Kneeling for Justice

In my office, I have a kneeler that I got off of Craigslist from a Lutheran church that had closed many years ago. It was the first piece of furniture I dropped down into my empty, stuffy, non-air-conditioned office that I was presented with at the beginning of my vicarage at Bethlehem Lutheran Church—a church I now serve as pastor. I lovingly refer to this office as my “penthouse suite.” See, the 171-year-old urban school building that Bethlehem now worships in was built to have five different levels. Thirty steps for each landing. Of course, where was my office?

The very top.

The Penthouse.

The Penthouse Suite

After huffing and puffing up the steps of this old urban church with this heavy wooden kneeler from another closed urban church—Vicar Bolling arrives to the “penthouse office” and takes a look out of windows twice his age. I gazed upon a city skyline hugged from side to side by the arms of the St. Louis Arch, with the setting sun shining in its horizon. This penthouse suite was the perfect place to view the beauty of this city, for all it was, as the sun wrapped its warmth around the horizon, saying goodbye to the day.

I set my kneeler down, picked up my Bible, and read a verse that I have been reading periodically over and over again since that day.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
     and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
     and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

As a young vicar, I reflected on those three statements, all the while knowing that the implications of justice in a city so divided by geography, color, creed, and class would be loaded. That justice, God’s justice, was needed for a community torn apart by the Mike Brown incident. It called to the carpet systematic issues and hurts that serve as the scars of our city, the dents on our Arch, the bruises on our buildings, that if impacted too often and too deeply, could no longer be tuck-pointed but rather would cause the entire structure to fall. 

God’s mercy poured out over this city would need to be, as medicine to a wound, applied generously and re-applied as needed. The proverbial mercy seat where God would show up to His people would need to be in, with, and under everything so that this city would see hope in hopeless times, in the people whom God has chosen and those whom God has used—whether they are aware or blissfully blinded to His loving-kindness.

The Christian Walk Is a Marathon

I realized that our walk with God is not a short brisk walk around the track of the city parks covered by the horizon — a workout meant to keep the body beaten and the mind sharpened. This is not a walk congruent with health purposes, designed to serve self and elevate the body. No, this is a walk led by God for the purpose of dissecting the soul. This Christian walk, this step-by-step we take with God, is a walk in which our awkward feet trod in the too-big shoes of our Father as we trip over words and slip into deeds we should not. We constantly take off the shoes we wear and approach the mercy seat of God with humility, entering holy ground with bare feet, bare soul, and bare heart. As we seek forgiveness constantly, He picks us up and walks for us. It’s a marathon—but He runs it for us. He has a destination, though He doesn’t give us a GPS play-by-play. His guidance and leadership help us to arrive home.

In Heaven.

With Him.

But until then, what shall we do?

We drop our stuff down.

In an empty room.

With the Son shining on us in the horizon.

With the kneeler down, the Scriptures open, and our eyes fixed on Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

And every minute the weight of our knees presses on the kneeler, we know that God Himself can handle the weight.

Somewhere in heaven — in the penthouse suite —  for every minute I kneel, my Father towers above me, listening. And He demonstrates His mercy by sending me the sun to hit my skin, as I remember His Son, who lives within me.

I do justice. I love mercy. I walk humbly.

Words for a vicar to live by.

Words for pastor to live by.

Words for a Christian to live by.

In unjust times—we kneel.

Further understand of how the truth found in God's Word inspires and guides us.

Read A Martyr's Faith in a Faithless World 

Picture of Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling
Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling is an LCMS pastor and Lutheran university educator. Dr. Bolling holds a BA in theatre from Concordia University Chicago, an MDiv from Concordia Seminary, and a doctor of education (EdD) degree from Concordia University Wisconsin in leadership, innovation, and continuous improvement. His dissertation was focused on human resource development in under-resourced urban ministry structures of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (How LCMS Pastors Are Developed through Mentorship). Dr. Bolling currently serves in a dual call as pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and as assistant professor of leadership and theology in the online modality and coordinator of multicultural engagement at Concordia University Texas. His passion for urban ministry, education, leadership, nonprofit management, mentorship, diversity/equity/inclusion, and distance learning are all married in this dual call as he serves the saints of Bethlehem and the students of Concordia University Texas simultaneously. Dr. Bolling has also spoken at numerous conferences, on podcasts, and at churches, schools, and events within our church body, reflecting the love of Christ and prodding deeper conversations about deaf, urban, and cross-cultural inclusive ministry. He has taught in half the schools of the Concordia University System, thoroughly realizing the depth of knowledge our Concordia schools have to offer to the world they engage. Dr. Bolling has been married to his beautiful and talented wife, Lorenda, for six years. Lorenda serves as a preschool teacher at Word of Life Lutheran School. Together, they have a four-year-old son named Lincoln and a two-year-old daughter named Monroe. Both children were born in different years but on the exact date—October 5! They currently reside on the south side of St. Louis, Missouri.

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