is, that no matter how bad things are, don’t forget to go to the Lord in prayer. I’ve had times and seasons, where I just kept right on seeking the Lord in prayer; the same situation over and over, not because of a lack of faith, but because I had not gotten an answer from the Lord!
Think about this, when you survey the life of Jesus in the New Testament, in the Gospels, you will find Jesus consistently stealing away to pray. My friends, if Jesus the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the World, if He was spending time in prayer, how much more all of us should spend more time in prayer, seeking the Lord! (AMEN) Make it a goal this week to spend more time in prayer. When life makes it so that you can’t breathe—remember to seek the Lord in prayer!
When you have your I Can’t Breathe Moments you also need to remember to seek God in prayer, but also remember there may be times when God is silent.
Remember There May Be Times When God Is Silent (4-9)
Psalm 77:4-9 (ESV)—You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
In verses 4-9, the psalmist, Asaph, is not sleeping, “you hold my eyelids open” “I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” He is troubled, and the psalmist does not tell us what has got him up and sleepless, but something major is bothering him. And you and I may have sometimes when we are not sleeping because of our own I can’t breathe moments and we are not getting a resolution to our situation. Then we begin to think God has abandoned Us.
In verse 6, the psalmist writes about having a spiritual “go bag.” When this pandemic hit, and some of the things we needed were face masks and hand sanitizer. And the stores were out. But then I remembered that years ago, I had purchased a survival kit that had basic supplies for 4 people for 4 days. And I went down to the basement, and found it, and it had the basics we would need for 4 days, including face masks and hand sanitizer.
In our walk with God, there will be times we need a spiritual go-bag. When life is causing you to be restless, what are some verses you’ve got stored up or written down so you can go to in an emergency. Those verses will comfort you and encourage you in that season you feel like God is delaying answering you in your situation. (Exodus 32, Moses been on the mountain for a pro-longed time; intimidated Aaron, to make a golden calf…when God is silent, don’t take matters into your own hands; follow God’s principles; no graven images; well then God didn’t answer me….wait on the Lord! and He will renew your strength…)
Because the enemy will cause you to doubt, and wonder if God has abandoned you, defaulted on His promises. And I have heard people say things like, “God must be angry with me, that’s why He hasn’t answered my prayers.” God is not angry with you, God never stops loving you, and God has a purpose for delaying His answer or HIs move in your situation.
Again, if God is allowing a situation to continue, we will not know why. And sometimes we think that if only God would listen to us, we would help God turn things around. We could fix all of America’s and the world’s problems.
We’ve got to remember that God does not operate our way, that God is up to something behind the scenes; and God has a purpose for our pain. God uses his delays to grow us, to mature us, to deepen our faith, that’s why James tell us to count it all joy, not if, but when we have our trials. In those times we don’t understand God’s silence, it’s those time we must trust Him.
Some people would say that a new president would fix everything— no, we need police departs and law enforcement, because, there is still evil and sinfulness in the world. We need better training, psychological assessments, I know a lot of very good law enforcement folks, and I thank God for them. Some are members of Antioch—and they do a good job. “But there is room for much improvement, because not everyone is emotionally fit to carry a gun and to be given the authority of a law enforcement person!” In those seasons when God is silent, don’t take matters into your own hands, keep following the ways of the Lord.
When you have your I can’t breathe moments remember to seek the Lord in prayer; remember that there may be times God is silent, but also remember what God has done for you in the past.
Remember What God Has Done For You in the Past (10-20)
Then I said, “I will appear to this, to the years of the right hadn’t of the Most High.” Verse 10, is the pivot point. If you think about basketball, there is a move where we pivot. We change direction and go another way; we put the “Okey-doke” on the player guarding us, we pivot and go a different direction.
So in verse 10, the psalmist pivots from his sorrow and anguish, to REMEMBER, what God has brought the nation of Israel though in the past; and not only the Nation of Israel, but the psalmist can look back over his life and see where God stepped in and what look like destruction God worked it out for his benefit.
Psalm 118:15–16 (NIV)—Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
The symbolic language of the psalmist relating to the right hand of God (metaphorically speaking). The right hand of God is picture of the hand of valor, the hand of great deeds, the hand of blessings, the hand of great power—the mighty right hand of God.
In verse 10, he calls God, God Most High, in the Hebrew that is El Elyon. God Most high; meaning that God is above every creature, above every power, He is the Most High, there is no one or no other God that could be exalted to His equal or able Him. He is El Elyon, God Most High. That’s why Vashawn Mitchell could sing, could find nobody greater, nobody better, I searched all over, could find nobody better. Search to the highest mountain, couldn’t find nobody greater, when you have the Lord on your side, there is not one greater, He is Most High, Almighty God.
And he uses his mighty righteous right hadn’t to bless you and to keep you. The psalmist begins to remember that as bad as the current situation may be, He begins to remember as he looks back over history, what God has brought them through. Though the psalmist may not be able to breathe in the moment, when He begins to look back over history, He remembers how God created the heavens and the earth, and how God shows His awesome power in creation! I can imagine some of the events the psalmist began to reflect upon:
How the children of Israel had been down in Egypt for 400 years. and they were in Egyptian bondage and slavery; making bricks without straw, and the children of Israel called out, cried out to God for deliverance.
Pharaoh had orders to kill all the new born males that were born, nothing new under the sun—Pharaoh is still trying to kill babies inside and outside the womb!
But the people of Israel, cried out to God; and God heard their cry, and God sent them a deliverer by the name of Moses;
Moses tells Pharaoh that God says, “Let my people go”….it looked hopeless and helpless, but God…
Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt, they come to the Red Sea; Pharaoh and his army behind him, and the ferocious and deep waters of the Red sea in front of them. Moses calls out to God; Moses raises up the rod in his hand, and Almighty God, God Most High, parts the water and the Israelites walk through as walking on dry land.
and when Pharaoh and his army tried to pursue the Israelites to re-enslave them, God closed up the sea and Pharaoh and all his army drowned;
My friends you and I must remember what God has brought us through in the past. and we need to tell those stories to our younger people; so, they don’t lose hope, so they are not discouraged; tell them that as a people, you should not even be in existence, but God. Tell them how God opened doors that no one could shut; tell them how you could not always go the school of your choice, or live in any neighborhood; tell them that some of your great grandparents could not even vote; tell them how far God has brought you in this land, from slave ship to captain of the ship; from no house to the white house; tell them don’t give up on God; tell them God has His hand on you; tell them that God has delivered us time and time again; tell them and remind yourself, had it not been for the Lord on our side, where would we be…and tell them, when you look back over your life, hear me now, tell them, that God has bought you a mighty, mighty, long way, and He has not brought us this far to leave us!
The troubles we see today I believe it "Is God Making America Great,” and you don’t become great without some growing pains along the way! God has a way of disturbing the comfortable stuck in their old ways; and God has a way of comforting the disturbed.
My friends, when you look around this old world, and you feel like “I can’t breathe” don’t give up, don’t quit, keep on keeping on: and remember—Remember to seek the Lord in prayer. Remember there may be times when God is silent. Remember what God has done for you in the past.
I am reminded, when Jesus hung on the cross, “He could not breath.” As hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth. They say he would have pushed himself up, to catch breath. But we are reminded, He said it is finished, and he breathed His last breath.
He died on a Friday—He could not breathe. He was dead on Saturday—He could not breathe. But early Sunday morning, He got up from the grave with all power in His hand--Full of breathe! Full of life! And because He lives, we too shall live! Won’t you trust in the Lord in those moments when life takes your breath away!
This sermon was originally delivered on June 6, 2020.