Pentecost 2018 – Faithful Witness, Faithful Resistance

The simple trust and complexities of being a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ unfold throughout the Book of Acts. The Spirit’s work of enabling disciples to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in languages that all nations could hear, initially is interpreted by outsiders as early morning drunken babbling. Yet, once the Spirit speaks to the heart of what God is doing in the world, many find themselves coming to Jesus. Others, see a movement that threatens their normative dominance and move against these proclaimers of the gospel with arguments of the foolishness of a crucified messiah, imprisoning anyone who states Jesus is the ruler they will follow, or even taking the lives of those who resist calls that they remain silent. Nevertheless, the Spirit’s power created a growing and diverse community of persons who were not silent, proclaiming the Gospel, looking out after one another, sharing what they had, and embodying the love and justice of Christ for all, some at great cost. We are recipients of their witness.

Fifty years ago, shortly before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. was organizing a Poor People’s Campaign due to the prevalence of poverty he had seen in America. Fifty years later, while we seem far more affluent, the breadth of poverty has increased. Some lowball it as 43 million Americans while PCUSA minister Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-director of today’s Poor People’s Campaign, states from an audit of America that it comes in as high as 140 million. Some 43.5 percent of the population are either poor or low-income under the alternative Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which goes beyond income to consider out-of-pocket expenses for food, clothing, housing and utilities, geographic disparities, and federal assistance. “Low income” in this context means a household making less than twice the poverty line. Huge percentages of those impoverished are our children, elderly, and persons of color. Poverty knows no boundaries; the largest number impoverished are White Americans.

Systemic poverty and racism can exercise spiritual power over us—see Walter Wink’s work,“Naming the Powers.” Where is the Spirit who calls us to speak out, leads us to look out for one another, share what we have, and embody the love of Christ for all persons? What must we do to be saved?

I did not know when the call of Jesus came to me as a youth that it might also call me to stand before governors and legislators to sing and cry out with a word from the Lord proclaiming that, when their actions and inactions bring suffering upon God’s people, they bring suffering to the heart of God and the work God asks us to do. “America, America, why do you persecute Me and My people?”

So with others engaged in the Poor People’s Campaign in 36 state capitols, with arms linked I calmly stood Monday blocking the doorways of our New York State capitol singing “We won’t be silent anymore”--until the State Police hauled 27 of us inside and arrested us, a small price to pay for those who still suffer every day without end from poverty and racism embedded in the practices and policy of our nation. Surrounding me, surrounding us, were generations younger and older also singing for liberation.

Paraphrasing Jesus’ last words of guidance to Peter, he said, “When you were young, you walked where you wanted; when you are older, a younger person will take you where you do not want to go.” (John 20.18) It is the voice of the Spirit in generations younger then me that is calling me to join them in the struggle to resist evil and embody the Gospel however and wherever the Spirit leads. I have seen the Spirit speak to the heart of those with ears to hear and eyes to see what God is doing in the world. We repent, we confess, we reconcile, we heal, we restore. It is that simple and complex. I am encouraged by the Spirit’s work. It is the balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole and heals sin-sick souls.