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Last night at the New York Classis meeting I was voted in as Vice President starting January 1. What’s even more exciting is that I will get to serve alongside my good friend Reverend Adriene Thorne as she leads my classis as President. I’m also grateful for Reverend Al Correa’s presidential leadership this year as he has modeled generous listening and has brought an awareness of intersectional justice to our classis. As he said in his sermon last night “When you hurt, I hurt.” In other words, our hurts are interconnected. Justice work is interconnected.
I love the New York Classis. I have mentioned this before that we don’t all think alike, but somehow that has not stopped us for being the Body of Christ together. We represent racial and ethnic diversity and worship in many different styles. I am a minister in the Collegiate Churches of New York City. We are completely open and affirming on LGBTQ matters. When I am at a New York Classis meeting I pray to the same God, and peace the pass of Christ, to my fellow believers who do not agree with our position. And you know what happens? We worship together and we see each other as siblings in Christ doing the best we can in the ministries God has called us to. We are not perfect, we are growing in our ability to talk about the hurts we carry, but we are trying to hold the tension of the sacred vulnerable place. To me, that’s courageous church.
A couple years ago Reverend Cora Tait (who is also a past president of my classis and someone I respect greatly) and I participated in a writing project for the RCA. We wrote together in the Every Mountain Made Low: Reflections on Scripture and Martin Luther King Jr.s “I have a Dream” Speech for Black History Month. It’s a great little booklet with unique voices across the denomination. I share our piece here below because I believe the type of work (hard work) we are doing in my classis is something that the denomination can do and I believe we can do it together. Here’s a taste of the thinking from our part of the denomination.
From Tranquilizing Gradualism…
By Cora Taitt
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is not the time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” —Martin Luther King Jr. 2 Kings 7:3b-4a (NIV) “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender.”
I find the story in 2 Kings to be a most interesting and fascinating narrative. Four lepers, confined to separation from others because they were different. Stuck between the walls of famine and brutal enemies, you could say they were between a rock and a hard place. It was a hopeless and desperate situation that created a sense of urgency for immediate action. They needed to make a decision, and quick!
So the lepers called a meeting and decided they could not afford to be locked in the mental prison of fear. If they remained at the entrance of the city they would die for sure; if they moved, however, they might die, or they might live. They voted to move out into the unknown—and found salvation.
The lepers discovered that the Arameans had fled. They were delighting themselves in the refreshments of the abundance of salvation—things the Arameans had left behind—when they realized that what they were doing was not right. They couldn’t keep all that they had discovered to themselves; they needed to share their gifts with the people who were starving within the city. Another crisis moment! After all, they were lepers. Who would receive a message of salvation from them? But lives were at stake; they knew they must take the risk and act!
The story of the lepers brings to mind my own experiences of the pain of isolation due to looking different from those in power in my society. Growing up as a young girl in Selma, Alabama, I experienced separate schools, separate eating places, separate movies, separate everything. I often felt 15 stuck between the walls of the system of segregation and no future. During the days of the civil rights movement I was given the opportunity to remain in the fear of hopelessness and die, or join the movement and take a stand for change. I chose to take a stand and live! Here I am over 40 years later, and the systemic walls of racism still exist. Gradualism has kept us locked in the prison of tomorrow. There is an urgent cry, almost a scream, for change in the land today.
The time to act is now. The Bible speaks a lot about time and the message is always, “Now!” Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We cannot afford the luxury of gradualism that pulls us into tomorrow.
…to the Urgency of Now
By Jes Kast-Keat
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
Matthew 5:6 (NRSV)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Have you ever walked by the decadent chocolate venues in the mall and couldn’t finish your shopping until you bought a morsel to satisfy your craving? Have you ever gone on a long run on a humid day and by the last mile all you could think about was guzzling a glass of water? Do you remember the last time that you were so hungry that you said you would eat anything that was put in front of you, even your least favorite food?
Now what if these hungers were not simple cravings—what if your very life depended upon these hungers being filled? For Matthew, the matter of righteousness is just that—an urgent, life or death situation.
In the Greek, this passage gets even more interesting. The writer is not suggesting that a part of righteousness would fill this craving. No, it is the whole of righteousness. It is urgent that righteousness be made complete. Then, and only then, will the thirsting be fulfilled. Put another way, “Don’t tease me with a bite of bread when the whole loaf is in view!” 16 Yes, we have come a long way, but we are not there yet. A part of justice is fulfilled, but not the whole. Things are not equal for everybody and every race. Racism is still a part of our society, which includes our church systems. We are well-meaning people, indeed. Yet our niceness cannot shade us from the fact that things are still not as they should be. We must not bask in what we have done so that it blinds us to what we still have to do. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.
Maybe our prayer should be, “God, help my hunger for justice for all people to grow. May justice be experienced by all of your children. Fuel my feelings of urgency so that it embodies Matthew 5:6. Let your church rise from the dark and into the sunlit path of racial justice for all people. Amen.”
Questions for Thought
- How hungry are you for justice?
- Are you in a place of “stuck”? What decision could help you move forward?
- Are you keeping silent when you should be speaking?
- What is God saying to you about the urgency of now?
- What have you put off until tomorrow? What is the cost of that delay?
- What emotions did you feel when you were reading this? What surfaced and why?
- What do you need to do to fill your thirst for justice for all people?
- What questions came to mind as you were reading? What is God saying to you and the community?